Barcelona visits 14th-placed Valladolid in aims of building on the lacklustre win over RCD Espanyol. Ahead of yet another crucial game, this tactical analysis shall shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of Real Valladolid.
Quique Setién’s Barcelona faced massive backlash for its performance against bitter city rivals RCD Espanyol. Despite claiming the bragging rights in the Derbi Barceloní after a 1–0 win, it was not enough to convince the fans. Notwithstanding the inability, for the blaugranas to carry the 4–3–1–2 formation has frustrated several supporters. They now have a chance make amends for that performance as they travel to the Estadio José Zorrilla to face mid-table outfit Real Valladolid.
Real Valladolid is a club that is still getting its feet wet in the Spanish top flight. After gaining promotion in the 2018/19 season, the aim has been to attain stability in La Liga. The principle motive for any club that reached the first division will be to ensure that they don’t go down immediately. And fortunately for them, manager Sergio González Soriano guided the Pucelanos to a 16th-placed finish last season.
Now at 14th, they see themselves seven points ahead of the drop zone. And so, with three matches remaining, their place in next season’s La Liga is virtually confirmed should they manage to get even a point against Barça. Despite not being mathematically safe, it’s highly unlikely of them to go down with the games running out for the teams in trouble.
“The team is on a very positive streak, since the break we have played really well”
Real Valladolid coach
With the two remaining fixtures after Barcelona being fellow mid-table clubs SD Eibar and Real Betis, Valladolid will look to finish the season on a good note. From the table’s perspective, Barça are the ones who need the points more than the hosts. With Quique Setién’s side having only three games to leapfrog their rivals Real Madrid, who have a four-point lead, nothing short of a win is helpful. On the contrary, even if the outcome of the match doesn’t affect Valladolid’s agendas, Sergio González will be looking for a strong performance against the reigning champions.
Sergio González likes to play with a double pivot, and so, he has continued to alter between 4–4–2 and 4–2–3–1. The former formation is the one that he prefers the most, while the latter is the one that gives his team a bit more freedom. These two formations are every mid-table manager’s favourite. These systems give what the coach intends to create. It allows teams to play either dominant football or compact defending.
For sides that are inferior in terms of both squad depth and technicality, the priority will always be to have more men behind the ball. A compact system that closes spaces for the opposition to work into can even bail teams out against some of the top sides. And because the hosts have conceded 39 goals while scoring just 29, there is a need for prioritising a secure backline.
Barcelona will face former La Masía goalkeeper Jordi Masip | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
They have been better since the restart, conceding only six goals in the eight games they have played. Sergio must have certainly watched the Catalans struggle against Espanyol and will look to emulate a similar amount of rigidity. There is no question as to who will be dominant with the ball. And so, counter-attacking at the right time is their best shot in giving the azulgranas something to think over.
The challenge for Barça will be to find spaces between the lines. As everyone saw, the diamond midfield seems ineffective against teams that sit back. Versus Villarreal, Setién’s approach worked perfectly because they pressed and attacked with intent. While attacking, teams tend to leave spaces behind, and a quality side like Barcelona can exploit that with ease.
It will be interesting to see if Setién will shift the system against Valladolid’s low block. He might have found a way to play Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann in a system that works against competent sides. But against the inferior sides, that may not be the case. However, with Ansu Fati suspended, there aren’t many options for the Spaniard to pick on the flanks. And so, he may give this system another shot against a deep block.
Player to watch
Despite being a side that struggles for goals, the Blanquivioletas possess skilled individuals that could hurt Quique Setién’s men on the break. Having signed expert dribbler Hatem Ben Arfa on a free transfer, they have a player who may be low on confidence, but a nightmare when he gets going. Notwithstanding, the player who should be kept quiet is striker Sergi Guardiola.
The left-footed attacker is quick and sturdy, capable of causing havoc in the air. He is persistent without the ball, pressing sincerely and closing down spaces when the opposition tries to build from the back. He has six goals and two assists in the league and is a crucial source for goals in a team that’s scoring less. Sergi’s aerial presence might be a problem for the Catalans’ centre-backs. He wins most of his duels in the air, and will physically edge out defenders who have a smaller frame.
Striker Sergi Guardiola scored an 88th-minute equaliser against Real Madrid in a 1–1 draw back in August | Photo by Denis Doyle via Getty Images
The challenge for Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet will be to win the first and second balls in the air. Valladolid is likely to hoof long balls straight from goal kicks. Coach Sergio González has the license to play with either one striker or two up top. It will not be a simple task to handle both Sergi Guardiola and Enes Ünal upfield, with the former always unwilling to go down without giving a fight.
A better performance from Barcelona is mandatory. That said, in this period of uncertainty, the minimal requirement is getting all three points. The league is heading towards closure. With games running out for the azulgranas, nothing short of a win can help them in their hopes of retaining the title. With Real Madrid looking less likely to drop any points, the least the defending champions can do is put up a fight till the last matchday.
“Why couldn’t we take on the challenge of beating Barcelona? It would be the end-of-degree prize, the cherry on top of the cake”
An intriguing clash awaits the Catalans, who travel to Valladolid. The outcome of the game is likely to go in favour of the visitors. But if the system doesn’t work, then the hosts have all the qualities to make Barça pay for their inconsistency. Having already struggled on the road against lower positioned sides like Celta de Vigo, nothing can be considered as a walk in the park. Should Sergio González’s men manage to weather Barcelona’s storm of pressure and keep the midfield under control, they might nick a result.
Disappointment against sides that they were least expected to lose is the reason why Barcelona isn’t at the top of the table. The inconsistencies still need to be ironed out, and the tactics are yet to be fine-tuned. With only nine points left for the taking, winning all the games left may not get the job done for the culés. Madrid could be crowned as champions on the penultimate matchday if they continue to win all their matches. However, until the league is mathematically over, Barça cannot give up without giving a fight.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.