Project Koeman has well and truly initiated as the Blaugranas cruised to victory at the Camp Nou, pummelling the Yellow Submarine in brutal fashion to seal 3 crucial points. Although Villarreal had the upper hand with two games already under their belt, Barcelona did not use that as an excuse to display a dominant 90 minutes of football, racking up four goals in their very first game of the season.
Here’s are the player ratings for the Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal game:
Replacing an injured Marc-André Ter Stegen, Neto was tasked to guard the sticks for Barcelona. The Brazilian goalkeeper not only managed to clinch a clean sheet; he also denied Villarreal’s vigorous forwards from various threatening positions. Neto was calm and collected with his distribution, and exhibited his impressive reflexes, leaving Unai Emery’s side empty-handed in the final third.
Gerard Piqué: 8/10
The Catalans’ defense was remarkably well-coordinated, with Gerard Piqué anchoring the back-line with tremendous efficiency. Gerard’s ability to read the threat on innumerous occasions allowed him to always be in the right place at the right time. His proficient positioning helped Barcelona keep the Villarreal forwards at bay for a majority of the game. While the Spaniard may be slowing down with age, there’s no denying he’s still a diligent defender, who is yet to hit his decline.
Clément Lenglet: 7/10
Similar to his partner in crime, Lenglet was a firm and reliable figure whenever Villarreal charged on the counter or looked to overload the center of the park. Barcelona’s dominance in midfield rarely allowed the opposition to carry a continuous threat in attack, but it was still Clément’s awareness that enabled him to successfully anticipate Villarreal’s next move. The highlight for the Frenchman was undoubtedly his contribution to both of Ansu’s goals since his balls from deep helped initiate the moves.
Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images
Sergi Roberto: 7/10
Sergi Roberto’s time as a starting right-back may be numbered with Sergiño Dest’s arrival looking ever so imminent, but the Catalan managed to produce a convincing performance on the right flank, where he was constantly bombarding upfield and an imposing figure at the back, although he was scarcely tested on the defensive end.
Jordi Alba: 8.5/10
Jordi Alba just had one of those games where he simply ran riot on the left flank, sprinting up and down the field like there was no tomorrow. Witnessing Jordi at his absolute best may not be a privilege spectators get to enjoy on a very consistent basis nowadays, but there’s no arguing with the fact that when the left-back is in form, he’s a headache for any opposing defense. Alba provided a terrific assist for Ansu’s opening goal and was somehow always back in time to fulfill his defensive obligations. An applaudable performance from Barcelona’s fiery full-back.
Sergio Busquets: 6.5/10
The Spanish veteran distributed possession effectively from the base of midfield and remained reliable in defensive transitions, making some vital interceptions. Busi was even partially responsible for the hosts’ fourth goal of the night as his run inside the box led to Pau Torres turning the ball inside his own net, in a desperate attempt to deny Messi from finding Busquets. However, Sergio was clumsy with the ball at times and gave away possession in fruitful areas. His days as a starter may soon be nearing an end if he fails to bring his A game on occasions like these.
Frenkie de Jong: 7/10
Partnering up alongside Busquets yet again proved to hinder Frenkie De Jong’s performance as the Dutchman struggled to play with the freedom and liberation he usually has at his disposal. Although he always kept the ball moving and won most of his aerial/ground duels, Frenkie lacks confidence in possession and this was further proven by the fact that he often made slow decisions while entering the final third.
Phillipe Coutinho: 8.5/10
The Brazilian maestro continued his illustrious form, demonstrating to be the Blaugranas’ cornerstone in the attack. It appears that the investment in Phill may finally pay the club dividends. The biggest, most prominent change in the 28-year-old’s gameplay seems to be his flexibility and loss in stiffness. Looking at the current version of Phill, it’s safe to assume he’s positionally adaptable and fluid, an attribute he lacked previously. Of course, Koeman still deserves a great deal of credit for finding a position in which the Brazilian feels most comfortable.
Lionel Messi: 8/10
Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images
Lionel Messi’s involvement in the first half may have gone unnoticed by many, but he was an influential figure on and off the ball, scoring a penalty and forcing an own goal through Pau Torres. Even so, it was undoubtedly a relieving sight for Culés, knowing the Messi dependency had reduced considerably since both of Ansu’s goals came without Messi conducting the play. Although the Argentine failed to broaden Barça’s lead after proceedings, he was far more active in possession, producing some darting runs and testing Asenjo on countless occasions.
Ansu Fati: 9.5/10
Villarreal were the latest team to fall prey to the wrath of Ansu Fati, who just glided on the night, making a mockery of anyone who dared to interrupt his path. A cheeky cut back from Alba allowed the youngster to open the hosts’ lead, with Asenjo left stranded and starstruck as he watched the ball nestle into the back of the net at the speed of light.
If that weren’t enough, Ansu decided to torment the Yellow Submarine just a tad more, scoring his second goal of the night 4 minutes later with yet another ice cold finish. The cherry on the cake was when he ended up winning his side a penalty as well, which Messi concerted effortlessly. The 17 year old youngster was a breath of fresh air on the left flank, where he reigned supreme for the Azulgranas.
Antoine Griezmann: 6/10
Griezmann just had one of those games where he looked invisible, a ghastly shadow of his former self. His work rate was unquestionably unmatched, but he struggled to ineptly play the role of a target man, which is what he was initially signed to do. In his defense, he was ignored by his teammates in profitable positions, but for a player of his stature, this was an underwhelming display.
Ousmane Dembélé: 6/10
Frinsico Trincão: 6.5/10
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.