After a 0–4 victory over Mallorca in the weekend, coach Quique Setién introduced 5 changes in Tuesday’s line-up. How did these rotations work out for Barcelona against Leganés?
In a game that saw football return to one of its temples at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona wrestled to a two-nil victory against Leganés. The league toppers thus extended their lead at the top of the table to five points. The pressure is now on their close contenders Real Madrid, who face Valencia tomorrow night.
As was expected manager Quique Setién decided to rotate his squad in several areas last night. As many as five players who started against Mallorca were benched last night. In the backline, Clément Lenglet returned after sitting out the last match due to suspension. Jordi Alba, who had to be dropped due to accumulated yellow cards, was replaced by Junior Firpo. In the middle of the park, Arturo Vidal and Frenkie de Jong were replaced by Iván Rakitić and Arthur Melo, whereas up front teenager Ansu Fati came on for Matin Braithwaite. So how did they fare in their first starts since the three month layoffs?
1. Clément Lenglet
On paper this was supposed to be an easy game for Barça. After all it was the table toppers facing the ones at the bottom. The reality was something else, though, with the underdogs pinning the toppers down initially and coming close to scoring a few times. One of these attempts, notably, was saved on the goal line by Clément Lenglet. Throughout the match, he showed that presence of mind and composition, that has marked his career so far with the blaugranas – except of course for the unnecessary yellow card he picked up later. All in all, he proved why he is a starter alongside Gerard Piqué.
2. Junior Firpo
There have been a lot of rumours regarding the future of Junior Firpo at the club. There have been several reports of him not living up to the expectations and therefore being considered as a makeshift for other deals that the team plans to pull off. There has however been a feeling that, under Setién, Firpo will get another chance at showing his potential. After all, they have worked together well at their previous team: Real Betis.
Junior Firpo indeed had a good outing yesterday, combining well with Ansu Fati on the left. Complementing the teenager well in attack and putting in the hard work by making those over lapping runs in the attacking wing, he was also rewarded by an assist. It may still be early to write him off.
3. Iván Raktić
Iván Rakitić is another player that the club has deemed surplus to necessities. In his case, the reasons are that he is falling down the pecking order as his game is growing slower and sluggish. This was visible in the previous game too as he replaced Arturo Vidal. The chaotic dynamism that Vidal offered – he got the team a goal within a minute and a half – disappeared as Rakitić came in at Son Moix. The tempo slowed down.
This sluggishness was visible in the midfield against Leganés also, as once again Messi had to come deeper and deeper to create and build the game. But it generally was a collective problem more than an individual one, since Rakitić understood well which spaces to occupy in his return to the starting eleven.
4. Arthur Melo
Arthur Malo had come in with so much promise to the team. His first 2018/19 season added to the hopes that he was going to cement his place in the Barça midfield for years to come. Over the span of this campaign, with injury layoffs and a lack of form, this hope is taking a hit. There are even rumours that he is not indispensable any more. In his first start after the break, Arthur did not do anything special to put an end to those links. His pass percentage was high, though most of those passes were horizontal and ineffective.
Arthur Melo will have tough competition for a starting spot | Photo by Marc González Aloma via Imago
Playing alongside Rakitić, he was in part culpable for an underwhelming show in the middle of the park last night. The performance that Riqui Puig delivered off the bench should be a reminder for Arthur. The dynamism that Riqui exhibited has to be lauded. The Brazilian would do well to remember that a spot in the midfield at a side like Barcelona is not to be taken for granted, especially when there are talents like Puig knocking at the door of the first team.
5. Ansu Fati
Young winger Ansu Fati was something of a silver lining for the azulgranas last night. Combining with Junior Firpo, he turned the game on its head when he scored the beautiful opener. The combination worked quite well until the manager decided to rest him. But the performance that Fati put up proved why the board should not even consider selling him – whatever the offer is.
❛ We must take care of Ansu. He’s a very talented player and he gives his best. He’s brilliant ❜
Even at 17 years of age, Ansu gives the team an edge that sadly none of the superstars has been able to. His minutes-per-goal contribution is higher than Antoine Griezman right now. This is not to say that the youngster should start every game, week in and week out. Rather, at his young age the manager must make sure that the kid does not burn out. Nevertheless, one should also remember that he should be given regular minutes alongside the seniors, to polish his game further and further.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.