As Barcelona drew against Celta de Vigo in another disappointing result in the race for La Liga, this tactical analysis will provide a deeper look at such encounter.
Barcelona continued their race against Real Madrid for the La Liga title at Balaídos, a place where they have had problems and a Celta team playing excellent football recently. Only a win would amount to Barcelona having a good chance in the title race here. This fixture looked like a prospect for wonderful football and it did not disappoint. Find out the tactics Barcelona and Celta de Vigo followed in this concise analysis.
Coach: Quique Setién
Semedo · Piqué · Umtiti · Jordi Alba ( 81′ Junior Firpo )
Vidal · Rakitić · Riqui Puig ( 86′ Arthur )
Messi · Suárez ( 81’ Griezmann ) · Ansu Fati ( 69′ Braithwaite )
Barcelona’s average positions | Graph via SofaScore
Celta de Vigo
Coach: Óscar García
Kevin Vázquez · Aidoo · Jorge Sáenz · Araújo ( 73′ Murillo ) · Jacobo ( 81′ Santi Mina )
Brais Méndez ( 60′ Bradarić ) · Yokuşlu ( 60′ Rafinha ) · Denis Suárez
Iago Aspas · Smolov ( 60′ Nolito )
Celta’s average positions | Graph via SofaScore
Quique Setién’s preferred 4–3–3 was Barcelona’s formation with an emphasis on attacking play. Instead of Sergio Busquets, Iván Rakitić was chosen due to the former being suspended. Rakitić’s added mobility was very useful as he often moved forward when Barcelona had steady possession.
When Barcelona would have five or six players attacking, Iván Rakitić would move to a right defensive midfield role to make up for the dynamism, leading to Barcelona being prone to counters down the right. On the left, Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig complemented each other’s ability, which maintained the shape and allowed defensive stability to an extent
Riqui Puig was selected as the left central midfielder and Ansu Fati as the left winger as they formed a great combination together. Not necessarily in terms of the passes between them, but Fati’s direct dribbling and Puig’s progressive play were ideal for this shape. Ansu Fati’s dribbling ability allowed him to take on the opposition full-backs. Meanwhile, Riqui could use this to find Luis Suárez’s runs behind the lines. Riqui’s mobility meant that Fati didn’t have to drop back to receive or help in the build-up.
Barcelona’s overload down the right allowed Semedo to make many runs down the wing. This balanced Vidal and Messi’s abilities perfectly. Celta’s three centre-backs meant Suárez’s runs would not lead to an effective end product
Whereas on the right wing, Arturo Vidal, Nélson Semedo and Lionel Messi provided excellent dynamism. Right-back Semedo with his athletic and pacey play, Vidal with his ability of ball retention and work rate, and the Argentine maestro with his impeccable passing, dribbling and eye for goal. This meant that Messi and Vidal could both occupy the half-spaces, with Semedo overlapping or being deployed on the right wing.
“It’s true that we would like to be more solid in many aspects. We’re attacking, we try to win, to play in the opposition’s half, and that’s what can sometimes give the opposition chances, too”
On the attack, these three had the combination of individual excellence and good teamwork thanks to their previously mentioned abilities. On the defence, Vidal or Semedo would track back depending on who could get there faster, but when Barcelona were on the attack, Rakitić would provide cover almost as a right defensive midfielder. We can observe that Barcelona had a fairly attacking yet stable structure. Their main susceptibility remained counter-attacks.
Celta de Vigo’s system
Celta have had a fluid team under Óscar Garcia. Their usual formation has three at the back, or sometimes four at the back. With three central defenders selected for this match, Jorge Sáenz and Joseph Aidoo were given cover by 28-year-old Nestor Araújo. Debutant Jacobo Gonzalez played as the left-back or left wing-back who would move up and down the wing as required and similarly Kevin Vázquez played the same role on the right.
Celta’s two strikers and attacking full-backs stretched Barcelona’s defence. This allowed them to make a lot of blindside runs behind the defence with Denis Suárez’s passing ability to help this
When Celta were on the attack, they would play a 3–5–2, which allowed Denis Suárez freedom to make full use of his creativity and be a bit fluid. On the defence, however, they would transition into a 5–3–2. Araújo would be the lynchpin in defence with Okay Yokuşlu dropping back into the defensive midfield role. Brais Méndez would defend as well almost like a 5–2–1–2 with Denis Suárez pressing Barcelona in central midfield or dropping back when suitable. Jacobo González and Kevin Vázquez would drop back to make the back three into a back five.
Denis Suárez was given freedom in midfield to use his creativity. The full-backs would push forward and the strikers provided easy one-two opportunities for Celta to progress
As we can see from Araújo’s average position above, the two other centre-backs would be in front of him. This is very effective against teams with a single striker, which Óscar must have expected from Barcelona. Due to this, Suárez’s runs behind the opposition defence could easily be picked up by the third defender. Even though he got two goals, the first was because of terrible marking and the second was because of the Uruguayan at his very best with the swivel. The fact that Celta had a three-man or five-man defence only makes this more impressive.
Celta’s average positions after substitutions | Graph via SofaScore
The substitute and ex-Barça player Rafinha Alcântara was a constant threat as along with Denis, he has attacking creativity as well. Rafinha allowed Celta to play a more attacking game with another substitute, Santi Mina, helping them achieve this. Celta transitioned into a sort of 4–3–3 with Santi Mina, Iago Aspas and Nolito forming the front three with Rafinha and Denis supplying them and Bradarić playing as a defensive midfielder. Rafinha won Celta the free-kick which Aspas converted to get Celta the point.
“We wanted to show courage and my players did that in the second half”
Celta drew the match 2–2 even though Barcelona played some of their finest football this season. Samuel Umtiti’s abysmal defending and positioning was on full display which led to a goal and multiple easy chances for Celta. Barcelona still have problems in their front three, with Messi now playing more of a creative role and having zero shots on target from his last 10+ shots. The youngsters brought in dynamism and contributed a lot but unfortunately for them, this Celta side still managed to get a point from the match.
Barcelona are now second in La Liga and Real Madrid could go on and win it even if they draw a match. The fact that la Madrid can now allow one match as a buffer and play for a draw is a huge setback for Barcelona. Now, Los Blancos must lose a game and Barcelona must win every of theirs, even against Atlético de Madrid and Villarreal, for the Catalans to win the title.
Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
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.
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:
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.