Ronald Koeman’s first game of the season as coach. A lot of pressure after a dramatic summer and a course without trophies, but Barcelona left things in the past and gave us good sensations at the beginning of the Koeman Era. A dominant game by the whole team, good rotation and 3 points to raise the spirits of the club. 5 takeaways from the Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal.
Barcelona welcomed the 2020/21 season in the best way with an exhibition at the Camp Nou. There were many doubts about how this difficult debut of Ronald Koeman with the Catalan club was going to be due to all the drama that the blaugrana entity has experienced lately. The good news is that the locals achieved a phenomenal result against one of the best teams in La Liga. A victory, 3 important points, an interesting rotation giving opportunities to those who deserve it the most, an adapted Philippe Coutinho and a perfect Ansu Fati.
All this after a brilliant first half and a second half a little weaker than the first, but always going for more goals. Four goals in the first 45 minutes were enough to seal the victory of the Catalans and the second half was more to give minutes to those who needed it most. With interesting performances by Ousmane Dembélé, Miralem Pjanić and Francisco Trincão. Without further ado, we are going to analyze the 5 takeaways of the Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal.
1. Ansu Fati with a lot of confidence
Since that debut with Ernesto Valverde we have been able to appreciate that Ansu Fati, despite his young age, is in another category of a footballer. The reserved and enviable category of being not only one of the promises with the most potential but a prospect with enough maturity to be important in the present. Fati always demonstrates his quality, what he is capable of and against Villarreal he was no exception. 2 early goals in a 4-minute span to practically annihilating the mighty Yellow Submarine.
There were doubts about how Koeman’s first XI was going to be, especially in the attack part. However, Ansu Fati was chosen over players like Ousmane Dembélé, Pedri, or Francisco Trincao. The 17-years old boy was transformed back into a wonderboy. Only 15 minutes of a very attacking Barcelona were enough for Fati to score the first official goal of the season for his club with an elite shot. Jordi Alba after a good run to the left giving his well-known pass backward, where Fati had an excellent vision of where the ball was going and, in front of a defender, did not think twice and finished off at first touch with great power to open the score.
Villarreal did not want to give up without fighting first, and they began to attack with great intensity. However, Ansu Fati only needed 4 more minutes to seal his brace in a counterattack led by Coutinho, who took advantage of the spaces very well and gave a pass to Fati to the left, who with his ability was able to get that second goal to kill all hopes of rivals. Composure, fast, agility, and lethal in the area like any ‘9’. Ansu Fati must be the present of the club and what a joy to see him so happy with Koeman.
2. Philippe Coutinho finds his role
Barcelona signed him back in the 2017-18 season as a replacement for Andrés Iniesta. He never had a precise role, and he never adapted to one, especially since he was promised that he would play a midfielder but he acted as a winger. After 1 year and a half under expectations, Coutinho fulfilled his dream of winning the Champions League on loan to Bayern Munich, a loan that helped him to gain confidence and improve his physical form. Now he’s back.
Photo by Josep Lago/AFP via GettyImages
Back in the Camp Nou, with a new style and a 4-2-3-1 scheme, the Brazilian star has benefited the most. Although it is still too early to draw conclusions, Cou was one of the best in the preseason and against Villarreal, we were able to confirm what we already knew. Coutinho acting as mediapunta has found the perfect position for him, feeling more comfortable and free making good combinations, dribbling and key passes for the attack. We were able to realize it in Fati’s second goal, that calm and that control of the space-time of Coutinho were important to take advantage of that counterattack. Coutinho will undoubtedly be the favorite boy in Koeman’s class.
3. A great intensity when it comes to press
Since the 2018/19 season, or precisely after the failure of Rome, Barcelona had lost that attitude, intensity and spirit when it came to pressing that characterized them so much. However, against the Yellow Submarine, the entire Barça team was activated very well when pressing hard. Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann, Coutinho, Fati, Sergio Busquets … the whole team did a great job and they recovered that trait that we thought was lost.
Moreover, it is good news that the intensity has recovered but now comes a much more complex task: to constantly maintain that intense work. In a calendar with more demands, more fatigue is generated in the players, this can cause them to feel less motivated when pressing. We can see this more with the veterans of the team, who have already won everything and their age does not allow them to press 90 minutes in all games. Nonetheless, this won’t be a problem with all the young blood the team brought in this summer. One of the most important of the 5 takeaways from the Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal.
4. Ronald Koeman taking advantage of the rotation
The two previous Barça coaches were characterized, among other positive and negative things, of for some reason taking a long time to make the changes during the games, often making only one substitution. Nevertheless, Koeman took advantage of 4 movements being the last one in minute 78. Thus, it was as he gave an opportunity to the youth of the club and the new signings.
Photo by David Ramirez via Imago
It is true that Barcelona already had a 4-0 in their favor, I hope it was not the only reason for the Dutch coach to make a good rotation. Furthermore, they were quite wise decisions. Dembélé gained more confidence and we were able to see little by little that Ousmane who shone in a period of time of several weeks in the 2018/19 season. Similarly, a brilliant Trincão, since we could see traces of the player’s genius, despite playing for approximately 15 minutes. Likewise, good minutes for Pedri and Pjanić.
5. The unexpected superb performance in Koeman’s debut
Let’s be honest, and it’s not to be pessimistic, but nobody expected such an excellent debut. Perhaps a victory was to be expected, by one goal or hopefully two, we could not even rule out a defeat after the good moment of Villarreal. But Koeman certainly deserves some applause for this debut. After a trophyless season, the drama of Arthur Melo, the situation of Lionel Messi, the controversial departure of Luis Suárez, and all the catastrophe, Koeman knew how to absorb all that pressure to speak on the pitch with a great collective game.
This victory is more than just 3 points, even more than starting the season in a good way. We saw a solid defense that gave us a clean-sheet, a working double-pivot bringing out the best of Frenkie de Jong, an adapted Coutinho, minutes for the youngsters, a Lionel Messi who despite being clearly unmotivated, played well and in general a brilliant performance. This was needed in the team. This was needed for the fans. Great sensations that leave reasons to be happy, it was already needed after so many dark times. We hope to see consistency with Ronald, but for now, he deserves a congratulation. This was the last of the 5 takeaways from the Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers, statistics, and tactics as FC Barcelona fell to defeat against Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season.
Following a high-flying victory against Ferencvaros in the opening game of the Champions League, FC Barcelona returned to action in La Liga against Real Madrid at Camp Nou. However, the game didn’t go as Ronald Koeman planned, and Barcelona stumbled to defeat in the first El Clasico of 2020-21. This followed a draw against Sevilla and a shock loss to Getafe and left Barcelona midtable 5 games into the season.
Ronald Koeman sprung in several surprises ahead of this fixture. Firstly, Jordi Alba returned from injury to play as left-back, while Sergi Roberto was omitted altogether for Sergiño Dest. Philippe Coutinho played as left-wing. 17-year old Pedri got to start the Classico as a reward for his performances but was fielded on the right-wing. Lionel Messi played as the no. 10 behind Ansu Fati as the striker.
Off the ball, Barcelona defended in a 4-4-2 with Messi and Fati staying and pressing up. From touch-based heatmaps, there are two interesting features.
Firstly, while Frenkie de Jong played in a relatively advanced role, he stayed quite wide. Sergio Busquets occupied the central channels. However, tasking his old legs to guard such a big zone resulted in recurring issues.
Secondly, Pedri is not a natural winger. He loves to play centrally. Having three natural CAMs in Pedri, Coutinho and Messi on-field and forcing two of them to play as wingers was never a good idea, to begin with. Pedri kept drifting inside, as shown in the heatmaps. Both Coutinho and Pedri were limited in their influence. Koeman’s overthinking and tinkering nullified both their strengths.
Real Madrid on the other hand set up in a skewed 4-3-3 as shown. Early injury to Nacho resulted in Lucas Vazquez coming on as the right back for the remainder of the game. Vinicius stayed high and wide, while Marco Asensio drifted in and out, often letting Federico Valverde occupy the wider channels.
Barcelona’s structure after the 81st minute deserves a special mention. Koeman made several offensive subs, bringing on Antoine Greizmann, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Fransisco Trincáo into the game, in place of Pedri, Fati, Busquets and Alba. To top it all off, Coutinho was slotted as the only pivot in the side, instead of de Jong as the shape devolved into a bizarre 3-1-6.
Attacks and Buildups
This game had a clear moment after which the game changed – minute 62. Until then, Barcelona were evidently the better team starting to dominate a bit as well. Here are the stats from the entire game:
Barcelona were outshot, outscored, and had fewer shots on target – but a lot of that’s skewed from what happened minute 62 onwards. From the PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) data, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, it’s evident that neither team went for a very high press. Here is the shot map and xG flow:
Minute 62 was when Clement Lenglet fouled by pulling Sergio Ramos’ shirt inside the penalty area while defending a corner. Ramos didn’t need a second invitation to exaggerate the pull. He fell theatrically to the ground, won a penalty, and Barcelona were chasing the game that moment onwards.
The first blood was drawn by Madrid after a moment of disastrous marking by Busquets allowed Federico Valverde to run into Barcelona’s box, unmarked, and smash home from Karim Benzema’s pass.
Thankfully, Barcelona did not take long to reply. A delightful ball over the top from Lionel Messi met Jordi Alba’s well-timed run, and Alba’s square pass was prodded home by Ansu Fati. Here is a little animation of the goal:
As mentioned earlier, Madrid’s second goal came from a penalty, scored by Ramos himself. And Luka Modric capitalized on some terrible defending to make it 3-1 in the 91st minute.
Neither team were truly impressive in passing. Here are the most dangerous passes by both teams:
Passes into the box were few by either team. Barcelona did manage to get into the box from central zone 14 or half-spaces, while Madrid clearly utilised their greatest strength – attacking from wide areas. It’s also shown in the key passes map:
However, in buildup, Madrid were far more expansive. They switched the play a lot as compared to Barcelona.
Comparing the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – Barcelona completed a greater number of final-third passes. However, the field tilt, or final third territory gained, was being dominated by Madrid in the first half. Barcelona started the second half positively and dominated territory. However, they got scored against the run of play. After that, Madrid were happy to let Barcelona keep possession and attacked the team on the counter.
Defence and Pressing
Both teams exhibited some terrible defending in the first half, to say the very least. Both goals were conceded from such cases.
As mentioned before, there were huge gaps in the midfield, and too much space between the midfield and defence; i.e. poor covering by Busquets and de Jong. Madrid made the best use of this for their first goal, and repeated it several times as the clock ticked ahead.
In the first image, it is evident that too many Barcelona players got sucked in trying to press the Madrid defence, resulting in a huge void in the midfield. Madrid play out of the press with ridiculous ease.
In the second image, the gap between Dest and Pique is appalling. Both centre-backs are engulfed towards Benzema for some reason, and Busquets completely loses track of Valverde’s run. One simple through ball and the job is done.
Almost immediately after that, Vinicius almost scored a second. Quick combination with Benzema in the box, while Busquets is seen jogging outside the box, there is a huge space to attack. Thankfully, Vinicius’ poor decision making and first touch allow Alba to throw him off.
The next example, again in the first half, shows terrible spacing between defenders, and terrible tracking from Busquets. A simple ball behind Dest, who is in isolation with the rest of the backline meets a well-timed run that Busquets can’t keep up with.
The next two examples are from the second half:
In the first one, the “pivot” Coutinho loses track of Toni Kroos’ run. Kroos runs onto Vazquez’s cutback to take a shot that Neto saves marvellously, and denies the German again pouncing perfectly on the rebounded shot.
The second image shows the moment when Vazquez lobs a ball into Ramos’ path, who is completely unmarked on the far post. Thankfully, Neto comes to Barça’s rescue saving the Madrid’s captain volley with his foot.
Madrid didn’t cover themselves in glory either, especially in the first half. Barcelona’s only goal of the game came as a result of terrible tracking from Nacho as Alba found space behind him. There were giveaways in midfield that led to multiple chances as well.
Most notably, Fati’s lofted ball into the path of an unmarked Messi, who eviscerated Ramos with a quick dribble but shot straight into the hands of Thibaut Courtois at the near post. However, they weren’t as often as Barcelona’s, and in general, resulted in lower quality chances.
As mentioned before, neither team went all out to the press. Barcelona’s pressing structure was so poor that Madrid played through it without trouble. They could even manage elaborate buildups, with two examples shown below:
Shambolic would be the right word to define Barcelona’s defending in the game. The lack of speed and the alertness to track runners was exposed yet again. The card-happy centre-backs came to haunt Barcelona again, as Lenglet gave away a poor penalty.
Busquets, on the other hand, looks far from being a starter and should be replaced as soon as possible. And if he somehow manages to retain his spot in the lineup, the midfield structure needs to be fixed so that he doesn’t get tasked with defending such a wide area.
The substitutions and Koeman’s game management made little to no sense. As seen in the Getafe game, in more cases than not, more forwards does not equate to more goals. The midfield was non-existent in the last 10 minutes, and Los Blancos made the best use of this as they scored the third where Luka Modric made the Barcelona defence dance.
The game was pretty even for nearly one hour, with neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid standing out as the better team. Post that, however, the scoreline spoke for itself.
Sergiño Dest made a solid claim for starting as right back in the coming games. He was outstanding in defence and quite courageous and innovative in the offence, with some neat dribbles. Fati kept his goalscoring form alive, becoming the youngest ever scorer in an El Clasico. Neto ended the game as arguably the best player on the pitch, but that is more bad news than good for the Garnet and the Blue.
However, there are defensive, structural, tactical, and personnel problems to be ironed out by Koeman in the future, especially if he wants to retain his job after a change of presidency. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a worse season the previous one for La Liga.