A terrible first half that gradually improved to turn into a decent second half. A good result considering our experiences away from home but bad decisions in the final minutes. 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona.
If we review the previous away games in the UEFA Champions League we can realize that we had only won 1 of the last 8 matches. A real disaster in the best club-level tournament in the world. Today we expected that history would be repeated after a first-half were Barcelona lacked conviction. Fortunately, the approach was changing and improving since the beginning of the second half, where the culés were able to score and generate enough danger to fight in this tie. The match was going to end in a fair 1-1 or even a victory for the Catalans until in the last 10 minutes everything went black for the team with some awful player decisions. Even so, we got a good result and good learning. 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona.
1. Barça found a player who can score away from home in the UCL.
To score a goal away from home is a huge challenge for the Azulgranas, especially in the Champions League. In this European tournament, if there is something that plays a big factor, it is the stadium where you play, for some reason the visitor goal rule exist. Anfield, Rome, Juventus … in all of those matches we had huge difficulties to score, but the problem wasn’t only that we didn’t score. It’s much more complex than that. Playing outside the Camp Nou has deprived goalscorers like Suárez or Neymar of being able to score a simple goal, something they do week after week. But the problem was even worse, it wasn’t just the scorers but the whole team except for Messi. The Argentine has been the only player from Barcelona who has scored as a visitor in the UCL knockout stage since 2015 (Neymar vs Bayern Munich). This disappointing streak ended at the San Paolo stadium. Where finally a player takes that weight off to Lionel.
Griezmann becomes that player who scores as a visitor in the UCL knockout stage since 2015. It took approximately 5 years for something like this to happen. Depressing. We’re talking about that the Frenchman has more goals than Suárez in this stage since then. For some reason, we have failed to reach the finals of this competition in recent years. The dependence on Messi is overwhelming to the point that it does something negative when it just doesn’t have to be that way. It’s okay to take advantage of his talent but not rely solely on it. Yesterday Antoine showed that FC Barcelona is more than the Messi FC of the past seasons. The petit prince in the first half was completely lost. After the match, he acknowledged that his game in the positioning was horrendous. However, he improved notably in the second 45 minutes to score that goal. Let’s continue with the rest of the takeaways from the Napoli vs Barcelona game.
2. ‘El Clasico’ is the priority for the team
To say that Barcelona discredited Napoli to give importance to ‘El Clasico’ sounds crazy, but seeing the approaches of the game is logical what their expectations were. Rest Lenglet so that Umtiti plays, rest Fati and Arthur to put more physical players like Vidal and Rakitic, all these are signs that this match was one of rotation for the match against the ‘Merengues’. If we take into account that there are not many players that Setién can use then this idea is taking more form.
Barça wasn’t too lucky to face the two clubs in the same week. The match against Real Madrid is a La Liga final in a nutshell, the one who wins would practically secure the title of the Spanish championship unless something strange happens. But underestimating the rival was an option? No, we are very weak of visitors and risking the Champions League that way is dangerous. However, the plan went well. A good result and the players rested for Sunday’s game. The Blaugranas are ready to face Zidane’s team.
3. Quique Setién’s changes have to be on time
In the starting XI, Setién preferred to use Arturo Vidal and Rakitic over Arthur and Ansu Fati. It wasn’t the most appropriate lineup for an away game but the administration with the changes was even worse. After a depressing first half of Rakitic, Arthur should have replaced him at the beginning of the second half. But it wasn’t like that. It took about 10 minutes for the Brazilian to enter and in a matter of seconds, he participated in the play of the only goal of the Blaugranas. They had to spend several minutes later so that in the 87th minute Ansu Fati entered for Griezmann and the last change of the match was mandatory due to Piqué’s injury. Change management is something that can affect the final result.
It’s clear that Quique Setién has an excellent reading of the game and his knowledge in this sport is above the average of the great coaches. That’s why is rare this complaint with the late changes. The change of Ansu Fati was necessary at the beginning of the second half. The impenetrable defense of Napoli constantly left spaces on both sides but we didn’t have a winger to open those spaces to generate explosive plays. We had Messi who did a great job in that regard but this work was necessary on both sides. That’s why Fati’s change was exaggeratedly late. If his incorporation had been a few minutes before I don’t say that we would have won the match but the chances of scoring were higher given the circumstances of the match. One of the most important takeaways from the Napoli vs Barcelona.
4. The result at Stadio San Paolo was neither good nor bad
After the 5-0 victory over Eibar with a Messi Poker, a great performance was expected in Naples. In addition, Napoli is far from its best version, something that reinforces the idea of being able to win with great ease. However, poor dynamics away from home in recent years at the UCL make this result not very bad after all. There were aspects that could be improved but others that could have been much worse. In addition, if we take into account the available players this result is more than meritorious and fair.
“At home, we will have more options. They have defended very well, but it is difficult for them to do so at the Camp Nou. We were afraid of the cons and we have solved them well. We have recovered the ball very quickly.”-Quique setién
In the Camp Nou, the tie will be easier than this. Although Busquets and Vidal won’t play, with the other players available and in a more favorable schedule, everything suggests that Barcelona will close this elimination next month. The pressure for the leadership of La Liga, El Clasico that is played on Sunday and the situation currently going on with the club with Bartomeu are factors that affected the mentality of the players. In a month with the calmest waters, with La Liga leadership with several points of advantage and with Jordi Alba and Roberto back, the players will feel mentally better for a duel of such magnitude.
5. The players deficit somehow is increasing
When we believed that we couldn’t have more absences in the dressing room we were wrong. It was not enough with Dembélé, Suárez, Alba, and Roberto, this list in one way or another is increasing. Piqué will be out for 1-2 weeks for an ankle injury in the final minutes of the game. Despite not being so serious, and being physically well, he will probably miss ‘El Clasico’. Vidal and Sergio Busquets are two other players who will be absent. Unlike the “3”, they were not injured so we don’t have to worry so much. However, the double yellow card of ‘King’ Arturo and the yellow cards accumulation of the ‘Octopus’ in Champions League discard these two to receive Napoli home.
The lack of players is not a surprise after the incompetent management of the club’s board. The heavyweights of the group have already expressed dissatisfaction with Bartomeu’s staff, including Messi, Piqué, and Busquets. It is a matter of time before this group of entrepreneurs leaves the team. At the moment Setién has more problems than solutions. There is no doubt that Lenglet-Umtiti will be the center-back couple that will play against Real Madrid but against Napoli, there are some doubts. Quique won’t count with Busquets and Vidal, two players who were important in this first leg. Taking into account that Arthur and De Jong will start the match, only Rakitic and Puig remain. We all have the illusion of seeing the young Spanish but the Croatian will play over him. Let’s not dream anymore. These were the 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona. Next fixture: El Clasico.
Tactical Analysis: Juventus 0-2 Barcelona
In collaboration with Soumyajit Bose.
A detailed look into the game by numbers, statistics, and tactics as FC Barcelona outplayed Juventus at the Allianz Stadium in the UEFA Champions League.
Koeman’s Barcelona side started out as expected, in a 4-2-3-1. Antoine Griezmann operated as a false 9, with Lionel Messi behind him in a free role. Off-the-ball, Griezmann would have the job of pressing the opposition ball-carriers which resulted in his starting position being relatively deeper.
Barcelona’s formation always have more than a hint of asymmetry due to Messi’s free role. This resulted in different positional play for the wingers as we can see from the pass-map.
Not only did this affect the wingers, but even the full-backs had different degrees of attacking potential. Miralem Pjanic and Frenkie de Jong formed the double pivot, with the latter having the task of being the ball-carrier more often than Pjanic as always.
Juventus lined up in a 4-2-3-1, but it was more of a skewed 4-2-4 as we can see from the pass-map. Paolo Dybala played in the role we’ve seen Ramsey play under Pirlo where he has the license to contribute anywhere in the attack, as well as drop back to facilitate the build-up.
Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur, due to their high-energy play had the job of controlling the midfield. They would switch sides fluidly, looking to drag Barcelona’s midfielders out of position for Dybala to find space and drop back towards.
The skewed formations and the emphasis of play down one wing more than the other resulted in Juan Cuadrado playing in a much higher position than Danilo.
From the start, there was a significantly larger portion of the play on the right-wing from Juventus. Dybala was a major reason for this, as the Argentine prefers to drift wide and drive forwards with the ball. Along with Dejan Kulusevski, both of these left-footed players made it easier for Juventus to attack using the right-wing, which they made the most of as we can see from the touch-based heatmaps.
It’s also important to see how both systems affected each other. Ousmane Dembele, being more of a direct dribbler than Pedri, often received the ball higher up the field to utilize the right-wing. This meant that Sergi Roberto was unable to carry out the same marauding runs which Jordi Alba was down the left.
Pedri would tuck in on the left, which is something he often did at Las Palmas and is comfortable with, while simultaneously allowing Alba the attacking freedom he needs.
This part of Barcelona’s player dynamics meant that Juventus had to be more cautious when defending with Danilo. With Messi favouring to drift towards the right, Dembele was able to move higher- up the field sticking to the touchline.
Though Sergi Roberto was unable to overlap due to this, it brought the best out of Dembele’s penetrative attacking play. As the touch-based heatmap shows, Dembele was able to cut in often, whereas Roberto drifted towards the half-spaces to form triangles with Dembele and a midfielder or with Messi.
The following visualization shows just how much more of a direct threat Barcelona’s right-wing was than the left-wing.
This is also represented through the following visualization, which helps us understand just how much of a benefit Messi drifting towards the right was. There is a much higher number of take-ons down the wings and the half-spaces in the final-third for Barcelona and a much lower number for Juve down their left-wing.
The build-up and transitions
Juventus have adopted a unique approach to building-up which we have seen from Andrea Pirlo’s initial matches, as well as what he stated in his thesis.
Forming rhombuses or diamonds allows the team to progress in units, which maintains positional integrity while forcing the opposition to commit more players to the press. The following visualization shows just that. Barcelona’s pressurizing activities were either through the middle to prevent the midfielders from having too much possession and to force the centre-backs to pass wide.
This is where the wingers, one midfielder, and a full-back would immediately start pressing Juventus. Especially on the near side, it meant a higher concentration of pressurizing defensive activities as we can see, with less focus in the half-spaces.
Juventus would opt to build up from the back, then forming diamonds with one full-back, a centre-back, a midfielder, and one forward or Dybala who had te license to roam.
This asymmetry is something that Juventus could face a problem with in the future. The concentration of play down the right-wing is highlighted through their progressive passes, which we can see were mostly from right-to-left when transitioning from the middle-third.
Once in the final-third, there was relatively more of a balance as the same visualisation shows us.
Barcelona looked to build from the back with centre-backs Clement Lenglet and Ronald Araujo passing to the full-backs, or the pivots. To help in the build-up, Barcelona’s wingers would drop back, while staying wide. This gave the team a free man in the build-up and provide numerical superiority.
Well, that would be the case usually. However, Juventus were man-marking de Jong and Pjanic according to where the build-up was from. Simultaneously, Dybala and a winger pressed the backline while Alvaro Morata tried to aggressively pin the defenders back.
This pressing system forced Barcelona to play long-balls often, which was what Juventus wanted. As we can see from the following visualization, the majority of unsuccessful passes from the defensive third were long passes.
However, this is where Sergi Roberto was able to do his best. Forming triangles on the right with Messi and either Dembele or a midfielder, he was able to frequently dribble progressively inwards.
As Ronald Koeman himself said, Barcelona played a very complete match. They dominated almost every phase of the play, in every way possible. A brief glance at the datatable shows just that :
Barcelona were on fire from the very get-go and could have scored within a couple of minutes after a terrible pass by Merih Demiral, which led to a succession of 3 shots by Lionel Messi, Miralem Pjanic, and Antoine Griezmann respectively. Barcelona’s overall shot qualities were better, and they were fully deserving of the scoreline. Here are the shot maps and the xG flow showing the domination :
That Barcelona dominated possession is somewhat of a given, but they dominated possession in the right areas. The following graphic shows the field tilt or territory gained, which is the share of final third passes by either team. As shown, Barcelona dominated territory in every phase of the game.
Lionel Messi had an outstanding day in office, producing several take-ons, an assist, a goal, and 5 key passes. Alba, Pjanic, and Greizmann chipped in with one key pass each.
For Juventus, the biggest threat throughout the game was Alvaro Morata. Notwithstanding the three offside goals, Morata constantly threatened with his pace and was able to find space between the lines. He also had a key pass to his game while Rabiot, Bentancur, Cuadrado, and Kulusevski had a key pass each.
Barcelona switched the ball around a lot more than usual. Against Sevilla, Getafe and Real Madrid, Barcelona were perhaps a little bit guilty of not stretching the field more frequently. Against Juventus, the switching worked according to plan.
As usual, the left side was overloaded with Alba, Pedri and de Jong and one of Messi or Griezmann. As the heatmaps show, Barcelona’s captain played mainly centrally or on the right half space. So him moving to the left to combine with Alba and Pedri meant that Juventus’ structure got dragged significantly and often left Dembele in space.
In fact, one such switch of play resulted in Dembele’s opener, which was following a stellar switch of play by Messi.
As shown in the above graphic, the buildup was quite intricate and beautiful. Barcelona built attacks intricately throughout the game and could have scored more, only to be thwarted by some desperate last-ditch defending by Leonardo Bonucci, Demiral and Danilo.
This performance sees Barcelona cement themselves at the top of their group. In what was a very convincing performance, Araujo had to be subbed-off leading to de Jong playing as a defender, as explained above. This injury, if it is long-term, would leave Barcelona with just Pique and Lenglet in defence with Samuel Umtiti already ruled out.
However, the team will be confident of victory in the home fixture on 9th December thanks to the collective fluidity and great performances from veterans and youngsters alike.