Barcelona salvaged an exceedingly convincing performance on the road against Juventus as Ronald Koeman’s men came out with all 3 points at the Allianz Stadium. Despite only registering 2 goals on the scorecard, the character and fluency displayed by Barca seemed to be unmatched. After their disappointing 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid, this performance proved to be the ideal compensation. Here are how the players fared at hostile territory:
The Brazilian shot-stopper was rewarded for the valiant efforts he previously exhibited against Real Madrid with a clean sheet yesterday. Although Neto was forced to pick the ball out of his net on three separate occasions, all three goals were ruled out as offside, allowing him to have a fairly comfortable game between the sticks.
The former Juventus man remained untested whenever his former had legitimate chances to score and was immensely reliable with his distribution. Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s throne is proving to be in safe hands thus far.
Sergi Roberto: 7
Starting over Sergiño Dest was an unexpected sight, especially after the American sensation lit up the show in the Clásico. However, Roberto once again proved to cherish the big occasion, silencing Chiesa in the defensive third and providing constant support moving upfield.
Ronald Araújo: 7
Replacing the sanctioned Gerard Piqué, Ronald Araújo was an imposing figure at the heart of the defence, showing a great deal of conviction while committing tackles and positioning himself. Winning a majority of his ground duels, the Uruguayan also managed to form a solid duo with Clement Lenglet. However, his night was cut short with the promising centre-back going off at half-time after picking up a slight knock to the knee.
Clement Lenglet: 7
It was encouraging to see Lenglet gradually grow into the game and solidify his presence with inch-perfect tackles, accurate distribution of the ball and admirable awareness. Even so, while the Frenchman’s performance after proceedings was considerably convincing, it wasn’t truly enough to mask his inept positioning in the first half. Without Gerard Piqué anchoring the back-line, the Frenchman was frequently caught off guard and mispositioned.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
The engine that never ran out of fuel and the speedster that knew no limits: Jordi Alba was a constant threat bursting up on the left flank. He seemed to combine well with 17-year-old Pedri Gonzalez and was a menacing figure for Juventus’ defence in certain moments of the game.
He did his job as part of the backline as well, winning four out of his eight ground duels. Alba generated a couple of prominent goalscoring chances as he is beginning to bring back his best version.
Miralem Pjanic: 8
Pjanic was gargantuan in the middle of the park. (Photo by Andrea Staccioli / Insidefoto)
Miralem Pjanic showed no sympathy towards his ex-club, cutting off former ties with a well-worked performance. He completed an insane amount of passes and never let the Juventus press dismantle him. It could be argued that he did not possess the defensive solidity Busquets typically provides, but his overall contribution on and off the ball must not go unnoticed. Always kept things moving in the centre of the park.
Frenkie De Jong: 7
Frenkie seemed to have finally picked up his form, showcasing a very encouraging first-half performance. Partnering alongside Pjanic always seems to do him a world of good as he seems far more liberated and flexible. Although in the second half he had to play as a centre-back, given Araújo suffered an injury, De Jong’s training at Ajax bore him fruit to this day.
Ousmane Dembele: 7
Dembele’s explosiveness gave the Catalans a huge edge over the Italians in the opening stages of the game as he quickly repaid Koeman’s trust in him with a goal in the 14th minute. Although he did miss a few notable goalscoring chances, the Frenchman did well to restrain himself from losing possession habitually.
Dembele’s dribbling and tidy footwork were in display. His presence always serves as a wild card for the team, an individual bringing elements completely out of the box.
Antoine Griezmann: 7
Griezmann looked part of the team yesterday. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)
Griezmann arguably exhibited his most influential performance under Ronald Koeman, looking significantly confident with the ball at his feet. The Frenchman was incredibly unlucky to have hit the post early on in the game and also missed a terrific 1 on 1 opportunity.
Nevertheless, he was effective in combining with his teammates and seemed to drag centre-backs, opening up spaces for the likes of Messi and Pedri. Playing the perfect complementary role upfront, the World Cup winner is gradually regaining his long lost form.
Pedri may be slender and flimsy to the eyes, but with the ball at his feet, he’s the prototype Barcelona player. The 17-year-old gem was situated on the left flank, where he did not clash frequently with teammates surrounding him and displayed one of his best performances in a Blaugrana shirt.
Constantly luring pressure and cheekily getting out of tight areas, he sent opposition players spinning in circles, particularly Juan Cuadrado. While it was obvious he contributed heavily up front, the prodigy’s dedication in defence just went onto justify his immense talent.
Lionel Messi 8.5/10
The Argentine talisman always elevates to great heights on Champions League nights, especially in the group stages, which was once again reflected on the field against Juventus. While it almost feels like ages since Messi scored from open play, his general performance was simply awe-inspiring.
Messi looked liberated yesterday; almost as if something weighing on him was freed up in the last couple of days. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)
He managed to provide a terrific assist for Dembele’s goal and then scored one himself from the penalty spot. Still, truth be told, even without those goal contributions, Messi was feeling like his usual self, taking on players with tremendous assurance. Wonder what changed at the club that triggered this performance.
Sergio Busquets: 7
Ansu Fati: 6.5
Junior Firpo: N/A
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.