A profound analysis of La Masía magician Brian Peña. A review of his profile, style of play and what to expect from him for the future.
Barcelona’s football, and the one practised in its academy, has always been based around possession, on-ball quality and a proper execution. Midfielders are the embodiment of this style, even though the azulgranas have never stood out for having extravagant attacking midfielders, but academic interiors. However, from time to time some of these unconventional wizards emerge, characterised by their imagination and brutal talent. La Masía 17-year-old Brian Peña, the protagonist of this weekly analysis, has plenty of this.
Brian Peña Pérez-Vico was born on 20 June 2002 in the Catalan city of Vilafranca del Penedès. That’s where he started to play football, aged 4. Despite his shyness, having the ball at his feet relaxed and calmed him, and made his forget about everything else. When he was 6 years old, he attended a football camp organised by Barça, and that opened him the doors of the blaugranas. He did not join the club, though, but the FCB Escola. This school is not directly connected to La Masía, but they share the same methods. That’s where he started to develop his qualities, even if, five years after joining, he moved to CF Damm.
Brian Peña left Barça to later return stronger | Photo by FC Barcelona
He had a standout season at Damm, following on with what he had learnt at the Escola. After his sensational year there, the youngster had offers from many big clubs, including Real Madrid, Valencia, Villarreal or Espanyol…yet his dream was to play for Barcelona one day. Therefore, Brian Peña chose Espanyol, conscious that he would have more chances of moving to La Masía in the future if he impressed with the Periquitos – as has happened in countless occasions with many other prospects.
He was right. He spent three years with Espanyol, attracting attention from Barcelona itself through great performances, including in the derbies. After having been monitoring his progression, it was in 2018 when Franc Artiga, who had just been named manager of the Juvenil B, insisted on signing him. The technical secretary of the club obeyed him and, in July 2018, Brian Peña joined La Masía. He was added to the squad of Artiga’s Juvenil B, coming from the Cadete A of Espanyol and having been international with Catalonia’s youth teams and the Spanish U-16. He scored his first goal for Barça in September 2018, in a 0–2 victory over Sant Andreu. Now 17 years old, he’s still playing with the Juvenil B, but being one of their main players and hoping to get promoted to the U-19 A next term.
Brian Peña is a right-footed attacking midfielder or also left winger. In his first campaign with Franc Artiga, he played in midfield and in front of Marc Doménech and Álex Rico, who could both act as holding midfielders. Notwithstanding, for Barcelona’s first team in the future, there may be no place for a number 10, so in a 4–3–3 he has mostly been employed as a left winger. For his position and style of play, he has often been compared to Philippe Coutinho.
He has that Brazilian flair in spite of being Spanish, with an undeniable technical quality and an admirable self-confidence to cut inside and take on defenders. He’s vertical and a very forward-thinking player, as well as one of the best dribblers in the academy. He has an extensive repertoire of technical actions, as he carry the ball and imbalance the opposing defences with any surface of his foot: the inside, the outside, the sole or the top of the foot. Therefore, he has a wide range of options to give curve, accuracy or power to his deliveries and shots.
Brian Peña’s dribbles are sharp and electric | Photo by FC Barcelona
He’s an associative footballer that reads the game well too, as he’s a wonderful creator that can pull the strings for his team. That said, Brian Peña is not characterised for being a passing maestro, but at La Masía he is more renowned for his personality, expertise in one-versus-ones and goalscoring instinct. He can either make surprise arrivals into the box or, more frequently, get inside the area after having drifted inside and beaten his mark. He has a great facility to create his own space to shoot and rapidly unleash a strike. Less than two weeks ago, on January 19, Brian scored a hat-trick against Damm in a 2–4 victory from the Juvenil B. That was his seventh goal of the season, being only two away from the nine he registered in the previous course.
If there’s something that Brian Peña must look to improve in his time at La Masía is his positional awareness. Curiously enough, it is a similar problem to the one Coutinho had at Barcelona, as he struggled to find his ideal spot in the side and was too attack-minded to be a pure interior. Peña also belongs to this endangered species of attacking midfielders, and as a winger he may not get his entire potential exploited. He tends to perform better when the games become more frenetic and open than when he is required to dominate positionally, wait and remain static. He can be a ball-hog at times and overuse his shooting, but, if he matures and develops nicely, he may have the gift to be a world-beater one day.
What does the future hold for Brian Peña?
At the Juvenil B there are very few differential talents that may be considered for the future or even the next Juvenil A. Brian Peña, though, is certainly one of these. For his vision, rhythm, acceleration, unpredictable dribbling and lethal shots, he has a very high ceiling in terms of his individual quality. At the same time, he’s one of those footballers whose evolution will really determine whether he has the potential to play at the Camp Nou in the long-term, or if he will fall short.
As often as he is compared to Coutinho, let us hope that he grabs the virtues from Philippe and not the flaws that made him disappoint at Catalonia. If he can successfully transform himself into an interior, and acquires all the tactical and cognitive concepts a Barcelona midfielder requires, then he definitely has the talent and imagination to be a true difference-maker. The future of Brian Peña will surely depend on his progression at La Masía.
Barcelona B: Changes which we can expect this season
For Barcelona, its youth setup – Barcelona B, and the famed La Masia – has often served as one of its core components, and not a subsidiary, like a lot of clubs around Europe. It has often been the first step for players before they join the first team, learning the ways and about the heritage of the club.
Currently, a part of the Segunda B, Barcelona B were in the Segunda not more than two years ago and failed to gain promotion last season after coming oh-so-close. As another season starts, Barcelona B must balance their success on the pitch and the development of youth players simultaneously. Barca Universal takes a look at the changes we can expect from them this season.
Barcelona B must, without compromise, involve new players from the youth teams every season as much as possible. This is best showcased by Garcia Pimienta, who uses the youth teams to bolster his squad. Similarly, there are some specific players we can expect to see this season.
Against Cornella, Cadete A player Ilias Akhomach debuted for Barca B and played an entire half. At just 16 years of age, he probably won’t get a lot of chances, but if he does, we can count on him to repay the manager. The winger who has grown meteorically through the youth ranks of the Catalan club in rapid succession looked comfortable playing against much older players in the Segunda. He’s someone who could make an impact this season.
At left-back, Barcelona has a player who has progressed immensely. Alejandro Balde has played above his age group for a long time, and his development has been incredible. At 17, he is a starter for the B team and is among the players who can definitely contest for the first-team in the future. Balde is good both defensively and offensively – his pace, dribbling combined with his tracking-tackling skills makes him a capable asset down the wing.
Apart from these two, we might see attacking midfielder Brian Pena and defensive midfielder Alex Rico. Towards the end of the season, Diego Almeida, Txus Alba, Gavi might be given their debuts as well as part of an up-and-coming generation coming through.
This is a change seen in subsidiary teams such as the B team usually when there is an adjustment in the tactics for the first team. Since the team has a new manager in Ronald Koeman, the tactics are rather fresh as well. Under Setien, a 4-3-3 formation was the preferred choice, whereas under Koeman it is a 4-2-3-1. Though Barcelona played a 4-4-2 under Valverde, the B team continued in a 4-3-3. The shift to a 4-2-3-1, however, is quite less, compared to a 4-4-2.
Koeman has brought with him a plethora of changes, the major one being the team setup. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)
The second team’s sole purpose is to facilitate for the first team, which remains the priority this season as well. It just so happens that the Spaniard has three remarkable players at his disposal who can play in a double-pivot and can soon step-up to the first team – Nico Gonzalez, Jandro Orellana and Oriol Busquets. Implementing a double pivot with these players would also benefit the rest of the players. Matheus Fernandes or Alex Collado could play in the number 10 role where they can excel. Additionally, there is an interesting option in the form of Brian Pena whose style resembles Philippe Coutinho’s, could get to feature for the B team in the mediapunta role. In turn, Hiroki Abe, Ilias Akhomach, Nils Moreno, among others could play feature on the wing.
Formation changes for Barcelona B would not only help the players transition from the B team to the first team but will also improve their tactical flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of playing in a 4-2-3-1, however, leads us to our next change.
Barcelona have produced many incredible number 9s in history as well as recently. However, there has been something about the 4-3-3 system which hasn’t suited these talents – for example, Abel Ruiz. An undisputed starter for Spain’s youth sides, he was benched by Alejandro Marquez in some instances owing to his failure to rack up goals for the B team.
Abel Ruiz failed to live up to his own prophecy. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A very promising striker coming through is Gerard Fernandez, or Peque, as he is called. Playing a 4-2-3-1 system would bring out the best in him. As a forward who is incredible at pressing the defence, he would get that freedom in a 4-2-3-1. Another one of his strong attributes is his ability to link-up very well with his teammates. With a no. 10 behind him and a winger on either side, he would get the opportunity to further develop his anchor play.
The problem Barca B have had with the number 9 role is one that could make the difference between reaching the playoffs like last season and earning promotion to the Segunda A.
Barcelona B are a very dynamic team. There are always multiple changes in multiple positions due to the nature of the team. A manager focused on developing youth, Garcia Pimienta has made sure they are a very capable collective as well. With the changes we examined in this article, Barcelona B could top last season’s playoffs and finally get promotion to the Segunda A. And if not that, we can be sure that they will continue to roll out incredible players that will become Barcelona stars one day.