Challenging weather, a tricky opposition, a red card, Barcelona’s second game of the season was anything but easy. The team came out with flying colours, with an impressive display despite being down a man. It is surely too early to judge, but Koeman seems to be winning hearts across the world. For the first time in years has the team not relied on individual brilliance to secure points. The relentless press when off the ball is refreshing, and timely substitutions are a cherry on the top. However, what sets a good and a great manager apart is how they respond when the team is down. And Koeman might be put to the first of many such tests on Sunday night when Barcelona take on Sevilla at the Camp Nou.
What to expect from Sevilla
Sevilla is a club synonymous with character passion and fight. Over the years, they have not only competed fiercely with Barcelona and Real Madrid but also dominated the Europa League, of which they are yet again the defending champions. Julen Lopetegui has lost important players in Ever Banega, Simon Kjaer and Sergio Reguilon. Nevertheless, his squad has seen valuable additions in Ivan Rakitic, Suso and Marcos Acuna.
As has always been the case, the fullbacks are the major source of attacking threat for Sevilla this season too. Captain Jesus Navas has led the way in creating chances on the right-wing. In the matchday 4 victory over Levante, Navas had 9 crosses with 4 key passes and an assist. With Lucas Ocampos ahead of him preferring to cut into the central areas, the duo forms a deadly combination. The left flank is no less threatening, with Sergio Escudero occupying quite an advances position for a fullback.
Given the fullbacks play highly advanced positions, Lopetegui has opted for 1, sometimes 2 midfielders to play a defensive part alongside the centre-backs Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde. The midfield options are extensive, however, Fernando and Rakitic are expected to start with the former in a more defensive role. The third spot could be filled in by Oliver Torres or Joan Jordan.
The attack for Lopetegui has usually involved 2 wingers who prefer to cut in, possibly Suso and Ocampos. As the target-man, the coach may opt for Luuk de Jong who can prove to be a massive aerial threat.
Sevilla under Lopetegui has been known for its high press. The team prefer to keep the ball, setting up a clash of similar styles against Barcelona. The last time the 2 sides faced off at the Camp Nou the visitors deployed heavy man-marking, thereby putting pressure on every player. Barcelona’s central defenders and the defensive midfielder, in particular, were the epicentres of Sevilla’s press, forcing de Jong to lose the ball often.
How should Barcelona line-up?
Things will be different when the heavyweights face off again because such an approach would be difficult to operate against Koeman’s double pivot system. However with the fullbacks tasked more defensively, The Dutch manager will have to look for alternate options to generate attacks. While the wingers will be crucial to generate attacks, they also need to function as the first line of defence. Given the weight of the clash, Koeman will not look to make wholesale changes.
Lionel Messi will once again be the spearhead with Ansu Fati to his left and Coutinho behind him. Fati can be a real menace for Jesus Navas and would be the best hope of pinning the Sevilla captain behind. Coutinho will have to deliver again if Barcelona is to create any openings in the centre. With all credit to his off the ball movement and importance, Koeman should look for options beyond Griezmann on Sunday night. His central positioning may create a weakness in Escudero’s niche, thereby forming a centre for the origin of counters. Both Dembele and Trincao would be great options, but given the cloud over Ousmane’s future, expect Trincao to get a first start.
In midfield, one would expect Frenkie de Jong to start once again. However, Miralem Pjanic would be crucial against Los Palanganas. The advanced fullbacks provide the right stage for the Bosnian to display what he is capable of. His impeccable ability to link with the wingers over the top could be a source of many worries for Lopetegui.
Despite the arrival of Sergino Dest, it would be surprising it Sergi Roberto does not start the game. After a great defensive display against Celta, there are few doubts. His role, however, will depend on whether it is Trincao or Griezmann who starts. If it is the Frenchman, things can get tricky for Roberto. Expect Jordi Alba to get another start this season, with full credit to his displays so far. He will be largely under the spotlight however, going head to head against Jesus Navas.
Clement Lenglet’s suspension leaves no suspense as to who will start. The thin squad means that Ronald Araujo will get his first start of the season alongside Gerard Pique. Though Lenglet’s long balls will be missed, the Uruguayan’s imposing aerial dominance could be a blessing in disguise. The game will undoubtedly witness relentless attempts to find the head of Luuk de Jong, but Araujo and Pique might just be the best combination to tackle it. In goal, undoubtedly it will be Neto Murara once again after he has maintained 2 clean sheets in 2 starts this season
Sergi Roberto • Araújo • Piqué • Jordi Alba
Pjanić • De Jong
Trincão • Coutinho • Ansu Fati
Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers and statistics and tactics as FC Barcelona kicked off their UCL 2020-21 campaign in style.
FC Barcelona played the first group stage game of UCL 2020-21 at home against recent Hungarian champions Ferencvarosi Torna Club, also called Ferencvaros. The Budapest outfit were playing against Barcelona in a competitive match for the very first time (previous meetings had all been friendlies), and naturally, Barcelona started cautiously. However, shaking off the rust from the International break and the disappointment of the loss against Getafe in the weekend, Barcelona came up with a dominant display and ran out as winners scoring five and conceding just one.
Barcelona yet again fielded a 4-2-3-1, with an unchanged defence from the game against Getafe. The double-pivot changed slightly, with Miralem Pjanic starting as Frenkie de Jong’s partner. Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincāo started as wingers flanking Philipe Coutinho at attacking midfield, with Lionel Messi starting as the false 9.
The touch-based heatmaps and the pass-map show some interesting tactical changes from the last two league games. First of all, and most importantly, this was the first time this season that both flanks were very well utilised. Having Trincao and Fati, both adept at playing on the wing, greatly helped the team build and attack through both sides.
While Antoine Griezmann added a lot of defensive cover while playing on the right flank in the previous games, Trincao did his share to help out the team, too. He did well in attack while also putting in a brilliant defensive shift – Griezmann’s absence was not felt at all.
Secondly, the positioning of Frenkie de Jong was a lot advanced, bringing the best out of him. Unlike the last two games, where he was placed much deeper and wider on average, last night he had more freedom to venture up and also drift a bit centrally. On average, he took up a higher position than Pjanic and took part in a lot of the attacking moves, while the Bosnian was tasked with the deeper progressions.
Ferencvaros started out in a 4-2-3-1 as well, but soon evolved into a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 structure and settled into it for the game. Their midfield was very compact, and mostly stayed deep. Their idea was to use counters, with Tokmak Chol Nguen the only player taking up advanced positions to lead their attacks.
Attacks and Buildups
Barcelona posted very impressive attacking stats for the game.
Barcelona dominated possession as usual, but the biggest positive takeaway are the pressing numbers. The Blaugranas posted impressive PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) numbers as compared to their opposition. It also indicates that a lot of the game was played in the opposition’s half, showing dominance in the game. The shot maps and the xG flowcharts show how imperative Barcelona were throughout the game, and that a lot of the shots were excellent chances to score.
Next we take a look a gallery of all the goals scored by Barcelona, and the lone goal scored by Ferencvaros to discuss the difference in ideologies of the two teams.
While Barcelona’s first goal took a came solely as a result of moments of individual brilliance by Messi, all of the other goals came through wonderful intricate buildup. Both sets of wide players were very well-utilized, who were able to play out through pressure no matter where the buildup started.
The buildup to the second goal culminated in a wonderful lofted pass by Frenkie de Jong to Ansu Fati, who slotted it past Ferencvaros’ hapless goalkeeper with a first-time finish. Fati was involved in the third goal as well. An intricate set up of passes in the final third led to Messi finding Fati with a pass, who back-flicked into the path of Coutinho, who made no mistake slotting it into the bottom corner.
In contrasting fashion, Ferencvaros were very direct. It was very clear that Tokmac Nguen was their main danger-man. Nguen created a couple of really dangerous moments in the first half with his threatening runs across the backline. The first effort was called offside, while the second led to him setting up Isael for a thunderous shot against the post.
He was also at the helm of their sole goal of the game, running at Pique, who was unable to keep up with Nguen and hauled him down into the box, leading to a penalty.
Barcelona’s passing was on point against Ferencvaros, helping the team to cover all zones perfectly, stretching the pitch and making it difficult to defend. Most importantly, there were a lot more passes into the box as well exchanges inside the box than the previous two games. Particularly impressive were the utilization of zone 14 and the half-spaces. Here are the dangerous passes portrayed:
The key passes came from multiple zones as well and from multiple sources. Messi had 4, Roberto, Pjanic, Coutinho, and Fati had 2 each, while de Jong, Trincao and Dembele had 1 each:
Finally, we compare the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by 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.
Barcelona completed a much greater number of final third passes almost throughout the game except for a small window when Pique received a red card and sent off for fouling Nguen, and Barcelona had to play with 10 men.
Barcelona’s defence closely resembled a 4-4-2 block with Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi high up, and sometimes in 4-5-1 as Messi was the sole player allowed to stay up.
After Pique’s red card, Barcelona took up a fairly compact 4-4-1 shape. Ferencvaros were pushed back into their own half for the bulk of the match as Barcelona won the ball back fairly fast. The only time Ferencvaros managed to peg back Barcelona was after Pique’s dismissal. Here is a glimpse of the defensive activities of the two teams, showing Barça’s high turnover rate:
In fact, the third goal that Barcelona scored early in the second half came from a great bit of pressing. Messi aggressively pressed the central channels into Ferencvaros’ third and the box, so the ball had to be passed out wide, where Trincao led the charge. This led to a misplaced pass that was intercepted by Pjanic, and Trincao recovered the loose ball. A lovely sequence ensued, and Barcelona were up 3-0 in a blink.
Having discussed the defensive structure and the pressing intensity, now it’s time to discuss some of the issues. In this particular game, the issues were entirely in defence. Ferencvaros – Nguen in particular – exposed the problem Barcelona’s centre backs have against quick attackers. The Norwegian’s runs dragged the defenders all over the place, mixed with the high line that Barcelona employs, it resulted in nightmares as it often does.
Whenever the fullbacks were pushed high, and possession was turned over, Ferencvaros directly took on the two defenders left on the pitch. They could not bypass the press by making long passing sequences, so they quickly circulated ball out wide or to the deep half spaces before launching long balls to Nguen, and sending out supporting runners. One such run led to Pique’s red card.
This current batch of Barcelona players seems a tad too card-happy. Lenglet has already seen a red card in the Liga. Roberto, Dest, Pique – all of them have seen yellow cards just 4 games into the season. This is not healthy, especially given the lack of quality depth in defence.
Coutinho has been playing well, to say the least, and there are little to no doubts over his performance. However, his positioning – which surely is a tactical quirk of Ronald Koeman – is very interesting. Instead of the usual central positions a nominal 10 would take up, he is primarily operating in the left half space. There is quite a bit of overlap with Ansu Fati. Its clear that Barcelona are trying to achieve wide overloads on the left side whenever they can.
Coutinho performances are not an issue. His role, on the other hand, might be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
This system, however, needs a striker and more directness to function. As it stands, the team is deploying two 10s in Messi and Coutinho. While this has worked well against weaker oppositions, it remains to be seen how well the lack of vertical staggering can hold up against stronger opposition.
The story of this game will be incomplete without mentioning the substitutions. Junior Firpo returned from injury and came on along with Pedri and Ousmane Dembele around the 60-minute mark. Ronald Araujo had to come on after Pique’s dismissal, while Sergio Busquets replaced Pjanic later to help see the game off.
While Pedri got his first goal for Barcelona, Dembele’s brilliant dribble and tenacity in the box from where he cut back the ball has to be mentioned. Seven minutes later, the World Cup winner found himself at the receiving end of a pass from Messi and smashed home for the fifth and final goal.
After the drab showing against Getafe, this was a much-needed boost for the team before the El Clasico. Multiple scorers, good buildup plays, high press – pretty much everything except the red card was to the point. Next week’s UCL away game against Juventus will prove a stern test as well, and hopefully, we will see the best of Ronald Araujo in that game.