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The silent rise of Clément Lenglet

As Clément Lenglet turns 25, we review his quiet rise from Nancy to Barça.

Aaryan Parasnis

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Header Image by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images

Lenglet has been wonderful in his time at Barça so far, but has perhaps gone under the radar. On his 25th birthday, we take a look at the quiet rise of Clément Lenglet, which deserves more recognition.


FC Barcelona largely owe Clément Lenglet a debt of gratitude for their win over Leganés last night. In what was a rather cagey match, Lenglet’s contributions were vital in securing all three points. Within the first 15 minutes, Leganés burst into the box and Miguel Guerrero had the Barça goal gaping. However, Lenglet made an absolutely heroic block off the line to keep the game scoreless. Had he not intervened, the champions would have been in real trouble. The Frenchman grew into the game even more from there on out. He also completed a staggering 124 passes out of 128. A completion rate of 96.88%, via SofaScore.

After serving a one match suspension against Mallorca, he returned to action after 101 days, and he looked as confident as ever. A very welcome sight as the league leaders travel to Lenglet’s former club Sevilla for a crucial game in a couple of days. His performance had everything Barça fans are finally coming to admire him for. Holding his defensive position impeccably well, moving to track the attackers, intercepting vital passes and offering wonderful support on the ball. Since arriving at the club, Clément Lenglet has never looked back. And as he turns 25 years old, it is time he gets some well deserved recognition.

From Nancy to Sevilla

Clément Lenglet started his senior career with AS Nancy in 2013. In fact, Lenglet’s first brush with top flight football came as late as 2016. When he made his debut in 2013, Nancy were a Ligue 2 side. They would remain in the second division till the 2015-16 season, which is where Lenglet’s stock gradually begins to rise.

In April of 2016, the young defender scored from a corner that secured promotion to Ligue 1 for Nancy. The small French club would return to the first division after a three-year absence and also secure the Ligue 2 title in the process. In their very first season back, teams around Europe started noticing Lenglet. Just halfway through the 16/17 Ligue 1 campaign, Sevilla brought the promising talent to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

Clément Lenglet rise Sevilla Bayern Munich

Clément Lenglet already gained experience in the European stage with Sevilla | Photo by Imago

Clément Lenglet immediately got his debut eight days after joining in January 2017. He continued his steady rise and became a key player at Sevilla in the following season. Making 35 league appearances for the Andalusians, he played a vital role in European games as well. He was particularly great in Sevilla’s Champions League win against Manchester United. His wonderful short stint at Sevilla caught Barça’s attention, continuing his rather rapid rise up the ranks.

Clément Lenglet at Barcelona

Barça triggered Lenglet’s release clause of 35.9 million euros in the summer of 2018. When he signed, it looked fairly certain that he would initially just be an understudy to Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti‘s starting duo. Nonetheless, the long term injuries to compatriot Umtiti, meant Lenglet was thrust into a starting role far earlier than expected. The sudden step into the limelight turned out to be a blessing in disguise for both Barça and Clément. And it has more or less justified his massive release clause of 300 million euros.

The calm and quiet, 6’1 / 1.86 metres, left-footed centre-back has made miraculous strides in his development at the club. Since he has joined, he has made 43 league appearances for the blaugranas and 19 Champions League appearances as well. His demeanor on the pitch certainly doesn’t fit the mould of a conventional defender. He is not too vocal and aggressive, instead very composed and dutiful.

His technical ability vastly overshadows the need for physicality. He is a great distributor of the ball, an elite tackler and very astute in his awareness and positioning. All traits, which make him the ideal centerback not just for Barcelona, but for almost any club in the world. And even Barça legend Carles Puyol seems to agree.

❛ A pleasure speaking to you, Clément. My dear Barça’s defence is in good hands. Good luck, now comes the best and the most beautiful and give your all! ❜

Carles Puyol
via Instagram in January 2020

Another facet of Lenglet is his consummate professionalism. He is a very classy individual, who keeps away from unnecessary controversy. He behaves like a gentleman off the pitch and lets his football talk for itself on it.

With Barça, he has already won a La Liga trophy and the Supercopa de España. His continued improvement also earned him his first France call-up in May 2019. Since then, he has seven caps for the national team, slowly but surely inching his way up the pecking order.

And not just for France, he is also staking a major claim to an undisputed starting spot at Barcelona. Although Quique Setién has been in two minds recently claiming that Umtiti and Lenglet are “on a similar level”, the latter is regularly showing why he deserves to be in the team. He also stated that he feels “at home” with Barcelona.

❛ You never really know what the future will be like if you are a football player; but I hope that I will play in Barcelona next season, yes ❜

Clément Lenglet
in an interview with French radio Station RMC

His career’s constant upward trajectory can only mean that there is a lot more success in store for Clément Lenglet. The now 25-year-old will very likely be seen as one of the world’s best defenders very soon. Here’s wishing him a happy 25th birthday. One of many personal and professional milestones to come for this amazing talent. And hopefully many of them will come in Barcelona colours.


See more

Tactical analysis: Barcelona 2–0 Leganés

• Barcelona 2–0 Leganés: Player ratings

• Umtiti vs Lenglet: Which centre-back is a better ‘fit’ for Setien?

• Barcelona 2–0 Leganés: Match Review

It was the great César Luis Menotti who once said that "to be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of many, many people". This quote has stuck with me since my childhood when football first caught my attention. My interest in football developed from a hobby to an emotion embedded into every fibre of my being. Football and Barça became my life. I spend every waking moment thinking about football and my sentimentality towards FC Barcelona is a catalyst. The world's most popular sport is a universal language that unites everyone who loves it and, to me, writing about football is being able to transmit that language in my own way.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.


La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.

Initial systems

Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.

Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.

In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.

Koeman’s foresight

Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.

Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.

However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.

Double-pivot

We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.

Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.

Conclusion

For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.

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