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.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.