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The front-four predicament vs Atletico Madrid




Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP

Ronald Koeman will have to find the perfect pieces in the attack for Barcelona as they face an unbeaten Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano this weekend.

Matches against Atletico Madrid are never ordinary games for any team visiting or hosting them. No less when it is Barcelona, who have had their fair share of iconic moments against them. The Blaugrana will travel to Madrid to take on Diego Simeone’s men for the first time this season, hoping to build on their pre-international break victory against Real Betis. The hosts are one of the only six teams across the top five leagues that are have registered no losses so far. It is far from surprising, however.

The capital outfit often start the season in blistering form but soon start falling down the ladder as the campaign wears on. More often than now this is a result of the lack of the number of chances they create more than defensive intricacies.

Led by Luis Suarez and a Joao Felix finding his footing in the La Liga, Atletico have not shown signs of stopping this season, though. Even though El Pistolero will miss the outing against Barça, they seem to have found the perfect balance on both ends of the pitch for the first time since 2013/14 when David Villa and Diego Costa starred for Los Rojiblancos. And Culés of everyone, do not need reminding how that season ended for them.

Joao Felix

There seems to be little stopping the sensationally talented Joao Felix this season. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

By this point in the season, it is clear that Barcelona, as rapid and creative as they are in attack, show a less than adequate level of defending. Covering the gaping holes at the back will take time, and the results will become clear over the course of the season.

Right now, what Ronald Koeman can control, however, is selecting the perfect attacking quadrant for the game as his team attempts to outscore them. There is little to no chance that the Dutchman will stray away from his 4-2-3-1, which has been used in every single game this season.

Obviously, the ideal Barcelona attack would constitute of Ansu Fati. The Spaniard suffered a torn internal meniscus against Betis and is out for four months at the bare minimum. The rest of the attackers, while fit, will face the selection wrath of Koeman.

Barça Universal runs the rule over Koeman’s squad, taking a look at the possible options for the manager in each position in order to see which front-four could work – in theory.

The central duo

Koeman has constantly been rotating his options across the attack, either to cater to the needs of what is going to be an exhausting season or in an endeavour to seek his best lineup. One of the major areas of the experiment is the attacking midfield where has used Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann, Pedri, and even Frenkie de Jong in the dying minutes against Deportivo Alaves.

When the season started, Coutinho was his go-to option for this role, but an injury to the Brazilian after the El Clasico forced Koeman into making some fundamental changes. This included shifting Antoine Griezmann in the centre along with Lionel Messi.

Neither of the two players are natural strikers, but have a history as prominent goalscorers. This stems from their immaculate reading of the game and the ability to read each other’s movements. In practice, it works better than having one of Pedri/Coutinho in the AM role with one of Messi and Griezmann uptop, as the former pair is unable to switch positions with one of the latter, often leaving the team with two deep lying forwards in one attack and nobody to play off of.

Lionel Messi Antoine Griezmann

The Messi-Griezmann connection is the most important one in the Barcelona attack. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Moreover, it looks evident that the World Cup winner looks more lively when playing with his captain. Maybe it helps him take some pressure off his back, or maybe the involvement of another experienced player near him aids his attacking prowess.

All said and done; even though Coutinho is back from injury, it would be best if Koeman sticks to the pairing of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann and let them feed off each other’s genius like they have, multiple times this season. Not to mention, a big performance against his former team may help Griezmann find his long lost confidence.

The flanks

Starting Griezmann and Messi together will be of little to no surprise, but it is the wings where the former Everton manager needs to earn his bread.

With Fati out for the rest of the year, Ousmane Dembele has earned a pretty straightforward spot into the starting lineup, which can be either on the left or the right. His inclusion in the starting XI against Atletico seems rather predictable, as well.

The Frenchman is remarkably quick, and if he uses that to his advantage, can help catch Atletico on the counter after a turnover. Kieran Trippier, for all his defensive improvements under Cholo, is still their weakest link at the back and is far from immune to positional mess-ups. The same goes for Renan Lodi, who looks far from comfortable against swift-footed wingers and often gives away an easy path on the flank, or several set pieces.

For the opposite side, Koeman has the options of Coutinho and Pedri in the form of first-team options. Despite being natural attacking midfielders, Koeman has used them at least once each out wide, but only Pedri’s performance aginst Juventus while on the LW earned plaudits.

In fact, Coutinho has a rather harrowing history with the left-wing after being deployed their persistently by Ernesto Valverde in the 2018/19 season, which eventually led to a dip in form. It has become increasingly clear that Coutinho is part of the midfield.

While Coutinho is returning from a month-long injury, Pedri picked up a knock against Faroe Island while playing for the U21 Spanish side. It would be unwise to field either of the two in a physically demanding game as more injuries would be another axe to Barça’s trunk.

As a matter of course, Konrad de la Fuente may come up as the option in this position given his experience in it. Konrad will help to stretch an otherwise compact Los Colchoneros defence, and can also help give Mario Hermoso a run for his money thanks to his electric pace.

On the contrary, it might not be the best game to give the American his debut. Simeone’s men go hard on attackers, allowing only one of the ball or defender through. A disappointing performance followed by some harsh words by Koeman in the press-conference will go a long way, hurting the youngster’s morale.

Our pick as Dembele’s partner is Fransisco Trincao. Since arriving from Sporting Braga, Trincao has failed to make a name for himself in Koeman’s team, and his role at the moment looks to be reduced to just cameos. A start against arguably the best team in the league will serve him mentally, eventually, and hopefully en route a successful campaign for both him and the team.

Fransisco Trincao

Trincao will round up the Barcelona attack on the right. (Photo via Imago)

It will require Dembele to shift to the left, which he does not prefer, but we can expect him to keep his twinkling form alive solely due to the raging momentum he is carrying, if not anything else.

From a tactical standpoint, placing the 20-year-old on the right means, there will be four players in the attack for Barcelona with expertise in long-range shooting. This skill often comes in handy against Atleti as their low-block allows little to no gaps for attackers to pass through.

Barça Universal’s pick for the Barcelona attack:

Simple guy, who enjoys the simple things in life: music, football, cooking, and dogs. Part-time violinist, full time Barcelona faithful.


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    18/11/2020 at 20:20

    Ideal combination still the best presently .


How should Barcelona lineup against Osasuna?

Adithya Eshwarla



Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

Four wins in four games. Barcelona are cruising in their Champions League group, as they do every year. A second-string Blaugrana side, one that did not feature any of the four captains, was enough to tear down Dynamo Kyiv. The game midweek was not just important for the result in the Champions League but so many players on an individual level.

Carles Alena bossed the midfield with impeccable accuracy. A promising debut from the underrated Oscar Mingueza, desperately needed minutes for Riqui Puig. A performance from Martin Braithwaite and Sergino Dest that found them in the UCL Team of the Week!

Yet, the season seems to be sinking. The league seems to have slipped away even before its midway point. Injuries continue to damage even the existing fine line of hope. The bleeding must stop, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.

The Catalans have not had a worse start to the domestic season in the past two decades. Could the game against Osasuna augment that ray of hope, no less on the club’s 121st birthday?

What to expect from Osasuna?

Los Rojillos sit level with Barcelona on points, having played nine games so far to the Catalans’ eight. Three wins, two draws and four losses see them sit at 14th, just one place below the hosts.

Arrasate Osasuna

Arrasate will hope to mirror his Camp Nou exploits from last season. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

The last time the two sides met at the Camp Nou was the only scar in Barcelona’s otherwise unbeaten home streak. It is a game that one remembers vividly. A last-minute goal from Kike Barja helped the visitors run away with three points, and put at end to Barcelona’s misery in the title race. If anything, it is a reason for Jagoba Arrasate to be enthusiastic for his return to the Catalan capital.

Arrasate has largely deployed a 4-4-2 for Osasuna this season, with Ante Budimir and Enric Gallego the usual starters in the attack. In defence, however, they have played a 5-3-2, echoing the side that played Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season.

Jon Moncayola has played as the deep midfielder, often slotting in between the centre-backs to assist in defensive responsibilities. One immediately associates Osasuna with their sturdy mid-block. They do not unnecessarily commit men forward for attack nor pressing.

Instead, Los Rojillos outnumber the opposition attack in their own half, and the five-man line leaves no spaces for the opposition to exploit. When this forces the attacking side to commit more men forward, Osasuna strike on the counter. In particular, advanced fullbacks easily fall prey to their ploys with large spaces left vacant behind them to be exploited.

Arrasate’s side thereafter looks to capitalise by their potent switches in play, and dangerous cutbacks from the wings. Indeed, it is a style of play that Barcelona have struggled to deal with in past years. With so many injuries in defence, it will be an uphill task for the Barcelona backline to hold off the rampant counters.

How should Barcelona line-up?

After being handed the captain’s band midweek, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in goal at the Camp Nou.

In defence, however, Koeman surely has his reasons to panic. Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo are not available owing to injuries, and the Dutchman finds himself in a fix.

Frenkie de Jong barcelona

Frenkie is expected to start, even if it means playing as a centre-back. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

In central defence, Clement Lenglet will likely partner Frenkie de Jong. The dutch-protege enjoyed a day off on Tuesday as Koeman did not call his up to the squad. It will be a tricky pairing, but one tried and tested in recent weeks.

Given Sergi Roberto’s injury and Dest unlikely involvement in Sunday’s clash, Oscar Mingueza might start at Right-back. Unquestionably, it will be a new challenge for the youngster. Yet, not one beyond his capability.

At left-back, One expects Jordi Alba to return to his starting position after being rested against Kyiv.

Sergio Busquets is expected ahead of the clash, yet it may not be wise to let him start immediately. A performance like the one against Kyiv demands a follow up for Carles Alena. The La Masia graduate could start alongside Miralem Pjanic on the night.

The wingers will likely continue to be the same as the Champions League clash. Ousmane Dembele could get yet another start in his natural position-right wing. Pedri, whose stocks are rising by the day, could start on the left side in combination with Jordi Alba. The newly-turned 18-year-old’s vision and composure on the ball will be crucial to breakdown Osasuna’s air-tight defence.

As the no. 10, in between, the two wingers would likely be Lionel Messi. After getting a much-deserved rest against Kyiv, one hopes that the talisman finds his magic back. It has been a tough 48 hours for Leo, and he will be itching to put up a tribute performance in honour of his legendary national team icon — Diego Maradona

messi Barcelona

One can expect Messi to give a tribute to the late Diego Maradona today. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

In attack, Antoine Griezmann is the natural option after being rested in the last game. However, the Frenchman needs to up his game, because Martin Braithwaite is knocking at the doors as a potential starter as centre-forward.


Pedri · Messi · Dembele
Aleña · Pjanic
Alba · Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza
ter Stegen

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