Barcelona’s draw with Eibar leaves much to be desired from the Blaugrana. Find out what went wrong for Barcelona against Eibar in this tactical analysis.
Coming into the match against Eibar, Barcelona were the strong favourites. Not only due to their record against Los Armeros, but also because of the recent performances of both sides. Sadly, it was not to be as Ronald Koeman continued breaking records he would have never wanted to.
A 1-1 draw after an Ousmane Dembele goal to nullify Kike Garcia’s earlier contribution to the scoreline meant that Barcelona remain sixth, whereas Eibar climb up to 15th.
Barcelona’s build-up struggles
Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2, with three centre-backs, retained from the last match. Lionel Messi, excluded from the squad due to injury, was naturally a notable absence which meant the 3-5-2 was more of a 3-4-1-2 with Pedri Gonzalez as the player behind their two strikers, though the pass map suggests otherwise due to Martin Braithwaite dropping back often.
In the 3-5-2, the wing-backs would naturally be high up the pitch, and the back-three would be stretched wide. This worked against Real Valladolid because they defended in a 4-4-2, which would mean a constant 3v2 advantage for Barcelona’s defenders against the two opposition forwards.
A three-man backline was a questionable decision on Ronald Koeman’s part. Jose Luis Mendilibar’s Eibar has consistently pressed with four players, and with no reason to expect anything else, it was no surprise to see Barcelona’s defenders struggling to build-up.
Eventually, Frenkie De Jong or Miralem Pjanic would have to drop back to receive, as the starting positions of the full-backs were very high, and passes to the wings were risky as we see in the image below.
When pressing, Eibar would man-mark Barcelona’s central players and look to create superiorities there to contest for the second ball. When the ball was distributed to Sergino Dest, the right wing-back, the Azulgranas would be immediately pressed. This caused a lot of forced mistakes on the American’s part with possession lost 14 times in the 45 minutes that he played.
Instead, a four-man backline would have been a better choice as the full-backs, centre-halves, and pivots would find it easier to form triangles. This change was made in the second half.
Clarity and purpose
A part of the tactical aspects of the matchup – the difference in purpose between both teams. Barcelona were lining up in this formation only for the second time this season, with the last time being their previous matchup. Eibar have very often lined up in their 4-2-3-1 which would naturally make it a good choice against stronger sides.
Jose Luis Mendilbar’s Eibar side was excellently tuned to the players’ strength, whereas Koeman’s Barcelona made the same mistake many times and failed to adapt for half the match.
For example, the fact that Eibar were heavily skewed with an emphasis to the left was very apparent even without the above pass map. Whether this was not conveyed to the players by the backroom staff, or whether the players noticed this but failed to adapt, it was something that should be unacceptable for a side like Barcelona. The equivalent of banging on a wall hoping it breaks, Barcelona simply failed to look for a door to get to the other side, continuing to make the same mistake continuously.
Eibar had a clear gameplan in mind; press high, force mistakes, play aggressively and impose their presence on Barcelona. Eibar lined up in a 4-2-3-1 as expected, with the absence of Bryan Gil being something they sorely noticed. Despite this, there was an emphasis of attacks down their left-wing as stated earlier. There was significant asymmetry as Edu Exposito, Takashi Inui, and Sergio Alvarez were all highly active through the left half-spaces and channels.
When building-up, Marko Dmitrovic was instructed to play long-balls as the team formed a compact shape past the halfway line. Being the aggressive side that they are, winning second-balls was the intention if not the first aerial duels. Once in the final-third, Eibar looked to overload the left-wing. However, Eibar’s off-the-ball work was the real point of interest.
Eibar in the press and transitions
After losing possession, Eibar would immediately press when the ball was on the wings. When central, they would look to regroup and position themselves optimally, and then proceed to press. Here, we have an example of how Eibar managed to maintain superiorities while pressing.
The ball is with Dest on the right-wing. Of course, the central defenders were left unmarked by Eibar, as they looked to surround the full-back and press. To counter this, Miralem Pjanic would come in to receive the ball. This would still mean a 4v2 as we see here. Frenkie De Jong was simultaneously man-marked, and the last of the forward passing options, the forwards, were in a 4v3 situation. By neglecting Junior Firpo and the centre-backs, Eibar were able to maintain superiorities when pressing.
Suppose Barcelona were in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, the lower position of the full-backs would have two advantages. Firstly, better passing lanes to the centre-halves. Secondly, involving the goalkeeper in the build-up. Not only this, but there would also be an extra forward to drop back and provide a passing option.
The earlier mentioned four-man press was Eibar’s go-to system when pressing. A 4-2-4 with Sergio Alvarez and Papa Diop as the two central-midfielders, the press would initially look to overload the central areas, forcing Barcelona to go wide. As we see in the image, the yellow arrow indicates the run being made to press Clement Lenglet even before receiving the pass. Leaving Junior Firpo as the only forward passing option on the left, Lenglet would be inclined to make that pass or play a long-ball forward.
Kike Garcia and Edu Exposito would look to cut-off passing lanes to Barcelona’s midfielders, aiding in the press. Once possession was regained, these two players would have the job of getting into the box to either hold-up the ball and involve others or look to win aerial duels.
Conclusion: Too little, too late
In the second half, Dest was subbed-off to bring on Ousmane Dembele, with Oscar Mingueza slotting in as the right full-back. Barcelona had come full-circle, a 4-2-3-1 was formed with the trademark double-pivots. This did provide some advantages, such as better passing lanes being formed, and better triangulation. Chances, both in terms of quality and quantity, were created in the second half, which were not capitalized on.
Despite this, a draw was a fair representation of the matchup. It could have very well gone the way of the Catalans as a missed Braithwaite penalty, and a 1v1 chance not being taken by Dembele leading to much higher xG for Barcelona.
Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?
Work rate is a crucial element in a successful football side, but which Barcelona players have put in the most effort this season?
While FC Barcelona has always been renowned for their technical ability and tactical intelligence of its players, their work rate on the pitch has also played a key role in the club’s greatest triumphs.
The concept is simple, but that does not detract from its importance. Players who track back to win the ball, make bursting runs to create space and passing angles, and constantly apply pressure out of possession are incredibly valuable.
While it may be impossible to quantify a player’s effort with full accuracy truly, the available data can still reveal some prominent trends. With that in mind, which Barcelona players put in the highest amount of work rate statistically?
First things first, time to establish a methodology. Using data from FBRef, the dataset will be filtered down to outfield players who have played five or more 90’s in one of the big five European leagues in the 2020/21 season. That means each player has at least a decent sample size under their belt, so there will not be anyone with only a few ten-minute appearances off the bench.
Then, which metrics can be used to quantify effort best? With the data available, it seems like the most viable option is to try and identify box-to-box players. For that, we can use the different areas of the pitch in which players take their touches.
Each player’s percentile rank for touches per 90 minutes in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, middle third, attacking third, and attacking penalty area was found. The average of those five percentiles became each player’s “attacking average.”
These averages were then scaled between 0 and 100 for the final “Offensive Coverage Rating.” This is how the top five came out for all clubs:
- Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
- Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
- Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 92.4
Elsewhere in the top 20 are names like Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Luke Ayling of the intense Leeds United system, Ander Herrera, and Frenkie de Jong. There seems to a solid set of players who work their way up and down the pitch, either down the flank as full-backs or as energetic centre-midfielders.
How does the Barça squad stack up in particular?
As previously mentioned, the full-backs are the main standouts. The never-ending stamina of Jordi Alba is especially on display. Frenkie de Jong sits as the top non-full-back by a solid distance, reflecting his ability to drop deep in the buildup and provide dangerous runs forward.
A bit lower down the list, though, things start to look a bit weirder. It should be noted that this methodology can be a bit biased towards centre-backs. They rack up many touches in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, and middle third in a possession-based system, and the additional touches they get in the attacking penalty area off of corners and free-kicks can drive their scores pretty high.
Looking at Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite all the way at the bottom brings up another limitation. While we can track players who are active in many different areas of the pitch, we can not do the same for players who move and work a lot in the same area.
Watching Braithwaite and Griezmann definitely shows how active they are making runs in behind or across the attacking third, but because they do not drop off very often to pick up the ball, they rank low in the team.
However, those top names prove this offensive coverage metric is able to quantify box-to-box play in possession. Additionally, incorporating defensive metrics will clean things up even more.
On the other side of the ball, the process is very similar. The same players and methodology will be applied, only this time with pressures instead of touches.
StatsBomb, who collect the data displayed on FBRef, define pressure as, “…applying pressure to an opposing player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.” These pressures are just broken down based on the thirds of the pitch, not the penalty areas too, so only three metrics go into each player’s “defensive average.”
Once again, those averages are then scaled between 0 and 100, creating the “Defensive Coverage Ratings.” The top five performers in these ratings were:
- Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
- Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
- Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
- Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
- Maxence Caqueret (Lyon) – 97.2
Midfield workhorses like Fred and Adrien Silva, along with high-pressing forwards such as Diogo Jota are common throughout the rest of the top 25.
Given that Barcelona are a possession-heavy side, and one that often presses at a lower intensity, one would expect these defensive work-rate ratings to be a bit lower. Still, though, which players stand out?
Pedri comes out as the clear leader. Impressively, the teenager’s score is one that would be respectable in any side. Let it serve as just another testament to his work rate and ability to perform a variety of different tasks on the pitch.
With Sergio Busquets in second, even as he ages, he is still one of Barça’s most active players in terms of closing down the opposition. In third is another newcomer, as Sergiño Dest’s tendency to press aggressively puts him much higher than most of the other defenders in the squad.
The tallies for the other members of the backline are quite low because they defend in a more reserved nature. This can also be attributed to the fact that Barcelona give up fewer opportunities than many teams.
With both of these two ratings in place and some solid results for top-ranking players, it is time to combine them.
Here in the endgame, we will be combining all eight metrics to create one “Overall Coverage Rating.” That means touches in each third, touches in both penalty areas, and pressures in each third are all included. This way, we can see the players who cover most of the pitch overall.
The top five is comprised of:
- Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
- Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
- Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
- Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 96.2
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dani Carvajal, Joshua Kimmich, Renan Lodi, Arturo Vidal, Maxence Caqueret, Ezgjan Alioski, Pedri, Reece James, Mason Mount, and Mateusz Klich are among the top names as well.
Now, for the final Barcelona squad rankings:
The numbers still involve the same intricacies as those discussed for the separate offensive and defensive ratings, but at least the top five names seem to match an eye test evaluation of the squad.
Pedri has joined the team and impressed everyone with his work rate and movement. He will track an opposition runner back to the defensive third, win the ball, combine in midfield, and then get forward to be an outlet for Messi.
While not as youthful and agile, Busquets still serves as a metronome in the possession and an active defender. He will move and reposition to rack up touches in the deeper thirds and engages in defensive duels very often.
The right flank has been slightly ignored at times this season, leaving Dest isolated, but the American always brings energy. He has all the skills and the mentality to be a great modern full-back.
Dest’s counterpart on the left, Jordi Alba, performs a much greater portion of his work offensively. His countless runs down the left wing have made him a key target for through balls and switches of play over the last few seasons.
Lastly, Frenkie de Jong backs up his reputation as an all-round midfielder. This season, the Dutchman is settling in more at the Camp Nou, and his surging runs forward to the penalty area have been awe-inspiring as of late.
Rivaldo (on De Jong): "It is being shown that near the area it seems that he is capable of playing better as an offensive midfielder and that he can even play a role similar to what Messi does when the Argentine is away. This is great news for Koeman." pic.twitter.com/r8aIrdMWSg— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 15, 2021
Griezmann and Braithwaite are probably the hardest done by these metrics. However, their energy, work rate and volume of runs they can provide off the ball is noticeable when watching them play, and invaluable for Barcelona.
There is no perfect way to quantify how hard a player works in-game, especially with these limited statistics. What this attempted to do, though, is focus on effort in terms moving to a variety of areas, being as involved in the match as possible, and doing so in different ways.
While not perfect, this methodology was successful in identifying some of the busiest players in the side. It should serve as a reminder of the value these players, like Pedri or de Jong, can offer beyond even their brilliant technical ability.
Given that 32-year-old Sergio Busquets and 31-year-old Jordi Alba were also near the top, it is a reminder of the potential replacements the club will be forced to make eventually. How long can these two continue to exert energy at this level? Could younger players be doing even more in those roles? How will Barça fill those holes when they move on? These are questions that need answering.