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Analysis

Iñaki Peña: first team, Barça B or loan?

David Bravo

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Barça B’s extremely promising goalkeeper Iñaki Peña is ready for a step forward in his career, but as Ter Stegen’s back-up in the first team he may not have enough minutes. What should the club do?


Barcelona can feel very lucky, but somewhat unlucky at the same time, to have two extraordinary goalkeepers coming up at La Masía. Iñaki Peña and Arnau Tenas may well be the best two keepers the academy has produced since Víctor Valdés. Nevertheless, they are unfortunate enough to have been born with a small difference of only two years and, on top of that, to have to see how Ter Stegen is young and making history with every passing season at the Camp Nou. The German is immovable between the sticks for the Catalans, but the most unfortunate victims of this possibly are Iñaki and Arnau.

The stylistic similarities between the two youngsters and Ter Stegen are more than obvious to the general eye. Looking up at Marc-André and being able to learn from him is a privilege few are capable of enjoying. However, not even the most complex of formulas could see all of Ter Stegen, Peña and Tenas succeed and make a lasting impact at Barcelona. The former Mönchengladbach wonderkid is already building his own legacy, but the two La Masía talents – at least not both – will not be able to do the same for a mere question of age. And this undeniably is very unfortunate, as culés won’t fully exploit the qualities of two sensational gems.

García Pimienta Arnau Tenas Iñaki Peña Barça first team

García Pimienta with Arnau Tenas and Iñaki Peña, after the UEFA Youth League title won in 2018

Still, what Barça must do now is to not think too far ahead. Just go step by step, and each year’s events will already be shaping the fate of them all. Now, with Ter Stegen undroppable in the first team, and Arnau Tenas deserving to be promoted to Barça B from the Juvenil A, the dilemma is what to do with Iñaki Peña. The 21-year-old’s last two seasons with the B have been outstanding. Extremely reliable and gifted with the ball at his feet, he rarely, if ever, makes a mistake when it comes to facing the shots of the opposing strikers. Elastic and agile to get off his line, he covers space really well and is an expert both in one-on-ones and in penalties.

For his superb reflexes, anticipation, positioning and footwork, as well as some specific gestures, Iñaki Peña does look like a mini clone of Ter Stegen. Quality wise he’s still not there yet, of course, and has to gain much experience. In fact, the Spaniard is yet to feature in a single game for Barça, whether that’s official or friendly. Not even in preseason has Peña been handed his senior debut for the azulgranas. While he has been called up with the Spanish U–21, he hasn’t made his debut there either, so the only professional category in which he has taken part is the Second Division B, with Barça B.

Iñaki is unquestionably ready for much more, as so are many of his teammates. He deserves to be part of the senior squad, having shown enough level and merits for that. It would by no means be unreasonable to say that, once he gains more experience, he clearly has the potential to be Barcelona’s starter one day. But, with Ter Stegen aged only 28, the best he can aspire to at present is being Marc’s back-up. That means having a very secondary role, with La Liga and Champions League being reserved almost exclusively for the number 1.

What’s left is only the Copa del Rey, which translates to six matches a season at maximum. Far from enough for a player aged 21 that needs playing time to develop. In this sense, Quique Setién’s words in one of his first press conferences are somewhat encouraging: “Normally I make no distinctions between the goalkeeper of La Liga and of the Copa del Rey. Both [Ter Stegen and Neto] can play in all three competitions”. So, while Ter Stegen would continue to start in most games and all of the big ones, it would not be surprising to see the second-choice keeper be given some matches in La Liga against smaller sides.

Marc-André Ter Stegen Neto Iñaki Peña Barça first team

While being the starter of Barça B, Iñaki Peña has also acted as the first team’s third goalkeeper this season

This could be a fine solution for Iñaki Peña, who could get the Copa del Rey for him as a challenge, and then get minutes from time to time in the domestic competition. Ter Stegen wouldn’t complain about that, and Iñaki would get benefitted. It’s something that, for example, Zidane has been doing in recent seasons: playing the second goalkeeper in La Liga to rotate the main one. In any case, even if he gets little minutes, Iñaki probably would be more than satisfied with being promoted, as that’s his childhood dream. He’s still young and has plenty of time ahead to play.

Another alternative would be to loan him out. The Second Division would be the most feasible destination, as in this category teams are more open to giving chances to footballers with no experience. Barça B, on the other hand, are fighting to get promoted from the Segunda B to Segunda. Notwithstanding, staying at the B, no matter whether they get promoted or not, does not seem optimal, as Arnau Tenas is about to renew his contract with the blaugranas and should be the reserves’ starting goalkeeper.

With this in mind, and more so considering the board’s desperate search for money, what seems more sensible is to sell Neto, who could have a transfer fee of 20 or 25 million euros, and use Iñaki Peña as the second keeper. No need to pay 30 or 40 millions on someone like André Onana when the 21-year-old is free and more than ready to be a back-up, or even starter if required in some bigger clashes too. Having Ter Stegen and Peña in the first team, and Arnau starting at the B, would have everyone happy. Even the club would get benefitted economically as well.

See also

Kurzawa, closer to Barça. A free transfer, but not free of flaws

• Setién wants Dembélé to be Barcelona’s summer signing

• Offers on the table, but Ansu Fati is going nowhere

• Arthur or Coutinho: that may be the question, since one could get sold

As someone once said, football is the most important of the least important things in life. Football, though, is a passion lived 24 hours, 7 days a week. My life could not be understood without Barça. Having always lived in Barcelona, the deep love for this club was transmitted to me from before I can remember. With an affection that can be found in my most profound roots, my goal now is to share this admiration with other football enthusiasts.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

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.

Initial systems

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.

Koeman’s foresight

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.

Double-pivot

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.

Conclusion

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.

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