Following an unimpressive 0–1 away win at the José Zorrilla, our editors share their takes and standout performances from the Barcelona victory over Real Valladolid.
To the dissatisfaction of fans, Barcelona managed the second 1–0 win in a row on Saturday. While in the La Liga title race it is crucial to keep achieving all three points, culés were possibly expecting more goals and better performances both against Espanyol and Real Valladolid. Yesterday at the Estadio José Zorrilla, Barça dominated in the first half, but their rhythm dropped after the break. After very mixed, and even somewhat negative, feelings from such game, our editors share their opinions and standout performers from the latest encounter.
The lonely march
Barcelona continue their lonely march in La Liga. With the race for the title all but over, the Catalans continue to conjure up wins for a lost cause. After a rather disappointing display against Espanyol, the game looked better against Valladolid for a considerable while. The team controlled the tempo of the game, comfortable kept possession while at the same time keeping serge Guardiola at bay. The first half of the game was exceptional in the attacking sense. The fullbacks functioned as advanced wingers and Roberto helped carry the ball from the backline to the forwards. Barcelona created numerous clear scoring chances that on any other day would have been converted. The substitutions in the second half changed the game completely, however. After Riqui Puig was taken off, the midfield didn’t look the same. Barcelona were lucky to get away with the win, to say the least.
Standout performer: Marc-André Ter Stegen
The German wall once again kept a clean sheet, for the second row in the game. It isn’t just the statistic that made him the best player on the field though. Along with Gerard Pique, he was the only other reason Barcelona came home with 3 points. He completed the game with a staggering 4 saves, 3 of which were from inside the box! His quick reflexes and impeccable positioning are responsible for the Blaugrana’s still being in the title race, at least mathematically.
The only positive, the 3 points
Barcelona put in a performance which was not at all suitable for a team challenging for the La Liga title. In the second half, Valladolid were much superior and could have very possibly scored. Though Quique Setién isn’t in the best of positions to start with considering the ageing squad and he problematic board, his substitutions have been a bit concerning as well. Not only in this match, but in a previous few as well.
Shifting from a back three to a back four and back again is not a good sign from the manager. Apart from this, Sergio Busquets’ and Riqui Puig‘s substitutions were not completely justified when removing those two would take away a bit of dynamism and a bit of stability from the midfield.
Even though in the end it was a victory, the three points don’t really feel remotely close to fulfilling. The performance by both the team and the manager left much to be desired.
Standout performer: Gerard Piqué
The second half of the Valladolid match had Barcelona on the back foot most of the time. With Riqui Puig and Busquets subbed off, it became tougher to keep possession under Valladolid’s high-pressing system. Barça could have easily conceded in this process. However, one of the main reasons the lead wasn’t lost was Gerard Piqué.
He was a rock in defence. His 11 clearances, two interceptions and 100% aerial duels won show just how good he was. Along with this, like a Barcelona defender, he was always involved in the build-up. With a 96.7% passing accuracy, 87 accurate passes and 7 successful long balls he barely made a mistake in regards to the build-up as well as in defending. Along with Marc-André ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto, Piqué’s performance was the one which stood out the most.
A tale of two halves
Quique Setién deceived a lot of viewers when he named his line-up. It looked like a 4–3–1–2 with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann leading the line with Riqui Puig behind them. Spoiler alert: it was not. Setién went back to his first game at Barcelona as they lined up in an asymmetrical 3–5–2 with Sergi Roberto and Nélson Semedo constantly interchanging to provide width. And it worked brilliantly as well. Barça could have been 3–0 up in the first half itself if not for poor finishing.
“I always try to give 100% of what I have”
Setién was forced into removing Antoine Griezmann for Luis Suárez as soon as the second half began and it all went downhill from here. Barça went stagnant in midfield and the transitions slowed down immensely. The team looked lethargic and exhausted, including the captain. Not taking the chances in the first half came back to haunt the team as they were saved by the heroics of the defence. Setién needs to work on his substitutions and try to force the team to build-up pace in the final third. And it will not happen with Luis Suárez in the mix.
Standout performer: Sergi Roberto
The team seems to have come down to the individual performances of Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen to rescue them each game. However, things have shifted slightly since football resumed. Sergi Roberto has come forward again as a key member of the team, playing across multiple positions as he so often does.
He started as a centre-back but continued to push forward to add the extra bit of width. Then he shifted to central midfield and then to wingback and continued to build on his immense display. An all round near-perfect display from the Spanish international.
Substitutions not working
It was, again, a tale of two halves. When Barcelona played in the first half, it looked as if the game was going to be bright and energetic. The players combined really well and got their goal through a clinical finish by Arturo Vidal. But the tempo did not last. In the second half, it was Real Vallodolid who took the game to Barcelona. Only through brilliance on the part of Marc-André ter Stegen and Gerard Piqué did the team keep the narrow lead till the end.
The substitutes possibly didn’t have the impact Quique Setién was wishing | Photo by Irina R. H / Zuma via Imago
Valladolid looked very dangerous, and with a bit more of quality in the finishing, they could easily have put the sword through Barça’s throat. It was clear that the squad is exhausted and that the players, especially Lionel Messi, need rest. But it must be noted that the system Quique Setién employed in the first half seemed to work very well, and that the midfield was performing well until Riqui Puig was subbed off. The experimental substitutions on the other hand did not work and have given Setién something to think about.
Standout performer: Gerard Piqué
Another day, another colossal performance by the Spanish centre-half. Always in the right position, Gerard Piqué cut off any attacks that the Pucelanos attempted. He cut down the lanes well, and ensured that the opposition couldn’t convert any dangerous crosses.
Despite his age, Piqué remains essential to Barça and this match reflects the same. His experience certainly came in hand as his brilliant display led the blaugranas to another clean sheet away from home. Marc-André ter Stegen does deserve a mention though, with respects to his antics in the later part of the second half.
How should Barcelona line-up against Celta de Vigo?
The second game of a hectic week is upon us as Ronald Koeman and his men travel to Galicia for the second game of the 2020/21 season. The Estadio de Balaídos is not a name that brings pleasant memories to FC Barcelona. It is a stadium where the Catalans have not tasted victory in six encounters. To add salt to the wound, it is the place where they let the title slip from their hands less than three months ago.
The blaugranas are coming off a resounding victory over Villareal that saw a dominant first-half display followed by a silent second half. A pattern that echoed the performance in the 2–2 draw at the Balaídos just a few months ago. Despite putting up one of the best displays the team had seen along with a dominant first-half display, slackness in the second period cost them two crucial points. Nevertheless, with a rejuvenated and younger squad determined to prove themselves, one would expect things to go differently.
Celta de Vigo has played three games so far in the new campaign. After opening with a draw against Eibar, they pulled off a victory over Valencia in Matchday 2. Their most recent match was against Real Valladolid where the Galicians were held to a 1–1 draw. Despite having started the season earlier, Óscar García’s men are yet to arrive at a settled eleven. Three formations have been tried out in three games, with none working convincingly.
The initial 4–3–3 formation was met with considerable defensive instability, prompting García to switch over to a 4–4–2 against Valencia. However, as the game progressed, the team slowly morphed to a more comfortable 4–2–3–1 which was once again seen against Real Valladolid. For long stretches in the game, Renato Tapia dropped between the centre-backs making it five in defence. Fran Beltrán played a higher line, slotting in between Nolito and Denis Suárez, helping provide a midfield dominance. With Emre Mor active in the half-space, the team was constantly on the look for Iago Aspas’s dangerous sprints behind the defenders. Thereby, it was effectively a 3–5–2 in the attack. A system strikingly similar to the team fielded against Barcelona in June.
“We expect a difficult match. In recent years Barça has not been able to win in Vigo. It is a complicated team, with good players. We have to be be ready for it and play our own game to win”Ronald Koeman, ahead of visiting Celta de Vigo
One can expect a similar approach tomorrow night, with a compact five-man defensive line when Barcelona are in possession. The last time these two teams faced, it was the dynamic duo of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig the combined wonderfully to create threats on the left-wing. Ansu’s ability to act as a true winger turned out trumps as the fullbacks were forced to stay wider, opening up central spaces for Lionel Messi and Riqui Puig. The concentration of play was significantly lower on Barcelona’s right wing, owing to the lack of a natural winger. Nevertheless, Arturo Vidal covering up defensive duties enabled Nélson Semedo to make some attacking runs in the final third.
This could be the key for Koeman once again as this is exactly the kind of opposition his 4–2–3–1 set-up flourishes against. It would be but natural to expect Ansu Fati to start on the left wing. Owing to the shortage of options, Lionel Messi will once again operate as the central striker. With the dribbling flair that Francisco Trincão has shown in training and in real action, he is an ideal option to play on the right wing. His dribbling skills and pace would function similar to Ansu’s on the left wing.
Thus, this will render both sides of the field on level attacking terms. After an impressive showing against Villareal, Phillipe Coutinho must surely be given another go as the attacking midfielder. He could be instrumental in connecting the pivots with the attack, slotting ahead of the double pivot.
The double pivot will certainly see the young Dutch protege Frenkie de Jong retain his spot as the advanced defensive midfielder. Alongside him, though, Koeman should opt for Miralem Pjanić to replace Sergio Busquets, who had many evident mistakes on Sunday. The Bosnian had an immense impact coming off the bench the other night. In addition to providing defensive stability, Pjanić is adept at connecting with the wingers from deep positions. Against Celta, it is an ability that could prove to be a trump move.
With a new competitor set to join him ahead of the clash against Sevilla, Sergi Roberto will enjoy one last game as the undisputed starter at right-back. Jordi Alba will once again be looking to impress Koeman following an impressive showing against Villareal.
In central defence, Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet will certainly hold on to their spots along with Neto behind them. The centre-backs need to be on the constant lookout for Aspas’s runs. Parallelly, they must be wary of former Barça man Denis Suárez, who can be a real cause of trouble. A massive test for the Catalan defence, but a necessary one ahead of a crucial clash against Sevilla.