As Barcelona got back to winning ways in some style for the final game of La Liga, this tactical analysis will provide a deeper look at the 0–5 win over Deportivo Alavés.
Two teams with their fate already decided faced each other on Sunday afternoon: Barcelona and Deportivo Alavés. The blaugranas against the Babazorros. One with their position already decided and the other whose position could vary between 17 and 13 after this match. One with the frustration of their rivals’ title victory weighing on them, and the other with the relief of securing their spot in La Liga next season.
These two teams who were in very different situations met at the Estadio de Mendizorroza for the final game of their La Liga campaign. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at the tactical trends observed throughout the match.
Aguirregabiria · Laguradia · Magallán · Adrián Marín
Édgar Méndez · Camarasa · Manu García · Burke
Lucas Pérez · Joselu
Coach: Juan Ramon Muñiz
Sergi Roberto · Araújo · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Vidal · Busquets · Riqui Puig
Messi · Suárez· Ansu Fati
Coach: Quique Setién
Barcelona lined-up in a commonly used 4–3–3. With two injuries recently and three players suspended, they had only five players on the bench, out of which two were goalkeepers.
Neto got a start after a long time in goal. The central defenders had the job of playing out from the back whenever possible. Pivot Sergio Busquets would drop back to receive the ball often. The full-backs had a lot of attacking responsibility. We saw a change in tactics at the wings which will be discussed later. The midfield combined with the full-backs to provide width to the attack. Lionel Messi often dropped back and provided support. At these times, right-back Sergi Roberto would overlap often.
“Sometimes we are disorganised and more prone to concede. This is something we are working on”
after the 0–5 win over Alavés
Deportivo Alavés did not shy away from attacking. They actually got quite a few good chances but were unable to make the most of those. Lisando Magallán was the defender with the most responsibility at the back. When possible, he would try to play short passes. However, this was not always possible. His long balls were decent and allowed the midfielders to get on the ball more. Magallán, though, was not not solid defensively.
The full-backs, Adrián Marín and Martín Aguirregabiria, were instructed to find space out wide. Similarly, Oliver Burke and Édgar Méndez were starting out wide as well. Nevertheless, since Alavés focused their attack through the middle, once in the opposition’s half the wide midfielders would come in narrower.
Alavés wasted no time in expressing their intentions. They didn’t shy away from attacking, which nearly gifted them with a goal early on. Attacking through the middle was a major focus, with 39% of their attacks coming from the middle. Notwithstanding, they looked to exploit the fact that Barcelona’s centre-backs are often alone at the back.
The Babazorros used this fact to sustain attacking play. When in Barcelona’s half, the two strikers along with the two wide midfielders would pin the back four of Barcelona. This meant Alavés were almost in a 4–2–4. This would usually mean that the opposition would need to rely on pace to counter. But this tactic backfired as we will see later.
Neto didn’t have much job to do, but Alavés looked threatening on a couple of transitions | Photo by Imago
Burke was a major threat down the left in terms of getting on the ball and looking to drag Barcelona’s defenders out of position. The wide midfielder was an excellent asset in attack. The strikers were very narrow, though. There was no dynamism. One thing to be noted is that centre-forward Lucas Pérez would look to press Barcelona’s pivot. Though not very effective against Sergio Busquets, this restricted the play from staying in Barcelona’s half as much as possible.
To complement this, the full-backs were always ready to press Barcelona’s players down the wings. This was an attempt to regain possession down the wings and get numerical superiority down the wings with the wide midfielders in support. When Neto had the ball, Alavés would push up very high. As they aware of Barça’s preference to play out from the back, even a small lapse of concentration on the defenders’ part can lead to a clear chance on goal.
A refreshing attack with help from the opposition
The key to Barcelona’s attack, Lionel Messi, was given a free role as usual. This allows the Argentine to utilise his ability to unlock the defence, which he showed perfectly yesterday. The change in tactics down the wing mentioned was that Ansu Fati would often come in to occupy the space between the full-back and right centre-back.
This permitted left-back Jordi Alba space to attack from, which was something we saw leading to Luis Suárez’s headed goal. Usually, even though Fati would drift in, he did the same with greater tactical sense and combined well with Alba with respect to when to get narrower or wider.
“We had a bad experience in the last game [in the 1–2 loss to Osasuna], but today we were good and effective in front of the goal”
Because of Alavés’ attacking formation, they committed a lot of players forward and had no real emphasis in midfield. This benefited Barça immensely. Riqui Puig, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba were very helpful in progressing the ball forwards. When they had the ball on a counter through the middle, Messi would stay on the edge of the box. There are two reasons to this. Firstly, it allowed him to supply threatening balls, and secondly, he granted space for Sergi Roberto or Arturo Vidal to make runs. Thus, Barcelona could stretch the Alavés defence fairly comfortably.
Alavés were often too lenient when marking Barcelona’s wingers and full-backs in the final third. The Alavés defenders would track back, but the wide midfielders who should be helping in defence were not up to the mark. This made it easy to find space, especially down the right. Vidal and Sergi were quite successful in utilising this and even Semedo after being subbed on scored from such a position.
The La Masía talents proved their worth | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
Youngster Riqui Puig provided a different dimension in midfield. Due to his passing range, accuracy and progressive play the blaugranas were able to attack more freely. His pressing also suited Barcelona’s pressing, which was intense in the opposition’s half. That said, as the opposition progressed, Barça looked to regroup and maintain formation rather than press intensely.
This was a match-up where we could have seen either a very boring, dull performance from both teams, or a high-energy, passionate display. Thankfully we witnessed the latter. Alavés are left with many chances which they must have regretted not capitalising on. Their defence and midfield could do with a tactical and / or personnel upgrade.
“When we are at our best, no team can beat us”
Barcelona will definitely be happy with the result, especially since Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati’s performances present Quique Setién with the positive dilemma of selecting the starting XI against Napoli in the Champions League. With another Messi masterclass to cap off this La Liga season, Barça must take the fact that Real Madrid won the title constructively and aim to do their best next season.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.