Barcelona and Real Madrid play at the same time, with the latter being just a win away from sealing the league title. While the Catalans may fret over the missed opportunities and the dropped points, they need to dust themselves and move forward. They host 11th-placed Osasuna, and this tactical analysis shall provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
Matchday 37 sees Barça host a newly-promoted side that has done remarkably well this season. Usually, teams that gain promotion from the Second Division struggle to cope with the intensity of the Spanish top flight. However, CA Osasuna has a chance to finish in the top half, having accumulated 48 points in 36 matches. Having already picked up points against the azulgranas in a 2–2 draw earlier this season, they will look to get another positive result against the defending champions.
Osasuna have been in mixed form since the restart. Nevertheless, they come into this game after a 2–1 win over Celta de Vigo on the weekend. On paper, the difference in quality sees Barcelona as the undisputed favourites. Nevertheless, it’s been a trend for the Catalans to struggle against sides that play a low block. We have seen an absence of Barça’s usual capabilities of breaking down teams and exploiting minuscule spaces.
“I expect the best Barça. It is true that they have little options [in the league], but they will try to seize them. Probably they will want to take an early lead to put pressure on Real Madrid. I expect a great Barça. It is a very difficult visit for us. They are the best local team in La Liga with two draws and all the rest victories. Thus, we know where we are going and that it is very complicated”
Osasuna coach in press conference ahead of visiting Barcelona
Quique Setién seems hell-bent on making the 4–4–2 / 4–3–1–2 diamond midfield formation work. Against Villarreal, the approach felt fresh and worked spotlessly in a 1–4 away triumph. But the following clashes with RCD Espanyol and Real Valladolid seemed to be far from ideal. Two 1–0 victories saw the fans massively unsatisfied with the team’s performance. The four-man midfield didn’t work against teams that defend deep into their halves. Unfortunately, the fans aren’t forgiving of the performances, and are keen on seeing their side score more goals.
With Antoine Griezmann picking up a muscle injury that rules him out for the remaining two games, all eyes will be on Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez for goals. Osasuna has conceded 51 goals so far in the league, and thus, show signs of a leaky backline. That said, despite being weak at the back, they have a strong attack that is capable of hurting big sides. When they get going, Los Rojillos play brave and attacking football. Their capabilities were clearly visible earlier this season when they nearly beat the culés.
Osasuna coach Jagoba Arrasate prefers to set his team up in a 4–4–2 that has a double pivot shielding the backline. At this point, there’s no surprise that sides of lower technical quality deploy this strategy. Osasuna’s backline is incapable of producing steadfast defensive performances. And so, they take extra help from the defensive midfielders. The double-pivot helps in providing more stability at the back. In spite of fielding more men to cover the goal, they struggle to pitch an ideal defensive performance.
“Not having the ball can be a way of enjoying if you know that you can hurt them when you recover it. I see no other formula to enjoy in such stadiums”
And so, the reliance for them has been on the attack to outscore the opposition. The problem with Osasuna is that, once they go behind, they rarely overturn the scoreline. It can be seen as a question of their character and mentality. On the flip side, they are a really challenging side to beat when the players are in full form and high on confidence. The bipolar mentality of this side has seen them pick up points against many tough oppositions, but also lose games where they are expected to win.
At times, Arrasate has even preferred to go with a back five. But considering how unstable the defence is, adding an extra man wouldn’t help their cause. The aim must be to take the game to Barcelona and attack bravely. Indeed, teams tend to respect Barça for their overwhelming quality in the centre of the park. But an outfit like Osasuna that suffers massive defensive issues shouldn’t rely on defending throughout the game.
Manager Jagoba Arrasate has done a colossal job in Pamplona | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
The full-backs are capable of going upfield and hurting sides through their pinpoint crosses. Furthermore, at times, a full license is given to the attacking midfielders who can play defence-splitting passes. With a two-man strike partnership up top, the viable option will be to hoof long balls to the strikers. Their hold-up play will be critical for Osasuna to move the ball quicker. As the expectation will be to defend deep, the attackers should take whatever opportunity they get to score.
Player to watch
An overall team effort can be cited as the chief reason why Osasuna is 11th in the table. They were expected to go down, but they’ve surprised several pundits by defying the odds. Many players have pitched in a decent amount of goals and assists. With top scorer, Chimy Ávila ruled out for the clash, the focus will be on attacking midfielder Roberto Torres. He has been used as a right midfielder, but can play on the left as well.
Torres has six goals and eight assists to his name. He is the club’s most productive player and can be deemed as the creator in chief. When Osasuna get going, Roberto is the player who pulls strings for them. He is capable of finding the killer pass that splits open defences and can also hurt sides by having a go at goal. With a 53% success rate in dribbles, he also poses the ability to unlock defences by weaving his way in.
With two strikers sitting up top, Torres will be expected to win the second balls and then carry the ball to the opposition’s territory. Barcelona should look to avoid giving space and time for him. Any manner of complacency should be avoided if Quique Setién’s side has aspirations of keeping a third consecutive clean sheet. Torres is likely to be a victim of not having enough possession to work with. And so, Barça’s midfield should look to keep him under control whenever he has a chance of receiving the ball.
Roberto Torres already scored against Barcelona in a 2–2 draw at El Sadar earlier this season | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
The Catalans’ defensive record has improved significantly since the restart. But they have always had an issue with handling individuals. As a unit, the team defends reasonably well. But the individual battles have been an Achilles heel. Roberto Torres could be one player who would be challenging to handle if he is given enough freedom with the ball.
The hosts are expected to win convincingly. As they’re playing at the same time as their rivals, an eye would definitely be on Real Madrid’s game against Villarreal. Anything aside from a loss would see Los Blancos crowned as champions. With the hopes of retaining the league fading away, Barça should look to work on the Champions League. These performances against sides that play a low-block will help them in their endeavour against Napoli in the second leg.
“It is very difficult to enjoy at the Camp Nou because it is a rival that has a lot of possession in all matches, you have to spend a lot of time without the ball and it is complicated. We will try to compete at the highest level”
Osasuna is safe and practically have nothing to play for. The azulgranas, on the other hand, have to fight for all three points and hope that their rivals lose to Villarreal. Even if the title is decided today, the fans will be hoping to see an improved performance from Barcelona.
The last two games have been dull. You would wonder why they couldn’t pull off similar wins against Celta de Vigo, Sevilla and Atlético de Madrid. It seems like that Barcelona’s game management skills have improved lately. But has the improvement in seeing off games come too late? We will have to wait and see.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.