As Barcelona won against Valladolid with an unconvincing performance in La Liga, this tactical analysis will provide a deeper look at this match-up.
As La Liga nears its conclusion, Barcelona faced Real Valladolid at the José Zorrilla on Saturday. Barcelona came into the match four points behind rivals Real Madrid, whereas Valladolid were in the bottom half but a win in this match would mean they mathematically can’t be relegated this season. Their last match ended with a huge 5–1 victory for Barça on 30th October 2019.
However, since then a lot has changed, not to mention Barcelona hadn’t won two away games in a row under Quique Setién yet.They did achieve this with a 1–0 victory which means their title hopes, no matter how small, remain. The result surprisingly doesn’t reflect how the match progressed. Valladolid could have easily gotten a point or even three from this match. In this tactical analysis, we’ll take a look at the tactical trends seen throughout this matchup.
Moyano, Olivas, Sánchez, Carnero;
San Emeterio, Fernández (Hervías 46’), Alcaraz (Ünal 46’); Kike;
Guardiola (Sandro 61’), Plano (Waldo 80’)
Manager: Quique Setien
Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet (Araujo 57’);
Busquets (Firpo 74’); Semedo, Vidal, Puig (Rakitic 57’), Alba;
Messi, Griezmann (Suárez 46’)
Barcelona played in a 3-5-2 with Sergio Roberto playing as a center-back.
Barcelona played a back-three with five in midfield and two players up-front. Sergi Roberto acted as a center-back and would move forward as well when Barcelona had possession in the third half. Thanks to Sergi Roberto’s versatility, he contributed significantly all over the field and was one of the best players throughout. With three defenders, Alba and Semedo acted as wing-backs like the match against Atletico. Their pace is very useful on the overlap, and especially against teams that absorb pressure like Valladolid, this was important to ensure that Barcelona have width in attack.
Apart from their advantage in terms of speed and stretching the opposition, the wing-backs were mostly unmarked and were a useful passing option throughout the match. In many situations, passing backwards would have been the usual decision but because of Alba and Semedo available on the wings, the play could be switched without moving backwards. Riqui Puig along with Alba and Vidal alongside Semedo is a very good combination at times. Throughout the match, it’s because of the pressing of Vidal and Puig and the pace of Alba and Semedo that Barcelona managed to sustain the attack.
The wing-backs stretched the opposition’s formation, and when the opposition still remained compact, the wing-backs acted as good progressive passing options.
With two players, Griezmann and Messi up-front, Griezmann was the one who would stay often more. However, he was clearly instructed to drop back to act as an option to link-up with. Many times, throughout the match, Busquets would drag his marker out of position which opened passing lanes for Griezmann.
Messi was given positional freedom as usual. The Argentine is one of the best passers in world football and with his pace not as useful as earlier, instructing him to drop into midfield allows Barcelona to get numerical superiority which in turn helps the overloads on the wings. When Griezmann and Messi both dropped back, Vidal or Semedo would move up even more. As we can see from the image 258, Semedo moved forward to compensate for Griezmann dropping back. If he didn’t compensate for the Frenchman, Valladolid could just make their formation even more compact, instruct the center-backs to press the Barcelona players and easily get possession.
Along with this, Messi, Vidal and Semedo quite often caused overloads down the right, which led to the only goal. The numerical superiority that they got was instrumental towards the result and this is one thing that Setien has got spot-on in this formation.
Riqui Puig and Arturo Vidal are useful in midfield for many reasons. One reason that they share is their pressing ability. Similar to Atletico, this was used a lot by the team. Puig would have the job of pressing the goalkeeper and defenders with Vidal pressing the midfielders more. Because of this, Jordi Masip often has to play the ball long which resulted in Barcelona getting a chance to gain possession.
Another one of Riqui Puig’s abilities, an attacking one this time, was very useful throughout. As a midfielder from La Masia, he is expected to have a great sense of positioning which he displays every time. His ability to find space is even more impressive though. As we can see in the image, Puig has found space between the lines. His ability to receive the ball in tight spaces is very useful in such scenarios. This makes him a huge threat in transitioning from defense to attack.
Puig is an expert at receiving the ball under pressure which made him a reliable option to pass for the purpose of the transitions.
Patience and luck
Valladolid played as they did throughout the season. Absorbing pressure and countering when the opportunity presents itself. They played a 4-4-2 with the midfield transitioning between a flat midfield and a diamond. Kike acted as a number 10 when in a diamond with Fernandez at the base of midfield. Kike’s ball-carrying and dribbling was especially useful behind the two strikers.
One thing Sergio’s side did often was to press Barcelona as much as possible. When the midfielders were pressing Barcelona’s players, the Valladolid forwards would cut-off the passing lanes to Barcelona’s defenders. In case the high-pressing caught the Blaugrana midfielders off-guard, the attackers would be free to receive the ball. Valladolid employed multiple tactical aspects to promote counter-attacking football.
One of these was that the wingers were instructed to hold up the ball and wait for backup. This was of course to make sure there is no numerical inferiority that they must face. The full-backs were attacking when possible, but they also marked Barcelona’s full-backs quite well throughout. More so with Alba and Moyano. Semedo’s athleticism and the dynamism on the right helped in keeping possession.
When building up from the back, Valladolid looked to spread out the team as much as possible. Though the tried to build-up from the back, they had no problems in playing long balls into midfield. The center-halves would drift apart and start our very deep to receive the ball. This wasn’t the best of strategies since they were often forced to play inaccurate long balls with Puig’s and Griezmann’s pressing.
Valladolid’s center-backs pushed out wide and started out quite deep but this was problematic for them.
Though Valladolid looked to counter whenever possible, they preferred not to lose defensive stability. The midfielders contributed to that. The midfield diamond was very compact and it would shift along with the team. This approach was a kind of a double-edged sword. They were able to limit Barcelona through the center, however, they very frequently had to play the ball back to the defenders rather than progressively because of the defensive positioning.
Setien’s substitutions were very problematic. Especially Puig’s and Busquets’ substitutions. They were both playing extremely well and were a constant threat to the opposition with their pinpoint crossing and footballing intelligence. They ensured that Barcelona could have possession in the middle of the park regardless of the aggressive pressing. After their substitutions, the opposition was able to play much more freely. Barcelona then switched to a formation with four at the back and then again to three at the back with Firpo’s substitution. This does not reflect well upon Setien with him basically undoing his last action with that substitution.
Valladolid did show how good they are at sustaining the attack. The majority of the second half had Barcelona on the backfoot. To ensure Barcelona would not counter, Sergio instructed as many players to move forward as possible in order to pin the Barcelona players. Apart from this, they looked to stretch the Barcelona midfield since they knew that without a cohesive midfield, the Catalans would struggle.
Valladolid looked to stretch Barcelona’s midfield and pin back the full-backs. This meant Barcelona would not be able to counter easily.
The matchup between Barcelona and Valladolid showed just how quickly the tables can turn. Barcelona did manage to win, but some decisions from Setien, especially in terms of substitutions, were not the best. Valladolid were successful at playing their kind of football in the second half. Though Barcelona did manage a victory, this performance yet again poses some concerns especially with the Champions League approaching.
Ronald Koeman and the 4–2–3–1: A new system at Barcelona
During the three preseason games, Ronald Koeman has opted for a change in formation at Barcelona, as a 4–2–3–1 line-up has been implemented by the Dutch coach. This article looks at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the formation so far.
The 4–2–3–1 formation has been used by many top teams around the world. It offers a defensively strong set-up as well as providing good width. In the first three games since his appointment, Ronald Koeman has chosen this set-up. This is a change for Barcelona, who usually play in a 4–3–3 formation.
Thus far, players seem to be adapting to the change, but the first real test for Koeman will be on Sunday 27th September against Villareal. During the pre-season friendlies, there was a lot of rotations, so it is not clear who the favoured starting eleven is yet. However, it looks as though the manager has found his formation for the season, unless something major changes.
The new change in the system could have several benefits for the current team. One of the positives to the new formation is that it allows players to be played in their favoured positions. Frenkie de Jong is one player that could excel in the double pivot role.
After a mediocre season, De Jong will now be moved to his best position. At Ajax, and for the Netherlands, the barça midfielder produced his best performances when given a free-roaming role as a double pivot. He is most comfortable in this position as the Dutchman thrives in the defensive and middle areas of the pitch, but not so much in the final third.
Two other players that could improve under the new formation are Philippe Coutinho and Antione Griezmann. The 4–2–3–1 formation plays with an attacking midfield or second striker. This is Coutinho’s and Griezmann’s best position. Under the 4–3–3 formation, they were forced to play out wide, and it did not suit either of them. Playing them centrally will be key in helping them find their best form again this campaign.
Philippe Coutinho, named Man of the match in the Trofeu Joan Gamper game against Elche, could be one of the most benefitted players by Koeman’s change of formation | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The set-up of the formation also provides more defensive stability than the usual 4–3–3. Having two holding midfielders helps to limit teams counter attacks. It strengthens the centre of the pitch too. The two midfielders in front of the centre-backs make it difficult for the opposition to break through this area.
In an attacking sense, the full-backs can be more confident in pushing forward. There will be an extra midfielder available in defence if they get caught out positionally. Furthermore, a more dynamic attack can be formed with players like Lionel Messi, Griezmann and Coutinho all being interchangeable. Having that extra attacker should allow Ronald Koeman to play with a pacey winger such as Ansu Fati or Ousmane Dembélé. The Catalan side’s lack of pace in attack has been an issue for several seasons now.
Though there are positives, there could also be some downsides to the change in formation. Most notably, a lack of opportunities for Barça’s young and talented midfielders. Riqui Puig, Carles Aleñá and Pedri may have less minutes, according to the manager. This is due to their natural position, as interiors in midfield, no longer being used.
“Him [Riqui Puig], [Carles] Aleñá, Pedri…I have told them that it’s difficult for them and there’s lots of competition. At 20 years of age, the young players have to play”Ronald Koeman, after leaving Riqui Puig out of the squad for Saturday’s Trofeu Joan Gamper against elche
Though they could adapt to the pivot role or the number 10 role, it seems Koeman would prefer others who are natural to these positions. Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanić and De Jong will play most of the minutes as the defensive midfielders. Additionally, Griezmann, Coutinho and Messi are likely to occupy most of the minutes in the attacking midfield role. This is a huge blow for the Barcelona youngsters who deserve first-team minutes.
Another issue that has already highlighted itself is the removal of a midfielder for an extra attacker. This can leave large pockets of space in the middle section of the pitch. This can either be exploited by the opposition to attack into or limit the options for the blaugranas in the build-up play. For example, if the two pivots get dragged over to one area of the pitch, this can leave large gaps on the other side.
This could cause problems if Barça want to transition the ball quickly to open the game up. What Koeman has essentially done is to take one of the links in the deeper build-up play and move it into the final third instead. Only time will tell if this pays off as Barcelona start the new campaign soon.
The new formation implemented by Ronald Koeman will shake things up at Barcelona. Though the main principles will likely remain the same, such as high pressing and dominating the ball, some parts will change. The formation helps some players find their best positions in the team while also sacrificing others. Defensively, it should help Barça become less open to counter attacks.
Going forward, the team looks more fluid and comfortable. Although, players will need to be spatially aware. Large areas of space have already emerged in the middle of the pitch during preseason and could cause issues for the team later on.