Unimpressive but enough to get the three points. These are the ratings for each Barcelona player in Wednesday’s 1–0 win over Espanyol.
While hopes were high after Barcelona thrashed Villarreal 1–4 away from home on Sunday, the blaugranas didn’t exactly replicate the same vibrant performance against Espanyol on Wednesday, barely scrapping a 1–0 victory. Nevertheless, Quique Setién’s side managed to get the job done as a Luis Suárez goal in the 56th minute was enough to relegate city rivals to the Segunda División. Here’s how the players performed:
Marc-André ter Stegen: 7.5/10
A well deserved clean sheet for Marc-André ter Stegen, who made some vital saves for his team. He denied a dangerous shot from Adrián Embarba in the first half and continued making decent saves between the sticks after proceedings. Although the German shot-stopper wasn’t challenged much, he did well whenever the opposition took looks at goal.
Gerard Piqué: 7.5/10
Despite starting games with such consistency and barely having any rest, Gerard Piqué continued putting in spirited performances at the back. The Spaniard was often left isolated whenever Espanyol charged on the counter, but he maintained a solid presence in defence, positioning himself with perfection, and emerging successful in every battle he had to engage in. Aerially, he was a menace, winning 10 out of 14 duels, and on the ground he won two out of two duels. Along with his defensive prowess, the veteran contributed heavily to Barça’s build-ups.
Clément Lenglet: 7/10
While Clément Lenglet had been overshadowing his compatriot in defence over the past few games, he didn’t seem to be as imposing as Gerard Piqué on the night. Even so, Piqué’s superior performance mustn’t hide the fact that the Frenchman was confident on the ball and completed his defensive responsibilities effectively.
Nélson Semedo: 5/10
Nélson Semedo was unimpressive owning the right flank as he was mediocre in attack and careless in defence. The Portuguese had no impact moving upfield and rarely bothered to track back, leaving Piqué abandoned in transitions. Eventually, he was brought off for the second half.
Jordi Alba: 6/10
Barcelona’s speed demon Jordi Alba looked slightly fatigued and lethargic on the field, not asserting the impact he typically has in the final third. Alba sent in some promising low crosses, but they never found a suitable outcome. Added to that, he frequently left his position in defense exposed.
“If we didn’t score in the first half or Barcelona didn’t create more chances, that’s virtue of the rival, who were very well organised. I think they make it difficult for Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba to push up on the flanks. But eventually the chance came and I’m delighted to be able to take it”
Sergio Busquets: 7.5/10
A classic Sergio Busquets exhibition. The single pivot was once again Barcelona’s puppeteer in midfield, pulling the strings and barely seen putting a foot wrong. He was always a reliable passing outlet for his teammates, and a remarkable asset in defence, winning nearly all his duels. He may be losing the ability to complete the full 90 minutes, but Busquets’ intelligence will invariably be unmatched.
Iván Rakitić: 6.5/10
After displaying a few admirable performances last month, Iván Rakitić couldn’t meet the standards he had set. Despite being a dependable option in the centre of the park, he failed to provide his team with the creativity and innovation required as he was often hesitant to take risks. Still, the Croat did well defensively, making a couple of decent challenges.
Sergi Roberto: 7/10
Sergi Roberto played two positions for the azulgranas, both of them with extreme efficiency. Whilst he was far more impressive at right-back, Roberto was reasonably influential in midfield as he looked to be forward-thinking and imaginative for the hosts. Quique Setién’s men aimed to be build most of their plays from the left side of the field, which allowed Sergi to be on the ball quite frequently in the first half. After replacing Nélson Semedo on the right, he impressed with his end product.
Sergi Roberto had to be Mr. Versatility once more as he played in midfield in the first half and at right-back in the second | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
Lionel Messi: 7/10
No contribution on the scoreline for Lionel Messi, but the Argentine was practically Barcelona’s only major threat in attack. He linked up well with his partners in attack and managed to get out of Espanyol’s tightly imposed markers. Although he failed to find the back of the net, he had a brilliant volley denied by Diego López in the second half.
Luis Suárez: 6.5/10
Luis Suárez was extremely inefficient in possession and a tremendous liability on the field. He provided no encouraging movement off the ball with his staticity in attack scarecely troubling the Periquitos. However, a tap-in after proceedings hid a disaster-class from the Uruguayan, making him the club’s third highest goalscorer.
“I’m very happy and proud of becoming the club’s third top scorer. I am lucky to have worn this Barça shirt”
Antoine Griezmann: 7/10
Notwithstanding Antoine Griezmann wasn’t able to reproduce the same display he had against Villarreal, the Frenchman had a far more convincing display than his Uruguayan partner in crime and actually provided his team with a certain level of danger in the opposing half. He was heavily responsible for the hosts’ opener and even created a great chance for Suárez in the first half, which he couldn’t capitalise on. Signs of improvement in the World Cup winner’s gameplay.
Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
In collaboration with Anurag Agate.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona faced Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. In a game marred by defensive blunders and devastating injuries, Barcelona lost the game 1-0 to fellow title-challengers.
A 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in La Liga left Barcelona reeling midtable. This was also the first time Diego Simeone’s side beat Barcelona in the La Liga. Coupled with crucial injuries to Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, Barcelona now face a dire path ahead of their UCL game against Dynamo Kyiv.
Barcelona structure and formation
Ronald Koeman went in with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Marc Andre Ter Stegen started in goal again. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet formed the centre back pairing, flanked by Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. In the absence of Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanic stepped up to form the double pivot with the ever-present Frenkie de Jong.
Pedri and Ousmane Dembele played on the flanks, with Lionel Messi in the hole and Antoine Griezmann upfront. However, as before, Messi and Griezmann had lots of interchanging positions. Pedri played more in the half-space in possession while Dembele stayed out wide. This often made the team structure a lop-sided 4-4-2. In defensive transitions, it was always a 4-4-2 with Griezmann dropping deeper to defend. Messi restricted his pressing to zones high up the pitch.
Frenkie de Jong had the freedom to push up high in the first half. However, the absence of Ansu Fati meant that the usual overload on the left side did not work in this game. Pedri had a poor game in general. Him moving far too infield to let Alba run down the left did not quite work – the passing was far too restricted by Atleti’s excellent defending. A second-half injury to Pique meant that de Jong had to play 35 minutes roughly as a centre back, which he did very well.
Atletico structure and formation
Atletico were missing some key personnel as well, most notably perhaps, Luis Suarez up top. They also missed a regular left-back Renan Lodi, and Hector Herrera and Lucas Torreira in midfield. They lined up in a highly asymmetric 4-4-2/5-3-2 structure and style.
Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez formed the centre back partnership. Mario Hermoso played in a hybrid centre-back/extremely defensive full-back role. Kieran Trippier was the more offensive fullback, practically functioning as a wing-back. Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente joined the reliable duo of Koke and Saul Niguez in central midfield as wide midfielders. Carrasco played almost in a hybrid wide midfield/wingback role. Joao Felix and Angel Correa formed the front two.
The hybrid system was particularly evident in the different phases of the game. In attack, Hermoso would push out wide like a full back but stay in more defensive, withdrawn zones. Carrasco had the freedom to stay wide looking for overlapping runs to meet Felix’s clever passes. On the other side, Llorente would shift infield, allowing Trippier to bomb forward.
Felix himself overlapped down the left side several times, trying to create numeric overloads against Roberto and Pique, dragging Pjanic wide in the process. Carrasco’s and Felix’s overlaps on the left, coupled with Saul Niguez moving ball-near side and Correa dropping in to give options – this combination created quite a few problems in the first half. Here is an example – it led to Saul’s shot early on which was saved by ter Stegen.
The game was more or less evenly balanced – neither team were outright dominant than the other in any aspect. Here is the game data at a glance:
Barcelona enjoyed marginally more possession, marginally more shots and shots on target, and a better press than Atletico. Of course, the hosts had the all-deciding goal in their favour. Neither team generated high-quality shots overall, as the shot map and xG flowchart shows :
Barcelona’s possession superiority was pretty stale. Barcelona failed to dominate critical territorial zones, measured by field tilt – which is the percentage share of final third passes of each team. Even though Barcelona had higher field tilt, it was only marginal. What strikes out is that just the goal came when Barcelona were enjoying their best bit of territorial dominance.
Buildup to shots and goals
Next we take a look at some of the shots and the goal. Early on, Barcelona had the chance to score. Dembele burned his marker with pace and sent a cross into the box. It was met by a clever flick by Greizmann. The shot sailed high unfortunately.
Atleti had their chances on the other side as well. Soon after Saul saw his shot saved, the other flank created yet another moment of danger. A brilliant interchange of passing involving Correa and Trippier met Llorente’s clever run into the box. The shot crashed against the bar.
Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona could have scored again. There was a brilliant bit of buildup, a clever run by Griezmann to drag a defender, and then Messi ghosted blindside of the center mids to meet Alba’s nutmeg pass. The angle was too tight and Messi failed to score.
Soon after, Barcelona conceded the goal. Pique stepped up to intercept a long ball. Ideally, that should have been fine, except Pique miscontrolled the pass. That left almost everyone out of position. A simple ball over the top released Carrasco into oceans of space. But the maddening part perhaps was that ter Stegen left his box wildly to tackle the Belgian. He missed; Carrasco did not – he scored into an empty net from distance.
In the second half, Barcelona had chances to equalize. However, Lenglet headed straight at Jan Oblak twice. Greizmann headed straight at Oblak once. Barcelona failed to engineer any better chances than those. The key passes map shows the crosses into the box:
Atletico’s strength lies in engaging from wide areas. In this game, their biggest threats came again from the wide zones. Hermoso, Koke, Saul and Felix regularly released Carrasco and Trippier down the flanks. Trippier would often look for cutbacks or layoff into Llorente upfield.
Barcelona on the other hand tried to create from all possible zones. Frenkie de Jong managed to pull off a wonderful long pass into the box that Greizmann miscontrolled. Dembele single-handedly created chances from the right. The combinations of Alba and Messi created – in subdued amounts – danger from the other side.
For Barcelona, Messi, de Jong, Dembele and Alba were the bulk progressive passers. For Atleti, Koke, Trippier, Hermoso and Savic progressed the ball the most.
Both teams also tried to use width a lot. Surprisingly, Barcelona had more switches of play than Atleti, who have built their game to attack wider areas. For Barcelona, perhaps the reason for frequent switching was that they could not progress a lot directly.
The game data table posted above shows us that neither team pressed a lot. PPDA, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, was around 20 for both teams (low values of PPDA indicate high pressing). Here are the maps showing the defensive activities of both team:
Atleti forbade any progress down the centre. Upfield, they tried to press Pedri and Alba from creating too much danger. Deep in their half, they tried to force Dembele as wide as possible and tried to isolate him. Barcelona pressed all over the pitch in the middle-third. In deeper zones, they had to deal with the wide threats of Carrasco and Felix, and Llorente’s infield runs. The following plot also shows how Atleti forced passes wide and forced mistakes :
Two recurring issues troubled Barcelona yet again. The lack of chemistry and the lack of experience of the youth meant that certain runs went untracked. Atleti’s rapid front line dragged Barcelona into wrong zones, allowing trailing players to ghost into blindside runs. Saul and Llorente’s efforts at goal are perfect examples of this. In the first case, Pjanic was pulled in, leaving Saul free. In the second case, Pedri’s inexperience led to him losing his mark against Llorente completely.
Speed is always an issue that Barcelona has had trouble against. Llorente’s quick underlaps created quite a bit of trouble for Lenglet. Here is yet another example of a run – the pass from Llorente was thankfully cleared.
The goal was a combination of poor positioning and lack of speed, combined with some poor touch and terrible decision-making. Pique was out of position when he made the failed interception. No one in the team was speedy enough to catch up to Carrasco down the left. Ter Stegen should have communicated better with Lenglet and stayed in the box because Lenglet was haring down to secure the centre.
Issues have now been compounded with injuries to Pique and Roberto. If they face lengthy spells away from the pitch, Barcelona are stretched thin in the defence department. De Jong looks set to continue as a centre back for the next game at the very least and Sergino Dest will have to start. Barcelona faces extremely testing times ahead.