After a poor showing against Osasuna at their own den, Barcelona now has one last hurdle in the Spanish League. The team has come immense criticism in the past few days. Under such tremendous pressure, what should the Barcelona line-up be against Alavés?
The very final game of the league season for the former champions. After a painful night at the Camp Nou and considerable chiding by a frustrated Lionel Messi, the squad now travel to the Mendizorroza stadium to face Alavés. With nothing to play for but pride, it is the perfect time for Quique Setién to rotate the squad and experiment things before the Champions League. Bookings for Gerard Piqué, Iván Rakitić and Junior Firpo against Osasuna mean that they are unavailable for selection. Antoine Griezmann, Arthur Melo, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembélé continue to be ruled out via injury. Riqui Pig, Ansu Fati and Ronald Araújo were denied permission to travel with the B team for the all-important play-offs in Malaga in order to strengthen the first team.
“I would have liked the circumstances to be different, I’m sorry but it will not be possible for them to play with the B team”
ahead of the Alavés clash
Quique Setién travels to Vitoria with an extremely thin squad of 16 players, of which four are B team youngsters. With only 13 outfield players available for selection, Setién finds himself in a crisis even before the opening whistle of the game. Given the constraints, here is how Barcelona should line-up against Alavés:
Marc-André ter Stegen
Despite the best of his efforts, Ter Stegen was helpless against the ruthless counter of Osasuna. Despite there being nothing to gain from the game, the German will be looking to start in between the sticks for the Catalans. Every game is a new game, and every clean sheet equally important. Given the tough schedule, changing things now wouldn’t be a great idea for Setién.
The chain of injuries to Umtiti has seen the rise of Araújo in the pecking order. Having Piqué out by suspension, his role in the starting XI becomes a no brainer. Given the Champions League coming up, it is critical for Quique to weigh all his options. Giving Araújo options will not only help the Uruguayan get match fit but also provide the coach with fresh insights.
Under an acute shortage of options, Lenglet will be undoubtedly expected to start the clash on Sunday night. Under the absence of B team players too on the bench, the Frenchman must be sturdy yet cautious on the night. His importance in the team needn’t even be explained. Setién will be counting on him one last time in the league as the curtains draw to a close.
After a mixed set of performances, Semedo is lucky that the coach counts on Sergi Roberto more in the midfield. Despite an explosive start after the break, he has slowed down in recent games. Though defensively reliable, he has time and again shown lack of ideas going front. Once again, he couldn’t provide any creative sparks against the low block of Osasuna. With this being the last chance to prove himself before the Champions League, the Portuguese international will be looking to make the most of it.
Despite Nélson Semedo’s inconsistent displays, Sergi Roberto has been mostly used as a midfielder lately | Photo by Josep Lago / AFP via Imago
Once again, in spite of this being a clash of no importance, Jordi Alba finds himself forced to start due to an acute shortage of options. However, maybe it is for the good. After getting much-deserved rest in the last clash, he will be looking for redemption. The team have one last chance to boost morale before an important month, and Alba will be crucial for this introspection.
After getting a day off against Osasuna, Busquets will be an integral part of the team’s plans again. As Quique Setién continues to brainstorm over the perfect midfield combination, Busquets is one guaranteed piece in the puzzle. His importance once again reflected in the loss at the Camp Nou as the team failed to break down the visitors’ defence. An unquestionable starter.
The rise of Riqui Puig was long pending, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. The team finds itself in a dark hole, but the La Masía starlet has been one of the few bright rays through the disappointing season. There is no question that he will have a large part to play in Barcelona’s near and long-term future. He should be handed one last chance in La Liga to justify why he was kept with the first team instead of travelling to Malaga for the Segunda B play-offs.
Frenkie de Jong
After a month out through injury, Frenkie de Jong was finally back in action against Osasuna. He was introduced late in the game, as most players are post injuries. With this being one last chance ahead of the Champions League, the Dutchman has everything to prove. After all, the team need him to be match-ready for the massive challenge up ahead
Arturo Vidal has never lost the domestic league in the last eight seasons, but not anymore. Having lost La Liga, the Chilean posted a rather passionate and self-evaluating message on social media. Now with one last game domestically, he will be gunning for all three points to finish on a high.
Big rotations are expected, even including Lionel Messi | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
Suárez did not start the game on Thursday night. Nevertheless, after a rather disappointing first-half performance by Martin Braithwaite, he was brought on rather soon. He scored a peach of a goal but was undeniably offside. He has been under intense criticism in the last few weeks, and he will want to prove a point at the Mendizorroza.
Despite the team not enjoying a great day offensively, Fati made a reasonable impact against Osasuna. He Ansu was statistically the player with the most progressive movement, three key passes and two shots on the night. With this being the perfect time to rest Lionel Messi, Fati’s role in the team becomes altho more important.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.
La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.
Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.
Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.
In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.
Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.
Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.
However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.
We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.
Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.
For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.