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Analysis

How should Barça line up for the end of the season?

Domagoj Kostanjšak

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Header Image by Pau Barrena / AFP via Getty Images

With the return of LaLiga edging ever close and the Catalans’ visit to Mallorca just around the corner, the question remains: How should Barça line up for the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign?


Of course, there is no straightforward answer and this is by no means an easy task for Quique Setién but one that should give him a kind of sweet misery, if you will.

Still, we know it’s also something that will undoubtedly please some and then annoy others at the same time. And with so many stars in the team with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and of course the returnee Luis Suárez, who has received the medical green light following his knee surgery in January, the choices seem endless. So how should Barça line up for the end of the season? Let’s see…

Goalkeeper: Marc-André ter Stegen

Was there any doubt at all about this position? Ter Stegen has made the position between the sticks his own and the German is very much one of the best goalies on the whole planet.

There is no doubt he will indeed be Barcelona’s first choice once LaLiga returns.

Centre-back pairing: Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet

And while we can’t say for sure what will happen with Samuel Umtiti in the end, one thing is for sure, if Piqué is healthy, he will start and if the season so far is any indication at all, Lenglet will be right there beside him.

This pairing has served Barcelona reasonably well and while their defence is not as solid as ever, they do offer some reliability and it’s likely they should remain as Setién’s first-choice centre-backs.

Full-backs: Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba

Now here’s an eternal Barcelona question right there: Who should start at right-back, Semedo or Sergi Roberto? And while Roberto is more of a swiss-knife for the Catalans, and is more adept in attack, it does feel like Semedo still has lots to prove and should be pushing to make that position his own.

Defensively he is sound enough and has shown glimpses of improvement under the new coach. And who knows, maybe Setién can finally forge him into the right-back Barcelona deserve.

Of course, this is all under the assumption the Portuguese actually stays at the club, which is also not set in stone at the moment. On the other side of the pitch, the situation is much clearer: Jordi Alba is still the top-dog and Junior Firpo has a long way to go still. Assuming he doesn’t get sold as well, of course.

Midfield: Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo and Frenkie de Jong

The midfield should arguably be Barcelona’s most important cog but it feels like it’s still trying to find itself. In theory, Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo and Frenkie de Jong are indeed the three most gifted and best midfielders at the club but it remains to be seen whether they can work together well.

Frenkie de Jong how Barça line up

Frenkie de Jong is yet to find his best role in the team | Photo by Marc González Aloma / AFP7 via Imago

Maybe the coach decides to shuffle the cards a bit and give a shot to Arturo Vidal or Iván Rakitić instead but on paper, this is very much the best trio they can field.

Forwards: Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann

If there was one player that has a guaranteed spot in the squad, we all know it’s Lionel Messi. But who are his ideal partners in crime? The Uruguayan and the Argentine have a telepathic connection and maybe the return of Luis Suárez will also benefit Messi. But how does Antoine Griezmann fit into all of that?

The Frenchman is more of a Messi than a Suárez and he likes to cut inside, drop deep and combine with the midfield. But he is also not a winger and Barcelona need wingers in attack. It feels like this is the strongest trio of forwards in the squad but how will it work on the pitch?

On paper, and if Setién sticks to the 4–3–3 formation, this is what we can expect from the start:

Ter Stegen
Semedo / Sergi Roberto · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
De Jong · Busquets · Arthur
Messi · Suárez / Griezmann · Griezmann / Ansu Fati / Braithwaite

However, there are some alternatives like a 4–4–2 diamond or a 3–4–3 / 3–5–2 systems, all of which could be interesting with the available personnel.

Ter Stegen
Semedo · Piqué · Lenglet
Sergi Roberto · De Jong · Busquets · Arthur · Jordi Alba
Messi · Suárez / Griezmann / Braithwaite

––
Ter Stegen
Semedo · Piqué · Lenglet
Sergi Roberto · De Jong / Busquets · Arthur · Jordi Alba

Messi
Griezmann · Suárez / Braithwaite

––
Ter Stegen
Semedo / Sergi Roberto · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
De Jong · Busquets · Arthur

Messi
Suárez · Griezmann / Braithwaite

One way or the other, it will be interesting to see how Barça line up once the season resumes. What do you think? Setién’s intentions are expected to be revealed soon, but what is the best formation on paper?


See also

The Barcelona defence: What are the options?

• Umtiti vs Lenglet: Which centre-back is a better fit for Setién?

• Assessing three potential replacements to Gerard Piqué

• A brief overview of the remaining La Liga fixtures of Barcelona

I’ve been a Barcelona fan for more than half of my life. What started as blind love is slowly turning into professional writing. Now, I get to write about Barca, analyse them, and voice my opinions on them across platforms. I’m happy to be a part of this big project.

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Analysis

Ansu Fati and the return of natural wingers

Lewis Shankie

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

In Ronald Koeman’s La Liga debut as manager of Barcelona, he handed Ansu Fati a starting place in the team. It proved to be the correct decision as the youngster stole the show. It was great seeing Barça play with proper wingers again which helped unlock the Villarreal defence.


On Sunday night, Barcelona played a strong Villarreal side. As the Blaugrana kicked off their campaign, the Yellow Submarine had already played two La Liga games. The Barça defence looked shaky at times but in the end, kept a clean sheet. They passed the ball out from the back well with Clément Lenglet breaking the press with a beautiful left-footed pass on several occasions.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets struggled to adapt to the double pivot role and was off the pace with his passing. On the other hand, Frenkie De Jong looked more comfortable in this position. His build-up play was excellent, and he covered a lot of ground. Miralem Pjanić also impressed in his cameo and will be pushing for a starting role.  

In attack, the Catalan side went with a front four. Antoine Griezmann was the quietest of the forwards and sometimes found himself too wide again. Philippe Coutinho looks to be regaining some form in his preferred position. He was involved in the build-up plays and gave a great assist to Fati. Lionel Messi put in another impressive performance and seemed to be enjoying himself. The attackers linked well and there was a lot more movement than recent seasons. Their understanding should continue to improve as the season progresses.

Ansu Fati goal Villarreal

Ansu Fati celebrating the opening goal of the match against Villarreal | Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

However, the real stand out of the game was Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old started on the left-wing and was a constant threat down this channel. Most of Barcelona’s attacks came down the left side with Jordi Alba having one of his best games in a long time. The two players combined well and seemed to effortlessly know where space was. When Alba and Neymar used to play on the wings they would sometimes compete over the same areas. But with Fati and Alba, they looked like a great partnership

On the night, Ansu Fati scored two goals and won a penalty for the team. His first goal came after a beautiful pass from Lenglet over the top of the defence found Alba. The left-back produced one of his classic cutbacks, but this time found Fati instead of Messi. The Spanish international unleashed a confident first-time finish leaving Sergio Asenjo almost static on his line.

Minutes later, Coutinho played the young winger through and again Ansu finished at the near post. Again, Lenglet found the pass through Villarreal’s press that started the move. Fati is proving to be a clinical finisher with 9 goals from just 14 shots in La Liga. Such composure in front of goal is rare for any player let alone a 17-year-old.

“When I am handed a chance to play, I become eager to take it and make the best out of it.”

Ansu Fati

The young winger was involved again when he was brought down in the penalty box by Mario Gaspar. Once again, Fati demonstrated his ability to take defenders on and beat them. His pace caused a lot of problems for the opposition’s defence. Ansu showed just how good he is tactically, as he is technically. His positioning and decision making were almost flawless, especially for someone who has had so little minutes in the first team. When he was substituted in the second half, he received a warm embrace from Koeman for his fantastic display.

The performance of Ansu last night also highlighted how important is it for Barcelona to play with wingers. Almost all the attacks came from the left-hand side where Alba and Fati played. However, there was only a handful of attacking plays coming from the right side where Roberto and Griezmann were. Having that width and pace really stretched the Villarreal defence and created space for others to exploit.

Ansu Fati goal Villarreal

Ansu Fati scoring his second goal in the 20th minute against Villarreal | Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

“I criticized Ansu for his performance in pre-season. That’s what gave him a boost. He made a huge impact, especially on the wings.”

Ronald Koeman

The second goal of the evening shows how important having that width is. With Coutinho running through the centre, Griezmann was directly ahead of him. Two defenders were then dragged into the area around Antoine which allowed Fati more space to run into. If there was no left-winger, that space could not have been exploited and the goal would not have happened.

With the success down the left-wing, the manager may consider playing with a more natural winger on the right too. The right-wing was almost invisible for Barça over the 90 minutes and this is unsustainable for the full season. The substitutions of Francisco Trincão and Ousmane Dembélé showed how having two natural wingers could work. Dembélé was positioned on the left and Trincão on the right. Both offer width in the team and are can dribble past defenders. It is something to consider when playing against teams that play in the low block.  

Overall, Barcelona’s first game of the season looked promising. There was a lot more intensity in the team and plenty of movement. The competition for places should keep players’ levels high and allow for rotations. So far, the 4-2-3-1 formation seems to be working and allows for some to play in their favoured position. Ansu Fati impressed during the game and showed why having pace and width is so important to any Barça team. The performance levels should continue to improve as players get used to the system and get more minutes on the field.  

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