As Barcelona travelled to Budapest, they went with the intention of maintaining their 100% win record in the UEFA Champions League this season. It was a cold night at the Puskás Arena, but this did not stop the Spanish giants from playing some entertaining football.
Ronald Koeman rested several key players, and for the third game in a row, made several rotations. These rotations are doing wonders for the team’s performance and morale. Fringe players are receiving game time, and regulars are getting some necessary rest. There is a competitive nature to the squad as everyone fights to earn a starting role in the team.
It was a comfortable first-half for Barcelona as the visitors outclassed their opponents. Barça’s left-wing, of Jordi Alba and Ousmane Dembélé, caused Ferencváros many problems, with both players registering an assist on the night. Martin Braithwaite continued his goal-scoring run, and Antoine Griezmann is regaining his confidence. The double-pivot shielded the defence, and the home side rarely threatened the Catalan’s goal.
After half-time, the levels started to drop as the win became increasingly secure. The manager made all of his available substitutions as he looked to freshen things up. Complacency began to creep in, and sometimes the simple option was ignored. However, Koeman should be delighted with the performance and the current form of the squad.
The Brazilian goalkeeper returned to the starting line-up after a string of convincing performances at the beginning of the campaign. Neto was relatively untested throughout the match as Ferencvaros struggled to create many chances. When the goalkeeper was called into action, he was alert and sharp to react.
Sergiño Dest: 8
Sergiño Dest continues to impress since his move in the latest transfer window from Ajax. The right-back possesses an abundance of potential and ability. He is excellent with the ball at his feet and can receive it in any position on the field.
Dest can do it all. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
On Wednesday evening, Dest proved his quality once again with another exciting performance. The right-back constantly pushed forward and took defenders on. Even though he is attack-minded, the American international never seems to be caught out of position. The area that he could still improve on is his delivery into the box as his crosses do not find a teammate enough.
Óscar Mingueza: 7.5
In a time of crisis, La Masia has saved Barcelona once again. This time it comes in the form of Óscar Mingueza. As the club only had one fit centre-back, the B team player has filled this position and shown he is ready to play at this level. The fixture in Budapest is now his third appearance with the first team, and he has been sensational in each of them.
Against Ferencváros, the 21-year-old had a quieter evening as the side from Hungary struggled to create in the final third. The Spanish centre-back is energetic and athletic whilst still being calm and composed. He was one of the few Barça players that maintained their intensity throughout the full 90 minutes.
Clément Lenglet: 7
After limping off the field on Sunday, Clément Lenglet managed to recover in time for the UEFA Champions League tie midweek. The Frenchman had his usual solid performance and remained focused during his time on the pitch. His range of passing was, again, a huge asset to the team. For clubs that like to build play from the back, having a left-footed centre-back is a huge asset in breaking the press and progressing the team up the field.
Jordi Alba: 7
Jordi Alba has recovered his best form this campaign, especially going forward. The full-back added another assist for the season and was relentless in his attacking runs. He combined well with Ousmane Dembélé for the first goal after exchanging a couple of passes and eventually crossing the ball, allowing Antoine Griezmann to score.
He was taken off at half-time by the manager, probably just to rest him. However, the veteran defender has been one of the most important players for the club this season. His overlapping runs always provide an option for his teammates and pin back the opposition.
Sergio Busquets: 6
Sergio Busquets began the match with the captain’s armband. However, he did not produce one of his better displays. He controlled the game well and did what a pivot should, but was clumsy in several challenges. This saw him booked and then he committed another risky foul not long after this, which possibly resulted in him coming off in the second half.
The classy performances from the midfielder seem too few and far between these days. Either a lack of concentration or complacency seems to be the answer. At times, the Spaniard still reads the game expertly, but he is prone to lapses of concentration and some loose passes now.
Miralem Pjanić: 7
The Bosnian put in another dominant performance as he ran the midfield from start to finish. Miralem Pjanić completed 124 passes in total with a 94% pass completion rate. Whenever he plays, Barcelona seem to retain possession better and distribute the ball more efficiently. The former Juventus player is one of the best passers around and showed this with an outstanding first time outside of the boot pass over the opposition defence that found a teammate perfectly.
A stunning pass from the Bosnian playmaker, Miralem Pjanic! https://t.co/0pBibeWXZD— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 2, 2020
Where Pjanić could improve is in his defensive contribution. He does not offer as much protection as some of his midfield counterparts. This is an important aspect of being a double pivot and could be why he is not an undisputed starter yet.
Francisco Trincão: 6
It was a strange evening for Francisco Trincão. There were a lot of mistakes in his performance, but a lot of promise too. He drifted inside and moved into the central areas more than usual. This is likely to be what the manager asked of him as he played the full 90 minutes.
The 20-year-old is still adapting to Barcelona and still developing. He will learn a lot from these mistakes, which is probably why Ronald Koeman left him on for the full game, even though Trincão was clearly exhausted. The Portuguese talent needs some fine-tuning but has all the right attributes to succeed at the club. He is intelligent and technically excellent on the ball.
Antoine Griezmann: 7.5
Antoine Griezmann has certainly been enjoying himself more in recent matches. He has been improving for some time now. There were some games where the forward was missing too many chances, but he was doing well to get himself into these positions. Now, the goals seem to be coming too, and the best version of the World Cup is re-emerging.
Antoine Griezmann is returning to his best, slowly but surely. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
He showed a lot of confidence for his goal against Ferencváros, where he flicked it between the goalkeeper’s legs. The Frenchman continued the game in fine form, playing with a lot of freedom and linking with his teammates. Griezmann wanted the ball and wanted to be involved in the play. Being in his favoured position and having a natural number 9 ahead of him is definitely the key to getting the best out of the former Atlético Madrid star.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8.5
Possibly the Frenchman’s best performance of the season, Ousmane Dembélé was almost at his mesmerising ceiling against the Budapest outfit. For starters, he is minimising how many times he gives possession away cheaply. Furthermore, he is becoming more productive in the final third and working hard to press his opponents. He produced a few solo efforts that went just wide and turned the defenders inside out.
In the second period, Dembélé was given the captaincy after some substitutions were made. This was the perfect moment as his performance was filled with maturity. The winger needs regular game time to continue to improve and be at his best. Having a match fit Dembélé could be key if Barcelona are going to win trophies this season.
Martin Braithwaite: 7.5
Martin Braithwaite has returned to the side in recent weeks and has earned his place in the starting 11. He has now scored three goals in the UEFA Champions League, making him Barcelona’s joint-top scorer in the competition alongside Lionel Messi. Additionally, Braithwaite has also won two penalties in his last two games in the competition.
The Dane has become a vital part of the Blaugrana set-up. He allowed others to play with freedom and created space for them with his movement and by keeping the opposition defenders occupied. In his last three starts, the Spanish giants have scored 11 goals, with Braithwaite featuring heavily in around half of them. Though the striker might not always make the headlines, he is proving to be an important part of the squad.
Frenkie de Jong: 7
Junior Firpo: 6.5
Konrad de la Fuente: 6
Riqui Puig: 7
Riqui Puig was given just over 25 minutes on Wednesday evening to impress. The La Masia graduate was asked to play in a more attacking role. The Spaniard did this well and played with his usual quality on the ball and enthusiasm. He pressed well and won the ball high up the pitch on one occasion. This allowed him to run through on goal and he passed it to Ousmane Dembélé, leaving him 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper, but for some reason, he tried to return it to Puig.
Riqui Puig deserves more time, and his three key passes in 25 minutes stand as evidence. (Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images)
The young midfielder needs more game time from the manager to get to his best level and to keep developing and learning. The talent is there, he just needs the experience and he could become a world-class player for Barcelona.
Carles Aleñá: 7
Carles Aleñá was introduced at the same time as Riqui Puig. His role was different as he was instructed to be one of the double pivots. Aleñá seems to enjoy this role, and his distribution of the ball has been almost perfect when he has played there. The 22-year-old is the ideal Barcelona midfielder and looks to be winning Ronald Koeman’s trust with every opportunity he is given.
3 lessons learned from Real Sociedad 1-1 (2-3 AP) Barcelona
Meeting a motivated Real Sociedad at a neutral venue was always going to be a tough task, but after a hard-fought battle led by none other than Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona have the pleasure of saying that they are in touching distance of the Spanish Super Cup. In a couple of days, they will lock horns against one of Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, but these are the three lessons we learnt from the outing against La Real.
1. Ter Stegen: Always rising
Marc-Andre ter Stegen completed 250 appearances for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao as the club triumphed through a 3-2 win at the San Mames. An undoubtedly tough game, the German shot-stopper was criticised for letting in the opener too easily.
However, as he has done so insanely often in his five years at Barcelona, Ter Stegen rose above the hate against Real Sociedad, capping off the game as the Man of the Match.
Ter Stegen is named the Man of the Match tonight. Well deserved! pic.twitter.com/NYGqk4Yh9o— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 13, 2021
Not only did he make six saves in regulation time, including one in the 119th minute against Adnan Janujaz, he went on to deny Jon Bautista and Mikel Oyarzabal in the penalty shoot-out. He even dived the correct way for Willian Jose’s shot, and if it was indeed on target, it wouldn’t have found a way through.
While Riqui Puig got the honour to score the fifth and game-winning penalty for Barcelona, we just know ter Stegen would have loved to have a go from the spot, and probably would have done a better job than most.
2. Hectic season taking its toll on players
The 2020/21 season is undoubtedly one of the toughest the players have come across. The COVID situation not only forces them to take extraordinary pre-cautions, tiring them mentally, the calendar does their body no favours either.
With a game every other day, and each more important than the previous one, several members of the first-team look uncharacteristically exhausted. Yesterday we saw the impact of this on the players, as the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong could barely take it anymore by the time extra-time kicked off. Even Antoine Griezmann – a player who boasts of bucket-loads of stamina – seems done as the clocked continued to tick away.
It is during these games that Koeman must make the best use of Barcelona’s immense depth. The likes of Riqui Puig, Fransisco Trincao, and Miralem Pjanic have not been given enough chances, while Konrad de la Fuente, and Ilaix Moriba are crying out for minutes with the first-team. If the Dutchman continues like this, his squad will not be able to compete in the four competitions they are part of, eventually ending with Koeman receiving the axe.
3. Puig continues to deliver one way or another
The protagonist criticism of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Barcelona has come in the form of poor man-management, as mentioned above. Riqui Puig and Carles Alena have been at the end of this most often, with the latter choosing to leave the club in the search of minutes elsewhere.
As for Puig, the reasons for his low involvement have been few and far between. Every time he has taken on the pitch, he has delivered, be it the cameo against Juventus, or Farencvaros. Yesterday, as well, the youngster was brought in the 90th minute, and while he could only do so much on the pitch, he took initiative to take the fifth penalty which eventually won Barcelona the game.
“Koeman named four players who were going to take the penalty, and I asked for the fifth one.”Riqui Puig | Post-game presser
It is clear that Puig wants to take on, and deserves more responsibility in the squad, but his hindrance has come in the form of Koeman’s reluctance. However, in recent weeks, Puig has started to appear more often off the bench, and one can hope it might result in the start of a happy relationship between the two.