First test away from home for Ronald Koeman. Despite the difficulties, the team got the 3 points by playing football with great intensity including a very solid defense. Koeman’s second victory and the end of a losing streak in Balaídos. 5 takeaways from the Celta Vigo 0-3 Barcelona.
After the brilliant performance against Villarreal, Barcelona faced a bigger challenge: Balaídos. The Catalan team had not won since 2015 at the Celta Vigo temple and on Thursday night the team not only ended that slump but also showed a level of intensity that had not been seen for several years. In addition, the team faced a real challenge by playing with one less during the entire second half, and still, they kept fighting until the end.
Ronald Koeman passed one of the most difficult tests and little by little he is gaining the affection of the fans. The Dutch coach has established a defensive wall and a creativity machine in the attack. We have analysed the 5 takeaways from the game below.
1. The intensity is back in FC Barcelona
It is surprising how Barcelona recovered intensity so cleanly. The good work of Ronald Koeman, added to the departures of Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitić, and Luis Suárez, has brought good results in the attitude and efforts of the players. Each of the players of the line-up against Celta were true fighters as they spent their entire game well-focused, giving their everything.
Minutes before the end of the first half, Clément Lenglet received his second yellow card in the match. As a consequence, the Frenchman player was suspended from the duel in Balaídos. Months ago this would have been a serious problem for the Catalans, but Barcelona in Vigo came out more motivated to look for the second goal, even playing with one less. This is a positive sign of the team. Barça can fail, they can have bad nights, but they never stop fighting with maximum effort and the team has shown that sacrifice.
2. Philippe Coutinho continues to produce magic
Philippe Coutinho’s nickname “little magician” is not only referring to his glory days at Liverpool, but he has now become a wizard with many tricks up his sleeve. His playmaker position is increasingly happy that Cou is in that place. Once again, being involved in almost all the plays in the attack, making combinations correctly, moving great with and without the ball, and with a fascinating attitude.
Against Celta Vigo, Coutinho took advantage of his vision to send a vertical pass to Ansu Fati in the first goal for the Catalans. A much more complicated pass than it seems since Cou receives the first touch ball in an unprepared way and even then, he was able to send that pass to Fati. Similarly, he played almost perfectly until the 72nd minute before being replaced by Pedri. In addition to his assist, Coutinho was awarded as the man of the match. Philippe has already become a star at the club, in just two games. It is great to see him back on the track after a difficult first stage in Catalonia.
3. Frenkie de Jong key in this new system
Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
Frenkie de Jong’s adaptation to the new system was almost immediate and very effective. It is not just the fact that Koeman has already worked with De Jong on the Dutch national team in a great way, but De Jong is motivated, much more than the previous season. This very positive attitude is reflected in his game. His role in the double pivot is exquisite, driving from deep, making vertical passes, moving very well to help his teammates, reading the plays in attack, and pressing hard in defense.
Frenkie is a show. As if we were watching De Jong who made the whole world fall in love with Ajax in the 2018/19 season. It is a blessing to see him at a great level being a key and irreplaceable piece in the XI. Without a doubt, we will see a great improvement in the player, looking for areas of the court that he had never explored with as much freedom to direct and control as we always imagined.
4. Neto: A man we can trust
With Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s injury, Koeman is forced to use Barça’s back-up goalkeeper, Neto Murara. The Brazilian player only played a couple of games in the previous season including the great performance against Inter in the group stage of the Champions League. Nonetheless, a couple of mistakes when he had the opportunity kept him from having minutes.
Now that he has a new opportunity with the absence of Ter Stegen, Neto is making the most of it. 2 clean-sheet matches out of 2 possible. In addition, he appeared at important moments, making quality saves to avoid goals coming from Celta Vigo. He is seen with confidence, concentration and if we add his great positional work on top of it, we end up with a goalkeeper who has regained the trust of all Culés.
5. Ansu Fati shinning again
A game that Ansu Fati plays is synonymous with the fact that we are going to have a great time and we are going to see him shine. Against Celta, it was not an exception. His movements and intentions in the attack on a constant basis helped to create dangerous opportunities.
Moreover, Fati opened the score once again, this time in Balaídos. After Coutinho’s clever pass, the teenager received the ball in a complicated way and at the first touch, he advanced the ball to pass between defenders and ended up making a perfect shot to score his goal number 3 in La Liga this season. After this goal, Fati shares the lead as top-scorer in the competition. The minute control Koeman has over him is really smart, playing him as a starter but resting him as well, which is an interesting way to manage trust with your player. This was the last takeaway from the night at Balaidos.
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.