Ansu Fati is a lively player, one of the most entertaining in world football right now. At 17, he has already fulfilled a plethora of dreams. The Spanish international’s early career has consisted of scoring for Barcelona, becoming one of the main stars for Barça and Spain and winning the La Liga Player of the Month for his red-hot start to the season.
While cementing a starting spot for himself is excellent, but Fati cannot start every game – certainly not at 17. Having started the season in September with Spain, he has already clocked in considerable minutes for club and country. For his country, he has played four games, completing 250 minutes since his debut against Germany and for Barça, he started the first three games of the Blaugranas’ campaign but has not made it past the 70th minute in any of the three games.
At 17, Fati has been given way too much responsibility. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Ronald Koeman seems quite fond of the player, prioritising his development and making him one of the essential pieces of the jigsaw, but he has to keep tweaking his team to avoid fatigue. The Dutch manager started the same eleven men thrice in three games, and all that in the span of a week! Against Sevilla, the players were dropping like flies because of the two games they had played against Celta Vigo and Villarreal earlier in the week. The international break has not come at the right time either, starting from Leo Messi, who’s had to play in one of the highest stadiums in the world, to Fati, who, at 17, deserves to be integrated slower.
The game against Getafe on Saturday will be a tough one, although not as crucial as El Clásico in a week or the encounter against Juve on the 28th. Barcelona have always struggled At the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, and José Bordalás’ side is one of the most violent ones in the league, giving their all on the pitch to get the ball. With the games against Madrid and Juve in mind, Koeman has to rotate his eleven, starting from Ansu Fati, who has played a lot already, could get a rest. There are four candidates, in no particular order, who could replace him for the game, and Barça Universal reviews every option.
The obvious answer to the problem is named Ousmane Dembélé. The Frenchman is the designated number two to Fati’s throne. If he still ends up on the bench, there will be several questions raised on Ronald Koeman’s decisions.
Ousmane Dembele is yet to start a game under Koeman. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
A pacey winger, Dembélé can do a job when called upon and can break many ankles when going up against the opposition’s right-back, as Dani Carvajal can testify. Against Getafe’s excellent Damian Suarez, Barcelona need a mischievous winger on the pitch who could make the Uruguayan lose his senses. Also, playing Dembélé, a lively forward, in place of Ansu Fati wouldn’t change Koeman’s plans too much as he’ll need to open up Getafe’s well-oiled defence who are quite allergic to wingers trying to dribble them.
However, Koeman might be reluctant to start Dembélé at that stadium because of the 23-year-old’s history – the place he got his first injury for Barça. Bordalás’ defenders aren’t scared to display their physical prowess, and an injury to Dembele could end up hurting the team in the long run.
In conclusion, while Dembélé looks like a sensible inclusion in the former Barça legend’s tactics, it might not be best to sacrifice him against the relentless kicks by the Getafe backline, right from the start, at least.
Francisco Trincão has started the season well, and his recent form with Portugal and Barça could propel him towards a starting spot in Ronald Koeman’s plans. Much like Dembélé, Trincão is a pacey winger who can dribble like there’s no tomorrow and he wouldn’t be half bad against Getafe, a team that likes to defend.
If Trincão replaces Ansu well, and Antoine Griezmann has another lacklustre performance, a debate over the starting right-winger for El Clásico would start. That competitive aspect of the game could help Griezmann get his motivation back or could give Trincão a lot of confidence before a tough month.
Passing of the baton? (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Originally a right-winger, the former Braga star is left-footed and could be of use on the left, replacing a tired Ansu Fati, and perhaps cementing his place as a Barça starter. Starting him on the left could work, especially when Koeman has to consider his options.
Martin Braithwaite, although not the most flashy option, is a player who Koeman has to consider since he’s giving his all in training to show his worth. A hard-working forward, Braithwaite is the definition of a panic buy. Still, he has to get his chance at some point, especially as he got Luis Suarez’s #9 after the Uruguayan exited Camp Nou this summer.
The Danish international comes back from the national team with an assist against the Faroe Islands and 87 minutes played in Iceland, where Denmark won 3-0. Braithwaite started both of these games on the left-wing, complimenting his team’s attacking trio to perfection.
Braithwaite put in an excellent shift for his country in the break. (Photo by HARALDUR GUDJONSSON/AFP via Getty Images)
It is safe to say Braithwaite has adapted to the wing now, and he can add a lot of positive aspects to Barça’s game when he’s on the left, as he showed against Real Sociedad in March. The Danish forward was imposing in that game and received a lot of praise off the back of his performances against Eibar and Sociedad from Culés.
Against Getafe, Martin could be a surprise addition to the squad, and the 4-2-3-1 could suit him like a globe. With his decent pace, he can be a poisonous player for a defensive side like Bordalás’, and he can create acres of space for Messi and Coutinho to run into, but he shouldn’t be Koeman’s number one solution to replace Ansu Fati.
Konrad de la Fuente
Another surprise, but another exciting addition to Korman’s eleven if he chooses that option, Konrad de la Fuente was one of the youngsters Koeman liked the most in the pre-season friendly. So much so, he even included the American in his Champions League squad along with four other Barça B players.
Touted as a possible left-back option, Konrad can be a swiss knife as he can play in many positions, though, his most natural role on the pitch comes as a left-winger. An energetic wide player, Konrad could tire out Damian Suarez who isn’t the quickest. He could also be a good surprise as he’s not a regular starter for Barça, so that could mean Getafe won’t know how to defend against a relatively unknown opponent.
If Koeman wants to spice things up, he could go for the teenager, and it would seem like an absolutely ingenious move. Going for an unknown player on the left could pay dividends for a side that’s still searching for their best form.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.