After an unordinary game that ended with the points shared, our editors share their takes on the Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid.
Two draws in a row, two 2–2s in a row. With their third draw in four games, Barcelona continue to end their own fans’ hopes of being crowned league champions for the third consecutive time. With an own goal and three penalties involved in a bizarre match, Barça couldn’t beat Atlético de Madrid in spite of scoring two past the usually invincible Jan Oblak. What do our editors have to say on match and draw?
From hero to zero
Barcelona played well, but not well enough. Quique Setién did poor, and that could be the final straw. Usually, a draw against Simeone’s Atlético is a decent result, and without any context, the fans would have been pretty happy if the culés had played this way. Accurate passing, some great ball carriers – Hello Riqui! –, and, at times, dangerous occasions. Lionel Messi found the net once, but he could have seen it on more occasions if Jan Oblak wasn’t in goal for the colchoneros.
Luis Suárez’s extremely poor performance was a real highlight for the Catalans, especially as Setién refused to sub him off and tried to justify it afterwards. Talking about Quique, the former Real Betis manager did not use all his substitutes, and two out of the three changed came too late. Giving Ansu Fati less than ten minutes and Antoine Griezmann less than five is criminal, given Atleti’s equaliser came early in the second half.
“We didn’t bring him on before because the team was doing well, Riqui was doing well, we always try to have Suárez and Messi on the pitch”
on introducing Antoine Griezmann late
It was a good showing, not great, but Setién really ridiculed himself by choosing to overlook the fresh blood that could have cracked the code. The league is close to lost now, Quique could leave, but it’s just heartbreaking that the two best performances since the return – this game and the Celta one – only ended in draws. It has shattered many culés, and me personally.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
In all this negativity, there is one positive, and it is the birth of Riqui Puig cementing his place as a starter. The midfielder gave everything he could and controlled Atleti’s midfield, which couldn’t take the ball off him. Him switching the play continuously was also refreshing, given none of the current midfielders in the squad, not even Arthur Melo, do that.
Also, his ability to carry the ball and not lose it stupidly is sensational. Many times during a game, the culés tell themselves that this frail little man will fall like a snowflake and give away the ball cheaply. However, in Vigo or against Atlético, he held his own by beating the press relentlessly. He came close to scoring after a fantastic run from deep into the opponents’ half, but came in vain when he arrived in front of the colossal Jan Oblak. Playing behind Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, his work rate came clutch when he tracked back to press and when he moved forward to give Barcelona more freedom concerning movement.
Setién, edged a step closer to the exit?
As Barcelona faced Atlético, the spotlight was on Quique Setién. Would he be able to cope with the pressure? Would he go conservative and avoid a loss, or stick to his principles and play good, attacking football? After 90 minutes, the score stood 2–2, which was quite indicative of the match.
Barcelona’s transitions and fluidity were really impressive, whereas Atleti’s defensive organisation and quick expansion on the counter was excellent as well. In the end Luis Suárez’s lack of involvement, Setién’s late substitutions and a few defensive errors meant Barcelona had to settle for a draw. This puts the Catalans in a tough position as Madrid keep inching closer to the title and Barcelona continue dropping points.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Sergio Busquets, Clément Lenglet were definitely incredible yesterday. However, personally, Riqui Puig was slightly better than them. The La Masía midfielder showed very quick thinking, great agility and excellent determination. His ability to receive the ball in tight spaces was especially prominent last night. Puig was instrumental in getting Barcelona into the final third effectively. His performance goes to show that what this team needs is direct, young players. Something which the blaugranas seem to lack recently. After this performance, it’s a step forward not only for Riqui but also for any La Masía players with the potential to play for the first team.
Surely the end of the dream?
For the second time in two games, Barcelona squandered their lead twice to finish in a disappointing 2–2. In what has become a pattern, they dictated the play for this first 30 minutes of the game, before slowly bowing out. Sergio Busquets and Clément Lenglet returned to their starting roles, giving the team much more stability, but it was often the pace of Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Renan Lodi that outdid the Catalans.
Confusion at the Camp Nou | Photo by Paco Largo / Panoramic via Imago
Quite a rollercoaster followed, including an own goal and three penalties. While the team played well for a major part of the game, Setién’s questionable decisions on the touchline form a major topic for debate. Given the enormous impact of this game on the title race, one would have expected attacking changes to be made sooner.
Standout Performer: Riqui Puig
After a standout 86 minutes at Balaídos during the weekend, Riqui Puig got a well-deserved start in a very important game. He was deployed at the apex of the diamond midfield that Setién opted for. Throughout the game he was a lively presence in the midfield, always asking for the ball and providing a passing outlet. His presence once again upped the tempo of the blaugranas play and improved the verticality. The La Masía starlet finished the 90 minutes with 92% accuracy, 100% successful dribbles and 11 duels won, making a strong case for him to be a regular starter.
Final nail in the coffin?
Another extremely poor result. Barring a miracle, Barcelona won’t be able to defend their La Liga title this year. A wonderful game for the neutral but for fans, riddled with controversy and frustration. Awful refereeing aside, Barcelona, despite being promising overall, just fell flat by the end. Lionel Messi’s 700th career goal overshadowed by two more points dropped.
Atlético de Madrid played well, flowing forward much more freely and intentfully than usual. Defensively solid as always, they managed too see out the scoreline after their second equaliser.
Quique Setién, once again, despite seemingly having the right ideas, just refused to make subs. An absolutely bizarre decision. With all the buzz going around, his future at Barça is now even more uncertain. The team huddles during the cooling breaks striking a perfect picture of the fragmentation at Barcelona.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
A second start in a row for the brilliant young La Masía midfielder. And once again he proves that he deserves it. An absolutely incredible showing from Puig yet again. He is without a doubt among Barça’s best players since the restart if not the best. He ran the show in midfield once again, bossing possession, breaking forward with intent, making assured passes, right decisions and showing some nifty footwork as well. And his tenacity and energy were an absolute joy to watch.
Easily the biggest positive for Barcelona to take away from this game. And if there was any doubt about him before, there shouldn’t be any now. He is an absolutely world-class talent and has shown it in one of the biggest games of the season.
Where were the subs?
Barcelona are all but out of the title race with this draw against Atlético de Madrid. The team played well, but the lack of a true winger affected the team dearly. Without someone out wide for Barça, the full-backs were made to play in a sort of wing-back position. Yannick Carrasco used his pace to exploit Nélson Semedo’s more advanced role. Their counter-attacks through Semedo’s wing led to both of the penalties, though the second one was definitely controversial.
The midfield was brilliant, and Riqui Puig was in the middle of it all. The team played well again, but the substitutions really let Barcelona down. Bringing on your brightest talent and your latest big money signing in the 85th and 90th minute respectively of a game you desperately need to win isn’t exactly logical. Suárez was, again, below par while Messi was playing ordinarily for his standards. He gave the ball away more often than usual, but still managed to show glimpses of magic.
Riqui Puig has earned a spot in the team, and possibly in the starting line-up too | Photo by Paco Largo / Panoramic via Imago
The cooling break highlighted the tension between the players and the coach. It is clear that there is a major rift in the dressing room and the effects are trickling onto the pitch. Moreover, the VAR team need to sort out what qualifies as a penalty and what doesn’t. The team was far from poor, but a combination of poor substitutions, Atlético being Atlético, and bad luck when it comes to on-field decisions led to the 2–2 draw.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
Riqui was hands down the best player on the pitch. It was a big night for the youngster and he showed how amazing he can be. He controlled the tempo of the match and linked up magnificently with everyone. His understanding of the game was immaculate, and he created spaces like no other. He made very few mistakes and had good control on the ball. But most importantly, he was hungry to prove his worth to the team. He ran all over the pitch to not only find spaces, but also to close them down when Los rojiblancos moved forward.
His quality showed and it is clear that he has a very bright future. The Catalan has surely cemented his place in the first team with that performance.
Tactical Analysis: Juventus 0-2 Barcelona
In collaboration with Soumyajit Bose.
A detailed look into the game by numbers, statistics, and tactics as FC Barcelona outplayed Juventus at the Allianz Stadium in the UEFA Champions League.
Koeman’s Barcelona side started out as expected, in a 4-2-3-1. Antoine Griezmann operated as a false 9, with Lionel Messi behind him in a free role. Off-the-ball, Griezmann would have the job of pressing the opposition ball-carriers which resulted in his starting position being relatively deeper.
Barcelona’s formation always have more than a hint of asymmetry due to Messi’s free role. This resulted in different positional play for the wingers as we can see from the pass-map.
Not only did this affect the wingers, but even the full-backs had different degrees of attacking potential. Miralem Pjanic and Frenkie de Jong formed the double pivot, with the latter having the task of being the ball-carrier more often than Pjanic as always.
Juventus lined up in a 4-2-3-1, but it was more of a skewed 4-2-4 as we can see from the pass-map. Paolo Dybala played in the role we’ve seen Ramsey play under Pirlo where he has the license to contribute anywhere in the attack, as well as drop back to facilitate the build-up.
Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur, due to their high-energy play had the job of controlling the midfield. They would switch sides fluidly, looking to drag Barcelona’s midfielders out of position for Dybala to find space and drop back towards.
The skewed formations and the emphasis of play down one wing more than the other resulted in Juan Cuadrado playing in a much higher position than Danilo.
From the start, there was a significantly larger portion of the play on the right-wing from Juventus. Dybala was a major reason for this, as the Argentine prefers to drift wide and drive forwards with the ball. Along with Dejan Kulusevski, both of these left-footed players made it easier for Juventus to attack using the right-wing, which they made the most of as we can see from the touch-based heatmaps.
It’s also important to see how both systems affected each other. Ousmane Dembele, being more of a direct dribbler than Pedri, often received the ball higher up the field to utilize the right-wing. This meant that Sergi Roberto was unable to carry out the same marauding runs which Jordi Alba was down the left.
Pedri would tuck in on the left, which is something he often did at Las Palmas and is comfortable with, while simultaneously allowing Alba the attacking freedom he needs.
This part of Barcelona’s player dynamics meant that Juventus had to be more cautious when defending with Danilo. With Messi favouring to drift towards the right, Dembele was able to move higher- up the field sticking to the touchline.
Though Sergi Roberto was unable to overlap due to this, it brought the best out of Dembele’s penetrative attacking play. As the touch-based heatmap shows, Dembele was able to cut in often, whereas Roberto drifted towards the half-spaces to form triangles with Dembele and a midfielder or with Messi.
The following visualization shows just how much more of a direct threat Barcelona’s right-wing was than the left-wing.
This is also represented through the following visualization, which helps us understand just how much of a benefit Messi drifting towards the right was. There is a much higher number of take-ons down the wings and the half-spaces in the final-third for Barcelona and a much lower number for Juve down their left-wing.
The build-up and transitions
Juventus have adopted a unique approach to building-up which we have seen from Andrea Pirlo’s initial matches, as well as what he stated in his thesis.
Forming rhombuses or diamonds allows the team to progress in units, which maintains positional integrity while forcing the opposition to commit more players to the press. The following visualization shows just that. Barcelona’s pressurizing activities were either through the middle to prevent the midfielders from having too much possession and to force the centre-backs to pass wide.
This is where the wingers, one midfielder, and a full-back would immediately start pressing Juventus. Especially on the near side, it meant a higher concentration of pressurizing defensive activities as we can see, with less focus in the half-spaces.
Juventus would opt to build up from the back, then forming diamonds with one full-back, a centre-back, a midfielder, and one forward or Dybala who had te license to roam.
This asymmetry is something that Juventus could face a problem with in the future. The concentration of play down the right-wing is highlighted through their progressive passes, which we can see were mostly from right-to-left when transitioning from the middle-third.
Once in the final-third, there was relatively more of a balance as the same visualisation shows us.
Barcelona looked to build from the back with centre-backs Clement Lenglet and Ronald Araujo passing to the full-backs, or the pivots. To help in the build-up, Barcelona’s wingers would drop back, while staying wide. This gave the team a free man in the build-up and provide numerical superiority.
Well, that would be the case usually. However, Juventus were man-marking de Jong and Pjanic according to where the build-up was from. Simultaneously, Dybala and a winger pressed the backline while Alvaro Morata tried to aggressively pin the defenders back.
This pressing system forced Barcelona to play long-balls often, which was what Juventus wanted. As we can see from the following visualization, the majority of unsuccessful passes from the defensive third were long passes.
However, this is where Sergi Roberto was able to do his best. Forming triangles on the right with Messi and either Dembele or a midfielder, he was able to frequently dribble progressively inwards.
As Ronald Koeman himself said, Barcelona played a very complete match. They dominated almost every phase of the play, in every way possible. A brief glance at the datatable shows just that :
Barcelona were on fire from the very get-go and could have scored within a couple of minutes after a terrible pass by Merih Demiral, which led to a succession of 3 shots by Lionel Messi, Miralem Pjanic, and Antoine Griezmann respectively. Barcelona’s overall shot qualities were better, and they were fully deserving of the scoreline. Here are the shot maps and the xG flow showing the domination :
That Barcelona dominated possession is somewhat of a given, but they dominated possession in the right areas. The following graphic shows the field tilt or territory gained, which is the share of final third passes by either team. As shown, Barcelona dominated territory in every phase of the game.
Lionel Messi had an outstanding day in office, producing several take-ons, an assist, a goal, and 5 key passes. Alba, Pjanic, and Greizmann chipped in with one key pass each.
For Juventus, the biggest threat throughout the game was Alvaro Morata. Notwithstanding the three offside goals, Morata constantly threatened with his pace and was able to find space between the lines. He also had a key pass to his game while Rabiot, Bentancur, Cuadrado, and Kulusevski had a key pass each.
Barcelona switched the ball around a lot more than usual. Against Sevilla, Getafe and Real Madrid, Barcelona were perhaps a little bit guilty of not stretching the field more frequently. Against Juventus, the switching worked according to plan.
As usual, the left side was overloaded with Alba, Pedri and de Jong and one of Messi or Griezmann. As the heatmaps show, Barcelona’s captain played mainly centrally or on the right half space. So him moving to the left to combine with Alba and Pedri meant that Juventus’ structure got dragged significantly and often left Dembele in space.
In fact, one such switch of play resulted in Dembele’s opener, which was following a stellar switch of play by Messi.
As shown in the above graphic, the buildup was quite intricate and beautiful. Barcelona built attacks intricately throughout the game and could have scored more, only to be thwarted by some desperate last-ditch defending by Leonardo Bonucci, Demiral and Danilo.
This performance sees Barcelona cement themselves at the top of their group. In what was a very convincing performance, Araujo had to be subbed-off leading to de Jong playing as a defender, as explained above. This injury, if it is long-term, would leave Barcelona with just Pique and Lenglet in defence with Samuel Umtiti already ruled out.
However, the team will be confident of victory in the home fixture on 9th December thanks to the collective fluidity and great performances from veterans and youngsters alike.