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Riqui Puig: has his time finally arrived?

At a crucial stage of the season, will midfield prospect Riqui Puig finally be trusted?

Shahraiz Sajjad



Header Image by Imago

After waiting patiently for a long time, the injury of Frenkie de Jong could present Barça B midfielder Riqui Puig the opportunity to play or even start regularly in the first team.

With Frenkie de Jong‘s latest calf injury, Barça are severely deprived of options in midfield. Although Arturo Vidal, Iván Rakitić and Arthur Melo are still regular members of the first team, a trait all three interiors lack is Riqui Puig’s unequalled desire and yearning to progress forward with the ball. Despite not being a recurrent member of Barcelona’s starting XI, La Masía’s pearl outshines all seniors in that facet of his gameplay, bringing an unflagging level of enthusiasm and energy every time he steps foot on the field. Has the youngster’s time to finally start with the big boys arrived?

Short, slender and flimsy to the eyes, but not with the ball with his prolific pair of feet, Riqui is every defender’s biggest nightmare. He moves with precision, times his runs with perfection, and most importantly, assesses his surroundings with the eyes of a hawk. Despite often showing glimpses of his supreme talent with the senior team, now is the ideal opportunity for the young Catalan boy to showcase his abilities on the grand stage.

“De Jong’s absence is an important loss, but I have confidence in the rest of my players”

Quique Setién

In Friday’s goalless draw against Sevilla, the blaugranas had all the possession in the world, but one thing they grievously lacked was initiative to advance and make something happen in the final third. While Puig is far too inexperienced to be able to single-handedly conjure creativity in midfield and cure the dependence on Lionel Messi, the 20-year-old is one of the few individuals who seeks players in areas where they can cause damage.

In spite of being efficient in tight areas and pressing players valiantly, what he is most known for his intent to innovate in the middle of the park, and undeniably, that is what the current Barça team lacks the most. Frequently, the Catalans get caught in a stalemate with pointless wayward passes, which often find no result. Rakitić and Vidal seem to play vital roles in Barcelona’s build-up plays, but the long periods of possession usually end up with substandard results.

Riqui Puig Barcelona Leganés time

Riqui Puig wants to continue shining with the first team | Photo by Alex Caparros via Getty Images

Against Leganés last week, 20 minutes is all it took for Riqui Puig to dominate Barça’s midfield and display his virtuosic abilities on the ball. After lengthy spells of possession which often broke down in the final third, Riqui added that extra spice and flare the culés deprived of. With so much energy oozing within him and constant hunger to do something on the ball, Barça’s tempo had shifted almost completely in the closing stages.

During certain parts of the game, the azulgranas‘ build-ups gravely lacked verticality and liveliness as Quique Setién’s men became exceedingly static in the centre of the park. Nonetheless, with the introduction of Puig, a drastic change in gameplay was evident, leading Barcelona to suddenly move forward more effectively. It seemed as if the tides had changed with just a slight tweak in tactics.

Of course, one can’t hide the fact that Riqui was playing against an exhausted Leganés side, but it is in moments like these one gets to see his tremendous potential. Arthur, who was subbed off for the youngster, continuously spent time making sideway passes which were ineffective in the grand scheme of things, while Puig almost immediately exhibited his dynamism. Rather than waiting for the opposition to put a foot wrong, he’s simply a go-getter.

Ever since football has resumed, players from the B team have displayed some brilliant performances, and Puig, in particular, has looked like a sight for sore eyes. Although he is yet to develop as a player, with abundant play time, faith, belief and reliance, he is destined to go a long way. While Frenkie de Jong’s absence might put the club’s league title in jeopardy, if it means young Riqui Puig is given the opportunity to make a breakthrough in the first team, the Dutchman’s injury could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

See more

Frenkie de Jong, first injury of the season: what are the alternatives?

La Liga review: the best and worst of matchday 30

• Semedo and Piqué, two positives from the Barça draw in Seville

• Iván Rakitić: Stepping up at the right time

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.



Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona

Soumyajit Bose



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.


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.

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