Barça secured the three points with ease and comfort as the Catalans steamrolled its way past Mallorca at Son Moix. The three-month break seems to have done Barcelona more good than harm, as the squad looked fully rested and energised to take on RCD Mallorca at the Estadi Son Moix. With the collective being coordinated and cohesive, the footballers added their bit of quality too as they achieved a convincing 0–4 away win.
Marc-André ter Stegen: 7/10
Marc-André ter Stegen looked calm and collected in goal as he clinched a much-needed clean sheet for the blaugranas. Although he was forced to make a couple of difficult saves, the German didn’t seem fathomed and effortlessly denied every attempt that came his way. In addition to his brilliant shot-stopping ability, the 28-year-old was incredibly accurate with his distribution, recording 64 passes.
Gerard Piqué: 7/10
Gerard Piqué, although he seemed a bit out of touch at times, had a decent night at the back, and distributed the ball forward with tremendous efficiency. Along with maintaining a solid partnership with Ronald Araújo, Geri was determined to seal an optimistic result.
Ronald Araújo: 7.5/10
Uruguayan centre-back Ronald Araújo was an unexpected inclusion in Setién’s starting XI, but to the surprise of everyone, he was one of Barcelona’s most crucial figures in their 0–4 victory. Not only did the youngster position himself with perfection, but he even made smart choices on the ball, getting himself out of tight areas and executing the right plays. An outstanding debut for young Araújo, who would be proud to redeem himself after being sent off in his previous game against Sevilla.
Sergi Roberto: 8/10
Sergi Roberto was running rampant on the right flank with his blistering pace and productivity in attack. While defensively he wasn’t the most stable, his ability to stretch Mallorca’s deep block and create opportunities on the right hand side allowed Barcelona to find spaces to exploit.
Jordi Alba: 8.5/10
Similar to his full-back partner in crime, Jordi Alba was slightly fragile defensively. But, in spite of that, his output in attack made up for every little flaw he made. The Alba fans are so familiar with turned up at the Son Moix as the Spaniard unquestionably conquered the left flank. Jordi contributed early on in the game through a terrific aerial cross, and later on, even found himself scoring a neat finish. Remarkable display from a player who seemed out of form before the break.
Sergio Busquets: 7/10
While Sergio Busquets, for obvious reasons, was unable to complete the full 90 minutes, he was once again a leading figure for the Catalans. Commanding Barça from the base of the midfield, he proved why his importance to the Spanish giants is so decisive. Just another day at the office for Barça’s profound pivot.
Frenkie de Jong: 7.5/10
Frenkie de Jong was one of the major reasons Barça were able to acquire a lead in just the second minute of the game since it was his tenacity to win the ball back that allowed his side to capitalise. Whilst he is known to be far more comfortable as a pivot, the Dutchman is a highly capable interior and showed, with ample space and width on the field, he can make a positive impact on the game. Due to Vidal being far more aggressive in attack and choosing to attack the opposition, Frenkie had the liberty to often sit deep. Winning the ball back on various occasions and offering balance to the side, it was a wonderful outing for the former Ajax man.
Frenkie de Jong enjoyed the tactical freedom Quique Setién awarded to his players | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
Arturo Vidal: 8/10
Chilean workhorse Arturo Vidal was a sight for sore eyes against Vicente Moreno’s men. Vidal slotted a beautifully hit header past Manolo Reina, won all his aerial duels and was a beast with his pressing. Despite not possessing Arthur Melo’s technique or intelligence, his significance to the club has often been undervalued.
Martin Braithwaite: 8/10
Barcelona’s newly signed Martin Braithwaite played to prove a point as he lived up to his words, scoring a well placed half-volley and providing continuous support on the left flank. He was always in the right place at the right time, and gave Barcelona an edge with his pace and athleticism. A game the Dane will undeniably remember for the rest of his life.
❛ Braithwaite was also great today. He did everything right ❜
Antoine Griezmann: 5.5/10
Despite starting in the centre, Antoine Griezmann seemed lost and absent on the field. Defensively, his contributions were admirable, but taking a look at the role he was actually supposed to fulfill, it can be said he had little impact. He barely posed a threat to Mallorca’s defence and often seemed disconnected with Martin Braithwaite and Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi: 9/10
Lionel Messi looked sharper than ever and was a constant menace for Mallorca’s melancholic defence. A goal and two assists to mark his return earned him the undisputed man of the match title as he helped his Barça side cruise to a triumphant victory. With his beard trimmed, hair coming down and typical knack for scoring goals, it appeared as if Messi had gone back in time and brought a younger version of himself. If the azulgranas desire to continue winning games, they’ll need their captain to continue performing in the same fashion.
• Luis Suárez: 7/10
• Iván Rakitić: 6/10
• Arthur Melo: 6.5/10
• Junior Firpo: N/A
• Nélson Semedo: N/A
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.