For Barcelona, its youth setup – Barcelona B, and the famed La Masia – has often served as one of its core components, and not a subsidiary, like a lot of clubs around Europe. It has often been the first step for players before they join the first team, learning the ways and about the heritage of the club.
Currently, a part of the Segunda B, Barcelona B were in the Segunda not more than two years ago and failed to gain promotion last season after coming oh-so-close. As another season starts, Barcelona B must balance their success on the pitch and the development of youth players simultaneously. Barca Universal takes a look at the changes we can expect from them this season.
Barcelona B must, without compromise, involve new players from the youth teams every season as much as possible. This is best showcased by Garcia Pimienta, who uses the youth teams to bolster his squad. Similarly, there are some specific players we can expect to see this season.
Against Cornella, Cadete A player Ilias Akhomach debuted for Barca B and played an entire half. At just 16 years of age, he probably won’t get a lot of chances, but if he does, we can count on him to repay the manager. The winger who has grown meteorically through the youth ranks of the Catalan club in rapid succession looked comfortable playing against much older players in the Segunda. He’s someone who could make an impact this season.
At left-back, Barcelona has a player who has progressed immensely. Alejandro Balde has played above his age group for a long time, and his development has been incredible. At 17, he is a starter for the B team and is among the players who can definitely contest for the first-team in the future. Balde is good both defensively and offensively – his pace, dribbling combined with his tracking-tackling skills makes him a capable asset down the wing.
Apart from these two, we might see attacking midfielder Brian Pena and defensive midfielder Alex Rico. Towards the end of the season, Diego Almeida, Txus Alba, Gavi might be given their debuts as well as part of an up-and-coming generation coming through.
This is a change seen in subsidiary teams such as the B team usually when there is an adjustment in the tactics for the first team. Since the team has a new manager in Ronald Koeman, the tactics are rather fresh as well. Under Setien, a 4-3-3 formation was the preferred choice, whereas under Koeman it is a 4-2-3-1. Though Barcelona played a 4-4-2 under Valverde, the B team continued in a 4-3-3. The shift to a 4-2-3-1, however, is quite less, compared to a 4-4-2.
Koeman has brought with him a plethora of changes, the major one being the team setup. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)
The second team’s sole purpose is to facilitate for the first team, which remains the priority this season as well. It just so happens that the Spaniard has three remarkable players at his disposal who can play in a double-pivot and can soon step-up to the first team – Nico Gonzalez, Jandro Orellana and Oriol Busquets. Implementing a double pivot with these players would also benefit the rest of the players. Matheus Fernandes or Alex Collado could play in the number 10 role where they can excel. Additionally, there is an interesting option in the form of Brian Pena whose style resembles Philippe Coutinho’s, could get to feature for the B team in the mediapunta role. In turn, Hiroki Abe, Ilias Akhomach, Nils Moreno, among others could play feature on the wing.
Formation changes for Barcelona B would not only help the players transition from the B team to the first team but will also improve their tactical flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of playing in a 4-2-3-1, however, leads us to our next change.
Barcelona have produced many incredible number 9s in history as well as recently. However, there has been something about the 4-3-3 system which hasn’t suited these talents – for example, Abel Ruiz. An undisputed starter for Spain’s youth sides, he was benched by Alejandro Marquez in some instances owing to his failure to rack up goals for the B team.
Abel Ruiz failed to live up to his own prophecy. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A very promising striker coming through is Gerard Fernandez, or Peque, as he is called. Playing a 4-2-3-1 system would bring out the best in him. As a forward who is incredible at pressing the defence, he would get that freedom in a 4-2-3-1. Another one of his strong attributes is his ability to link-up very well with his teammates. With a no. 10 behind him and a winger on either side, he would get the opportunity to further develop his anchor play.
The problem Barca B have had with the number 9 role is one that could make the difference between reaching the playoffs like last season and earning promotion to the Segunda A.
Barcelona B are a very dynamic team. There are always multiple changes in multiple positions due to the nature of the team. A manager focused on developing youth, Garcia Pimienta has made sure they are a very capable collective as well. With the changes we examined in this article, Barcelona B could top last season’s playoffs and finally get promotion to the Segunda A. And if not that, we can be sure that they will continue to roll out incredible players that will become Barcelona stars one day.
Detailed Analysis: Elche CF 0-2 FC Barcelona
Coming into this match, Barcelona were in good form statistically with only one loss and two draws in the last 12 games. Elche, a team with a sub-par record to say the least against Barcelona, had only two wins in the last 10 games. Barcelona were the favourites, but despite this, the performance wasn’t without hiccups for the Catalans.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 4-3-3 as expected. The game plan remained the same as always; maintaining possession, attacking consistently, and playing a game that emphasized passing and hence, bringing out the best in a team that was technically much superior to the opposition was the philosophy. The full-backs were key to this. Jordi Alba and Oscar Mingueza would regularly move up the field.
To facilitate this, Sergio Busquets would stay back on the attack, and a very high defensive line was employed. The wingers would stay wide, with Antoine Griezmann down the middle. The Frenchman would be seen dropping back to even out the numbers in midfield, while linking-up the play.
When building up, Busquets would often drop back to receive the ball. Considering Elche’s system, playing centrally was a problem. Hence, the ball would often be passed to the wings. The alternative included a staggering of midfield. Staggering is especially effective when the players are marked very tightly by the opposition.
Here, we have an example of the same. As the ball is with Samuel Umtiti, the Elche midfielder would appropriately step forward and prevent the centre-back from progressing with the ball. This would create a small window of opportunity when another midfielder would be moving to mark Pedri, seen in the circle on the far side, and space would be formed between the defensive lines. Frenkie De Jong is closer to Busquets as we see, which complemented his dynamic ball-progression. However, both interiors would regularly try to get into the box as seen in the 4-3-3 employed by Koeman this season, which led to both of Barcelona’s goals.
Jorge Almiron’s Elche side lined up in a 4-5-1. Their aim was to defend with organization, prevent Barcelona from finding space centrally, and attack through quick combinations and long-balls. The four-man defence was the core of Elche’s setup. As we see in the image below, the team was in a well defined 4-5-1. Lucas Boye, the sole striker, would look to press Barcelona’s defenders depending on who had the ball. However, with a major numerical superiority in the build-up phase, the Catalans had few problems getting the ball to midfield.
Another aspect of the team that we can see from the image above is the structure of the midfield line. Victor Rodriguez and Ivan Marcone are man-marking Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets here. The middle-three of the five midfielders had an important job. Depending on Barcelona’s players, they would have to change the player they were marking while making sure not to give space through central areas.
When building up from the back, Elche would have one player very close to the goalkeeper. The central-defenders would stay in the box with the full-backs occupying the field higher up as the image below shows us. The midfield would completely split during this phase. Firstly, Marcone would drop back into defence. Secondly, the wide-midfielders, Emiliano Rigoni and Josan would move further up the field and look to occupy Barcelona’s full-backs. Raul Guti and Victor Rodriguez would be the two players remaining in midfield as we see here.
Almiron’s side should theoretically have done much better in progressing the ball. Once the ball was launched over to the full-backs, they would form triangles on either side with the wide-midfielders up the field, and the central midfielders laterally. The problem was of technical quality. Many times, the intention behind the combinational play was admirable, but the execution would go haywire.
When Elche had the ball, Barcelona would immediately counter-press. Due to this, there were times when Elche lost the ball in Barcelona’s half with many players committed forward. Following this, Barcelona would find a lot of space to progress. As we see in the image below, Barcelona have just won possession in their own half. Elche have five players in the opposition’s half, and Barcelona have five, including Busquets, ready to attack. This was a recurring theme.
The problem with this was Elche’s full-backs failing to fall back in time. As we can see, Ousmane Dembele is completely free to make a run behind the defence. Though organized when without the ball, Elche’s defensive line was chaotic when caught on the counter. This led to Barcelona getting many chances on the counter. However, a combination of individual errors from Barcelona’s players and Elche’s willingness to absorb pressure, the Catalans lacked the final, decisive pass.
In the image below, we see another important aspect of Elche’s game plan. They would always look to force Barcelona wide and attempt nullifying the threat. Forcing a technically astute side to play down the wings can often be a good way to cope with them, but Elche failed to be solid enough in defence as both the goals showed.
Barcelona look to be finding their rhythm, after a slow start to the season. This victory was a step in the right direction for the Catalans, while Miguel Almiron’s side was a model example of a team’s technical limitations hindering the tactics. Elche have much work to do as this matchup clearly reinforced. However, this matchup could have easily gone the other way if not for a great save by Ter Stegen to keep Barcelona 0-1 up. Either way, an important three points, and a crucial first goal for Riqui Puig.
The Blaugrana are on their way to becoming greater than the sum of their parts but are yet to prove themselves against stronger opposition.