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.
Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers and statistics and tactics as FC Barcelona kicked off their UCL 2020-21 campaign in style.
FC Barcelona played the first group stage game of UCL 2020-21 at home against recent Hungarian champions Ferencvarosi Torna Club, also called Ferencvaros. The Budapest outfit were playing against Barcelona in a competitive match for the very first time (previous meetings had all been friendlies), and naturally, Barcelona started cautiously. However, shaking off the rust from the International break and the disappointment of the loss against Getafe in the weekend, Barcelona came up with a dominant display and ran out as winners scoring five and conceding just one.
Barcelona yet again fielded a 4-2-3-1, with an unchanged defence from the game against Getafe. The double-pivot changed slightly, with Miralem Pjanic starting as Frenkie de Jong’s partner. Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincāo started as wingers flanking Philipe Coutinho at attacking midfield, with Lionel Messi starting as the false 9.
The touch-based heatmaps and the pass-map show some interesting tactical changes from the last two league games. First of all, and most importantly, this was the first time this season that both flanks were very well utilised. Having Trincao and Fati, both adept at playing on the wing, greatly helped the team build and attack through both sides.
While Antoine Griezmann added a lot of defensive cover while playing on the right flank in the previous games, Trincao did his share to help out the team, too. He did well in attack while also putting in a brilliant defensive shift – Griezmann’s absence was not felt at all.
Secondly, the positioning of Frenkie de Jong was a lot advanced, bringing the best out of him. Unlike the last two games, where he was placed much deeper and wider on average, last night he had more freedom to venture up and also drift a bit centrally. On average, he took up a higher position than Pjanic and took part in a lot of the attacking moves, while the Bosnian was tasked with the deeper progressions.
Ferencvaros started out in a 4-2-3-1 as well, but soon evolved into a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 structure and settled into it for the game. Their midfield was very compact, and mostly stayed deep. Their idea was to use counters, with Tokmak Chol Nguen the only player taking up advanced positions to lead their attacks.
Attacks and Buildups
Barcelona posted very impressive attacking stats for the game.
Barcelona dominated possession as usual, but the biggest positive takeaway are the pressing numbers. The Blaugranas posted impressive PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) numbers as compared to their opposition. It also indicates that a lot of the game was played in the opposition’s half, showing dominance in the game. The shot maps and the xG flowcharts show how imperative Barcelona were throughout the game, and that a lot of the shots were excellent chances to score.
Next we take a look a gallery of all the goals scored by Barcelona, and the lone goal scored by Ferencvaros to discuss the difference in ideologies of the two teams.
While Barcelona’s first goal took a came solely as a result of moments of individual brilliance by Messi, all of the other goals came through wonderful intricate buildup. Both sets of wide players were very well-utilized, who were able to play out through pressure no matter where the buildup started.
The buildup to the second goal culminated in a wonderful lofted pass by Frenkie de Jong to Ansu Fati, who slotted it past Ferencvaros’ hapless goalkeeper with a first-time finish. Fati was involved in the third goal as well. An intricate set up of passes in the final third led to Messi finding Fati with a pass, who back-flicked into the path of Coutinho, who made no mistake slotting it into the bottom corner.
In contrasting fashion, Ferencvaros were very direct. It was very clear that Tokmac Nguen was their main danger-man. Nguen created a couple of really dangerous moments in the first half with his threatening runs across the backline. The first effort was called offside, while the second led to him setting up Isael for a thunderous shot against the post.
He was also at the helm of their sole goal of the game, running at Pique, who was unable to keep up with Nguen and hauled him down into the box, leading to a penalty.
Barcelona’s passing was on point against Ferencvaros, helping the team to cover all zones perfectly, stretching the pitch and making it difficult to defend. Most importantly, there were a lot more passes into the box as well exchanges inside the box than the previous two games. Particularly impressive were the utilization of zone 14 and the half-spaces. Here are the dangerous passes portrayed:
The key passes came from multiple zones as well and from multiple sources. Messi had 4, Roberto, Pjanic, Coutinho, and Fati had 2 each, while de Jong, Trincao and Dembele had 1 each:
Finally, we compare the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – it’s the number of final third passes completed by a team, divided by the sum of final third passes completed by both teams, expressed as a percentage.
Barcelona completed a much greater number of final third passes almost throughout the game except for a small window when Pique received a red card and sent off for fouling Nguen, and Barcelona had to play with 10 men.
Barcelona’s defence closely resembled a 4-4-2 block with Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi high up, and sometimes in 4-5-1 as Messi was the sole player allowed to stay up.
After Pique’s red card, Barcelona took up a fairly compact 4-4-1 shape. Ferencvaros were pushed back into their own half for the bulk of the match as Barcelona won the ball back fairly fast. The only time Ferencvaros managed to peg back Barcelona was after Pique’s dismissal. Here is a glimpse of the defensive activities of the two teams, showing Barça’s high turnover rate:
In fact, the third goal that Barcelona scored early in the second half came from a great bit of pressing. Messi aggressively pressed the central channels into Ferencvaros’ third and the box, so the ball had to be passed out wide, where Trincao led the charge. This led to a misplaced pass that was intercepted by Pjanic, and Trincao recovered the loose ball. A lovely sequence ensued, and Barcelona were up 3-0 in a blink.
Having discussed the defensive structure and the pressing intensity, now it’s time to discuss some of the issues. In this particular game, the issues were entirely in defence. Ferencvaros – Nguen in particular – exposed the problem Barcelona’s centre backs have against quick attackers. The Norwegian’s runs dragged the defenders all over the place, mixed with the high line that Barcelona employs, it resulted in nightmares as it often does.
Whenever the fullbacks were pushed high, and possession was turned over, Ferencvaros directly took on the two defenders left on the pitch. They could not bypass the press by making long passing sequences, so they quickly circulated ball out wide or to the deep half spaces before launching long balls to Nguen, and sending out supporting runners. One such run led to Pique’s red card.
This current batch of Barcelona players seems a tad too card-happy. Lenglet has already seen a red card in the Liga. Roberto, Dest, Pique – all of them have seen yellow cards just 4 games into the season. This is not healthy, especially given the lack of quality depth in defence.
Coutinho has been playing well, to say the least, and there are little to no doubts over his performance. However, his positioning – which surely is a tactical quirk of Ronald Koeman – is very interesting. Instead of the usual central positions a nominal 10 would take up, he is primarily operating in the left half space. There is quite a bit of overlap with Ansu Fati. Its clear that Barcelona are trying to achieve wide overloads on the left side whenever they can.
Coutinho performances are not an issue. His role, on the other hand, might be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
This system, however, needs a striker and more directness to function. As it stands, the team is deploying two 10s in Messi and Coutinho. While this has worked well against weaker oppositions, it remains to be seen how well the lack of vertical staggering can hold up against stronger opposition.
The story of this game will be incomplete without mentioning the substitutions. Junior Firpo returned from injury and came on along with Pedri and Ousmane Dembele around the 60-minute mark. Ronald Araujo had to come on after Pique’s dismissal, while Sergio Busquets replaced Pjanic later to help see the game off.
While Pedri got his first goal for Barcelona, Dembele’s brilliant dribble and tenacity in the box from where he cut back the ball has to be mentioned. Seven minutes later, the World Cup winner found himself at the receiving end of a pass from Messi and smashed home for the fifth and final goal.
After the drab showing against Getafe, this was a much-needed boost for the team before the El Clasico. Multiple scorers, good buildup plays, high press – pretty much everything except the red card was to the point. Next week’s UCL away game against Juventus will prove a stern test as well, and hopefully, we will see the best of Ronald Araujo in that game.