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Analysis

Can Todibo still make one last-ditch attempt at Barcelona redemption?

Udhav Arora

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Header Image by Bernd Thissen / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

Lately, 20-year-old centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo, on loan from Barcelona at Schalke 04 for the second half of the 2019/20 season, has been strongly linked with a move to Wolves. But could he still make an impression on new coach Ronald Koeman?


After less than a week of being linked with a certain Jean-Clair Todibo, Barcelona completed his signing for a nominal fee of €1 million from Toulouse. During his time in France, Todibo did not participate in a lot of games but was highly rated from his first-half spell in the 2018/19 season.

He was tipped as part of the incredible generation of centre-backs that came from France, including Ibrahima Konate, Dayot Upamecano, William Saliba and Jules Koundé, among so many others. This had to do with his tremendous composure on the ball, passing, and solid aerial ability. He has always had lapses of concentration, but there was not much to dislike; Todibo had the potential to play football for Barcelona.

Despite joining the team as a January arrival, Todibo took time to settle in and was only able to make his debut for the club during mid-April against newly-promoted SD Huesca, keeping a clean sheet. However, he dropped a shocking performance against Celta de Vigo a month later, failing to contain the likes of Iago Aspas and Maxi Gómez.

He only managed to play a grand total of three games after that for the club but was named in the XI against Inter Milan at the San Siro. It was a must-win game for the Italian giants, who were trailing Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona in the Champions League group at that point. Barça had already qualified for the Round of 16, and the result would not matter to them. They did, however, manage to squeeze out a win thanks to a monstrous performance by Carles Aleñé, and you guessed it – Todibo.

The Frenchman ended the game with four clearances, one block, one interception and eight tackles. He had to deal with the threat of Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku and did so quite brilliantly. Additionally, he won 10 of his 12 ground duels and was not dribbled past a single time while completing two of his own.

Life has come quite fast for Todibo since that game, as he was loaned out to Schalke 04 – even though Barcelona had only two fit centre-backs. In Germany, the 20-year-old completed a substantial shift during his Bundesliga debut against SC Paderborn, completing one key pass and winning 100% of his aerial duels (4/4). He was also part of David Wagner’s plans post-lockdown but faced injury trouble after their game against Werder Bremen and failed to compete for the Gelsenkirchen outfit post that.

Since that, Todibo has had a transfer to Everton fall through, been tested positive for COVID–19 after his return to Barcelona, and now is linked with a move out of the club, with another Premier League team: Wolverhampton Wanderers are in pole position to sign him, according to Sport.

Jean-Clair Todibo Barcelona

Across his time at Toulouse, Schalke and Barcelona, Jean-Clair Todibo has only collected 25 appearances as a professional | Photo by Pau Barrrena / AFP via Getty Images

Departing Catalonia could, in fact, turn into exactly the breakthrough the Frenchman is looking for, who will likely trickle down the pecking order behind Clément Lenglet, Gerard Piqué, Ronald Araújo and possibly Eric García, with the youngster strongly linked with a return to Barcelona. Barcelona may also have to keep Samuel Umtiti at the club, despite listing him as transferrable. Additionally, Jorge Cuenca has his spot in the squad long overdue and would likely take precedent over Todibo, in spite of also being rumoured to leave Barça.

Todibo has the chance to resurrect his career in England with Wolves, who have been in the hunt for more centre-backs after the injury to Willy Boly came to haunt them last season. They completed the signing of Marçal yesterday, who is presumed to occupy the left-centre back spot. Todibo could serve as the replacement for Conor Coady, who is an exceptional passer and has played every single minute for Wolves in the past two Premier League campaigns. Todibo’s ball-playing skills make him capable of taking in Coady’s slot.

Alternatively, he could also come in the midfield acting as the deputy for Rúben Neves, who plays as a deep-lying-playmaker, pinging in long balls from deep to conduct play. As good as the Portuguese is at long passing, he has failed to cope defensively and is often outplayed. Todibo has had his fair share of time as a defensive midfielder during his time in Toulouse’s youth ranks and can replicate Neves’ long passing in that role.

Todibo’s future can play out in multiple ways; the player is still 20 and has ample time to turn his career around. And if he can provide a repair to the fitness quandaries he has faced in the recent past, there are not many who can stop him from being part of some of the elite defenders in world football.

Editor-in-Chief. | They say a picture says a thousand words, but I intend to write a thousand words about a picture I clicked.

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Analysis

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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