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La Liga preview: The three best games from matchday 29

If the return of La Liga didn’t disappoint, matchday 29 promises to be as exciting.

Alexandre Patanian

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Header Image by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP via Getty Images

Now that La Liga is back, it’s time to take a look at what games await us for matchday 29 that begins today.


With the first round of La Liga games played, every team seems raring to go. Some will want to keep up the excellent work, and others have to change their ways to get better results. The break was beneficial for most teams, and seeing the older players running more at the end of the season is refreshing. Also, the five substitutes rule seems astute, considering the draining intensity to which the players will be exposed.

It was nice for fans to see their favourite players have some stellar games. Of course, Lionel Messi did Messi things and broke a La Liga record for having scored 20+ goals for 12 consecutive seasons, but others like Lucas Ocampos, Carlos Fernández or Mikel Oyarzabal performed at an extraordinary level too. These footballers changed their clubs’ fate in deciding games such as El Derbi Sevillano, Granada’s comeback against Getafe or a Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Osasuna.

Now, a new wave of exciting La Liga fixtures awaits and it’s time for another preview. Let matchday 29 begin. Three games seem rather interesting in the next round of matches.

Getafe CF vs RCD Espanyol | Tuesday 16th of June

Getafe suffered a damaging defeat in their quest of Europe last time out when Carlos Feráandez scored the dagger to complete a 2–1 Granada comeback on Friday. On the other hand, Espanyol are no longer the whipping boys of La Liga. Thanks to Raúl de Tomás’ heroics in January, they have managed to scrape some points to make an adequate push for survival and are now level on points with Leganés and only three behind Celta de Vigo.

Raúl de Tomás RCD Espanyol La Liga matchday 29

Espanyol want Raúl de Tomás to be their hero | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images

If Celta fail to win against Valladolid, and a win isn’t on the cards given the Galicians’ catastrophic form, and Espanyol win away at the Coliseum, the Barcelona club would keep their head above water for the first time in forever this season. The Periquitos will undoubtedly go for the win, but Getafe also want to make amends with their weekend demons. The blue side will be eager to win in a game that’s going to be up for grabs. It’s a must-watch for neutrals who don’t know what to do on a Tuesday. For the fans of both teams, it will be a stressful fixture, where every chance should be taken carefully.

Real Valladolid vs Celta de Vigo | Wednesday 17th of June

Celta de Vigo will go into this game at the José Zorilla knowing what they have to do to stay out of the relegation zone. The toothless Galicians will have to score goals to win at a challenging venue against an organised team in Real Valladolid. This game will be another cracker for the neutrals, as the relegation battle tightens up and Valladolid seem safe from the drop for another campaign.

However, while the nerves will be palpable in this game, don’t expect many goals as two of the three lowest-scoring teams in the league go head-to-head to scrape some points. Furthermore, Celta need one point to keep safe from Leganés and Espanyol, but Mallorca will also be lurking, and they play a much more clement fixture than Barça this time in Villarreal. If Celta want to cover themselves, they will have to score and probably keep a clean sheet, so the efforts will come from the two parts of the line-up. They will need to play like a unit, for once.

Real Madrid vs Valencia CF | Thursday 18th of June

Away from the relegation battle, this is the fixture of the round. Valencia are digging a hole this season and, after going out of the Copa del Rey and Champions League, they are beginning to crumble under pressure in the league. Their draw at Mestalla against Levante was dramatic, and the fact that the mistake-prone Mouctar Diakhaby will probably start them this time too is unpleasing for any Valencia supporter. To qualify for Europe, they are not allowed to lose silly points, as they have been doing lately.

Marcelo Vieira Real Madrid La Liga matchday 29

All games will now be must-win ones for Real Madrid and Barcelona | Photo by Daniel González Acuña via Imago

Real Madrid, on the other side, have to win the game, especially if Barça beat Leganés, as it is expected. The Madrid players looked primed and ready against SD Eibar and Eden Hazard’s performance was outstanding in his return from injury. Maybe with the Belgian in-form, it will be easier for the merengues to win against an out-of-form side that is suffering from a severe injury crisis.

What are the possible outcomes for Barça?

Barcelona are expected to win their duel at home against Leganés, but have to be careful about Madrid’s fixture. If Barça win against the Pepineros, they, first of all, stay at the top of La Liga and then give themselves a shot of extending their lead. If Valencia manage to get a result at the Bernabéu, the Catalans will be at least four points above of their madridista rivals. If Barcelona lose or draw, they will fear a Madrid win as they have a worse head-to-head record.

❛ We and Madrid know that a loss is unacceptable ❜

Quique Setién

Players to watch

Mouctar Diakhaby’s highly controversial performance at Mestalla against Levante a few days ago, committing yet another late penalty in him, will put the spotlight on him. The Frenchman’s errors will be scrutinised from now on, and a mistake at the Bernabéu will be fatal for his Valencia career.

Antoine Griezmann is another Frenchman that had a sub-par display in the last match. The World Cup winner will have to show more than in Mallorca to stay in Quique Setién’s line-up, especially with Luis Suárez ready and Martin Braithwaite breathing down his neck. On another note, Mikel Oyarzabal’s brilliant performance against Osasuna grabbed Real Sociedad a point, and another outstanding showing from the Basque winger at Alavés’ Mendizorroza on Thursday could be awaiting.

Full schedule of matchday 29 in La Liga

Levante UD vs Sevilla CF | Monday 15 June | 19:30 CET
Real Betis vs Granada CF | Monday 15 June | 22:00 CET

Getafe CF vs RCD Espanyol | Tuesday 16 June | 19:30 CET
Villarreal CF vs RCD Mallorca | Tuesday 16 June | 19:30 CET
FC Barcelona vs CD Leganés | Tuesday 16 June | 22:00 CET

Real Valladolid vs RC Celta de Vigo | Wednesday 17 June | 19:30 CET
SD Eibar vs Athletic Club de Bilbao | Wednesday 17 June | 19:30 CET
CA Osasuna vs Atlético de Madrid | Wednesday 17 June | 22:00 CET

Deportivo Alavés vs Real Sociedad | Thursday 18 June | 19:30 CET
Real Madrid vs Valencia CF | Thursday 18 June | 22:00 CET


See more

• La Liga review: the best and worst of matchday 28

Ronald Araújo: first Barcelona start of many?

• Five positive signs for Barcelona from the Mallorca win

• Tactical analysis: Mallorca 0–4 Barcelona

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 Real Madrid: The Game through Numbers

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP

A detailed look into the game by numbers, statistics, and tactics as FC Barcelona fell to defeat against Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season.


Following a high-flying victory against Ferencvaros in the opening game of the Champions League, FC Barcelona returned to action in La Liga against Real Madrid at Camp Nou. However, the game didn’t go as Ronald Koeman planned, and Barcelona stumbled to defeat in the first El Clasico of 2020-21. This followed a draw against Sevilla and a shock loss to Getafe and left Barcelona midtable 5 games into the season.

Team Structures

Ronald Koeman sprung in several surprises ahead of this fixture. Firstly, Jordi Alba returned from injury to play as left-back, while Sergi Roberto was omitted altogether for Sergiño Dest. Philippe Coutinho played as left-wing. 17-year old Pedri got to start the Classico as a reward for his performances but was fielded on the right-wing. Lionel Messi played as the no. 10 behind Ansu Fati as the striker.

Off the ball, Barcelona defended in a 4-4-2 with Messi and Fati staying and pressing up. From touch-based heatmaps, there are two interesting features.

Firstly, while Frenkie de Jong played in a relatively advanced role, he stayed quite wide. Sergio Busquets occupied the central channels. However, tasking his old legs to guard such a big zone resulted in recurring issues.

Secondly, Pedri is not a natural winger. He loves to play centrally. Having three natural CAMs in Pedri, Coutinho and Messi on-field and forcing two of them to play as wingers was never a good idea, to begin with. Pedri kept drifting inside, as shown in the heatmaps. Both Coutinho and Pedri were limited in their influence. Koeman’s overthinking and tinkering nullified both their strengths.

Real Madrid on the other hand set up in a skewed 4-3-3 as shown. Early injury to Nacho resulted in Lucas Vazquez coming on as the right back for the remainder of the game. Vinicius stayed high and wide, while Marco Asensio drifted in and out, often letting Federico Valverde occupy the wider channels.

Barcelona’s structure after the 81st minute deserves a special mention. Koeman made several offensive subs, bringing on Antoine Greizmann, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Fransisco Trincáo into the game, in place of Pedri, Fati, Busquets and Alba. To top it all off, Coutinho was slotted as the only pivot in the side, instead of de Jong as the shape devolved into a bizarre 3-1-6.

Attacks and Buildups

This game had a clear moment after which the game changed – minute 62. Until then, Barcelona were evidently the better team starting to dominate a bit as well. Here are the stats from the entire game:

Barcelona were outshot, outscored, and had fewer shots on target – but a lot of that’s skewed from what happened minute 62 onwards. From the PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) data, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, it’s evident that neither team went for a very high press. Here is the shot map and xG flow:

Minute 62 was when Clement Lenglet fouled by pulling Sergio Ramos’ shirt inside the penalty area while defending a corner. Ramos didn’t need a second invitation to exaggerate the pull. He fell theatrically to the ground, won a penalty, and Barcelona were chasing the game that moment onwards.

The first blood was drawn by Madrid after a moment of disastrous marking by Busquets allowed Federico Valverde to run into Barcelona’s box, unmarked, and smash home from Karim Benzema’s pass.

Thankfully, Barcelona did not take long to reply. A delightful ball over the top from Lionel Messi met Jordi Alba’s well-timed run, and Alba’s square pass was prodded home by Ansu Fati. Here is a little animation of the goal:

As mentioned earlier, Madrid’s second goal came from a penalty, scored by Ramos himself. And Luka Modric capitalized on some terrible defending to make it 3-1 in the 91st minute.

Passing

Neither team were truly impressive in passing. Here are the most dangerous passes by both teams:

Passes into the box were few by either team. Barcelona did manage to get into the box from central zone 14 or half-spaces, while Madrid clearly utilised their greatest strength – attacking from wide areas. It’s also shown in the key passes map:

However, in buildup, Madrid were far more expansive. They switched the play a lot as compared to Barcelona.

Comparing the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – Barcelona completed a greater number of final-third passes. However, the field tilt, or final third territory gained, was being dominated by Madrid in the first half. Barcelona started the second half positively and dominated territory. However, they got scored against the run of play. After that, Madrid were happy to let Barcelona keep possession and attacked the team on the counter.

Defence and Pressing

Both teams exhibited some terrible defending in the first half, to say the very least. Both goals were conceded from such cases.

As mentioned before, there were huge gaps in the midfield, and too much space between the midfield and defence; i.e. poor covering by Busquets and de Jong. Madrid made the best use of this for their first goal, and repeated it several times as the clock ticked ahead.

In the first image, it is evident that too many Barcelona players got sucked in trying to press the Madrid defence, resulting in a huge void in the midfield. Madrid play out of the press with ridiculous ease.

In the second image, the gap between Dest and Pique is appalling. Both centre-backs are engulfed towards Benzema for some reason, and Busquets completely loses track of Valverde’s run. One simple through ball and the job is done.

Almost immediately after that, Vinicius almost scored a second. Quick combination with Benzema in the box, while Busquets is seen jogging outside the box, there is a huge space to attack. Thankfully, Vinicius’ poor decision making and first touch allow Alba to throw him off.

The next example, again in the first half, shows terrible spacing between defenders, and terrible tracking from Busquets. A simple ball behind Dest, who is in isolation with the rest of the backline meets a well-timed run that Busquets can’t keep up with.

The next two examples are from the second half:

In the first one, the “pivot” Coutinho loses track of Toni Kroos’ run. Kroos runs onto Vazquez’s cutback to take a shot that Neto saves marvellously, and denies the German again pouncing perfectly on the rebounded shot.

The second image shows the moment when Vazquez lobs a ball into Ramos’ path, who is completely unmarked on the far post. Thankfully, Neto comes to Barça’s rescue saving the Madrid’s captain volley with his foot.

Madrid didn’t cover themselves in glory either, especially in the first half. Barcelona’s only goal of the game came as a result of terrible tracking from Nacho as Alba found space behind him. There were giveaways in midfield that led to multiple chances as well.

Most notably, Fati’s lofted ball into the path of an unmarked Messi, who eviscerated Ramos with a quick dribble but shot straight into the hands of Thibaut Courtois at the near post. However, they weren’t as often as Barcelona’s, and in general, resulted in lower quality chances.

As mentioned before, neither team went all out to the press. Barcelona’s pressing structure was so poor that Madrid played through it without trouble. They could even manage elaborate buildups, with two examples shown below:

Issues

Shambolic would be the right word to define Barcelona’s defending in the game. The lack of speed and the alertness to track runners was exposed yet again. The card-happy centre-backs came to haunt Barcelona again, as Lenglet gave away a poor penalty.

Busquets, on the other hand, looks far from being a starter and should be replaced as soon as possible. And if he somehow manages to retain his spot in the lineup, the midfield structure needs to be fixed so that he doesn’t get tasked with defending such a wide area.

The substitutions and Koeman’s game management made little to no sense. As seen in the Getafe game, in more cases than not, more forwards does not equate to more goals. The midfield was non-existent in the last 10 minutes, and Los Blancos made the best use of this as they scored the third where Luka Modric made the Barcelona defence dance.

Conclusion

The game was pretty even for nearly one hour, with neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid standing out as the better team. Post that, however, the scoreline spoke for itself.

Sergiño Dest made a solid claim for starting as right back in the coming games. He was outstanding in defence and quite courageous and innovative in the offence, with some neat dribbles. Fati kept his goalscoring form alive, becoming the youngest ever scorer in an El Clasico. Neto ended the game as arguably the best player on the pitch, but that is more bad news than good for the Garnet and the Blue.

However, there are defensive, structural, tactical, and personnel problems to be ironed out by Koeman in the future, especially if he wants to retain his job after a change of presidency. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a worse season the previous one for La Liga.

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