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.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.