After several weeks of good results, Ronald Koeman faced his first loss as Barcelona coach. Getafe won by the minimum at home to a Barça that was getting worse as the minutes passed during the game. These are the 5 takeaways from the loss in Madrid.
Barcelona faced their first defeat in the Ronald Koeman era against Getafe on Saturday night. It was not an easy game, since the style of play of the rivals and the fact that the Catalans played as visitors affected the development of the game.
However, Barcelona looked solid for the most part, and a penalty from the locals was the start of a meltdown from the Garnet and the Blue. While Getafe took advantage of their physical and defensive capacity to maintain the result, Barça looked out of ideas. The refereeing, too, was a bit suspect, to say the least, and it only added to the visitor’s troubles. The only silver lining was Real Madrid, who also lost points on the day and Barça could top them in the El Clásico next week with a game in hand. These are the five takeaways from Barcelona vs Getafe.
1. Antoine Griezmann is going from bad to worse
Antoine Griezmann has started every single game this season under Ronald Koeman, and each performance is worse than the previous one. Even though Griezmann shone with the French National Team, he was one of the players with the fewest participations in the game Getafe. He was not able to connect with his teammates well enough and missed the easiest chance of the game the one time he did.
As long as Griezmann is a Barcelona’s player, we as fans have to support him so that he can resurge into his best form. That said, he has already received had four chances as a starter and has displayed very little to cement his place, especially when there are players like Pedri, Fransisco Trincāo, Ousmane Dembele, and Konrad de la Fuente waiting for opportunities every game.
2. Awful substitutions by Ronald Koeman
One positive thing that Ronald Koeman implemented in his system is constant rotations during games. In all clashes, the Dutch coach has made use of almost all the allowed changes to get players off the bench. Yesterday, too, the Dutchman tried to make the most of his bench, but the decisions taken were not the most optimal.
Koeman started by introducing Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho for Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri. In theory, it was a move that made sense since the subs were like-for-like. However, removing the 17-year-old and leaving Griezmann on was questionable, to say the least.
Ronald Koeman did not utilise his bench to its maximum potential. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
Sometime later, with 10 minutes remaining in the match, Francisco Trincão and Martin Braithwaite entered for Frenkie de Jong and Griezmann. Removing de Jong was not the correct call, in both fore and hindsight. More than that, however, Koeman should have brought on a striker earlier than the 80th minute. Finally, Riqui Puig debuted this season but entering at the 87th minute for Sergi Roberto, he did not have enough time to change to course of the game.
In the absence of a goal and with a few minutes to achieve it, Barcelona opted to structure themselves into a 3-2-5, and the lack of midfielders in the centre of the park slowed down transition into the attack, therefore giving Barça no opportunities to create.
3. A case of a horrible refereeing
Usually, bringing up poor refereeing during a game means bad officitating for both teams, which concludes in nothing. When Barcelona plays poorly while there being dubious plays on the subject of referees, it is not the main reason for the team’s failure. Yesterday, however, we witnessed something different. There were countless plays in which the decision from the referees cost Barcelona the game.
Gerard Piqué was on the receiving end of a yellow card in the first half for winning a header, which became worse when Allan Nyom was not booked for elbowing Messi in the face a few minutes later. Cesar Soto Grado also missed the penalty when Nyom fouled on Ansu Fati inside the box. Not to mention, the Cameroonian was still on the pitch despite clocking in eight fouls in the game. Barça could have done better, sure, but there were multiple shady decisions that, when given the way in favour of Barcelona, could have helped gain the three points.
4. Sergiño Dest was productive from the left flank
With Jordi Alba injured and Junior Firpo recovering from injury, Koeman was facing crossroads picking his team for the game. In the end, Sergiño Dest was given the responsibility of defending the left flank and supporting the team in offensive tasks with his runs. Although not his natural position, the American displayed brilliance both defensively and offensively.
Dest seemed to connect well with his teammates already, covering the wide areas well, and won important duels in rivals’ half. He also gave several key passes and was able to maintain a high-intensity throughout the game. The 19-year-old showed signs of better things to come, and him in his natural position will truly be sensational to watch.
5. Pedri’s brilliant performance in the no. 10 role
Polar opposites yesterday. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Pedri had his first starter game for Barcelona, and he did not disappoint. Playing in Philippe Coutinho’s position, Pedri stepped up and played brilliantly throughout the first half displaying unrivalled speed, creativity, and intensity in the attack. In addition, he generated multiple chances and was always looking to participate in the offence. Pedri was substituted in the 62nd minute by Coutinho, but his performance was excellent, as he capped off the game as possibly the best player on the pitch yesterday.
At just 17 years old, Pedri is turning out to be one of Koeman’s favourites. The Spaniard has had minutes in every La Liga game and has not put a foot wrong yet. It will be important to continue giving a talent like his minutes so that he can develop into a special footballer. Time will dictate the program of this jewel.
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.