After 2 years in-charge, German manager Thomas Tuchel was dismissed by PSG. Under Tuchel, PSG won two Ligue 1 titles, two Trophees de Champions, one Coupe de France, one Coupe de la Ligue, and reached their first ever Champions League final. With Tuchel available, and with Ronald Koeman breaking all the wrong records at Barcelona, will replacing the Dutchman with the German help pivot the Catalan club in the right direction?
Tuchel’s Tactics and Ideologies
Tuchel has been termed as the first ever laptop manager, a manager whose methods rely on observations and statistical analysis instead of playing experience. His success has given birth to other similar managers such as Julian Nagelsmann. Tuchel’s managerial career truly started with Mainz 05, but it was when he replaced Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund that his name was put on the map.
Unlike most other managers, Tuchel adapts his tactics to the opponents. At Dortmund, while he deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation on paper, the setup often switched to a 2-3-4-1 depending on the situation. Even at PSG, Tuchel usually set the team up in a 4-3-3 formation, however the shape often changed to a 4-4-2 or a 3-4-3 depending on the situation.
Tuchel a manager who values having possession, a philosophy perfectly suited for Barcelona. Under him PSG used to build from the back. Tuchel instructed his players to move so as to allow the player with the ball to always have at least two passing options available to them. PSG were also capabe of playing counterattacking football, however Tuchel made sure that while the wingers were playing between the lines, the rest of the team maintained their shape.
At Dortmund, in addition to creating triangles in the midde of the pitch, the team utilised the wings to lure the opponent to one side in order to create space in the middle. Tuchel created his own rendition of Juego de Posición, where he incorporated traditional German football with traditional Juego de Posición. Juego de Posición involves maintaining a ball-oriented positional structure with the objective of either opening gaps to create chances or forcing the opposition back while maintaining possession, while traditional German football consists of aggressive movement of the players towards the ball. While this style of play is good in defense as it puts pressure on opponents and closes down space, it’s a liability offensively as it creates rushed attacks, overloads positions on the pitch without establishing a link to other zones and it decreases possession.
However, blending Juego de Posición and the German-style can result in a very effective strategy. The issue with Juego de Posición is that it is hard to break open and penetrate low-blocks. As seen during Quique Setien’s tenure at Barcelona, his tactics were built on this, and Barcelona always struggled against teams that deployed low-blocks. The incorporation of Germany’s aggressive playstyle tackles this limitation. In the event where standard positional play was unable to create openings in the opposition, Tuchel instructed his wingers to overload the area with the ball. This often surprised the defenders and allowed Dortmund to use rapid combinations on small space to advance, and in the case that the defenders pursued the wingers, it helped create space for the full-backs.
A similar tactical sequence being deployed at Barcelona by Tuchel could look like:
After Fati and Dembele move inwards, either the opposition fullbacks (#6 and #3) trail them, which creates space for Alba and Dest.
In the case that the fullbacks do not pursue the wingers, this movement still favors Barcelona as it allows the team to advance on small spaces. Messi can pass the ball to Fati who can surge into the space in front of him. It will be difficult for the opposition’s #2 to cut Messi’s pass as he will position himself towards Griezmann (to cut that potential pass). Should the opposition’s #4 press Messi, there’s a lot of space for Dembele to make a run.
Of course, tactics on paper do not always work properly in the game as there are lot more factors in the game. However, a manager as capable of Tuchel should easily be able to translate his philosophy and ideas on to the pitch.
Tuchel’s Man Management and Personality
In today’s footballing world, being able to manage and handle the dressing room is just as important as developing tactics. With the role of agents increasing and the average wage of players increasing, player power is becoming prominent in the game. Luckily, Tuchel is a commanding and vocal manager.
There have been many clips of him screaming at the players, which shows that he is not intimidated by them. At PSG he was able to manage a dressing room with some of the biggest stars in the world like Neymar and Mbappe, and so he should be able to handle Barcelona’s locker room as well.
Moreover, Tuchel has already worked with one of Barcelona’s biggest asset before: Ousmane Dembele. The reason Barcelona spent €120 million on the Frenchman was because of Dembele’s performance under the German manager. If there is anyone who can unlock the Mosquito‘s potential, it is Tuchel.
Tuchel is also known for giving chances to youngsters and facilitating their development, which he did successfully at Dortmund and PSG both. It will be very important for a Barcelona squad that has gems like Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, Pedri, among others.
In the past, there have been events where Tuchel has clashed with the board members of clubs who have not allowed him to operate as he wanted to. At Dortmund, Tuchel had to lock horns with the chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, and their fights were often made public.
From his time at PSG, there has not been much light on his relationship with sporting director, Leonardo, however it’s most probable that the two did not see eye to eye as PSG ended up signing more players that Tuchel did not ask for than he did ask for. With Barcelona’s elections on the horizon, should Tuchel be chosen by any of the presidential candidates, in order to ensure an effective administration, Tuchel will have to get along with, and work closely with the sporting director that is appointed by the president.
Tuchel’s tenure at PSG was a shadow of what it could have been. Had Kylian Mbappe buried the open goal presented to him in the Champions League final, the German manager would have had won PSG their first Champions League ever. Tuchel’s playstyle is tailor-made for Barcelona, so much so that club legend Dani Alves explicitly said that Tuchel reminds him of Guardiola.
“I love Barcelona. No offense to Paris. I was watching it and everybody was staring and we could feel it you know. The ball was coming and it was a goal and it was no offside and we thought we [Dortmund] were spectacular but these guys…”Thomas Tuchel after PSG’s 6-1 defeat to Barcelona
Quique Setien had the tactics but was not commanding. Ronald Koeman is commanding but has no tactics. Thomas Tuchel is the best of both worlds, one who knows what to do on and off the pitch, and he definitely is someone of spearheading Barcelona into a new era.
Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?
Work rate is a crucial element in a successful football side, but which Barcelona players have put in the most effort this season?
While FC Barcelona has always been renowned for their technical ability and tactical intelligence of its players, their work rate on the pitch has also played a key role in the club’s greatest triumphs.
The concept is simple, but that does not detract from its importance. Players who track back to win the ball, make bursting runs to create space and passing angles, and constantly apply pressure out of possession are incredibly valuable.
While it may be impossible to quantify a player’s effort with full accuracy truly, the available data can still reveal some prominent trends. With that in mind, which Barcelona players put in the highest amount of work rate statistically?
First things first, time to establish a methodology. Using data from FBRef, the dataset will be filtered down to outfield players who have played five or more 90’s in one of the big five European leagues in the 2020/21 season. That means each player has at least a decent sample size under their belt, so there will not be anyone with only a few ten-minute appearances off the bench.
Then, which metrics can be used to quantify effort best? With the data available, it seems like the most viable option is to try and identify box-to-box players. For that, we can use the different areas of the pitch in which players take their touches.
Each player’s percentile rank for touches per 90 minutes in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, middle third, attacking third, and attacking penalty area was found. The average of those five percentiles became each player’s “attacking average.”
These averages were then scaled between 0 and 100 for the final “Offensive Coverage Rating.” This is how the top five came out for all clubs:
- Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
- Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
- Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 92.4
Elsewhere in the top 20 are names like Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Luke Ayling of the intense Leeds United system, Ander Herrera, and Frenkie de Jong. There seems to a solid set of players who work their way up and down the pitch, either down the flank as full-backs or as energetic centre-midfielders.
How does the Barça squad stack up in particular?
As previously mentioned, the full-backs are the main standouts. The never-ending stamina of Jordi Alba is especially on display. Frenkie de Jong sits as the top non-full-back by a solid distance, reflecting his ability to drop deep in the buildup and provide dangerous runs forward.
A bit lower down the list, though, things start to look a bit weirder. It should be noted that this methodology can be a bit biased towards centre-backs. They rack up many touches in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, and middle third in a possession-based system, and the additional touches they get in the attacking penalty area off of corners and free-kicks can drive their scores pretty high.
Looking at Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite all the way at the bottom brings up another limitation. While we can track players who are active in many different areas of the pitch, we can not do the same for players who move and work a lot in the same area.
Watching Braithwaite and Griezmann definitely shows how active they are making runs in behind or across the attacking third, but because they do not drop off very often to pick up the ball, they rank low in the team.
However, those top names prove this offensive coverage metric is able to quantify box-to-box play in possession. Additionally, incorporating defensive metrics will clean things up even more.
On the other side of the ball, the process is very similar. The same players and methodology will be applied, only this time with pressures instead of touches.
StatsBomb, who collect the data displayed on FBRef, define pressure as, “…applying pressure to an opposing player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.” These pressures are just broken down based on the thirds of the pitch, not the penalty areas too, so only three metrics go into each player’s “defensive average.”
Once again, those averages are then scaled between 0 and 100, creating the “Defensive Coverage Ratings.” The top five performers in these ratings were:
- Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
- Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
- Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
- Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
- Maxence Caqueret (Lyon) – 97.2
Midfield workhorses like Fred and Adrien Silva, along with high-pressing forwards such as Diogo Jota are common throughout the rest of the top 25.
Given that Barcelona are a possession-heavy side, and one that often presses at a lower intensity, one would expect these defensive work-rate ratings to be a bit lower. Still, though, which players stand out?
Pedri comes out as the clear leader. Impressively, the teenager’s score is one that would be respectable in any side. Let it serve as just another testament to his work rate and ability to perform a variety of different tasks on the pitch.
With Sergio Busquets in second, even as he ages, he is still one of Barça’s most active players in terms of closing down the opposition. In third is another newcomer, as Sergiño Dest’s tendency to press aggressively puts him much higher than most of the other defenders in the squad.
The tallies for the other members of the backline are quite low because they defend in a more reserved nature. This can also be attributed to the fact that Barcelona give up fewer opportunities than many teams.
With both of these two ratings in place and some solid results for top-ranking players, it is time to combine them.
Here in the endgame, we will be combining all eight metrics to create one “Overall Coverage Rating.” That means touches in each third, touches in both penalty areas, and pressures in each third are all included. This way, we can see the players who cover most of the pitch overall.
The top five is comprised of:
- Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
- Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
- Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
- Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 96.2
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dani Carvajal, Joshua Kimmich, Renan Lodi, Arturo Vidal, Maxence Caqueret, Ezgjan Alioski, Pedri, Reece James, Mason Mount, and Mateusz Klich are among the top names as well.
Now, for the final Barcelona squad rankings:
The numbers still involve the same intricacies as those discussed for the separate offensive and defensive ratings, but at least the top five names seem to match an eye test evaluation of the squad.
Pedri has joined the team and impressed everyone with his work rate and movement. He will track an opposition runner back to the defensive third, win the ball, combine in midfield, and then get forward to be an outlet for Messi.
While not as youthful and agile, Busquets still serves as a metronome in the possession and an active defender. He will move and reposition to rack up touches in the deeper thirds and engages in defensive duels very often.
The right flank has been slightly ignored at times this season, leaving Dest isolated, but the American always brings energy. He has all the skills and the mentality to be a great modern full-back.
Dest’s counterpart on the left, Jordi Alba, performs a much greater portion of his work offensively. His countless runs down the left wing have made him a key target for through balls and switches of play over the last few seasons.
Lastly, Frenkie de Jong backs up his reputation as an all-round midfielder. This season, the Dutchman is settling in more at the Camp Nou, and his surging runs forward to the penalty area have been awe-inspiring as of late.
Rivaldo (on De Jong): "It is being shown that near the area it seems that he is capable of playing better as an offensive midfielder and that he can even play a role similar to what Messi does when the Argentine is away. This is great news for Koeman." pic.twitter.com/r8aIrdMWSg— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 15, 2021
Griezmann and Braithwaite are probably the hardest done by these metrics. However, their energy, work rate and volume of runs they can provide off the ball is noticeable when watching them play, and invaluable for Barcelona.
There is no perfect way to quantify how hard a player works in-game, especially with these limited statistics. What this attempted to do, though, is focus on effort in terms moving to a variety of areas, being as involved in the match as possible, and doing so in different ways.
While not perfect, this methodology was successful in identifying some of the busiest players in the side. It should serve as a reminder of the value these players, like Pedri or de Jong, can offer beyond even their brilliant technical ability.
Given that 32-year-old Sergio Busquets and 31-year-old Jordi Alba were also near the top, it is a reminder of the potential replacements the club will be forced to make eventually. How long can these two continue to exert energy at this level? Could younger players be doing even more in those roles? How will Barça fill those holes when they move on? These are questions that need answering.