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Analysis

La Liga review: the best and worst of matchday 32

The best games, performances and main consequences of matchday 32 of La Liga

Alexandre Patanian

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Header Image by Fernando Pidal via Imago

The continuity of La Liga is superb, and the matches have been impressive in matchday 32 too. Let’s take a look at them.


La Liga is really going strong recently, with its return bringing the best football in the world. The Spanish teams play superb football, even the worst-placed ones. As the title race hots up, the relegation dog fight tightens up, and RCD Espanyol look like worthy contenders for relegation. Matchday 32 of La Liga was a joy, as many heroic moments happened, and some aesthetically pleasing goals saw the light during this round of matches.

As the Celta de Vigo 2–2 Barcelona was thrilling for fans, you can find more on that here. Excluding that dramatic encounter, below you will find the three best games of La Liga matchday 32:

Sevilla 1–1 Real Valladolid

Real Valladolid are nearing safety in La Liga, and with their run of form, they are going to reach it easily. With only one loss since the return, to the mighty Atlético de Madrid, they travelled to Seville to have a decent first half effort. The visitors took the lead after suffering for an extended period. Míchel Herrero’s brilliant free-kick landed directly on Kiko Olivas’ head, with the defender arriving late in the box. The header was from range and was worthy of such a mesmerising pass.

Sevilla pushed and pushed and pushed, to no avail in the first half. Before the goal, Lucas Ocampos had touched the crossbar after connecting with the eternal Jesús Navas’ precise cross. In the second half, the locals kept dominating and ex-Barça player Munir el Haddedi found the back of the net, but was in an offside position when Jesús Navas released the ball.

In the end, they managed to salvage a point at the death when Sergio Escudero’s shot came right into Javi Sánchez’s hands. Penalty and yellow card for the centre-back, with Lucas Ocampos converting from six yards. The Andalusian side would have preferred a different outcome, considering the weak opponents, but at least they managed to get the all-important draw in a tight race for top four.

Osasuna 2–1 Leganés

Leganés were unlucky two weeks ago to lose 2–1 against Valladolid at home, and the history repeated itself at El Sadar on Saturday. Osasuna took the lead with an incredible scissor-kick goal from striker Enric Gallego in the ninth minute. Fran Merida’s cross was insane, but Gallego lept like a salmon to open the scoring for the red side.

Following that, Leganés dominated for the whole half and came in vain. Bryan Gil failing to score in front of the Basque goal was the best way to describe Los Pepineros in the first half. After the whistle, Leganés found the net with another sensational goal in an open game. Roque Mesa’s pass found substitute Javier Avilés, and the Spaniard drove the ball forward and his shot from distance landed in Osasuna’s top corner.

CD Leganés CA Osasuna La Liga matchday 32

Joy for Osasuna, more powerlessness for Leganés | Photo by Villar López via Imago

That goal gave Leganés confidence, but they weren’t clinical enough, and it cost them. After a counter-attack from Osasuna had been turned into a corner, Enric Gallego got his revenge on the keeper saving his previous powerful shot with a bullet header in the top corner to win it at the death for the locals.

Levante 4–2 Real Betis

Real Betis had a great game and 1–0 win against Espanyol to begin the post-Rubi era, but Alexis Trujillo’s new team looked hopeless in the Valencia region on Sunday. In the early kick-off, Levante had a rampant lead with 30 minutes to go. The blaugrana side opened the scoring with a sublime slalom from Borja Mayoral on the left side, with the former Real Madrid striker finding it easy to bombard Joel Robles’ net. Then, his teammate Enis Bardhi found the back of the net again with a placed shot from the edge of the box a few minutes later.

Enis Bardhi Levante UD Real Betis La Liga matchday 32

On Sunday Levante exhibited their most lethal and merciless version | Photo by Ángel Martínez via Getty Images

José Luis Morales dribbled past Joel and got a well-deserved goal to make the score look a lot better for the locals. Rubén Rochina added to his assist with a powerful shot after the Betis defence completely collapsed for a lapse of time. It was 4–0 for Levante. Later, though, Sergio Canales’ run was well spotted by Zouhair Feddal, and the former Valencia midfielder scored a smooth finish. Juanmi got another consolation goal for Betis after Aitor Fernández inexplicably released the ball from his hands. The score would not move after.

What does La Liga matchday 32 mean for Barça?

Barcelona dropped more points in the title race, but it doesn’t change anything from what they had to do. With Real Madrid two points ahead with their win in Barcelona against Espanyol, the Catalans still need to win, but they will have to hope for Los Blancos to at least lose once, or draw twice.

How has the table been affected?

The top four race is heated, and Atlético de Madrid lead the pack of teams that don’t seem to want Champions League football next year. The rojiblancos are third, after winning four on the trot, and have benefited from Sevilla drawing against Valladolid and Real Sociedad losing to Getafe. Getafe’s win is also an important one, as they are only two points away from the Sevillans.

Sergio Ramos Real Madrid RCD Espanyol La Liga matchday 32

After matchday 32, Real Madrid have extended their lead on top of the La Liga table | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

Villarreal continued their scintillating form with an impressive win against Valencia, with Santi Cazorla having another joyful performance. Athletic Club are now in contention for European football and are only a point away from the collapsing Valencia, who sacked their manager Albert Celades on Monday.

Lower down the table, the three teams in the red zone – Mallorca, Leganés and Espanyol – lost, whilst Celta de Vigo, Eibar and Valladolid all got points in their bid to stay up. Iago Aspas‘ performance against Barcelona was a significant high for the Galicians. In other news, Deportivo Alavés continued their poor run of form with another loss in Madrid, against Atlético, and look like they will finish lower than Celta as things stand.

Standout performers

The round of matches meant great performances, again. Santi Cazorla starred for another week for his Villarreal side and assisted Gerard Moreno superbly before the former Espanyol man’s rocket landed in Jasper Cillessen’s top corner. Paco Alcácer scored against his former team Valencia in that triumph too.

For Barcelona, Luis Suárez scored twice but didn’t contribute much outside of it. Gerard Piqué had another standout performance since the league, completely opposed to his partner Samuel Umtiti. In the same game, midfielder Denis Suárez was on a mission to show Barça what they were missing, and Iago Aspas’ display was legendary, with a free-kick well struck to equalise late in the game.

In Seville, Jesús Navas’ deliveries were a joy to behold. In Levante, José Campaña was named Man of the Match, and his team deserves praise for their dismantling of Betis. Eibar continued their highly impressive run of form with a 1–2 win over Granada, and Pablo de Blasis’ chip was as remarkable.

“Marcos Llorente is not Messi, but he plays as if his life depended on it”

Diego Pablo Simeone

Karim Benzema’s backheel assist for Real Madrid will be replayed in football academies, and it was a true testament to the Frenchman’s insane form. Of course, Enric Gallego carried Osasuna to the win in stoppage time. For Atlético, Marcos Llorente did Marcos Llorente things, as has been the case since the return of football, and he won a dubious penalty that ultimately sealed the game for Atleti. At last, Jaime Mata’s brace settled Getafe’s win against Real Sociedad.


See more

Barcelona vs Atlético de Madrid: Match preview

• Tactical analysis: a look at Barcelona rivals Atlético de Madrid

• Is a change of coach really the solution to the situation at Barcelona

• How balancing the books is keeping FC Barcelona unbalanced

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

A Detailed Look into Barcelona’s defeat against Getafe

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Barcelona fell to defeat in Madrid, and Barça Universal brings a detailed analysis of how the visitors fared against the relentless Getafe.


Matchweek four saw FC Barcelona travel to Coliseum Alfonso Perez to take on yet another difficult opposition – Getafe. In recent years, Getafe have seen an uptick of fortune under manager Jose Bordalas, by opting to play a straightforward counterattacking style of football while staying defensively compact. It is easy to not classify their game as pretty. Still, they are highly effective – with constant disruptions to the game with a very physical style of play, they forced Barcelona to stay out of their box very effectively. The game indeed was gruesome to watch and ended in Getafe eking out a narrow 1-0 victory – their first over Barcelona in the league since 2011-12.

The Shape of the Teams

As the team returned from the international break with many of the players having played 180+ minutes, Ronald Koeman rang in some interesting changes. However, one could always argue if there were, in fact, enough changes and whether they made a lot of sense. Neto, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Sergi Roberto at right-back, and Sergino Dest as the makeshift left-back formed the back-five, with the usual double pivot of Sergio Busquets of Frenkie de Jong.

Ousmane Dembele was back in action on the left-wing, Antoine Griezmann started in a false 9 role, and Lionel Messi as the nominal ‘right-wing’. The biggest surprise perhaps was the first start handed to 17-year-old Pedri at central attacking-midfield.

From the pass-maps and the following touch-based heatmaps, you can see that Messi did stay a lot wider than the “false RW” role he had under the previous two managers. Still, he kept interchanging slots with Griezmann quite a bit as well, especially in the deeper zones. The Frenchman had a lot of touches in the wider zones while tracking back. As such, and combined with his highly ineffective combination play with the midfield and the forwards, it does the beg the question as to whether it makes any sense to put Griezmann up top, or for that matter, as a starter in the team at all.

Also, de Jong’s role and influence in the game was in sharp contrast to the previous games and Busquets’ as well. Busquets influenced a lot of the central zones, while Frenkie tried to rattle wider, and deeper areas more, partly due to the absence of Jordi Alba.

Getafe came up with a highly asymmetrical 4-4-2, with very distinctively different lines of midfielders in possession, and very different roles of the wide players on two sides:

It was former La Masia youngster Marc Cucurella, playing as a left wide-mid, who was really the most adventurous of the lot and showed the most attacking prowess. In midfield, Mauro Arambarri had the freedom to drift around a bit while Nemanja Maksimovic stayed deep and patrolled in front of the defence, seldom venturing up.

Offence

This was a game with very little quality and very few clear cut chances. Getafe didn’t allow Barcelona to create a lot with extremely compact and physical defending. Barcelona enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, but to no avail. They could have easily scored at least once in the first half through Antoine Griezmann, where they were clearly the better side. The biggest chances they conceded came in the second half – the unfortunate penalty, and counter-attacks in the late stages of the game.

Apart from the shots shown here, there was a dangerous moment where Cucho Hernandez had the opportunity to take a crack at Barcelona’s goal but slipped at the vital moment.

As for the goal, it resulted in a really unfortunate foul in the box by Frenkie de Jong. It came from a set-piece play pattern, and after the ball had pinged inside and outside the box a few times, de Jong tripped Djene Dakonam in the box as they both went for the ball.

Getafe, as was shown in the pass-map before, were not interested in deep build-up at all. They constantly went direct, staying true to their style of play. The attack pattern of swift transitions is clearly visible in the buildup to some of the shots they took, as shown below. These shots either came from forcing high turnovers or from speedy breaks from their own half with just a handful of passes only to transition over a large vertical distance:

In contrast, Barcelona were rambling, slow and sometimes clueless in the buildup, especially in the second half. There were two opportunities following two gorgeous buildups. The first one was intricate and involved a beautiful turn by the youngster Pedri to set up Dest, who cut the ball back for Messi. The Argentine’s left-footed precision shot evaded the Getafe goalie David Soria but cannoned off the post.

But the best opportunity of the first half fell to Griezmann. Yet again, the creator was Pedri, who met the World Cup winner’s wonderfully timed run with a delectable through ball. Griezmann raced clear of Getafe’s defensive line and with only the keeper at his mercy, shot high into the stands. The buildups are shown below:

(To be noted: neither Antione Griezmann’s shot nor Cucho Hernandez’s shots were on target – they blazed over the goal-post. The visuals above should not confuse the readers.)

The majority of the rest of the shots that Barcelona took came from set-pieces or hopeful crosses into the Getafe box. Apart from the cross that was almost turned into his own goal by Erick Cabaco late in the game and the one where Lenglet failed to connect properly with Messi’s freekick, the rest aren’t even worth discussing.

Barcelona did manage a lot of successful takeons, way more than Getafe, but most notably perhaps, none successful in Getafe’s box. The bulk of these duels were restricted in the wide areas, where Dest and Messi showed good feet. In the central zones, only Messi and Pedri were skilled and silky enough to beat their marker.

Passing

Barcelona’s progressive passing took a bit of hit this game. Here is a compilation of the successful progressive passes by all Barcelona players shown below. Something that strikes out immediately – there was almost nothing down the middle. Frenkie could only exert his influence through passing in the wide areas. Both centre-backs heavily sprayed out the ball wide. The characteristic dagger balls from Lenglet that we have grown used to seeing was missing this game:

Next we take a look at the assortment of most threatening passes that Barcelona put together:

Just like the game against Sevilla, there were barely any successful entries into the box. Many passes were sprayed out wide, which only halted the progress till that point. Simply put, Getafe were just too compact and physical to allow anything constructive to happen.

Shown below are Getafe’s progressive passes by all players, and their most threatening passes. They were either mostly pinging long balls into Barcelona’s third or launching counters from the deep bypassing the entire midfield and trying to catch Barcelona out. Unlike the visitors, there were a lot more entries into the box mostly coming from wide areas.

The two passes that standout are Cucurella’s pass to initiate a fast counter, and Pedri’s ball to Griezmann. Cucho Hernandez led the Getafe side with 3 key passes, with Cucurella and Enes Unal with one each. For Barcelona, Dest had two key passes, and Messi and Pedri had one each.

 

Next we look at switches of play. There is an amazing distinction between the two. Getafe’s switch passes from the wide areas were mainly to attack Barcelona’s 3rd and the box. Barcelona’s switches mainly came in buildup phases, attempting to open up Getafe, almost exclusively in the middle 3rd.

The quantity used here to compare passes into the final third is called 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 instead of a fraction. It’s a stat introduced by Statsperform (previously Opta) to measure territorial dominance.

Barcelona completed a greater number of final third passes than Getafe, and yet had a lower number of box entries – this is simply unacceptable in the future. Shown below are the mean field tilts as well as the time evolution. Barcelona overall had much higher territorial dominance with 67%. The only times Getafe enjoyed a better share of the territory was in the first 15 minutes of each half, and they made their territorial dominance in the second half count with a goal within that 15 minutes of the restart.

Defence

As a short side note, PPDA serves as a proxy of pressing intensity. It tells us how many passes the team in possession is allowed to make in their own 3-5ths of the pitch before disrupted with a foul or a tackle or an interception by the defending team. Lower the PPDA numbers, roughly speaking, higher the pressing intensity upfield. Getafe are known as notorious pressers, but they didn’t try to press too high or too much against Barcelona – recording a modest PPDA of 11 as compared to Barcelona’s 5. Also shown is the PPDA time evolution below:

Getafe exhibited their best press between the 15-30 minutes of the first half, and then at the beginning of the second half. It was 15-minute slot when the second half started where they dominated territory and pressed extremely well, and eventually scored. Next, let’s take a look at the defensive activities heatmap:

Barcelona’s pressurizing defensive actions were mainly concentrated on the left courtesy of Dest, Dembele, and de Jong. In the box, Pique and Lenglet held their own for the most part, and Neto was a safe pair of gloves. In fact, the Brazilian stopped a great shot from Cucho late in the second half to prevent Barcelona from going 2 goals down.

Getafe pressured the middle third to great effect and targeted Dembele’s wastefulness on the left flank and Roberto’s lack of support on the right. The unsuccessful passes tell the story of very curious pass weights by several Barcelona players, but most notably Dembele who couldn’t seem to get anything right in the first half. Misplacing so many short passes – for a team like Barcelona- should be a crime.

In terms of turnover creations, Barcelona managed a few handfuls on the left flank, helped by a reasonably good left-back outing by Dest. Getafe created turnovers in the middle and defensive thirds mostly.

Of course, you can’t describe a Getafe game without mentioning fouls. Fouling is an extremely effective strategy by Bordalas’ men, and an obliging referee meant they got away with almost everything. Getafe committed twice the number of fouls as Barcelona – 20 to 10, and yet had only one more yellow card than Barcelona. Allan Nyom should have easily seen the red card – if not direct, at least by accumulation – but escaped with just yellow.

Issues

There were several issues. The passing weight remains an issue. It was an issue against Sevilla, at the Camp Nou. It was an issue against Getafe. Dembele had a torrid showing. This was his first start and the first bunch of meaningful minutes. But nothing on display was encouraging, and it remains to be seen how much faith Koeman puts in him in the upcoming matches.

The midfielders were mostly solid – and that’s about it. They failed to influence the game with incisive passes. De Jong was pushed deep and wide. Busquets had one good pass, and the rest were all simple.

In the absence of Alba, the left side is almost as dead as the right. Dest tried a lot, and he was along with Pedri, the only standout performer for the travellers. He had two key passes, and a couple of really admirable dribbles, going toe-to-toe with Nyom. But he wasn’t nearly close enough to being the marauding Jordi Alba. The Messi-left wing connection has been a super fruitful one over the last few years, and that was sorely missed yesterday.

Speaking of, Messi was not utilized well at all in this game. He wasn’t allowed to drift as much and stayed wide a lot more. He was also not a part of the buildup as much as Barcelona would have preferred. If this was a conscious tactical decision not to involve Messi too much, it is much better to let him rove near the goal so he can make the most of his stellar finishing.

One way or the other, Messi looks really uninvolved and it’s costing Barcelona. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Griezmann continued to be underwhelming for Barcelona. He did nothing notable from the right-wing in the previous games, and he did nothing notable as the false 9 against Getafe. Barely involved in possession, he did make a good run only to smash a shot into the stands. At this point, it’s a fair call to try other attackers on the wing, especially with Fransisco Trincāo and Konrad de la Fuente waiting for quality minutes.

The refereeing was questionable, to put it mildly. Cucho Hernandez ran into Pique’s elbows and won a foul, with the Spaniard on the receiving end of a yellow. To even things a bit, the referee gave Mata a yellow for a soft foul on Lenglet. But nothing was more contentious than the elbow in the face of Messi by Nyom, who amazingly enough, escaped any card at all. He kept committing several fouls and was only shown a yellow after his 7th foul of the game, when in fact, he was lucky to survive that long.

The substitutes

For the first time, Ronald Koeman’s substitutes made no sense and brought no spark to the game. In theory, bringing Ansu Fati for Ousmane Dembele made sense, but it changed nothing in the broader context of things. Pedri did not deserve to get yanked before Antoine Griezmann given how well he was playing. Pique moving up to play striker late in the game meant there was no midfield bar Riqui Puig (getting his first minutes of the season) and Barcelona were easily countered. The subs were too late and made little sense.

Conclusion

It was an ugly game and required real motivation to keep watching. Barcelona needs to be much more direct – like the first two games. The Griezmann experiment probably needs to stop, and the excessive fluidity is coming at the cost of too many people trying to do the same set of things and occupying the same zones.

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