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Match Reviews

Player Ratings: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona

Shahraiz Sajjad

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Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

A tightly contested fixture, which comprised of lengthy spells of possession from Barcelona and effective counter-pressing, but in the end, an old school Atletico Madrid were repaid the 3 points for their diligent defending and maximized discipline at the back.

Diego Simeone’s side persevered in patience and made the most of Ter Stegen’s error in the first half. After taking a long-awaited lead, the remainder of the game proved to be a stroll in the park for Los Rojibloncos

As Barcelona continue to worsen their situation in the league, concerns are mounting over the effectiveness of the 4-2-3-1 formation and the use of personnel by Ronald Koeman, who has had a tough start to life in Catalonia. In an unconvincing and dismaying 1-0 defeat, here’s how the players fared at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen: 3

An unmemorable performance from the German, who’s uncharacteristic decision making cost Barça a match-defining goal. To Ter Stegen’s credit, he made a marvellous save from Saul’s shot early on in the game. However, his error of judgement in the concluding stages of the first half gave away the goal as well as any chances of securing a point from a hard-fought fixture for the Blaugranas.

Sergi Roberto: 7

Did a solid job at defending, distributed the ball well and maintained impressive link up plays with Dembélé down the right flank; The 28 year old Spaniard delivered a commendable performance. As per usual however, he did not maintain a balance between pushing up and staying back, often getting carried away with Barcelona’s lengthy spells of possession, which resulted in tons of counter attacking plays for Atletico down their left flank.

Gerard Pique: 6

Piqué sulking off in tears after taking a brutal blow to the knee added to the anguish that the Culés had suffered throughout the game. However, as painful as it was to witness the Spaniard go through so much agony, Piqué did not play quite like the tactically smart centre-back he has asserted himself to be.

gerard pique injury

Out for a few months, at the very least. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

While the 33-year-old may have made a couple of brilliant tackles, it has to be said that his positioning at times was exceptionally substandard. Atletico’s bloodthirsty forwards pounced on the Catalans whenever an opportunity to burst forward arose, capitalizing on Geri’s inept positioning in the closing stages of the first half as Ter Stegen rushed forward to fill in for his absence.

Clement Lenglet: 7

The Frenchman had an admirable exhibition. Lenglet made little to no mistakes in his positioning and was reliable as always in winning his duels. In fact, this time around, he even succeeded at defending crosses which is known to be an area of weakness for him. However, had he made the most of a Messi cross by placing his header at either side of Oblak in the second half, Barça could have salvaged a point from this challenging fixture.

Jordi Alba: 7

The Spanish left-back had a satisfactory performance. Although Jordi Alba was scarcely troubled on the defensive side of the field down the left flank, he proved to be a principal source of threat for the Catalans down a vacant left flank, marauding up-field with pace and assurance. The 31 year old also created a momentous opportunity for Messi through an immaculate through pass, but to his dismay, the chance was left begging.

Miralem Pjanic: 6

Replacing Sergio Busquets in a clash of such stature is not a task for the fainthearted, and Miralem certainly had a displeasing game in accordance to his standards.

While the Bosnian constantly kept things moving and recycled possession on a few instances, he did not offer a considerable amount of defensive solidity or pose any threat moving up-field. His traditional long balls were nowhere to be seen, but in his defense, lack of runners and stiff off the ball movement always led to him searching for opportunities that never truly presented themselves.

Frenkie De Jong: 6.5

Although De Jong was devoid of any medium of spark or creativity, the Dutchman distributed the ball adeptly and fulfilled his obligations with relative ease; it was his reliable figure on the field that allowed Barça keep a stronghold in possession.

Frenkie’s defensive assiduity was also an applaudable facet of his gameplay as he emerged successful in 6 out of 8 ground duels and won his only aerial duel.

Ousmane Dembele: 7

The Frenchman arguably produced one of his most encouraging performances against a low block this campaign. In spite of often being accused for his lack of discipline and inept awareness in possession, Dembouz was one of the few players posing a threat to Atleti’s rigid back-line, making runs behind the defense and providing a sense of flair.

Ousmane Dembele Atletico Madrid

Dembele brought life to the right flank, for 45 minutes, at least. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Of course, it was by no means an exemplary display, especially considering his impact severely lessened after proceedings. Still, signs of improvement are visible, and consistent game time is surely going to help him regain his rhythm.

Antoine Griezmann: 4

Griezmann’s homecoming was yet again marred with an unsatisfactory performance as the Frenchman withered into an uninspiring figure on the field. Struggling to provide that killer pass or situate himself in prominent goalscoring positions, the 29-year-old was just another deer caught in the headlights.

After a promising display against Real Betis in the League and a fairly influential international break, the World Cup winner failed to do his immense status justice on the night it mattered most. Without Simeone’s commanding figure comforting him from the sidelines, he proved to be a pale shadow of his former self.

Pedri: 5

Ronald Koeman’s fascination for Pedri has unquestionably bore the club fruit on various occasions this season, but on this particular occasion, against a side that were physically robust and unforgiving, Barcelona’s gem struggled to impact the game in any way whatsoever.

Pedri was clearly suffering the consequences of football’s demanding schedule and having been surrounded by at least 2-3 Atletico players whenever he received the ball evidently deteriorated his influence.

As was the case in the Clásico, Pedri failed to stretch the oppositions adeptly and was physically outmuscled. It’s vital for Koeman not to overburden the youngster and ensure his development is steady; as meteoric as his rise maybe, he is still a work in progress.

Lionel Messi: 6

Failing to mirror his performance from the last time he faced Atletico at the Wanda, Lionel Messi was effectively contained by the compact Atleti defence, which disabled Leo from rising to the occasion and stealing the headlines.

The Argentine was one of the Blaugranas‘ few defining threats in the final third, but as his attempts were usually marked with failure, Barça’s talisman had an underwhelming day. Whether Messi feels fatigued or has lost the will to play for the club, one can safely deem this version of the South American to be his most ineffective in recent times. Then again, at 33 years of age, expectations must gradually be lowered from the ageing veteran.

Substitutes:

Philippe Coutinho: 6

Sergino Dest: 6.5

Braithwaite: 6.5

Franisco Trincao: 5

Watching our homegrown legends move the ball in such distinctive manner and experiencing the vast set of emotions it brought simply made me fall in love with this beautiful sport. Barcelona's elegant football taught me that you don't have to be an admirer of art to be lost in a whirlpool of colours. This club being one of the few teams that gave performances to savour week in week out obliged me into becoming an exuberant member of this fan base, and this ineffable love for Barça I had encouraged me to spread Barcelona's colorful craft with other football enthusiasts.

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Analysis

Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

In collaboration with Anurag Agate.


Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona faced Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. In a game marred by defensive blunders and devastating injuries, Barcelona lost the game 1-0 to fellow title-challengers.


A 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in La Liga left Barcelona reeling midtable. This was also the first time Diego Simeone’s side beat Barcelona in the La Liga. Coupled with crucial injuries to Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, Barcelona now face a dire path ahead of their UCL game against Dynamo Kyiv.

Barcelona structure and formation

Ronald Koeman went in with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Marc Andre Ter Stegen started in goal again. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet formed the centre back pairing, flanked by Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. In the absence of Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanic stepped up to form the double pivot with the ever-present Frenkie de Jong.

Pedri and Ousmane Dembele played on the flanks, with Lionel Messi in the hole and Antoine Griezmann upfront. However, as before, Messi and Griezmann had lots of interchanging positions. Pedri played more in the half-space in possession while Dembele stayed out wide. This often made the team structure a lop-sided 4-4-2. In defensive transitions, it was always a 4-4-2 with Griezmann dropping deeper to defend. Messi restricted his pressing to zones high up the pitch.

Frenkie de Jong had the freedom to push up high in the first half. However, the absence of Ansu Fati meant that the usual overload on the left side did not work in this game. Pedri had a poor game in general. Him moving far too infield to let Alba run down the left did not quite work – the passing was far too restricted by Atleti’s excellent defending. A second-half injury to Pique meant that de Jong had to play 35 minutes roughly as a centre back, which he did very well.

Atletico structure and formation

Atletico were missing some key personnel as well, most notably perhaps, Luis Suarez up top. They also missed a regular left-back Renan Lodi, and Hector Herrera and Lucas Torreira in midfield. They lined up in a highly asymmetric 4-4-2/5-3-2 structure and style.

Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez formed the centre back partnership. Mario Hermoso played in a hybrid centre-back/extremely defensive full-back role. Kieran Trippier was the more offensive fullback, practically functioning as a wing-back. Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente joined the reliable duo of Koke and Saul Niguez in central midfield as wide midfielders. Carrasco played almost in a hybrid wide midfield/wingback role. Joao Felix and Angel Correa formed the front two.

The hybrid system was particularly evident in the different phases of the game. In attack, Hermoso would push out wide like a full back but stay in more defensive, withdrawn zones. Carrasco had the freedom to stay wide looking for overlapping runs to meet Felix’s clever passes. On the other side, Llorente would shift infield, allowing Trippier to bomb forward.

Felix himself overlapped down the left side several times, trying to create numeric overloads against Roberto and Pique, dragging Pjanic wide in the process. Carrasco’s and Felix’s overlaps on the left, coupled with Saul Niguez moving ball-near side and Correa dropping in to give options – this combination created quite a few problems in the first half. Here is an example – it led to Saul’s shot early on which was saved by ter Stegen.

Game Stats

The game was more or less evenly balanced – neither team were outright dominant than the other in any aspect. Here is the game data at a glance:

Barcelona enjoyed marginally more possession, marginally more shots and shots on target, and a better press than Atletico. Of course, the hosts had the all-deciding goal in their favour. Neither team generated high-quality shots overall, as the shot map and xG flowchart shows :

Barcelona’s possession superiority was pretty stale. Barcelona failed to dominate critical territorial zones, measured by field tilt – which is the percentage share of final third passes of each team. Even though Barcelona had higher field tilt, it was only marginal. What strikes out is that just the goal came when Barcelona were enjoying their best bit of territorial dominance.

Buildup to shots and goals

Next we take a look at some of the shots and the goal. Early on, Barcelona had the chance to score. Dembele burned his marker with pace and sent a cross into the box. It was met by a clever flick by Greizmann. The shot sailed high unfortunately.

Atleti had their chances on the other side as well. Soon after Saul saw his shot saved, the other flank created yet another moment of danger. A brilliant interchange of passing involving Correa and Trippier met Llorente’s clever run into the box. The shot crashed against the bar.

Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona could have scored again. There was a brilliant bit of buildup, a clever run by Griezmann to drag a defender, and then Messi ghosted blindside of the center mids to meet Alba’s nutmeg pass. The angle was too tight and Messi failed to score.

Soon after, Barcelona conceded the goal. Pique stepped up to intercept a long ball. Ideally, that should have been fine, except Pique miscontrolled the pass. That left almost everyone out of position. A simple ball over the top released Carrasco into oceans of space. But the maddening part perhaps was that ter Stegen left his box wildly to tackle the Belgian. He missed; Carrasco did not – he scored into an empty net from distance.

In the second half, Barcelona had chances to equalize. However, Lenglet headed straight at Jan Oblak twice. Greizmann headed straight at Oblak once. Barcelona failed to engineer any better chances than those. The key passes map shows the crosses into the box:

Passing Characteristics

Atletico’s strength lies in engaging from wide areas. In this game, their biggest threats came again from the wide zones. Hermoso, Koke, Saul and Felix regularly released Carrasco and Trippier down the flanks. Trippier would often look for cutbacks or layoff into Llorente upfield.

Barcelona on the other hand tried to create from all possible zones. Frenkie de Jong managed to pull off a wonderful long pass into the box that Greizmann miscontrolled. Dembele single-handedly created chances from the right. The combinations of Alba and Messi created – in subdued amounts – danger from the other side.

For Barcelona, Messi, de Jong, Dembele and Alba were the bulk progressive passers. For Atleti, Koke, Trippier, Hermoso and Savic progressed the ball the most.

Both teams also tried to use width a lot. Surprisingly, Barcelona had more switches of play than Atleti, who have built their game to attack wider areas. For Barcelona, perhaps the reason for frequent switching was that they could not progress a lot directly.

Defence

The game data table posted above shows us that neither team pressed a lot. PPDA, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, was around 20 for both teams (low values of PPDA indicate high pressing). Here are the maps showing the defensive activities of both team:

Atleti forbade any progress down the centre. Upfield, they tried to press Pedri and Alba from creating too much danger. Deep in their half, they tried to force Dembele as wide as possible and tried to isolate him. Barcelona pressed all over the pitch in the middle-third. In deeper zones, they had to deal with the wide threats of Carrasco and Felix, and Llorente’s infield runs. The following plot also shows how Atleti forced passes wide and forced mistakes :

Two recurring issues troubled Barcelona yet again. The lack of chemistry and the lack of experience of the youth meant that certain runs went untracked. Atleti’s rapid front line dragged Barcelona into wrong zones, allowing trailing players to ghost into blindside runs. Saul and Llorente’s efforts at goal are perfect examples of this. In the first case, Pjanic was pulled in, leaving Saul free. In the second case, Pedri’s inexperience led to him losing his mark against Llorente completely.

Speed is always an issue that Barcelona has had trouble against. Llorente’s quick underlaps created quite a bit of trouble for Lenglet. Here is yet another example of a run – the pass from Llorente was thankfully cleared.

Conclusion

The goal was a combination of poor positioning and lack of speed, combined with some poor touch and terrible decision-making. Pique was out of position when he made the failed interception. No one in the team was speedy enough to catch up to Carrasco down the left. Ter Stegen should have communicated better with Lenglet and stayed in the box because Lenglet was haring down to secure the centre.

Issues have now been compounded with injuries to Pique and Roberto. If they face lengthy spells away from the pitch, Barcelona are stretched thin in the defence department. De Jong looks set to continue as a centre back for the next game at the very least and Sergino Dest will have to start. Barcelona faces extremely testing times ahead.

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