As Barcelona drew another match against Atlético de Madrid in another disappointing result in the race for La Liga, this tactical analysis will provide a deeper look at such clash.
As another matchday passes by, only five remain till La Liga 2019/20 comes to a close. Barcelona faced Atlético de Madrid on 30th June 2019. Real Madrid had won their last match leaving Barça second in the table with a deficit of two points and a disadvantage in the head-to-head goal difference as well.
The matchup at the Camp Nou ended 2–2 with both teams having to settle for a point. There were many interesting tactical decisions taken which contributed to this result. In this analysis, we will take a look at the tactical trends throughout the match, especially the new ones employed by the Catalans’ coach Quique Setién.
Manager: Quique Setién
Semedo · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Vidal (90′ Griezmann) · Busquets (85′ Ansu Fati) · Rakitić (63′ Sergi Roberto) · Riqui Puig
Messi · Suárez
Atlético de Madrid
Manager: Diego Pablo Simeone
Arias · Giménez · Felipe · Renan Lodi
Correa (85′ Vitolo) · Thomas Partey · Saúl Ñíguez · Carrasco (84′ Lemar)
Marcos Llorente (69′ João Félix) · Diego Costa (75′ Morata)
Atlético have had an incredible player in Marcos Llorente, especially after the resumption of football. Primarily a defensive midfielder, he has also adapted as a striker recently. This is a possible reason as to why Quique Setién chose four midfielders. If Llorente was playing as a striker in a 4–4–2, then Barcelona could have played a 4–3–3 with Arturo Vidal as the left winger as he had done a few times, or Riqui Puig as a left winger. His past experience as a false 9 could have helped in this.
But if Llorente dropped back to make it a 4–5–1, Barcelona would have been unable to do anything due to the numerical superiority Atleti would possess. However, in a 4–4–2, even Lionel Messi would have frequently dropped back to make it a fluid yet capable formation against Simeone’s side.
Nevertheless, Setién went with a completely different formation. Barcelona played a 3–5–2, a 4–3–1–2 or 4–2–2–2 as well as a 4–3–3 throughout the match. This was the first time we saw many of these systems from the ex-Real Betis coach.
Usually, in the 4–3–3 Barcelona play in, the full-backs drift forward which allows the centre-halves to stay wider. This in turn allows Sergio Busquets to drop back between them. His passing range and accuracy is one of the main reasons this works. From here, either he or the centre-backs distribute the ball and build-up from the back. In the new system, what we see is the two midfielders, Arturo Vidal and Iván Rakitić drop back with the full-backs overlapping them.
Arturo Vidal and Iván Rakitić would drop back and allow the full-backs to overlap
This allows Busquets to find space to receive the pass and from then start the attack. Busquets being closer to the attackers is very useful in transitioning thanks to his awareness and decision-making.
Another trend we saw was Rakitić dropping back to form a back three. The full-backs along with the three remaining midfielders would then make it a 3–5–2. Since Simeone’s Atleti side is well-versed in any defensive attribute such as intercepting the ball fast, this additional false-centre back allowed for greater freedom in finding the passing option for the Catalans.
Rakitić would frequently drop back to make it a 3–5–2. This meant Barcelona had a 3v2 advantage against Atleti’s strikers
All of this meant that when building-up from the back, Setién’s side could be very fluid, and the transition from defense to attack would be efficient and quick.
Quick transitions and Atleti’s quick counters
In the 5–3–2 Atleti used when defending, Barcelona were granted space out wide. In a low-block which Atlético often resort to, if the opposition is forced wide, the easiest option for them is to cross the ball, something Barcelona don’t excel at. Atleti would have their players press Sergio Busquets intensely as he is the best option for the Catalans to play through the middle. He would then be forced to play the ball to the full-backs to back to central defenders. As we can see in the image shown, Barcelona’s players were allowed space to attack down the wings. One of the reasons for this can be the fact that Simeone is aware of Barça’s lack of direct, dribbling players down the wings.
Atlético would be compact when defending. They would allow Barcelona to have possession in the wide areas since they would be vulnerable to attacks down the middle
Quique’s side was quite good at transitioning from attack to defense most times. Riqui Puig would receive the ball in tight spaces and immediately pass it. His movement to receive the ball would often drag a player out of position. Making use of this, the Barcelona players could then make a first-touch pass and play through the middle.
Simeone had instructed his side to be very compact when defending. Even so, when they got the chance to counter, Atleti expanded to cover a huge portion of the field.
When attacking, Atlético de Madrid would cover the field quickly. The transitions from defending to attacking were fast and efficient
As we see in the image, Atleti have stretched out to cover the field fast. Barcelona having two players up front, it was very easy for Atlético de Madrid to play out from the back. To counter this, Barcelona played in a sort of a 4–2–2–2. Riqui Puig is a fast player and his pressing intensity is incredible. This combined with Vidal’s pressing and tackling helped Barça to defend from the front. Together, they made a total of 11 recoveries.
Barça were in a sort of 4–2–2–2 when Riqui Puig and Arturo Vidal pressed. This was to avoid numerical inferiority
Yannick Ferreira Carrasco was a major threat with his pace and dribbling. Such a player suits Atleti’s counter-attacking very well. Starting out at the wing, Carrasco would dribble towards the centre. With the two strikers making runs behind the Barcelona defence, Barcelona’s centre-backs could easily be caught out. To provide reinforcements, the midfielders would drop back fast. This was a double-edged sword.
Barcelona were able to keep the balls delivered to Marcos Llorente and Diego Costa in dangerous positions to a minimum. In turn, if the locals were to win possession, they wouldn’t be able to counter fast due to the lack of players upfront.
Barcelona’s attacking tactics
In this new formation, to get numerical superiority in midfield, Lionel Messi would drop back often. Riqui Puig and Arturo Vidal would also come short to receive passes. Because of this clever use of players, Barcelona were able to maintain possession comfortably.
Unfortunately, this came at a cost. Luis Suárez was often all alone up-top with no players to link-up with.
Luis Suárez made runs but none of them were penetrating the opposition defence much. This was partly due to Atleti’s defence and partly due to Barcelona’s attempt to get numerical superiority in midfield
As we can see in the image, Luisito would make runs often but with basically no penetration. This was due to a few reasons. Firstly, Atlético had great organization in defence. Even with Messi and Suárez pinning the Atleti centre-backs, They still maintained a solid defense with a mid-block. The full-backs would force the Barcelona wingers wide and the midfielders would be ready to double press if someone were to receive the ball between the lines.
Even when Barcelona had Messi and Suárez pinning the centre-backs, Atlético would not be threatened because of their midblock
Secondly, Atleti’s wingers would drop back with Barcelona’s full-backs. The same tactic was used by Mallorca, however the remaining team structure meant the wingers would be pinned back and still grant possession to the full-backs. Nonetheless, Atleti would immediately press when Jordi Alba or Nélson Semedo had possession. As we see in the image, Simeone’s team used the wingers in order to make sure the opposition full-backs only got possession in less-dangerous areas. These factors meant Suárez did not have much involvement in the game.
Atlético de Madrid’s wingers would drop back with Barcelona’s full-backs. Their positioning was such that Jordi Alba and Nélson Semedo would not get the ball in threatening areas in the final-third and would be forced wide
Barcelona played with a lot of variety against Atlético de Madrid. Quique Setién made some good decisions by choosing Riqui Puig, trying out the false centre-back and such. Notwithstanding, his substitutions came very late. Simeone’s Atleti relied on indicidual brilliance a bit much during attack, however as usual were solid when defending. With this draw which was not a bad performance, Barcelona’s title hopes seem to be even less likely to be fulfilled.
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.