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Barça’s front three: Who should play?

Lewis Shankie



Barça front three
Header Image by Imago

Before the break, the front three from Barça was short on options and tired. Players were not getting enough rest as key members such as Dembélé and Suárez were injured. Now, only the French winger will be missing for La Liga and this gives Setién a number of options.

With Barcelona scheduled to play Mallorca on the 14th or 15th of June, it will be interesting to see who Quique Setién selects for Barça’s front three. There is competition for places and reports are suggesting that all of the forwards have come back in great physical condition. The break could have been a blessing in disguise for the Catalan side, with players like Lionel Messi needing rest and Luis Suárez recovering from injury. However, with the long break, rotations will be key as the team regain their match fitness. Therefore, there should be game time for all of the attacking options and hopefully Setién will give everyone a fair chance.

Lionel Messi

Let’s start with the obvious choice, Lionel Messi. He is the key man in Barҫa’s front three and will almost certainly be the first name on the team sheet. Over the years, Messi has led the blaugranas to many trophies and won many on an individual level too. His game has developed from a raw winger to one of the most complete players ever. In recent years though, the team has looked to the Argentine to score goals and create them. There has been many times where the Barҫa captain has had to save the team and this can be draining for any player.

❛ We can’t think about what’s been left behind this year. It’s better to think about the future, like playing games. It will be strange at first, but I am desperate to compete again ❜

Lionel Messi

At the start of this season Leo was out with an injury. Since then it has been rumoured that he has not been fully fit and he is either carrying a slight injury or fatigued. Nobody needed a rest more than Messi and culés should see him fully fit again. So far this season, the number 10 has played 31 times in all competitions, scoring 24 goals and assisting another 16 times. Now well rested and fit, the former La Masía graduate will be looking to win more trophies with the club. Nonetheless, his minutes must be managed well as overusing him again could lead to injuries or fatigue.

The striker

There is a big question on who should be leading Barҫa’s front three when football resumes. The two candidates are Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann. Suárez is possibly the best natural striker of his generation. In an era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, at their peak, the Uruguayan has won top goal scorer in Europe twice. His record for the Catalans sees him likely to become the second highest goal scorer for the club, only behind Messi. There is no denying his quality, but now 33, he has not been at the level he once was. Many rumours suggested this could be due to him playing through injury. Hopefully with the break Luis has had time to recover and Barcelona fans will see the best version of him again.

❛ The stop to La Liga made it possible for me to play. I’m gonna play matches that I thought I wouldn’t ❜

Luis Suárez

Griezmann is the other option that Quique Setién has to play as the focal point of Barҫa’s front three. The Frenchman has settled in well at the club and produced some important goals and performances so far. He has been played out on the wing at times and this has not been his best position. He is definitely more effective through the middle. Setién would be making the same mistake Ernesto Valverde did with Coutinho by leaving him out on the left wing. Therefore, with a long break and rotations needed, Suárez and Griezmann should share the role of the main striker until the end of the season.

Left wing

Finally, Martin Braithwaite and Ansu Fati should be in competition for a starting role on the left in Barça’s front three. Braithwaite has had very limited chances in the first team so far but these have impressed fans already. His directness and pacey runs in behind teams are sometimes what Barcelona need to break teams down and create chances. The Dane is able to take on defenders and beat them in a one against one situation. Martin has a strong mentality and looks like he wants to fight for a starting role. He has not come just to sit on the bench. Braithwaite could be a surprise package and should be given the opportunities to show if he is at the correct level.

Ansu Fati should also be in contention for a starting place in the team. The youngster has shone when given the chance and has shown an abundance of talent and maturity. He fits into the team well and has a great understanding of the system the azulgranas try and play. He is quick, has an eye for goal and has already shown he can easily dribble past defenders. With Ousmane Dembélé not back until August, and Messi needing a rest from time to time, both Braithwaite and Ansu should get plenty of opportunities for the remainder of the season.

See more

Barcelona’s pressing intensity over the years

• Comparing the attacks of Barcelona and Liverpool

• Luis Suárez, the best player in the world in the 2015/16 season?

• How could Coutinho be useful for Quique Setién this season?


Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.



How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate



Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.


This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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