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Analysis

Konrad de la Fuente impresses: ready for the Barcelona first team?

Soumyajit Bose

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Header Image by David Ramos via Getty Images

La Masía winger Konrad de la Fuente has been impressing as a substitute in the Barcelona first team preseason, but could this earn him a chance under Ronald Koeman?


19-year-old Konrad de la Fuente took just 27 minutes in the pre-season club friendly against Girona to make the Barcelona fans sit up straight in excitement, with a dazzling display of direct ball carrying and dribbling on the left wing. So much so that corners of the Barcelona fan section are already discussing the mouth-watering prospect of seeing him more frequently in the blaugrana colours for the senior team.

Konrad joined La Masia in 2013 and has gone from strength to strength, breaking into the B-team last season and putting up short yet dazzling displays for the senior team this pre-season.

Goal threat, dribbles and progressive runs

Konrad de La Fuente has played just about 419 minutes for Barcelona B in the Segunda B division, with him mostly being a member of the Juvenil A (U19) last season. His minutes in Segunda B are too small a sample to judge him completely, but he has already scored 3 goals – twice against Real Valladolid Promesas and once against AE Prat – and provided 1 assist in that limited amount of game time.

He was arguably one of the more impressive players in the play-offs for promotion to Segunda, always bringing verticality with his direct running and speed. Should he return to play for Barcelona B, he is going to be a key player for them on the wing, and one can only hope he will continue where he left off with his goal threat. While not a prolific scorer himself, his runs should open it up for his teammates to take advantage and score.

Konrad de la Fuente Barcelona first team

Konrad ranks very highly in progressive runs and dribbles attempted, and the 19-year-old is only expected to get better at dribbling proficiency. Barcelona has a real gem of a winger in hand, and hopefully new first-team coach Ronald Koeman is going to take special care in polishing him into a world-class winger for the club.

Against Girona 

Konrad came on in the second half around the 60-minute mark to replace Philippe Coutinho on the left wing. The substitutions by Koeman brought on ninee youngsters to the pitch simultaneously, with only Neto and Ronald Araújo staying on from first half. The young legs immediately brought an uptick in the intensity and speed, contributed to by Konrad in no small amount.

From the very beginning, the American was willing to show for the ball in deep and middle third areas and then turn and run at the defenders. He beat the right-back of Girona a couple of times with ridiculous burst of speed and showed some silky skills to retain the ball under pressure from opponents.

A couple of smooth stepovers, quick pass-and-run, taking on defenders – Konrad did almost everything you could probably ask from a young winger. Here are his activities from the Wednesday friendly:

Konrad de la Fuente Barcelona first team

He had three direct runs into the box and followed up two of those with very dangerous passes into the central areas of the box. One of them was gathered by the Girona goalkeeper; the other one was a key-pass to set up youngster Pedri for a shot which the Girona keeper saved admirably. Here is a short gif of the run leading up to the key pass to Pedri:

Konrad de la Fuente Barcelona first team

Such impressive was his display that Ronald Koeman singled him out for praise in the post-match interviews. Quoting him: “If I had to highlight one of the youngsters, I would say Konrad, I am really happy with him. But we also have Pedri, Riqui [Puig]…We have great a future ahead of us”. Early indications sound very positive indeed.

Conclusion

Going ahead, this season might see Konrad getting more and more practice time and maybe a few minutes of game time with the senior team, but he is expected to play the bulk of the minutes with the B team.

What works against Konrad is that Barcelona is too stacked up front – there are just too many players ahead of him in the pecking order to accommodate. The good thing is: La Liga are still allowing five substitutions, and if the games in charge of Netherlands national team are any indication, Koeman isn’t shy of making sweeping second-half changes.

So, there might still be hope that Konrad debuts for the senior team in an official La Liga fixture. At the very least, he should be making his debut in the Copa del Rey matches. Hopefully, he keeps up his good run of form throughout the season and helps Barcelona through these tumultuous times.

Physics PhD student with borderline obsession for the beautiful game. Followed Ronaldinho's footsteps to support the club, and am blessed to have witnessed some of the most glorious football a team can ever play.

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Analysis

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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