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In Review: Ansu Fati’s Player of the Month award

Alexandre Patanian

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Ansu Fati was a sensation for Barcelona througout September, for which he was awarded the La Liga Player of the Month. We take a look at his month in more depth.


Ansu Fati has been Barcelona’s gem ever since he made his debut for his boyhood club in August 2019 coming through the youth ranks, following the footsteps of some of the best to wear the shirt. The forward has not slowed down since. Aged 16 and 298 days, he became one of the youngest ever players to play a game for Barça. Now, before his 18th birthday, he has been rewarded with a very well deserved La Liga Player of the Month award for September after a stellar month for both club and country. Barca Universal takes a deeper dive into his month.

Barcelona 4-0 Villarreal: Ansu Fati becomes a big boy

Barcelona’s La Liga campaign would start later than everyone else and the first opponent of their season would be Villarreal at Camp Nou for Ronald Koeman’s premiere as a Blaugrana manager. Ansu Fati started ahead of Ousmane Dembélé on the left in a 4-2-3-1 and connected with Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho perfectly demolishing the Yellow Submarine’s defence. That day, the teenager scored twice and capped off an excellent game by winning a penalty which he gave to Messi. 

Fati showed maturity way beyond his years against Villarreal, skipping past some of the best. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

His first goal came after a great pass from Clément Lenglet to Jordi Alba, whose cross reached right at Fati’s feet, and his powerful shot bulged the back of the net, making every Culé dream. His second goal was an excellent finish after Philippe Coutinho ran into space to give it to the break-out Spanish star. He also won a penalty for Messi to score it and he ended the game as Barça’s best player. Insane from the 17-year-old.

Celta Vigo 0-3 Barcelona: Fati helps Barça reverse the Balaídos curse

Ansu Fati’s magnificent run of form continued in the next game, where Koeman’s side confirmed the fantastic efforts they showed against Villarreal. At one of the hardest stadiums in Spain, where Barça had not won for six years, Fati showed the way to his teammates as he was one of the best for the second time in two games. 

Starting ahead of Dembélé once again, he opened the scoring for Barcelona after Philippe Coutinho found him in space. The driven shot landed in Iván Villar’s net, and Ansu celebrated, deservedly, with his teammates. He was one of the most dangerous players on the pitch, causing havoc every time he faced the Galician defence. He was subbed off but was still praised for his scintillating performance, helping the Garnet & Blue cruise to a victory at the Balaidos.

The Ansu Fati train did not stop at Balaidos. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Barcelona 1-1 Sevilla: Sevilla curb Ansu Fati

In the third match of the week, Ansu Fati was tamed by Sevilla at Camp Nou when he finally stopped his insane run of form. The winger did not have a bad game per se but did not enjoy the same space as in the previous gameweeks. It was understandable, though, since Ronald Koeman started the same lineup for the third game in a row and the tiredness could be felt on every player’s face. Fati was still dangerous at times but deserved to come off because, for once, he wasn’t impactful enough. Barcelona only got the point, and Fati’s sub-par display was one of the reasons why they didn’t win. 

Ansu’s travels with the national team

For Fati, September started two games with Spain, making his debut against Germany in a Nations’ League match. He came on as a second-half sub and was mostly unnoticeable, given the quality of the opponent. A few days later, Spain would face Ukraine and Ansu started. The 17-year-old would have the game of his life, obliterating Ukraine’s defence and scoring a goal, becoming Spain’s second-youngest goalscorer. Ansu was the pick of the bunch in a youthful Spain squad that destroyed Ukraine on the night, with Ferrán Torres also scoring.

Presenting, Spain’s youngest ever goalscorer! (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

During his second international break, he was an unused sub against Portugal during a friendly and failed to add anything substantial against Switzerland, and was taken off for Adama Traore. 

However, statistics and his revelations on the pitch were proof enough that Ansu Fati deserved to win the Player of the Month. This, however, is only a sign of better things to come, and he makes every Culé proud as he keeps defies the odds. 

As a Lebanese teenager who never had the chance to support their local team, I fell in love with the club that was FC Barcelona at the start of the decade. I always was passionate about writing and this is exactly what I am looking for: sharing my insights and opinions on football.

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Analysis

Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP

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.

Team Structures

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.

Passing

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.

Defence

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.

Issues

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 Substitutes

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.

Conclusion

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.

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