Carles Aleñá returned to Barcelona from his loan spell at Real Betis, but not much has been said about the talented midfielder. The La Masía graduate has all the right attributes to succeed at the club. However, with a new system implemented by Ronald Koeman and competition for minutes, Carles Aleñá will have to adapt his game.
Whenever Carles Aleñá has been given a chance in the first team, he has performed well. It is always difficult for a player to break into the team when they are given limited opportunities. Consistent game time is key in helping them grow and develop.
As an academy graduate, Aleñá has an excellent football brain and understands the system at Barça. This is crucial for any player wishing to succeed at the club. The 22-year-old has the ability to perform well and it would be wrong for the club to ignore another one of La Masía’s brightest talents.
Nonetheless, this new season could present him with new challenges.
There is no doubting the potential that Carles Aleñá has. The only issue is if he is given enough opportunities and whether he can convince the manager. Naturally an interior, the Catalan is technically very good. He has an excellent passing ability and can pass both in tight areas and through the lines of the opposition. Aleñá always looks to find progressive passes that help the team move higher up the pitch. It is something the Barça midfielders have been lacking in recent campaigns.
With great vision and awareness, Aleñá understands positioning and can find clever through balls to the attackers. He is effective in the final third of the pitch and offers more of an attacking threat than most of the other midfielders at the club. The Spaniard thrives in exploiting areas of space and gaps in the opposition defence.
A natural central or advanced midfielder, Carles Aleñá will have to display all his positional intelligence and versatility | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
Like Riqui Puig, Aleñá is energetic and can lift the tempo of the team. Both players work hard in the press and are effective in doing so. However, it is their sharpness in passing and constant movement into space that helps Barça play at a higher tempo. For any successful Barcelona side, it is vital to have midfielders like this in their squad.
What his role could be
With the 4–2–3–1 formation looking like Ronald Koeman’s preferred system, Aleñá’s natural position is not available. The double pivot and number 10 roles could be options. Though not renowned as a ball-winning midfielder, the youngster could adapt to the pivot role if necessary. His intelligent positioning, good range of passing and dribbling ability are all important factors to succeed in that area. It would be a slight change, but he could adapt to this position if needed.
A more natural or comfortable position might be as an attacking midfielder or the number 10 role. Aleñá’s best positions are in the centre of the pitch and slightly further forward. Playing in behind the striker could be his best position in the new formation. Giving him a free-roaming role there could benefit the team. He can link well with those around him and has the attacking attributes to excel in this area.
Furthermore, Koeman may change the formation throughout the season. A return of the natural 4–3–3 is always a possibility and players like Riqui Puig, Aleñá and Pedri could get opportunities to shine in their favoured positions. Whatever the case, the talented midfielder should be given time and regular opportunities to improve and establish himself.
What to expect this season
Ronald Koeman has already warned several of the younger players than first-team minutes could be limited this season. This might be a mental game from the manager to get more out of them. Additionally, going by the number of injuries the club suffered last season, there could be more minutes available than expected.
“The young players have to play. They can’t not play. That’s for Riqui [Puig], for Aleñá, for Pedri…They have to play. I told Riqui that he has a future here but it’s going to be tough at the moment because of competition in his position. I recommended that he goes on loan. At 20, the young players need to play”Ronald Koeman, on Riqui Puig and the other young midfielders in the squad
In the double pivot role, there are only three senior players: Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanić and Frenkie De Jong. Rotations will be key if Barça wish to compete in all competitions and Aleñá could be given game time here. Moreover, nobody has cemented their place in the attacking midfielder position and Carles Aleñá should look to capitalise on this. Realistically though, it is hard to see Koeman giving these younger players a consistent run in the team, unless due to injuries.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
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.
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.
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.
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.