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Analysis

Riqui Puig: overlooked once again

Riqui Puig was an unused substitute against Espanyol, but he probably shouldn’t have been

Lewis Shankie

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Header Image by Manuel Blondeau / Aop.Press via Imago

On Wednesday night, Barcelona played Espanyol, who set up defensively in a low block. A static Barҫa struggled to create many clear chances as they scrapped a 1–0 win. In a game that was crying out for Riqui Puig, he once again found himself as an unused substitute


Wednesday night’s Barcelona Derby had extra importance to it as anything but a win for Espanyol would see them relegated. Before the match at the Camp Nou even began, it was clear Barҫa’s rivals would use a low block, an effective strategy against the European giants. Barcelona coach Quique Setién put his trust in the same system and players that had excelled against Villarreal in the previous game. The only change was Iván Rakitić replacing Arturo Vidal in midfield.

However, the team was uninspired and slow in its play. After the game against the Yellow Submarine on Sunday night finished around 12 a.m. local time, the blaugranas still had media commitments and a three-hour long bus journey back to the Catalan capital. This showed and rotations were desperately needed to freshen things up.

What was missing?

There was a lot left to be desired after another lacklustre performance from Barcelona on Wednesday. After an impressive display previously, culés were hopeful for similar against their fierce rivals. Instead, fans witnessed another disappointing and boring match, something that has become a regular occurrence this season.

Though Espanyol defended admirably in their low block, there were a number of mistakes made by the Spanish champions. They failed to face the problem head on and instead hid behind their comfortable backwards and sideways passes. A lack of movement and width made life all too easy for the Periquitos to close out the space in the middle. Sergio Busquets, who put in another stellar performance, was forced to take five or six touches at times as there was no forward options to pass to.

Riqui Puig Barcelona Atlético de Madrid substitute

After undoubtedly being one of the standout performers against Atlético de Madrid, Riqui Puig was a substitute against Villarreal and didn’t get minutes versus Espanyol | Photo by Marc González / Zuma via Imago

Quique Setién tried to amend proceedings in the second half by introducing young Ansu Fati to provide more width. It was unfortunate that he was shown a red card almost as soon as he came on. This could have influenced the substitutions that Quique used later in the match.

Nevertheless, again, his choice of substitutions left a lot to be questioned. Arturo Vidal was introduced for Antoine Griezmann and was far less effective. When Barcelona needed to stay in control of the match they took off Antoine. He was keeping the ball well and finding space between the lines, but the manager replaced him with a less composed player. Martin Braithwaite was introduced too late and centre-back Ronald Araújo was brought on for midfielder Iván Rakitić with only minutes remaining. The most notable absence was Riqui Puig, who should have played.

Why Riqui Puig?

Whenever he has been called upon, Riqui Puig has delivered outstanding performances for the team. His energy both in attack and defence really boosts the team’s intensity. He understands exactly what FC Barcelona is about and how their style of football should be played.

In the Derbi Barceloní, Puig would have been one of, if not the, best option in midfield. Against a team that plays with a low block, the 4–3–1–2 formation struggles to break down the defence, as the game gets congested in the middle. Instead, a 4–3–3 helps to stretch the opposition and create pockets of space around the pitch.

Riqui Puig, in his favoured interior role, would favour moving the ball at a quicker rate to help create that much-needed limited space. Additionally, his ball progression and ability to pick up threatening areas on the pitch helps to generate more chances for the team. A midfield solely of Iván Rakitić and Sergio Busquets does not do this effectively.

It would have been a major statement if Quique Setién had started Riqui Puig, or at least given him substantial minutes as a substitute. It would have shown that he trusts the youngster, especially in a game such as the Catalan Derby. The coach’s trust is a huge part in a player’s development, along with regular game time to keep match fit.

“Football is about having the best offensive play possible. I always like to play offensive football, and nobody will convince me otherwise”

Johan Cruyff

Also, by not playing the La Masía graduate and opting for more defensive changes, it seems Quique Setién was content with a sluggish 1–0 win against bottom of the league. Puig has earned the right to more minutes than he is currently getting. When he has played, he has arguably been Barcelona’s best midfielder and offers a better balance to the team.

Conclusion

For fans, it was disappointing not to see Riqui Puig, not even as a substitute, on Wednesday night and instead watch a tired Barcelona scrape an uninspired win. Quique Setién seems to be making the same mistakes that Ernesto Valverde did during his time. He is overplaying the same core group of players and they become fatigued. This leads to a drop in standards and intensity which was evident against Espanyol.

Quique must freshen things up and players like Riqui Puig are ideal for this. Young, energetic, eager to impress and with undeniable quality, the 20-year-old should be given more opportunities. The Spaniard offers an attacking threat that most other current Barҫa midfielders cannot. His vision, positional intelligence, sharp turn of pace and ability to move the ball quickly is exactly what the team needed last night. Puig has been undervalued by the Barcelona hierarchy and must be given a more prominent role in the team.


See more

Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Barcelona 1–0 Espanyol

• FC Barcelona and plausible formations on the pitch

• Tactical analysis: Barcelona 1–0 Espanyol

• Goal analysis: Barcelona 1–0 Espanyol

Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.


La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.

Initial systems

Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.

Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.

In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.

Koeman’s foresight

Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.

Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.

However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.

Double-pivot

We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.

Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.

Conclusion

For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.

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