It was a much needed victory for Barça away at the Estadio de la Cerámica, and it came with some superb goals. Let’s go deeper into the brilliant attacking play from Barcelona that led to these goals against Villarreal, and the one defensive lapse as well.
Two consecutive draws, against Celta de Vigo and Atlético de Madrid, forced Barça to get a win in case they wanted to, at least, recover some confidence and positive sensations again. Even so, the 1–4 victory against Villarreal was far from expected, involving four brilliant goals from Barcelona and a complete dominance from start to finish. Let’s break down such goals scored, and the one conceded, from Quique Setién’s Barcelona against Javier Calleja’s Villarreal.
Villarreal 0–1 Barcelona
Barça were on the attack right from the start of this match, and that ambition payed off with an early goal. It came in just the third minute, as the blaugranas went down the left flank.
Sergi Roberto was the instigator of the attack, which began with him dropping deep and to the left to receive the ball from Clément Lenglet. The midfielder then played the ball ahead to Luis Suárez, who had checked in in front of his marker. Roberto, recognising the space for a return pass, burst into the space ahead of him after playing the ball.
Suárez easily played the ball into the path of the surging Sergi Roberto, creating a good attacking situation for the Catalans. There was now just four defenders between Sergi and the goal, and he had three teammates to pass to, so he just had to make the right decision.
The Villarreal right-back, Mario Gaspas, eventually stepped to close down Sergi Roberto, which left Jordi Alba as the free man wide to the left. Roberto picked him out, and Alba was then in a very dangerous position with options for a cross or cutback.
As Alba approached the ball, Antoine Griezmann began to make a hard run behind Villarreal’s young centre-back, Pau Torres. Alba spotted this run, and played a low, hard ball across the six yard box where the Frenchman was arriving.
Unfortunately for Griezmann, the ball was actually tapped in for an own goal by Pau Torres. While it wasn’t scored by a Barcelona player, the first of the goals in the Villarreal net set the tone for their attacking play that would follow throughout the rest of the match.
It was also a very nice move to create the goal by Barça, with twelve straight completed passes leading up to Jordi Alba’s cross. While the left-back won’t get an official assist, he deserves a lot of credit for this goal, as do Sergi Roberto and Griezmann.
Villarreal 1–1 Barcelona
While it was a comfortable win in the end for Barça, they did give up a 0–1 lead for the third straight match. Similar to the goals Barcelona conceded against Atlético de Madrid, this one came from a direct passing move where Villarreal went from box to box.
Villarreal first won the ball just outside their own penalty area, and they were quick to counter. This counter was initiated as the ball was played out wide to Samuel Chukwueze. The Nigerian winger received the ball, and looked up to spot the run of Paco Alcácer in behind Barça’s defence.
With Alba and Semedo high up the pitch from the attack, the two centre-backs were the only players left deep. Alcácer, the former Barcelona man, saw the huge gap between the center backs and exploited it with a brilliant run. The ball arrived well from Chukwueze, and Villarreal had made their way into Barça’s penalty area.
Gerard Piqué did well to recover and catch up to Paco Alcácer, but arriving into the box for Villarreal was also Santi Cazorla. The experienced midfielder was spotted, and the ball was played across the box to him. This left Cazorla in a solid position to score, but his low, driven shot was saved by Marc-André ter Stegen.
However, the rebound of this shot fell kindly to the feet of Villarreal striker, Gerard Moreno. The Spaniard made no mistake and put the ball in for his sixteenth La Liga goal of the season.
Villarreal had their equaliser, and there were more worrying signs for Barcelona’s defense. There were just four completed passes by Villarreal between them winning the ball outside their own penalty area and Cazorla’s shot. Direct passing and pace up front had once again been Barça’s downfall. It seemed like this match had the chance to be more points dropped, but the azulgranas responded well.
Villarreal 1–2 Barcelona
It took just about six minutes for Barça to retake the lead. For this goal, it was their turn to go from box to box and score.
The possession began with a Villarreal attempted through ball running all the way back to Marc-André ter Stegen. The German got to the ball just outside his box, and cleared the ball up the pitch.
While his aerial ability might not be his strong suit, Lionel Messi did very well to go up and win the ball out of the air with a defender on his back. The Argentine was able to chest the ball down, and then flicked it past another defender, leaving him on the ground.
Now faced towards goal, and with room to run into, Messi was ready to work some more magic. As he drove forward with the ball and weaved through Villarreal defenders, Leo eventually drew the right-back to step to him. This left Luis Suárez, who had drifted wide to the left wing, open just outside the box.
Spotting his partner in crime, Messi played the ball just ahead of Suárez. This set up El Pistolero perfectly for a first time shot with his right foot.
It was a vintage Suárez finish, as the Uruguayan curled his shot with superb technique in at the far post. Villarreal goalkeeper, Sergio Asenjo, could do nothing but watch as the ball glided into the net.
While Ter Stegen’s ball that started this move was far from his best pass, he does get credit for the secondary assist. That was one of just two completed passes in the build-up to this goal, as the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi took centre stage. It was a brilliant assist and a brilliant finish, giving Barça the momentum back.
Villarreal 1–3 Barcelona
Unlike in the previous two matches, this time Barcelona would not give up their lead a second time. Instead, that lead was doubled in the forty-fifth minute, further increasing the side’s confidence heading into the dressing room.
After Sergio Busquets won the ball for Barça on the right side of the pitch, there was a one-two played between Luis Suárez and Nélson Semedo. The Uruguayan played the ball across the pitch to Antoine Griezmann, which is where the danger began.
Griezmann layed the ball for Lionel Messi, who was arriving from deep, which created a three versus three situation. As Messi drove into the penalty area, all three Villarreal defenders closed in on him. Recognising this and seeing the space open up, Griezmann made a run to the inside of the Argentine.
After entering the box, Messi appeared to wind up for a shot or pass to his left for Jordi Alba. Instead, he produced another bit of brilliance, rolling the ball behind him into the path of Griezmann’s run.
Griezmann arrived to the ball just outside the area, and produced a finish that exceeded the excellence of the assist. With his left boot, the Frenchman lifted the ball up and over Sergio Asenjo to the far post. Once again, the keeper could do nothing but admire the effort.
The finish was undeniably reminiscent of Lionel Messi’s brilliant goal against Real Betis from a similar position. That goal should certainly provide Griezmann with more confidence going forward, as it was his first since Febuary. Encouraging signs were also displayed by this goal through the combination between Messi and Griezmann, who finally appeared to have that connection.
Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona
To wrap up an overall great performance, substitute Ansu Fati got back on the scoresheet with his eighty-sixth minute goal. The goal was a true testament to the intelligence and quality that Fati possesses, even at his young age.
After circulating the ball from side to side for a bit, the ball was played out to Jordi Alba. As the ball was travelling towards the left-back, Ansu Fati began to check in towards him, seemingly looking for a pass to his feet. This caused the defender marking Ansu to close him down tightly.
Nonetheless, when Jordi Alba received the ball and picked his head up, Fati turned and ran in behind the Villarreal defence. With a change of direction, the 17-year-old had lost his marker. Alba did very well to anticipate this movement, and played the ball over the top of the defence.
This put Fati in a one-on-one situation on the left with centre-back, Raúl Albiol. With Fati having the clear advantage in terms of pace, Albiol continued to drop off and give him space in fear of getting beat. But this allowed Ansu to make his way easily into the penalty area, where he had space to get a shot away.
Ansu Fati opened up on his right foot and took his shot low. It seemed to take a slight deflection, and Sergio Asenjo was completely wrong-footed and unable to react as the ball traveled in at the near post.
While the main contributors to this goal were certainly Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba, all of Barcelona’s outfield players touched the ball in the build-up. This seems to be a positive sign, as Barça were doing well to possess the ball and kill the game, while also keeping watch for an opening to attack.
While the scorelines and goals from the previous two matches seemed to have more negatives than positives, that was definitely not the case in the Barcelona win at Villarreal. Barça’s attack was firing on all cylinders, and the Messi–Suárez–Griezmann connection seemed the strongest it has been so far. Hopefully, this performance was just the beginning for the front three, and they can continue to build on it.
Out of the non-attackers in this match, major props have to go to Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba. Roberto’s ball-carrying ability was well on display in this match, and created the first goal. It was Alba’s cross that led to the own goal for that opener, and he later picked up a very nice assist to Fati. It’s always important to have dynamic runs and passes coming from outside of the front three, and these two provided that.
Ultimately, this match seemed to get Barça back to their happiest state. Griezmann finally had reason to celebrate, and Quique Setién was back to looking enthusiastic on the bench. Even if the title is out of the picture, these are types of performances that have to continue to develop the squad into the best side possible.
A Detailed Look into Barcelona’s defeat against Getafe
Barcelona fell to defeat in Madrid, and Barça Universal brings a detailed analysis of how the visitors fared against the relentless Getafe.
Matchweek four saw FC Barcelona travel to Coliseum Alfonso Perez to take on yet another difficult opposition – Getafe. In recent years, Getafe have seen an uptick of fortune under manager Jose Bordalas, by opting to play a straightforward counterattacking style of football while staying defensively compact. It is easy to not classify their game as pretty. Still, they are highly effective – with constant disruptions to the game with a very physical style of play, they forced Barcelona to stay out of their box very effectively. The game indeed was gruesome to watch and ended in Getafe eking out a narrow 1-0 victory – their first over Barcelona in the league since 2011-12.
The Shape of the Teams
As the team returned from the international break with many of the players having played 180+ minutes, Ronald Koeman rang in some interesting changes. However, one could always argue if there were, in fact, enough changes and whether they made a lot of sense. Neto, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Sergi Roberto at right-back, and Sergino Dest as the makeshift left-back formed the back-five, with the usual double pivot of Sergio Busquets of Frenkie de Jong.
Ousmane Dembele was back in action on the left-wing, Antoine Griezmann started in a false 9 role, and Lionel Messi as the nominal ‘right-wing’. The biggest surprise perhaps was the first start handed to 17-year-old Pedri at central attacking-midfield.
From the pass-maps and the following touch-based heatmaps, you can see that Messi did stay a lot wider than the “false RW” role he had under the previous two managers. Still, he kept interchanging slots with Griezmann quite a bit as well, especially in the deeper zones. The Frenchman had a lot of touches in the wider zones while tracking back. As such, and combined with his highly ineffective combination play with the midfield and the forwards, it does the beg the question as to whether it makes any sense to put Griezmann up top, or for that matter, as a starter in the team at all.
Also, de Jong’s role and influence in the game was in sharp contrast to the previous games and Busquets’ as well. Busquets influenced a lot of the central zones, while Frenkie tried to rattle wider, and deeper areas more, partly due to the absence of Jordi Alba.
Getafe came up with a highly asymmetrical 4-4-2, with very distinctively different lines of midfielders in possession, and very different roles of the wide players on two sides:
It was former La Masia youngster Marc Cucurella, playing as a left wide-mid, who was really the most adventurous of the lot and showed the most attacking prowess. In midfield, Mauro Arambarri had the freedom to drift around a bit while Nemanja Maksimovic stayed deep and patrolled in front of the defence, seldom venturing up.
This was a game with very little quality and very few clear cut chances. Getafe didn’t allow Barcelona to create a lot with extremely compact and physical defending. Barcelona enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, but to no avail. They could have easily scored at least once in the first half through Antoine Griezmann, where they were clearly the better side. The biggest chances they conceded came in the second half – the unfortunate penalty, and counter-attacks in the late stages of the game.
Apart from the shots shown here, there was a dangerous moment where Cucho Hernandez had the opportunity to take a crack at Barcelona’s goal but slipped at the vital moment.
As for the goal, it resulted in a really unfortunate foul in the box by Frenkie de Jong. It came from a set-piece play pattern, and after the ball had pinged inside and outside the box a few times, de Jong tripped Djene Dakonam in the box as they both went for the ball.
Getafe, as was shown in the pass-map before, were not interested in deep build-up at all. They constantly went direct, staying true to their style of play. The attack pattern of swift transitions is clearly visible in the buildup to some of the shots they took, as shown below. These shots either came from forcing high turnovers or from speedy breaks from their own half with just a handful of passes only to transition over a large vertical distance:
In contrast, Barcelona were rambling, slow and sometimes clueless in the buildup, especially in the second half. There were two opportunities following two gorgeous buildups. The first one was intricate and involved a beautiful turn by the youngster Pedri to set up Dest, who cut the ball back for Messi. The Argentine’s left-footed precision shot evaded the Getafe goalie David Soria but cannoned off the post.
But the best opportunity of the first half fell to Griezmann. Yet again, the creator was Pedri, who met the World Cup winner’s wonderfully timed run with a delectable through ball. Griezmann raced clear of Getafe’s defensive line and with only the keeper at his mercy, shot high into the stands. The buildups are shown below:
(To be noted: neither Antione Griezmann’s shot nor Cucho Hernandez’s shots were on target – they blazed over the goal-post. The visuals above should not confuse the readers.)
The majority of the rest of the shots that Barcelona took came from set-pieces or hopeful crosses into the Getafe box. Apart from the cross that was almost turned into his own goal by Erick Cabaco late in the game and the one where Lenglet failed to connect properly with Messi’s freekick, the rest aren’t even worth discussing.
Barcelona did manage a lot of successful takeons, way more than Getafe, but most notably perhaps, none successful in Getafe’s box. The bulk of these duels were restricted in the wide areas, where Dest and Messi showed good feet. In the central zones, only Messi and Pedri were skilled and silky enough to beat their marker.
Barcelona’s progressive passing took a bit of hit this game. Here is a compilation of the successful progressive passes by all Barcelona players shown below. Something that strikes out immediately – there was almost nothing down the middle. Frenkie could only exert his influence through passing in the wide areas. Both centre-backs heavily sprayed out the ball wide. The characteristic dagger balls from Lenglet that we have grown used to seeing was missing this game:
Next we take a look at the assortment of most threatening passes that Barcelona put together:
Just like the game against Sevilla, there were barely any successful entries into the box. Many passes were sprayed out wide, which only halted the progress till that point. Simply put, Getafe were just too compact and physical to allow anything constructive to happen.
Shown below are Getafe’s progressive passes by all players, and their most threatening passes. They were either mostly pinging long balls into Barcelona’s third or launching counters from the deep bypassing the entire midfield and trying to catch Barcelona out. Unlike the visitors, there were a lot more entries into the box mostly coming from wide areas.
The two passes that standout are Cucurella’s pass to initiate a fast counter, and Pedri’s ball to Griezmann. Cucho Hernandez led the Getafe side with 3 key passes, with Cucurella and Enes Unal with one each. For Barcelona, Dest had two key passes, and Messi and Pedri had one each.
Next we look at switches of play. There is an amazing distinction between the two. Getafe’s switch passes from the wide areas were mainly to attack Barcelona’s 3rd and the box. Barcelona’s switches mainly came in buildup phases, attempting to open up Getafe, almost exclusively in the middle 3rd.
The quantity used here to compare passes into the final third is called 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 instead of a fraction. It’s a stat introduced by Statsperform (previously Opta) to measure territorial dominance.
Barcelona completed a greater number of final third passes than Getafe, and yet had a lower number of box entries – this is simply unacceptable in the future. Shown below are the mean field tilts as well as the time evolution. Barcelona overall had much higher territorial dominance with 67%. The only times Getafe enjoyed a better share of the territory was in the first 15 minutes of each half, and they made their territorial dominance in the second half count with a goal within that 15 minutes of the restart.
As a short side note, PPDA serves as a proxy of pressing intensity. It tells us how many passes the team in possession is allowed to make in their own 3-5ths of the pitch before disrupted with a foul or a tackle or an interception by the defending team. Lower the PPDA numbers, roughly speaking, higher the pressing intensity upfield. Getafe are known as notorious pressers, but they didn’t try to press too high or too much against Barcelona – recording a modest PPDA of 11 as compared to Barcelona’s 5. Also shown is the PPDA time evolution below:
Getafe exhibited their best press between the 15-30 minutes of the first half, and then at the beginning of the second half. It was 15-minute slot when the second half started where they dominated territory and pressed extremely well, and eventually scored. Next, let’s take a look at the defensive activities heatmap:
Barcelona’s pressurizing defensive actions were mainly concentrated on the left courtesy of Dest, Dembele, and de Jong. In the box, Pique and Lenglet held their own for the most part, and Neto was a safe pair of gloves. In fact, the Brazilian stopped a great shot from Cucho late in the second half to prevent Barcelona from going 2 goals down.
Getafe pressured the middle third to great effect and targeted Dembele’s wastefulness on the left flank and Roberto’s lack of support on the right. The unsuccessful passes tell the story of very curious pass weights by several Barcelona players, but most notably Dembele who couldn’t seem to get anything right in the first half. Misplacing so many short passes – for a team like Barcelona- should be a crime.
In terms of turnover creations, Barcelona managed a few handfuls on the left flank, helped by a reasonably good left-back outing by Dest. Getafe created turnovers in the middle and defensive thirds mostly.
Of course, you can’t describe a Getafe game without mentioning fouls. Fouling is an extremely effective strategy by Bordalas’ men, and an obliging referee meant they got away with almost everything. Getafe committed twice the number of fouls as Barcelona – 20 to 10, and yet had only one more yellow card than Barcelona. Allan Nyom should have easily seen the red card – if not direct, at least by accumulation – but escaped with just yellow.
There were several issues. The passing weight remains an issue. It was an issue against Sevilla, at the Camp Nou. It was an issue against Getafe. Dembele had a torrid showing. This was his first start and the first bunch of meaningful minutes. But nothing on display was encouraging, and it remains to be seen how much faith Koeman puts in him in the upcoming matches.
The midfielders were mostly solid – and that’s about it. They failed to influence the game with incisive passes. De Jong was pushed deep and wide. Busquets had one good pass, and the rest were all simple.
In the absence of Alba, the left side is almost as dead as the right. Dest tried a lot, and he was along with Pedri, the only standout performer for the travellers. He had two key passes, and a couple of really admirable dribbles, going toe-to-toe with Nyom. But he wasn’t nearly close enough to being the marauding Jordi Alba. The Messi-left wing connection has been a super fruitful one over the last few years, and that was sorely missed yesterday.
Speaking of, Messi was not utilized well at all in this game. He wasn’t allowed to drift as much and stayed wide a lot more. He was also not a part of the buildup as much as Barcelona would have preferred. If this was a conscious tactical decision not to involve Messi too much, it is much better to let him rove near the goal so he can make the most of his stellar finishing.
One way or the other, Messi looks really uninvolved and it’s costing Barcelona. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Griezmann continued to be underwhelming for Barcelona. He did nothing notable from the right-wing in the previous games, and he did nothing notable as the false 9 against Getafe. Barely involved in possession, he did make a good run only to smash a shot into the stands. At this point, it’s a fair call to try other attackers on the wing, especially with Fransisco Trincāo and Konrad de la Fuente waiting for quality minutes.
The refereeing was questionable, to put it mildly. Cucho Hernandez ran into Pique’s elbows and won a foul, with the Spaniard on the receiving end of a yellow. To even things a bit, the referee gave Mata a yellow for a soft foul on Lenglet. But nothing was more contentious than the elbow in the face of Messi by Nyom, who amazingly enough, escaped any card at all. He kept committing several fouls and was only shown a yellow after his 7th foul of the game, when in fact, he was lucky to survive that long.
For the first time, Ronald Koeman’s substitutes made no sense and brought no spark to the game. In theory, bringing Ansu Fati for Ousmane Dembele made sense, but it changed nothing in the broader context of things. Pedri did not deserve to get yanked before Antoine Griezmann given how well he was playing. Pique moving up to play striker late in the game meant there was no midfield bar Riqui Puig (getting his first minutes of the season) and Barcelona were easily countered. The subs were too late and made little sense.
It was an ugly game and required real motivation to keep watching. Barcelona needs to be much more direct – like the first two games. The Griezmann experiment probably needs to stop, and the excessive fluidity is coming at the cost of too many people trying to do the same set of things and occupying the same zones.