Barcelona managed to get their first win of the season against Villarreal. Our editors share their perspectives on the game, and choose their man of the match.
by Nassif Muhammed Ali
Barcelona has begun the new season well. In a league season where each team plays thirty-eight matches, across a period of eight or nine months, beginning well doesn’t always count for much. However, when one takes into consideration the circumstances that this team had to maneuver through in the run-up to this game and this new season, it is more than obvious that the four-nil victory last night was anything but an easy feat; that too against Villareal, who finished fifth in the league table last season.
The team has had a good pre-season, in which the new manager Ronald Koeman tried to bring in a different formation. However, there has been a cloud of pessimism altogether even as the new La Liga season was underway. One of the major concerns was with regard to the attempted rebuild of the squad. The club has already let go of a few stalwarts. Even as most of these departures were necessary both in terms of the sporting project and the financial situation, there was one important question being thrown about – how would they replace the thirty plus goals that Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal contributed last season. As it turns out, indications are that they already have the players to do just that.
Barcelona dominated the game yesterday and in doing so, they also brought back two important elements that have been uncharacteristically missing from their gameplay for the last two seasons. Firstly, there have been several instances in the recent past where they led by a couple of goals only to take their foot off the pedal and concede points at the end of the day. Yesterday, they were ahead by two goals within twenty minutes. And then, rather than slowing down, they went on to double that lead by the end of the first half. Another important factor was the number of available players involved in the offensive moves. At any given offensive move, including the counter-attacks, there were plenty of Blaugrana shirts available as options. Koeman’s modified formation passed its first test, quite successfully.
The biggest take away from this match, in my opinion, is the fact that it afforded good playing time to young debutants Francisco Trincao and Pedri – both of whom made the most of the opportunity. Barca might go ahead and reinforce their squad further in the few days that remain in the transfer window – they need to, especially in the defense. But make no mistake; there is enough talent in this squad already to make it an exciting season.
Stand-out performer: Ansu Fati
It was predicted to be a closely fought game. But two classy finishes from the young Spaniard all but killed the game within twenty minutes. Fati’s finishing was stellar – the first was a one-touch shot at the top corner, whereas the second a guided placement. Even the penalty that led to Barca’s third goal was actually won by a dribbling Fati, who was clipped down inside the box. Apart from the goals, Fati also made some key passes, including the beautiful lob that he gave to Messi in the 49th minute, from a close-range, above two defenders. With the most number of completed dribbles in the game (3), and a solid 10 touches inside the opponents’ box, Fati celebrated his official promotion to the first team in style. The ceiling is high for this kid and he has a long way to go, but it does look like he is on the right path.
Photo by David Ramirez via Imago
Unexpectedly pleasing start to the campaign
by Prajas Naik
Ronald Koeman’s first official game as a Barça manager went off to a flying a start with the team 4-0 up by the time they reached half time. There was more intensity in the team pressing than that seen under both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. Everyone was giving their level best and the team played brilliantly. The team looked confident going forward and the transitions were simple and fluid. But the right side did not see much of the ball, and this could be a major cause for concern if the arrival of Dest fails to go through.
The team dropped off in the second half but were it not for Asenjo, the Blaugrana could easily have scored more. Even though its too early to judge, the signs were very positive and it feels like then the attack is somewhat rejuvenated with all of the options the team has. But the defense continues to be a grey area and despite a good performance from both center halves, you can’t help but feel like some better finishing could have made the game a tighter affair.
Stand-out performer: Ansu Fati
Who else can it be? The seventeen-year-old prodigy ran riots down that left flank alongside a revived Jordi Alba. Always looking extremely confident on the ball, Ansu showed maturity and calmness well beyond his age. Many questioned how Barcelona will cope with the departure of Luis Suarez, but if Ansu continues to perform at this level, the future is indeed very bright.
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Sevilla — Pedri, Mingueza to start
Barcelona are on a tightrope once again. This time, however, the cup, which is usually neglected as the least important target is the primary objective of Ronald Koeman’s men.
Just under 72 hours of facing Lopetegui’s men at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan, the Catalans welcome the side home to host the second leg of the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The Blaugranas trail by two goals, which amps up the graveness of the situation. Koeman and co. need to score at least three goals to go through, not to mention that they cannot afford to concede. An away goal to Sevilla would be a wound too deep for the Blaugranas to recover from.
In many respects, this is the most important game of the season for the hosts. While it could seal a place in the Cup final, more importantly, it would provide the side with some much needed psychological reinforcement. It would send down the belief that they, too, can be on the right side of remontadas. And it would instil the confidence to repeat the feat against PSG, where they need to score five goals. Here is how Barcelona can lineup against Sevilla, with fans almost inclined towards the 3-5-2 again.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s injury in warm-up scared fans across the globe. However, the German wall started the game and finished it without much trouble. While the same opposition did not ruffle too many feathers at the weekend, tomorrow may be a whole different ballgame. With Sevilla knowing that an away goal could be enough to see them through, Ter Stegen will have a big night ahead.
Ronald Araujo’s return from injury did not last long, as he was taken off once again owing to a sprain. It is unlikely that he will be risked on Wednesday.
Koeman would ideally not look to tamper around with the winning formula, moreover against the same team. Gerard Pique will the ideal option to start through the centre at the back. The World Cup winner has been a silent rock since his return. Given how much the Spaniard is usually criticized, a silent period from the media implied fantastic performances.
Oscar Mingueza will start at the right of the defence. The youngster has been wonderful defensively, with a slowly improved passing range and spatial awareness. Given Araujo’s injury, his chance seems to be set.
The Spanish duo will be complemented by Clement Lenglet, who will start at left centre-back. The Frenchman once again had a rather poor outing midweek. However being part of a working formula, the coach may not want to tamper with things.
A three man defense means a five man midfield. An utter domination of the middle of the park, while spreading the play to both wings equally. At the Camp Nou again, that will be the norm.
Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba will continue as wingbacks on the right and left sides, respectively. With the three-person defence, they will have their defensive duties cut short. Once again, as on Saturday, they will look to be the threat on the wings.
Sergio Busquets will continue as the anchor, following up a textbook performance against the same opposition. The Spanish International was crucial in recovering the ball for the Catalans whilst also opening up latent channels in the attack.
Frenkie de Jong has now earned the right to be placed at the elite class of midfielders at the moment. The renewed version of the Dutchman has been almost unstoppable for oppositions. He will again start on Wednesday given the weight of the clash.
Pedri was supposedly ruled out for 2 weeks, however, through a miracle, he is back training with the group within 48 hours! The player is determined to participate in the game against Sevilla, knowing well the weight riding on it. Pedri’s attitude just cannot be faulted. If at all the Canary Islander is indeed fit, he will return to his permanent starting spot.
The front two in attack combined beautifully to score the opening goal on Saturday, and nothing will change for the Cup game.
Ousmane Dembele‘s pace was one of Sevilla’s biggest troubles at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan. The Frenchman destroyed the high line of Lopetegui’s side. He will undoubtedly start.
Lionel Messi has always been Sevilla’s Achilles heel. The Red-and-white of Seville are the Argentine’s favourite target, and he added a goal and an assist to that amazing tally at the weekend. The side seemed to have no answers to the Catalan captain’s guile and genius. If Leo turns it on again, Barcelona are surely going straight into the final.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Pique · Mingueza
One has to start with the man of the moment. Ilaix Moriba was given his second chance of the season midweek and responded by providing his second assist. His physicality matched the opponents like for like, and his comfort on the ball further destabilized the defence. He would be a crucial cog.
Antoine Griezmann was once again not used in the 2-0 win, however, any desperate situation demanding a goal could see the Frenchman subbed in.
Martin Braithwaite could be an asset on the night, too, as his growing chemistry seems to be reaping rewards. The Dane has evolved into much more than a traditional no. 9, and he would be an option for the coach on the latter half.