In an uninspiring victory in the derby at the Camp Nou, our editors share their takes and player of the match on the 1–0 win from Barcelona over Espanyol.
The 1–4 win over Villarreal on Sunday brought optimism to the Barcelona fanbase, who were eager to relegate their local enemies RCD Espanyol on Wednesday. Nevertheless, the clash by no means looked like an encounter between the second and the twentieth-placed team, as Espanyol ended up causing several problems to Barça. Eventually, though, Luis Suárez scored the solitary goal of the game, handing the three points to the blaugranas and officially sending Espanyol to the Second Division. After such match, our editors express their opinions and standout performers from such tight duel.
Ten minutes of madness
It was ten minutes of madness, which included one red card for each side and a Luis Suárez goal after an MSG attacking trio combination (sort of) that ultimately decided the match. Barça, in contrast to their performance at Villareal, were woeful from start to finish. The team lacked the hunger to win. Quique Setién seemed to have understood the same in the first half and decided to bring on Ansu Fati, who got sent off after playing just three minutes. With the red card to Pol Lozano, however, the game somewhat opened up and Barça got a goal amidst the chaos.
“We didn’t play the way we did against Villarreal. We tried to find solutions to break up Espanyol’s defence, but they defended well and they closed spaces”
All in all, it was a boring match. Espanyol played really well and made Barcelona work hard. They fought till the end and gave it their all. Despite Antoine Griezmann being more involved and Lionel Messi too trying hard, the team remained lacklustre and uninspiring. They failed to break through a defensive block of five. Setién needs to learn to adapt to various teams and their style of play if he wants to win silverware. Not performing well against the 20th team in the league in a Barcelona Derby just will not do.
Standout performer: Marc-André ter Stegen
A case could be made for either of Espanyol’s Raúl de Tomás or Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué for being Man of the Match, but it is Marc-André ter Stegen who pips both of them by a narrow margin. Barcelona’s number one once again showed why he is one of the best keepers in the world. His crucial saves kept his side in the game. His 10th minute save against Adrián Embarba stopped a fantastic Espanyol counter-attack, while he saved Clément Lenglet the humiliation of putting the ball into his own net in the 44th minute.
Ter Stegen never put a foot out of line, and his positioning and passing were inch-perfect. His display was well-rounded and just goes to show how important he is to the club.
A night of mixed emotions
It finally happened. Espanyol have been officially relegated after another loss in the backyard of their sworn enemies. A bitter pill to swallow indeed. The derby loved true to its hype, as it never looked like a clash between teams on opposite spectrums of the table. Espanyol made Barcelona work hard for the three points. They often defended with eight men, making it impossible for the blaugranas to penetrate the lines.
Gerard Piqué could not get his much-desired goal against Espanyol, but he still delivered a praiseworthy performance | Photo by Lluís Gené / AFP via Getty Images
It was only after a flurry of red cards that spaces began to open up in the Espanyol lines, which helped the MSG combine to score the lone goal of the game. The same Barcelona that threatened to score eight goals against Villarreal failed to register a shot on target in the whole first half. While it’s happy times seeing Espanyol gone, the Derbi Barceloní will be missed.
Standout performer: Gerard Piqué
There were undoubtedly times in the game when Barcelona looked like conceding. Espanyol missed a peach of a chance in the first half after a lobbed pass caught the defense off guard. But it would be harsh to not give credit where it is due. Gerard Piqué’s personal rifts with Espanyol are well known. He rose up to the occasion once again with seven clearances and ten aerial duels won. As always, he ventured forward as he loves to, but he was also defensively solid as a rock. He was surely one of the key players in making sure we maintained a clean sheet.
Sometimes 3 points is 3 points
It was never going to be an easy game when the two sides met, especially when Espanyol were running the risk of being relegated at the hands of their worst rivals. They assembled in blocks of five in an attempt to neutralise Barcelona’s 4–3–1–2, which works best through the centre. After a horrid first half, Ansu Fati was brought out to stretch the play, but we saw how that panned out didn’t we?
“What we have to do is win our next three games. Whatever Madrid do is up to them. If the rival drops points then fantastic, we have to think about being there if they do”
on Barcelona winning but still being four points behind Real Madrid in case they win tomorrow
Barcelona were lucky to have Luis Suárez in the right place at the right time because until that point, no-one had really made Diego López work. However, it is no news that Espanyol are a really irritating team to play, and three points against them is always a good result, even if the performance was far from satisfactory. Exhausting 90 minutes, but we move.
Standout performer: Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto started the game on the left side of a midfield trio after putting in a tremendous display there on the weekend and continued to impress. He was key in connecting the midfield to attack since Iván Rakitić and Sergio Busquets were mostly static.
He created three goalscoring opportunities, one of which was so nearly tucked in by Antoine Griezmann through a solid header but alas. The reason for such top performances probably stems from the rest he received from his injury, and could be key for Barcelona if the season does not go into further turmoil.
Not much to celebrate
Culés, as shown with the fireworks as minutes went by, certainly were filled with joy in seeing their antagonistic city rivals be relegated to the Second Division. But, before getting any party started, Barcelona should first look at themselves in the mirror and ask: is this something to be proud of? The team is filled with individual, structural and tactical struggles, and, while a bit of celebration hurt nobody, the enthusiasm for yesterday’s game was more provoked by the rivals’ failures than by oneself’s successes.
Standout performer: Raúl de Tomás
If there’s one player that does not deserve to be relegated, that certainly is Raúl de Tomás. Having arrived to Espanyol in January, he has proved on a regular basis that he should be competing for the European, rather than the relegation, spots. Against Barça he was ever-present in the frontline, being a constant threat and forcing Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet to never put a foot wrong. While his performance was not rewarded by a positive outcome, his display was triumphant.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.
La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.
Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.
Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.
In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.
Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.
Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.
However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.
We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.
Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.
For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.