It almost feels like eternities since Barcelona produced a performance this convincing and cohesive in La Liga. Barça’s front four feasted in front of goal, brutalizing Osasuna with an unpitying performance in the final third. Ronald Koeman’s gamble in the starting XI surprisingly paid off massively as the Catalans embodied flair and simplicity on the field.
As the hosts picked up all 3 points with a dominant 4-0 score-line, this unquestionably proved to be the Catalans’ most complete exhibition in the League thus far.
In spite of fielding multiple profiles that demand a considerable amount of authority and thrive in a particular niche, liquefied occupation of zones and the elegance displayed every time players would alter roles was simply second to none. Fluid sequences in the final third coupled with beautiful rotation of roles between Messi, Coutinho, Griezmann and Braithwaite provided supreme assertion in the centre of the park.
Barça Universal now runs the rule over Ronald Koeman’s men.
Marc-André ter Stegen: 8
Yet another excellent exhibition from Ter Stegen, who maintained applaudable composure between the sticks. While the woodwork saved him from conceding on one occasion, Barça’s wall in goal clinched a terrific clean sheet with his agility and unparalleled anticipation, helping him reign supreme.
The German shot-stopper has now salvaged two clean-sheets in a row after his shocking error against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Mteropolitano.
Sergiño Dest: 7
While expectations were set immensely high for Sergiño Dest after the American sensation produced a dynamic exhibition against Dynamo Kyiv, it would be fair to say he measured up to them with relative ease.
In spite of being a doubt for this game, Dest was completely in control of Barça’s right flank, marauding upfront casually and barraging in crosses with tremendous efficiency. Besides, the 20-year-old was a reliable outlet in defence as he frequently tracked back to deny the danger. Eventually, due to precautionary measures, Koeman brought the youngster off in place of Firpo.
Oscar Mingueza: 8
Another game, another excellent outing for Oscar Mingueza. The 21-year-old has taken responsibility and stepped up in the opportunities that he has been provided with, showing that he is a more than capable of featuring in the Blaugranas’ gawkish defence. Mingueza’s anticipation of the ball always allows him to be in the ideal position to win challenges and retrieve the ball, as was particularly seen against Osasuna in the first half.
A laudable facet of his gameplay is the fact that he does not seem to be unsettled when having to defend torrent crosses, clearing the ball away with ease. Most importantly, however, he is an adventurous ball-playing defender, which is advantageous to the overall buildup of the team.
Clement Lenglet: 7
Clement Lenglet was tasked to command the back-line in Piqué’s absence and did ever so well to restrict Osasuna from finding clear cut opportunities to score. Emerging successful in nearly all his duels – winning 3 out of 2 on the ground and 3 out of 6 aerially –, Clement was on route to concluding the game with a well-earned clean-sheet.
Nonetheless, the Frenchman was forced to retreat in the second half after suffering a nasty blow to the ankle, which woefully adds another player to the long list of injuries the Catalans have endured over the course of the campaign.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
Heavily involved in the attacking third, Alba played a critical role in stretching the play for the Catalans. The Spanish left-back had several moments of exceptional link-up plays with a majority of his partners in crime, especially with Messi, as his telepathic connection with the little genius enabled the hosts to ignite promising plays in the final third.
Alba picked out some brilliant runs on the left-flank, but his decision making on the ball was poor. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The Argentine’s diagonal through balls to Alba played a key role in opening the Osasuna defence up, which subsequently led to the Catalans scoring plenty of goals. Even so, Alba’s tendency to press up sometimes left spaces behind on the left flank, resulting in the main source of attacking exploitation for Osasuna.
An underwhelming performance from Koeman’s trusted apprentice. The 18-year-old was assigned in a double pivot role, berthed alongside Frenkie De Jong. Unsurprisingly, playing from the base of midfield disabled Pedri from expressing his virtuosic abilities on the ball.
As seen on multiple occasions before, the youngster thrives between the lines and with pressure looming over him. Woefully, his unfamiliar role as a pivot saw him lose possession cheaply at times. Rest for Pedri is certainly also beginning to feel long overdue.
De Jong: 7.5
The Dutchman took absolute control of the midfield, proving to be pivotal in Barcelona’s possessional dominance. The 23-year-old had made it his responsibility to ensure efficient movement of the ball into the opposing half and succeeded in distributing the ball to the forwards. De Jong displayed a marvellous sense of awareness as he frequently attempted to find runners into the box via the usage of through passes.
Furthermore, he provided a reasonable amount of support to the back-line, even making a crucial clearance after a ter Stegen parry. It appears that the former Ajax prodigy is finding his feet once more.
Lionel Messi: 9.5
The six-time Ballon D’Or Winner once again showed the innate set of skills he possesses. Leo may have scored merely one goal, but what made his performance a sight to marvel at was the sheer creativity that he added to the game. Every touch of the ball from the Argentine, every dribble he attempted, created some sort of opportunity for the Catalans to score.
An entertaining and vital element of Messi’s performance in this game was the countless amount of world-class passes that he managed to pull off, making them look as easy as plucking lemon from a tree.
📊 — Messi's heatmap against Osasuna in the shape of a goat. No coincidences here. pic.twitter.com/B3i45JPy8i— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 29, 2020
However, while his creation of chances was utterly unparalleled, what was most relieving was the way Leo put an end to the nonsensical talk about him not being able to score from open play, simply scoring one of the finest goals that Barça have scored this season. Finally, he concluded the perfect afternoon with a tribute to the late Diego Maradona, a man who meant so much to Leo and inspired a generation of football fanatics.
Antoine Griezmann: 9
Griezmann’s grievances in front of goal were finally put to bed as the Frenchman had arguably his most impressive display in an Azulgrana shirt.
Although Griezmann has had a handful of impressive performances this campaign, his intelligence and effective occupation of spaces never truly translated into goals. This finally seemed to change for the better against Osasuna, as the French forward was paid dividends for his beautifully executed runs and alternation of roles in the 42nd minute of the game. With a vigorously struck volley, Griezmann found the back of the net emphatically, extending the club’s lead to 2-0.
Griezmann was quite happy with his goal yesterday. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
After an exceedingly promising first-half performance, he continued to be a vital asset in Barça’s build-up plays as well, eventually even securing himself a wonderful assist for Coutinho’s tap-in. It appears that shedding some light on his current situation at the club and clearing the air in front of the public eye has taken some massive weight off his shoulders.
Philippe Coutinho: 7.5
The Brazilian maestro was situated on the left flank of the pitch, where he usually struggles to influence the game, but on this particular occasion, Coutinho managed to trouble defenders and weave his way through pressure situations continuously.
Despite missing a prominent goal-scoring opportunity in the first half, he made up for his slight error after proceedings by finding the back of the net in the 57th minute of the game. Albeit the former Liverpool man is considerably effective through the centre, his rotation in roles and smooth interplay with his partners in crime was an encouraging sign.
Martin Braithwaite: 8
Barcelona’s lord and saviour in front of goal once again highlighted the significance of employing a natural number 9, a player that can not only act as a reference point for others; but also find the back of the net when needed.
Braithwaite was awarded a chance in the starting XI after a salient cameo against Dynamo Kyiv and he unfailingly repaid Koeman’s trust in him with another goal on the score-sheet. The Dane forward is bearing fruit for his persistence and commitment at the club, and is slowly but surely cementing himself as a recurring member of the starting XI.
Sergio Busquets: 7
Ousmane Dembele: 7
Fransisco Trincao: 8
Carles Alena: 7
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.