After La Liga’s triumphant return last week, many fans anticipated the second round of games, and they got treated. Let’s review the matchday 29 of La Liga.
Following the successful return of La Liga a week ago, it was time for matchday 29 and the crucial matches at the fans’ disposal. From Andalusian derbies to Basque ones, many games were punctuated by sublime plays, dramatic goals and fantastic players who are illuminating La Liga’s comeback with their impressive displays.
From the incredible matches scheduled for matchday 29, fans of La Liga had surely highlighted some games more than others, but will be surprised to see some games at the top of this review’s list. Here are the three best matches of matchday 29:
CA Osasuna 0–5 Atlético de Madrid
Diego Pablo Simeone isn’t known for his flamboyant tactics, but playing a team like Osasuna surely made him think twice before trying to play it safe. Yes, the scoreline looks pretty one-sided, but Atlético de Madrid did not dominate the game whatsoever. For the first 30 minutes, Osasuna had a lot of the ball but couldn’t create anything interesting. Before the half-hour mark, youngster João Félix opened the scoring with a crisp finish in Rubén Martínez’s nets.
While he struggled to adapt to Simeone’s Atlético at first, Marcos Llorente has now found his best form in a more advanced role | Photo by Gerardo Mora via Imago
A tap-in from the Portuguese 30 minutes later and Atleti were cruising through a hard-fought victory. Still, after Félix’s second, the Basque team totally capitulated, and it was the Marcos Llorente show. The former Real Madrid midfielder scored a superb goal before setting up Álvaro Morata and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, who both had two simple finishes to round the mark.
Osasuna tried to get a consolation goal, but their efforts came in vain. After Sevilla’s draw in Levante on Monday, Atlético are breathing down their neck and seek Champions League qualification more than ever.
Real Betis 2–2 Granada CF
After their loss in El Derbi Sevillano, Real Betis sought redemption in another Andalusian derby, this time against Granada and in-form Carlos Fernández. The Sevilla loanee centre-forward is on fire right now in La Liga with three goals and an assist in his last four appearances in domestic competitions. He opened the scoring at the Benito Villamarín after a sublime counter-attack initiated by Ramon Azeez intercepting the eternal Joaquín Sánchez’s poor pass. The Nigerian then gave it to Antonio Puertas in a wide area, and the assist to Carlos Fernández was exquisite and gave him a smooth finish in front of Joel Robles.
Carlos Fernández ( left ) has been in red hot form since La Liga’s return | Photo by Julio Muñoz via Imago
After that, Betis completely dominated the play and even finished the game with 79% of possession and 18 shots, ten more than Granada. Ultimately, their efforts paid dividends as two subs helped in winning a penalty. Borja Iglesias was tripped in the box after a cross from Antonio Barragán. Of course, penalty specialist Sergio Canales scored from the spot and manager Rubi’s third substitution worked. Four minutes after the penalty, Cristian Tello got the ball on the edge of the area and decided to arm a beautiful shot in Rui Silva’s bottom corner.
However, it did not end there. After the goal, the Verdiblancos got complacent, and Granada earned a corner. Former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado received the ball, and his volley landed in Joel Robles’ net. A vintage hit from the veteran. All in all, an action-packed game with a pretty deserved result for both sides. Rubi’s head is on the chopping block, and his Betis shall do more to see out games more often.
SD Eibar 2–2 Athletic Club de Bilbao
After an Andalusian derby, La Liga fans were treated by a Basque derby. Eibar, one of the smallest teams in the league, hosted the historical Athletic Club. An early penalty meant that Athletic would be in front, but José Luis Mendilibar’s team never gives up, even against better opposition than them. An exquisite cross from Fabián Orellana landed straight to Pedro Léon’s feet, and the former Madrid man’s cross found Kike’s head.
A typically tense and high-intensity Basque duel in matchday 29 of La Liga | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
After that superb piece of play, Eibar were relentless in everything they attempted. Their pressing was impeccable as was the pressure they applied on the defence. Finally, after 60 minutes of trying, Eibar got what they deserved as Dani García tripped Edu Exposito in the box. Orellana converted the penalty, but Athletic did not give up whatsoever. Straight from kick-off, Dani García redeemed himself with a superb cross to Villalibre’s feet, and the Spaniard equalised for Los Leones. A game where the two teams tried to play football, and it paid off.
What does this weekend mean for Barcelona?
Barcelona and Real Madrid are recreating the same race as Liverpool, and Manchester City had last year. The Skyblues finished first after both themselves and Liverpool won ten on the bounce. Now, after Barça’s good win against Leganés and Madrid’s thumping 3–0 victory at the Alfredo di Stéfano against Valencia, the two teams are still separated by two points. Nothing seems to be changing in La Liga’s title race, and hopefully, Barça can keep up the good work to win yet another league title.
How the table has been affected
Atlético de Madrid are the big winners of the midweek games. The Rojiblancos thrashed Osasuna at El Sadar and are now fourth after a big scare against Athletic Club last Sunday. With Real Sociedad losing painfully by 2–0 to Alavés, Getafe slipping up yet again in a winnable clash with Espanyol, and Sevilla halted in the dying minutes by Levante, Atlético are fourth and only two points behind the Sevillans. A much brighter end of the matchday for them after last week.
Lower down the table, the three teams in the relegation zone failed to score, but only Espanyol had somewhat of a positive result. The Catalan side managed a credible 0–0 draw at Getafe’s Coliseum with a man down for practically the whole game. Now, they climb above Leganés and are only three points behind Celta de Vigo, who also couldn’t manage to score a single goal in a 0–0 at Real Valladolid’s José Zorilla. It means nothing has changed down the table, but Celta and Eibar should start looking behind them as Espanyol refuse to capitulate.
There were a few standout performers in this round of La Liga matches. Between João Félix’s two goals, Marcos Llorente’s creative masterclass crowned by a goal, and Karim Benzema’s superb brace against Valencia, many players showed their class, especially players from the capital. Furthermore, Ansu Fati managed to grab the headlines too while the media also covered Lionel Messi’s absurd run against Leganés, which won him a penalty. Benzema’s half volley against Valencia and Roberto Soldado’s volley versus Betis are perhaps the best goals of the round, with the latter meaning that Granada equalled their highest point tally in their La Liga history. It was another superb round.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
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.
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.
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.
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.