Despite how difficult winning La Liga is, Barça shone with their best performance under Quique Setién and one of the best of the season. An almost perfect match and one that thrilled all fans. These are five takeaways from the Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona.
After losing points against Celta de Vigo and Atlético de Madrid consecutively, Barcelona needed a victory. More than to obtain the three points to continue in the fight of a complicated league, Barça needed them to recover the confidence. An injection of motivation to remember who Barcelona is, what the players are capable of, and that, despite all the negatives inside the club, what happens on the pitch shouldn’t be one of them.
Quique Setién fielded an unusual line-up that raised many eyebrows for the players selected. However, the blaugranas surprised everyone by dominating against Villarreal with great football, verticality, fluidity and joy. It had been a long time since the culés‘ had last witnessed such a satisfying display of Barça’s best football.
Perhaps La Liga is close to unachievable, but it must be remembered that the season is not over yet and that there is a Champions League to play for in August. For now, the exhibition against Villarreal was synonymous with how the team should play game after game. These are five things that Barcelona learned from their 1–4 win over Villarreal on Sunday.
1. Quique Setién finds a functional role for Antoine Griezmann
After nine games in La Liga without finding the net and a couple of poor performances, Antoine Griezmann finally smiled again as he scored a goal and was key in yesterday’s victory. Quique Setién chose to play the Frenchman alongside the two players with whom he did not seem to have a good understanding on the pitch: Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Nevertheless, the coach located Griezmann in the area that best exploited all his virtues, playing towards the centre and having the freedom to move and drive the ball from the final third through a great connection with Messi and Suárez themselves.
During the match, Antoine was extremely participative both in attack and defence. Without the ball, he was always well positioned, moving quickly and being free to receive a pass from a teammate. Then he quickly began to circulate and contribute with a great rhythm to the azulgranas‘ attack. When the team lost the ball, the Little Prince was placed in a deeper area, supporting the midfield in the counter-attacks of the locals and pressing hard to recover the ball as soon as possible.
The cherry on top of the cake was Griezmann‘s stunning goal. After several chances, Messi backheeled the ball to the 29-year-old in the 45th minute. The Frenchman had confidence in himself and sent a perfect chip from outside the box over Sergio Asenjo. Without a doubt, one of his best goals as a Barça player, and one of his best displays for the Catalans too. Furthermore, his movements leading up to the game opener were very fluid and were one of the reasons why Pau Torres scored an own goal too. Monsieur Griezmann is back.
2. Sergi Roberto, key in midfield
In recent years, Sergi Roberto has had to operate at right-back, outside his natural midfield position. His versatility has helped him to be a profitable asset in such role. Notwithstanding, in the few games that the Spaniard had played back in midfield, he didn’t have the same impact. Yesterday, though, Quique Setién experimented with Roberto in left midfield, and he was not mistaken. A masterful match by Barcelona’s fourth captain.
“Tactically, it had been a while since I played there [midfield]. Sometimes I play central midfield but on the right, and today I was on the left side, where I am most comfortable. It’s where I played for Barça B”
Sergi was like a joker from a poker game. He did not have a primary function but was functional in all areas. He was nowhere, but, at the same time, he was everywhere. Without wingers, Jordi Alba and Nélson Semedo had to generate width for the Catalans, while Sergi Roberto often formed a back three with Clément Lenglet and Gerard Piqué to contain Paco Álcacer and Gerard Moreno in a successful way.
In attack, Roberto was ready to break lines and distribute with a privileged vision to witness the movements of his teammates and being the link of the different positions of the formation. Some time later, the Spaniard moved to right-back since Nélson Semedo had been replaced by Riqui Puig. He continued to perform at a good level. Mister versatility.
3. Is the 4–3–1–2 the most dangerous formation for the MSG?
There have been very few clashes in which the attacking trio formed by Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, also called the MSG, has performed successfully. Especially because of problems with chemistry, with Antoine not knowing which areas to occupy, the lack of width generated by the Frenchman in the left wing, and the poor organisation to counter-press. Nevertheless, at the Estadio de la Cerámica, Quique Setién seemed to have found the cure to such disease.
The coach made some adjustments in the formation. After several games with the usual 4–3–3, Quique chose a similar set-up to the latest game against Atlético de Madrid. The formation used against Villarreal was a 4–3–1–2, or a diamond-shaped 4–4–2. This scheme consisted of three interiors and an offensive midfielder, or mediapunta, in charge of distributing the ball and playmaking. In this case, Lionel Messi.
Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann scored once goal each, while Lionel Messi assisted twice | Photo by Maria José Segovia / Zuma via Imago
These tactics made Leo play in a zone where he feels comfortable, orchestrating the blaugranas‘ attacks. The Argentinian was positioned behind Suárez and Griezmann, both quite central. By contrast, in defence, the number 10 exchanged roles with Antoine as the Frenchman had greater defensive duties. Without a doubt, it was the first time that the MSG was so well connected, with a brilliant understanding and attitude. If these three attackers are to play together often, this system should be applied.
4. Setién uses all five changes properly
One of the aspects that has been harshly criticised towards Quique Setién at Barcelona has been his use of substitutions. Since the return of La Liga, there have been few games in which the coach has used the new five substitutions rule to his advantage. The changes made by Setién were either too late or not the ideal ones. Fortunately, Setién wisely used the five changes at the right time against the Yellow Submarine.
The first two changes were made in the 60th minute, as Riqui Puig and Iván Rakitić replaced Nélson Semedo and Luis Suárez. 12 minutes later, Ansu Fati was subbed in for Antoine Griezmann, and Martin Braithwaite for Sergio Busquets. Ansu himself scored the final goal of the match, in what was the 9,000th goal in the club’s history.
“We don’t like to be behind in the standings, but we will fight to turn the situation around, knowing how complicated it is”
At last, the coach gave Ronald Araújo a few minutes to rest Gerard Piqué. In total, three Barça B youngsters played and the coach gave some much-needed rest to key pieces such as Suárez, Busquets and Piqué. Now, fans hope to have such excellent work displayed with more consistency and, of course, to see B talents Monchu Rodríguez and Álex Collado getting some chances as well.
5. The full-backs do a master job
The only problem the 4–3–1–2 formation could have is that it usually is too narrow, except if the right players and approach are used. Without wingers to open up spaces, it is the full-backs who must provide the width and depth. Thus, against Villarreal they managed to make a great impact in the final third to find endless spaces in the Groguets‘ backline. All thanks to the superb display from Nélson Semedo and, mostly, Jordi Alba.
Still, the use of such system was adequate since, with Sergi Roberto in midfield, the Catalans were more secure in defence and the full-backs had much more freedom than on other occasions. In the same way, their explosiveness and end product was remarkable, participating in almost every single play. On the left wing, Alba was a dagger, recording the assist to Pau Torres’ own goal. In almost all positions, and from the first till the last minute, Barcelona delivered an exhibition at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
How should Barcelona lineup against Dynamo Kyiv?
If the horrid performance against Atletico Madrid was not enough, injuries continue to plague Barcelona’s season further. The Catalans were outplayed at the Wanda Metropolitano. However, the question is: How does the team recover from a defeat like that?
After initial injuries to Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets threatened to derail the Catalans season, the club has now confirmed both Gerard Pique and Seri Roberto to be out through injury for a long spell.
Yet, for all the mayhem in the league, Barcelona’s position in the champions league is safe. With three wins from their opening three encounters, they sit untouched at the top of the group. Ronald Koeman pointed to the same when asked about his decision of resting Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong. With so many key players out injured and others rested, how should Barcelona line-up against Dynamo Kyiv?
What to expect from Dynamo Kyiv?
The first game between the two sides provided more than it had promised. Kyiv were missing 13 players through COVID-19, yet that did not reflect on the pitch. Barcelona dominated the opening spell of the game. However, beyond the 25-minute mark, there was a sudden drop in energy levels. The Catalans seemed to ease off, opening the gates to a close-fought level headed battle which could have gone either way.
Mircea Lucescu has stuck to his successful 4-1-4-1 in the Champions League too. The overload in midfield is a potent obstacle to most oppositions, though one would expect Barcelona to break it down. The Ukrainians have often resorted to, and will most probably look to once again implement a low block. The press is high, however, isn’t very prominent in the opposition half.
Lucescu will bring up a harbour of troubles for Barcelona. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Instead, Lucescu’s men look to hit on the counter. Victor Tsygankov, Vitaliy Buyalski and Vladydlav Supryaga have time and time again proved to invaluable for the same.
Learning from their mistakes, Barcelona will have to plug the spaces in between lines to come back home with all three points. It is a much younger side travelling to Ukraine. Moreover, with this being a chance for many of them to impress, one can expect the youth to step up.
How should the Barcelona line-up?
The only department that seems sorted for the time being is the Goalkeeper. Yet, ter Stegen too is coming off a horrid mistake at the Wanda Metropolitano. One that cost Barcelona the match. Undoubtedly, the German will be keen to make a statement on Tuesday.
The defence is in jeopardy. Gerard Pique could likely miss anywhere between three months to the end of the season after suffering a muscle sprain and partial cruciate ligament tear. Ronald Araujo is not fit to compete either, and with Samuel Umtiti’s state not helping the cause, Koeman stares into blackness.
Yet, one man’s loss is another’s gain. Given the situation, young Barcelona B centre-back Oscar Mingueza could get his chance to impress. In fact, it was a point Koeman specifically hinted to at the pre-match interview. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Clement Lenglet, whose importance is now more than ever. In Pique’s absence, the Frenchman will have to take up the onus of leadership and marshalling the troops.
Sergi Roberto’s injury opens the door for Sergino Dest to start the game at right-back. Unquestionably, his pace will be crucial to neutralise Kyiv’s threat on the counter.
At left-back, one expects Jordi Alba to start once again. In the absence of Lionel Messi, the Spaniard’s importance will be more than ever to create chances going forward.
Ronald Koeman could opt for a change in formation going into this clash, given his limited resources. Indeed, a 4-3-3 would be an ideal setup to try with the new crop of players. Miralem Pjanic could start as the defensive midfielder operating deeper in the position. Nevertheless, It is not a new role for the Bosnian, as he has played as a single pivot on many occasions in his career.
The midfield could be completed by the duo of Pedri and Carles Alena. Pedri had a comparatively quiet night against Atletico Madrid and will look to make amends. Carles Alena could finally get a well-deserved start after being neglected from the start of the season.
Antoine Griezmann could well start as the centre-forward on the night. The Frenchman has come under intense scrutiny by the media, both for his performances and statement made by people in his environment. Indeed, it will be an essential night for the World Cup winner, as he will lead the Catalan attack.
🗣 — Griezmann: "I am very well here at Barça, they have welcomed me very well. I want to help the team. They trusted me and now I want to reciprocate that trust by helping the team win. There is no problem with anyone, I'm really fine and I just ask you to leave me a bit calm." pic.twitter.com/XuOLl92GQH— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Flanking him on the left side would be Ousmane Dembele, who is undoubtedly a major asset for Koeman. In these trying times with limited options, his all-round play comes as a whiff of fresh air.
On the right-flank, Fransisco Trincao would be the ideal option. Koeman has under-utilised the Portuguese winger so far. However, Tuesday night could be his chance to impress as the Dutch manager looks to rest key players. Moreover, his combination with Dest will be crucial for Barcelona to break down Lucescu’s side.