As Barcelona routed Deportivo Alavés for five goals at the Mendizorroza stadium, let’s take a look at how these goals were created and executed in what was a face lifter for the blaugranas.
After the midweek debacle against Osasuna that spelled the end to their hopes of retaining the La Liga title, FC Barcelona needed a game like the one they had against Deportivo Alavés before they shifted their focus towards the much coveted European Champions League. While the game was quite meaningless for all practical purposes, a step in the right direction was important for this Barça side. As they approached the game, though, things were not looking good, as their matchday squad had been cut down to 16, with only three outfield options available on the substitute’s bench.
However, the fears and anxieties seemed to have been shed right from the first whistle as the blaugranes started the match on the front foot and rattled the opposition’s post three times within the first fifteen minutes. In the end, it was a highly convincing 0–5 victory, so let’s look further into the goals to see what led to the win from Barcelona over Alavés.
Alavés 0–1 Barcelona
The breakthrough finally came in the 23rd minute following an exquisite series of ball movement across the pitch. It began on the left side near the middle of the park, where Riqui Puig exchanged the ball back and forth with Jordi Alba. The latter then made a forward run and was beautifully found with a pin point ball by the former.
Bringing the ball down calmly, Alba squared it off to Luis Suárez, who appeared to have taken one step too many. However, he did well to recover quickly, protect the ball and evade the two defenders who were closing down on him before finding Arturo Vidal in the center. Finding space ahead of him, Vidal lined up a shot at the goal before taking note of Sergi Roberto’s run on the right. As Vidal laid the ball over to Roberto, the Alavés backline was already getting stretched. No less than seven Barca players were surrounding the Alavés goal.
“We had a bad experience in the last game, but today we were good and effective in front of the goal”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
Roberto carried the ball into the box and found Lionel Messi on the edge of the box. Approaching the box from the right side, in what was reminiscent of his early years as a winger, Messi took two touches before finding Ansu Fati, who had quite cleverly evaded his marker and was making a run towards the penalty spot. Messi’s flicked cross fell neatly for Fati even as it took a deflection off the defender and the youngster calmly guided it inside the near post, with his first touch.
That was the seventh goal for the seventeen-year-old in his debut season for the first team. Whereas for Messi, that was a record 21st assist for the season.
Alavés 0–2 Barcelona
Barcelona’s inability to capitalise on the lead and close out the game has been exposed several times this season. A single goal lead therefore was far from calming. This time, though, they refused to sit back after taking the lead. The constant search continued after the cooling break and immediately came to fruition.
The move that underlined Barça’s quick transitions last night began in the Catalans’ own half following an astute piece of pressing and intervention when Sergi Roberto and Arturo Vidal teamed up to recover the ball. Neatly recovered, the ball was handed to Messi near the halfway line, while Roberto anticipated Leo’s move and made an overlapping run on the right flank.
“We have taken a step forward in terms of commitment and our attitude. Today, we could see it. Like the coach said, we have to be more consistent throughout the 90 minutes”
Messi acknowledged this run and passed it to Roberto, who launched a beautiful diagonal ball towards the 18-yard box in search of Riqui Puig. Puig left his defender trailing in his sprint to reach the ball first. But that was only half the job done; he then deftly brought the ball down with a beautiful first touch and squared it off to Messi, who arrived inside the box just in time to connect with the pass.
Messi then took the ball and sent the keeper sprawling on the pitch, before scoring neatly with his left foot to double the team’s lead as well as increase his own at the top of the Pichichi table for the most number of goals in La Liga. The assist was appreciated by Messi, who went straight to the youngster to celebrate.
Alavés 0–3 Barcelona
Barcelona now had two of its three starting forwards on the scoreboard. Needless to say, Luis Suárez was eager to get on it as well; especially after having had two great chances saved by the Alavés goal keeper Roberto. His wait did not last long as just before the half time, Messi picked the ball and approached the Alavés box.
He had three options in front of him: Ansu Fati on the left, Suárez in the middle and Arturo Vidal on the right. Each of them marked tightly. Messi himself was being tracked by a defender, whom he evaded with a typical drop of the shoulder and a pull back. This gave Jordi Alba enough time to cruise forward on the left flank unnoticed, behind the enemy lines.
All five goals from Barcelona against Alavés came from open play | Photo by Ander Gillenea / AFP via Getty Images
Messi could not have asked for a better outlet as he launched his cross to Alba. Alba took it in his stride and squared it off his first touch to find Suárez in front of the keeper. The latter did not miss it this time as he headed the ball down past the keeper with full intent.
Alavés 0–4 Barcelona
Barça manager Quique Setién was forced to make changes in the line-up early on in the second half as defender Clément Lenglet was injured. With no centre-backs left on the bench, Setién took a gamble by sending in Nélson Semedo. Semedo was to take up the right-back position from Sergi Roberto, who would move into the midfield and thereby free Arturo Vidal. Vidal was assigned by the coach to fall back as a makeshift defender.
This move made its effect felt immediately elsewhere, as Nélson Semedo pushed forward down the right flank in the 56th minute. Collecting the ball with ease, he passed it back to Sergi Roberto, who gave it to Messi in one touch. Messi controlled the ball, found Riqui Puig and continued his run inside the box.
“These players are the future of the club. They show quality and responsibility. One day, they will be great players”
on Ansu Fati, Ronald Araújo and Riqui Puig
With both Messi and Puig being tracked by defenders, Semedo found himself in some free space on the right side of the box. This was spotted quickly by Puig, who passed it on for Semedo. The latter then took a smart first touch before burying it in the goal. Another goal that underlined the craft and guile of young Riqui Puig, who, as the commentators duly noted, is all but kicking at the doors of the senior side now.
Alavés 0–5 Barcelona
The game was all but over now. Even as Alavés were trying to pull a goal back, even as their coach was urging them to do exactly that, Barça were well and truly in control now. Circulating the ball around patiently, they were however looking to increase their tally. It was in the 74th minute that young defender Ronald Araújo came up to the half line and passed the ball over to Sergi Roberto.
After exchanging a one-two pass with Frenkie de Jong, who came in to replace Sergio Busquets, Roberto took out two defenders by a perfect pass to Messi. Mesi passed it over to De Jong with a single touch, as he turned to face the Alavés box. Driving the ball forward, Frenkie found a neat lane to connect with yet another overlapping run from Jordi Alba.
And as is usual with Alba, he took it in his stride and sent a cross into the danger area, with a brilliant first touch once again. There were two targets in the line of Alba’s cross. Suárez stood first, but was tightly marked by a defender. Yet Luis was aware of his best pal waiting behind him. Therefore, without disturbing the cross he stepped ahead and dragged the defender with him, making a clear lane for the cross to find Messi. The cross did find Messi and he sent it straight to the bottom corner of the goal with that precious left foot of his: five-nil. Messi’s lead at the top of Pichichi table was now four goals strong.
This was by no means a crunch fixture or a high pressure game. And the performance in this one game is not going to do much to define a season that has been pretty frustrating for the culés. Nonetheless, the effect that it will have on the squad, as they prepare for the Champions League, is immense.
Had this been another struggling and stagnant performance, the team would have had to face Napoli with that result in the back of their heads. As meaningless as this game and its results were for the league, for Barça this will be a confidence booster that they badly needed. If nothing else, it will help them believe that they still have a chance of redeeming this season.
Detailed Analysis: Ferencvaros 0-3 Barcelona
In collaboration with Soumyajit Bose.
As Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona looked to continue their perfect Champions League 2020/21 record, they faced Serhiy Rebrov‘s Ferencvaros side whose Europa League hopes were at stake at the Groupama Arena.
Compared to La Liga, Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League campaign has been much stronger. With 12 points in four games, with just two goals conceded and 13 goals scored, the confidence was high. However, for Ferencvaros, the best possible finish is in third place in Group G, which would see them qualify for the Europa League.
As a motivated Ferencvaros side faced Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona, a 0-3 victory in favour of the Blaugrana was far from ideal for the Budapest outfit. In this analysis, we take a look at the patterns seen throughout the match and the tactics used by the Barcelona, as well as the Ferencvaros side.
Serhiy Rebrov’s Ferencvaros side had a clear game-plan from the start. Though this was commendable, there were some immediate issues. The disappointing aspect of this was that Rebrov was either unable to, or was unwilling to make the changes which could have changed the outcome of the match.
The Hungarians looked to play a back-three throughout the match. The two full-backs essentially had little to do in the build-up. Partly because their starting position was too high and also because Barcelona’s forward four were able to cut passing lanes effectively.
Ferencvaros’ number five, Abraham Frimpong, was at the heart of the defence. When building up, he would often drift forward in line with the full-backs. This would have been a good strategy, but the back-three were constantly forced to launch the ball forwards after Barcelona’s pressing.
When defending, the full-backs would tuck in and the wide forwards would drop back to form a 5-4-1. At times, there were too many players in defence. Isael on one occasion played Griezmann onside when there were six players back defending.
As the above heat-maps shows, forward Tokmac Chol Nguen was barely involved, and the full-backs Endre Botka and Marcel Heister were only active in small parts of the field. There was a clear disjoint between the midfield and the forwards and between the defence and the midfield at times as well.
As expected from the current Barcelona side, the 4-2-3-1 was deployed. Right off from the start, something very apparent was the different player profiles in the attack. With Lionel Messi, Pedri, Philippe Coutinho, three players like to have the ball and roam around. Add Antoine Griezmann to that mix and you have four players who do best in a free role and have a moderate attacking work-rate at best.
With Martin Braithwaite, Fransisco Trincao, Ousmane Dembele this Barcelona side were able to press high and very actively as we shall see later.
The double-pivot of Sergio Busquets was at the core of the team in terms of recycling possession as well as playing balls forward. As the above pass-map shows us, these two were very active in passing and formed strong combinations with many players.
With the full-backs, or rather the wing-backs, very high up the field, Ousmane Dembele and Trincao would tuck in. This would make underlaps easier, as we saw with Braithwaite’s penalty-winning run, and it would also give the full-backs freedom to drive forwards.
The different full-back profiles on either side meant that down the left, excellent combinational play was visible and while Dest was more direct in his approach. This offered the Catalans with more choices in the final third.
A new pattern we saw in the build-up was a diamond between the centre-backs and the pivots. With Mingueza moving a bit further up the field, Busquets would drop back and form the second passing options for Clement Lenglet. Miralem Pjanic would look to find passing lanes in midfield and provide the third, and most direct, passing option.
When defending, Busquets and Pjanic would look to close off the channels, and Alba and Dest would have to retreat quickly. With the back-four completely flat and the pivots cutting passing lanes, the forward were given the best chance to show their work-rate and that is apparent from Barcelona’s goal-protecting activities that started from the front.
Barcelona were devastatingly good in the first half, scoring all three goals and putting the game to bed. They dominated possession, pressed much better than their opponents, all while outshooting and consequently outscoring them. Here is the game data at a glance:
Next, we take a look at the quality of chances created in the shotmaps and xG flow:
Barcelona created brilliant chances all game, and all of the goals came from high-quality chances. Understandably, they took their feet off the gear in the second half. This allowed Ferencvaros to create their most threatening moments. Even then, Barcelona had plenty of opportunities to score at least a couple of goals later in the second half. Profligacy in front of goal meant they could not add to their already impressive goal tally.
Barcelona’s territorial superiority is shown in the following figure. Field tilt – a metric to measure final third passing share, and hence territorial dominance –was overwhelmingly in Barcelona’s favor for most of the game. As shown, Ferencvaros only did better for certain stretches of the second half.
A look at the goals
Here we take a look at the goals Barcelona scored. Ousmane Dembele had one of the games of his life. He constantly linked up with Jordi Alba to create threat down the left. This very combination led to the first two goals of the game. For the first one, Dembele and Alba had some nice little one-twos, before Dembele released Alba into space behind the Ferencvaros right back. Alba used his speed to reach the ball ahead of his tracker and lay off a nice low cross to Antoine Greizmann, who made an excellent run into the box. Greizmann finished the move with an exquisite flick. Here are illustrations of the entire buildup and animation of the final moments :
The second goal came from a long buildup. First, a shot by Sergino Dest was blocked in the box. Following a flurry of passes, Griezmann made a cross-field pass to Alba. Alba laid the ball off to Dembele, who beat his marker by speed and played another low cross into the box. This time, it was Martin Braithwaite who made an intelligent poacher’s run into the box to prod it home.
Braithwaite made yet another great run behind Ferencvaros’ defence before getting fouled just when he was getting ready to shoot. Dembele scored from the resulting penalty.
Clement Lenglet could return from an injury scare to start the game, so Barcelona had two senior members at least in the beginning. The defence remained unperturbed for most of the half. Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza did an admirable job of cleaning up loose balls and snuffing out attacks. Ferencvaros rarely managed to get the ball to Barcelona’s final third. Here is a time-evolution chart of PPDA, which measures press intensity:
Evidently, Barcelona pressed much better throughout the game. The only interval where Ferencvaros had any luck pressing was in small intervals in the second half.
Next we take a look at Barcelona’s defensive heatmap.
This is probably the first time Barcelona have pressed this high up the pitch. Their effort paid dividends too, as Ferencvaros really struggled to build up successfully from the back, as shown in the following:
On the other hand, while Ferencvaros tried pressing higher, Barcelona were able to build through the press fairly regularly. The following images show Ferencvaros’ defensive efforts and Barcelona’s unsuccessful passes.
La Masia and youth get chances again
Several youngsters got a runout yet again. Mingueza continued to impress displaying composure on the ball and no-nonsense defending. Dest had yet another stellar show as the right back. He was impressive in tracking back, showing both speed and strength to nullify Tokmac Nguen. Dembele was electric; scoring and assisting one goal each and could have had more to his name. He finished the game wearing the captain’s armband.
Frenkie de Jong came on in the second half to replace Sergio Busquets and ended up playing centre back after Lenglet was withdrawn as well. Francisco Trincao got a start and played for about 80 minutes. While wasteful in front of goal and generally had some ugly touches, he also came up with some great dribbles. He should have really scored after being set up one on one by Dembele.
Carles Alena, Riqui Puig and Konrad de la Fuente all had cameos as well. Puig was particularly impressive, racking up 3 key passes in 28 minutes. He could have had an assist had Dembele elected to shoot from his pass.
Five wins out of five in the Champions League. Three victories in a row in all competitions. Three clean sheets. Eleven goals scored. Ronald Koeman probably could not have asked for a more favorable series of results for his team. Not only did important players like Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong get some rest, the fringe players got some decent run-out. Greizmann has scored three goals – he surely is brimming with confidence right now. Braithwaite has scored 4 goals in 3 games. Dembele looks to be in good form. The team seems to be hitting better stride. Injuries notwithstanding, this is a perfect time for Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona to make up for all the points lost in the league.