Matchday 33 awaits La Liga fans as the league hots up. Let’s talk about the most exciting moments of the week to come.
As a top four battle closed matchday 32, a relegation six-pointer opens the new round of matches in La Liga. Matchday 32 was ruthless with managers. After Real Betis’ Rubi in the previous round of matches, RCD Espanyol’s Abelardo and Valencia’s Albert Celades saw their way out. Barcelona’s Quique Setién is walking on thin ice after his 2–2 draw in Vigo too.
Matchday 33 looks to be exciting, with a key encounter in the relegation battle, a title-decider and European place-deciders all happening within a day or two. These are the three best games from La Liga in the matchday 33 that begins today:
Mallorca vs Celta de Vigo
Tuesday 30th of June
Celta de Vigo look safe and feel safe at the moment. Iago Aspas is in the form of his life, the Galicians have notched up seven points from nine in the league, and their direct rivals for relegation are all choking it in the deciding moments. Mallorca are the best example, as they are one place below Celta in the league, but have eight points less after a tough run of fixtures. If they want any chance of survival, Mallorca will have to win at home against a direct rival in the relegation battle.
Mallorca can’t afford to lose in matchday 33 if they want to keep fighting to avoid relegation in La Liga | Photo by Imago
However, they couldn’t have faced Celta at a worst time. As mentioned, the Celestes are in fine form and are playing with confidence. Having battered Deportivo Alavés, gone to Real Sociedad’s Anoeta to win, and taken points from Barça, Celta are significantly improving and Mallorca should be a pushover for them. Also, with the Vigo side having found its goalscoring the magic.
Tuesday 30th of June
Barcelona are distraught. They let the game go in Vigo. They possibly let the title go too against Celta after leading twice in the match. They played well, arguably the best outing since the return, but they only managed a 2–2 draw. A heartbreaking draw furthermore.
On the other hand, Atlético de Madrid are smiling. The rojiblancos have had a good run of form since returning from lockdown and have looked like the team that wants the third place the most. Having drawn at Athletic Club’s San Mamés, recorded a thumping victory at Osasuna’s El Sadar, and done the job in the other games, their confidence is through the roof, especially considering Barcelona’s really low morale.
The blaugrana players will have to dig in to win, and hope Real Madrid lose against Getafe. This clash pits two sides that haven’t lost in their last five fixtures, but one seems happier than the other. It is also a title-decider because, if the Catalans lose and Madrid win, all hopes of lifting the trophy could be gone by the next day. It’s a must-win match for both parties, but particularly for Quique Setién’s men.
Valencia vs Athletic Club de Bilbao
Wednesday 1st of July
July makes its entry with four La Liga fixtures, but one stands out directly. The clash between Valencia and Athletic Club de Bilbao will be heated as the latter are only two points behind the former in the league, and they will want to mount a top four or top five challenge before the league ends. Valencia sacked Albert Celades on Monday after an abysmal run of form, losing three out of their last five meetings so far. Their usual managerial saviour Voro González has been entrusted again by Los Che for the sixth time
Voro will look to save Valencia once more | Photo by Imago
For Gaizka Garitano’s side, life is good as they only lost to Barça a week ago and they seem ready to push for Europe. Asier Villalibre’s form, accompanied by Unai Simón’s, have changed the Basque club’s fate in La Liga, and football seems pretty good over there ahead of matchday 33. Valencia will either wake up or collapse, and Athletic are ready to pounce on the occasion to overtake their opponent on Wednesday.
What are the possible outcomes for Barça?
Barcelona have no choice: they have to win against Atleti. If they fail to win, Real Madrid will have further incentives to beat Getafe. If Barça win and Madrid win, the two-point gap stands on top of the table. If Barça win and Los Blancos draw, the head-to-head ruling comes in play and the Catalans are still second. If the culés win and Madrid lose, which is unlikely, the blaugrana side will go atop of La Liga. If Barcelona draw, Madrid will be first either way. If Barcelona lose, it will be catastrophic, and Madrid will further their advantage.
Players to watch
Another round of matches, another hundred of players to watch. For Barça, it would be nice to see Luis Suárez add more goals than his brace in Vigo. The midfield will also be scrutinised. In Madrid, both Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior are playing like monsters, and Thibaut Courtois hasn’t conceded in two games. For Valencia, the whole squad will want a more positive outcome, especially the more experienced players like Dani Parejo, Rodrigo Moreno and Jose Luis Gayà.
Enric Gallego’s two goals for Osasuna on the weekend will surely intrigue more than one for his performance against Eibar on Wednesday. Celta’s Iago Aspas is a definite must-watch this week, much like Jesús Navas, whose Sevilla faces Leganés at Butarque on Tuesday. Of course, the eternal Santi Cazorla’s superb assist for Villarreal against Valencia has reignited his notoriety within La Liga, and many would be interested to see him add to his assist tally in matchday 33.
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.