Barcelona played their second game of the La Liga campaign at the usually tricky Balaídos in the Galician region. In Galicia, Barça played beautiful football but had some problems at times. For Ronald Koeman’s second game in charge of the Culés, it was an excellent display and, after the Champions League draw earlier, the fans must have a lot of expectations for the remainder of the term.
Barcelona started exquisitely, absolutely annihilating Celta’s men with their constant passing of the ball and the usually lively Galician side found themselves in a lot of precarious situations. Before the half-time whistle, Barcelona had more than 60% of the ball, and Celta, who started with ten men behind the ball began to play more.
However, Ansu Fati’s early goal settled the nerves early on for Barça as they usually find it hard to score at Balaídos. After a great build-up, Coutinho found Ansu Fati in acres of the space, and the young teenager’s shot found Iván Villar’s near post. This goal means Ansu Fati is first, along with Celta’s Aspas, in terms of goals scored in La Liga this year, with only two games played compared to the former Sevilla striker’s four.
Barcelona kept going, but Celta found life after the opener, and they began utilising their significant technical assets such as Denis Suarez. In the 36th minute, Gérard Piqué could’ve been sent-off had he not been saved by the off-side call on a Galician player. Nonetheless, Piqué would get booked for protesting Clément Lenglet’s sending off. The Frenchman was sent off for an elbow to Denis’ face, which meant he’d get his second booking of the half, and Barça had to play with ten men for the remainder of the half and the game.
A special mention to Coutinho who had a great half and is surely loving it in this mediapunta role, his favoured position. The Brazilian has shown consistency over the two games he’s played since his return from Barça, long may it continue!
All in all, the Culés had a decent half tarnished by the red card which saw Ronald Araújo become the first sub in the game at Antoine Griezmann’s expenses.
First-half score: Celta 0-1 Barcelona
Despite going into the half with only ten men, Barça did not take their foot off the gas and decided to keep going to keep their lead intact or perhaps double or triple it. This mentality paid and Koeman’s boys came out victorious from one of the roughest pitch in Spain with a convincing win despite some patches where Celta looked more lively.
Before the hour mark, Lionel Messi did his magic and dribbled past two or three players after Coutinho had passed the ball to him. Messi’s shot was deflected but went in, counting as an own goal, but the Argentine genius won’t be too fussed by the outcome. His lovely run was impressive, and he doubled Barça’s lead, something they needed to do with ten men.
Apparently, Philippe Coutinho was really in the mood tonight as he was close to set up the third goal of the game had Messi not wrongly been ruled offside. The Brazilian’s shot ricocheted off the post, and his captain had an open net opportunity and scored in it. The officials deemed Messi’s shoulder offside, but it didn’t matter in the end as the Catalans won, for once, at Balaídos.
Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
Subsequently, Gérard Piqué, in his quest for his first La Liga goal, nearly injured himself after a Messi cross when he collided with the post. While the former Manchester United player was getting treatment, the play resumed, and Barça had eight men behind the ball in the 66th minute. This sequence was nerve-wracking for any Culé, but Piqué shrugged off his injuries, and everything went back to normal as Neto had very little to do, but did well whenever he had to. After that scare, Barcelona fans would go through another dangerous phase where Celta Vigo’s Nolito’s shot was parried by Neto, and the former Real Madrid youngster’s, Miguel Baeza, shot was saved in-extremis by Sergi Roberto.
Koeman’s boldness did not end with his mentality even with ten men; the Dutch manager even made two bold moves by substituting Trincão and Pedri on. Subbing on two attackers when you need to protect a lead with ten men is an excellent way to counter the opponent and the two youngsters’ pace helped a lot when Celta went more attacking in the final phases of the game. It paid off as Roberto finished the mark with a superb volley after Messi dazzled past the defence. 3-0 against Celta at Balaídos is no small feat, and Koeman’s Barça have now scored seven goals and conceded none in La Liga. Lovely.
It was another great display by the Koeman’s men as they looked absolutely brilliant in the first two games of their La Liga campaign. Hopefully, they can keep this rhythm up.
Full-time score: Celta 0-3 Barcelona
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.