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Analysis

The story of a debacle and what next for Barça

Maha Naeem Khan

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Header Image by Manu Fernández / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

The debacle of Lisbon and humiliation against Bayern Munich has opened up many wounds, but the changes were long needed at Barça and it is about time such are implemented.


Everybody who had been predicting Barça smashing Bayern didn’t sleep on Friday night. What chaos it was. What misery those 90 minutes were. As somebody rightfully said, the longest 90 minutes in the history of Barcelona fans. It took only twenty-two minutes for Hansi Flick’s electrically charged Bayern Munich to take the game away from the fellow European giants. The energy of Lewandowski and Co. was on a whole different level. And their determination, well, made history ruthlessly.

Those empty eyes –– looking in the void knowing that the magic won’t come now. Yet, trying hard to get out of the denial, who else it would have been than the man whose sheer silence since Friday is breaking so many hearts: Lionel Messi. Gerard Piqué came up saying that embarrassment is the right word to define what happened in Lisbon. The scoreline, however, says humiliation fits best.

Many post-match analyses are commenting on the probable sacking of Quique Setién. However, does sacking him as an act of atonement would make any difference? The answer to this question is rather diplomatic, but somehow deep down everybody knows that, on paper, it seems very unlikely that a huge change in performance happens. Still, let’s see why he should be sacked and why others need to be gone with him.

What went wrong and why Setién should be sacked

The decisions the 61-year-old Barça manager has made in his last six months have raised many questions on his credibility and personality. The line-up on Friday already displeased many fans, and many already predicted that Bayern Munich would eat this team and not even burp. On the other hand, nobody thought that it would end at 2–8. Setién made a record, a record which will haunt the Spanish club and its fans for years to come. He managed it by playing a weak team with strangling tactics.

There are uncountable questions every frustrated fan wants to ask. Why did he not rely on Antoine Griezmann in the first place and brought him at half-time when the Barça defence had already been open and players were looking for a miracle? What made him think that Griezmann would bring a miracle at this stage? All culés were calling for the charm and young blood of Riqui Puig too. Why he was not included in any important game is a question one should ponder upon.

Ever since the Spanish coach’s arrival, his choice of late substitutions has raised many eyebrows as well. Everybody knows that Luis Suárez isn’t bringing much to the game and that he should be benched for some time, so why did the manager fail to do so? Is it because of the monopoly? If it is, then Quique Setien must leave and somebody who has a say over players should join. Someone who has the convincing power to make the squad go around his ideas which he miserably failed to do.

Thiago Alcântara Jordi Alba Barça debacle

Barcelona’s problems cannot be hidden anymore | Photo by Manu Fernández / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

According to a realistic approach, the club and the board were expecting a drastic improvement from the newly-appointed coach in very little time. There wasn’t any room for a mistake and this alone made Quique make rushed mistakes repeatedly. He has been experimenting with tactics and line-ups ever since he came. Working under pressure during crunch time is one thing, but having this huge pressure on your shoulders that one single error will show you the doors outside is another form of mental stress and torture.

The Cantabrian has been reminded repeatedly that if he failed to bring the titles, he would be gone. This is exactly what happened. He failed and he will probably be gone very soon –– good riddance.

Will Setién’s sacking make any difference?

Setién’s imperfections were the reasons why the Catalans need a new coach. Unfortunately, what the club was lacking found missing in Setién and what he had to offer was already there. Nonetheless, the question is: will it be enough to save Lionel Messi’s last years at Barça and save the club from more disgrace? Possibly no. The problem isn’t the manager alone.

While it has been discussed a lot how the board is adding to the miseries of the club, it would be malicious to call for the Spanish giants to be left with the same president. To save the culés‘ sinking ship and see it sailing once again on old patterns, if not on the forms of Johan Cruyff then at least nearer to it, a complete rebuild from top to bottom is required. Otherwise, there will be another coach, another night and yet another firing in no time.

What needs to be done?

Friday night was full of ire for the blaugrana faithful. The fans, seemingly, are exasperated over the club’s long-term plans. Calls for Xavi Hernández to join the club and Víctor Font being the leading candidate for the presidential elections were all over the media. Nonetheless, nobody can help the club’s current predicament until and unless a drastic change from head to toes happens.

A president having integrity and trust of the members should take over to implement a think smarter approach. A manager having full faith from every single person of the club needs to come now. And the Argentine, he needs to be saved. This is about the time that the Catalans realise that the over-dependence on Lionel Messi won’t help them
anymore.

The unstoppable German champions rampage and everything that came along hurt like an open wound. But there’s one question which is taking the breaths away of the Messi loyalists: what is hidden behind this silence? What has he been thinking since last night? As frustrating as it sounds, the fans don’t want to think that again after another disgraceful defeat.


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Being an occasional painter, I admire art and colors. When I first saw Lionel Messi spreading his spectrum of colours on the canvas of Camp Nou, I fell in love. Barcelona was the first club I was ever introduced to and I ended up becoming an overly emotional Barca fan. Watching them play is a distraction for me from the chaotic world outside and writing about them is a distraction from the diverse emotions inside the world of FC Barcelona.

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Analysis

Detailed Analysis: Dynamo Kyiv 0-4 FC Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Getty Images

In collaboration with Soumyajit Bose.


Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona faced experienced manager Mircea Lucescu’s Dynamo Kyiv at the Olimpiysky National Sports Complex as the Blaugrana looked to continue their perfect UEFA Champions League campaign.


After a 2-1 victory in the home fixture for Barcelona, they now faced Dynamo Kyiv away from home in the Ukrainian capital. With both sides missing many key players due to injuries, as well as the pandemic in the case of Kyiv, it wasn’t a very promising fixture.

After the first half with some flashes of brilliance from Barcelona, the second half was what made the difference. Find out the tactics used, and the patterns seen throughout the match in this tactical analysis of Dynamo Kyiv vs FC Barcelona.

System: Dynamo Kyiv

Lucescu’s Kyiv side started out in a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-4-2. Striker Benjamin Verbic would often be lower down the field than attacking midfielder Buyalskiy, primarily because the former had more defensive duties.

The midfield four was staggered, with Denys Harmash having more of an anchoring job and Shepelev moving up the field to join the attack.  As the pass-map below shows us, the staggered midfield was a characteristic of the Kyiv side.        

There was a clearly better attack down their right wing for Kyiv. The full-back and winger on the left, Karavaev and de Pena respectively, were much more defensive than Kedziora and Sharapenko on the right as we can see from the heatmap below.

This was due to two reasons. Shepeliev, who was one of the two central-midfielders with more attacking duties, was a passing option on the right which was further up the field than the other midfielder, Harmash on the left.

The other reason was that with Pedri and Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona had two players who could play both as attacking midfielders as well as left-wingers. There were many rotations down Barcelona’s left, with a lack of directness a pure left-winger provides that Kyiv were able to use to their advantage to have a higher point to start the attack from.

System: Barcelona

Koeman’s Barcelona has rigidly stuck to a double-pivot system throughout this season. This match was no exception as Carles Alena and Miralem Pjanic started in the centre of the pitch, with Frenki de Jong and Sergio Busquets out of contention. Pedri and Coutinho would switch frequently among themselves, due to them both being able to play through the middle as well as down the left.

Down the right, Fransisco Trincao would look to get further up the field and then come in narrow. This would open up space for Sergino Dest to run into behind him as we can see from the pass-map shown below.

As expected from Barcelona, building-up from the back was a priority. In midfield, Alena and Pjanic would circulate possession, with Pedri or Coutinho playing through the middle and looking for passing lanes. Something that helped Barcelona immensely was Alena’s quick-passing. The La Masia product was on the top of his game, and the directness and more impressively, the consistency he provided with the passing helped Barcelona switch the play quickly.

In the second half, as more and more substitutions were made, Koeman would implement a 4-4-2, with Alena and Matheus Fernandes as the central-midfielders.

There was a clear contrast of duties of the two midfielders, with the Spaniard dropping deep to collect the ball while Matheus stayed up. This was not a particularly effective formation, but with Kyiv drained out and frustrated, Barcelona were able to capitalize.

Buildups and Passing Characteristics

The Barcelona team was clearly skewed in terms of the formation, with the right-side being more attacking than the left. Down the left, in the first half the full-back Firpo would look to underlap rather than overlap, and in the second half, as Alba came on, more overlaps were visible.

This was mostly down to the left-back’s decision making, as Pedri and Coutinho would often switch positions between left-wing and attacking midfield, which is shown in the similar-looking heatmaps in the viz below.

In Koeman’s Barcelona, usually, one pivot is more of an anchor with the other having more attacking duties. However, this time around both pivots would drop deep based on the situation and passing lanes, often moving apart to create new lanes down the middle. This was similar to Koeman’s system at Southampton where he would have the double-pivot acting as more of a reference for the team than it is at Barcelona.

Taking a look at Kyiv, their build-ups were rarely lateral. They looked to play directly in terms of their passing. The two images shown below illustrate the recurring theme we saw from the Ukrainians. They would look to pass vertically, and they had the most chances in the final-third after quick combinations to catch Barcelona flat-footed.

Game Stats

Barcelona produced an excellent second-half display to turn the tides in their favour. Even though the first half was even, Barcelona finished the game very strongly. Here are the game stats at a glance:

Barcelona not only enjoyed a ton of possession, but they also out-shot their opponents by quite a margin. Barcelona’s pressing was also much better comparatively. Barcelona allowed Kyiv to have only 76% passing accuracy and registered a higher pressing intensity (indicated by the lower value of PPDA – a metric to measure pressing).

Next, we take a look at the quality of chances created in the shotmaps and xG flow:

As can be seen, Barcelona fully deserved their victory margin by generating very high-quality chances and converting them extremely efficiently. Interestingly enough, all of the high-quality chances came in the second half.

Barcelona’s territorial superiority is shown in the following figure. Field tilt – a metric to measure final third passing share, and hence territorial dominance –was overwhelmingly in Barcelona’s favor.

However, perhaps a bit more context is required here. Barcelona did spend their lion’s share of possession in opposition territory in the first half but were unable to generate clear-cut chances. There were moments where choosing to shoot would have been a better option, as indecision and a penchant for excessive passing led to nothing.

Buildup to shots and goals

Here we take a look at the goals Barcelona scored. Having been restricted to poor quality shots in the first half, it took some skill to unlock Kyiv’s defence in the second half. A neat interchange of passes involving Dest, Pedri, and Braithwaite led to Dest practically taking the ball away inside the box from Braithwaite’s feet and shooting low past Kyiv’s goalkeeper.

The second goal came soon after. A corner taken by Alena was flicked on Oscar Mingueza. Braithwaite met the flick at the far post to score his first ever Champions League goal. Soon after, Braithwaite doubled his tally from the spot after being fouled inside the box trying to score from a header.

Antoine Griezmann came on as a substitute late in the second half and bolstered his confidence by scoring Barcelona’s fourth and final goal.

Apart from this, Barcelona could have possibly increased their goal tally even further had second-half substitute Riqui Puig not missed a glorious opportunity. Following a wonderfully intricate buildup that stretched and tore Kyiv apart, Puig failed to score from close range. But the buildup itself was testimony that the youngsters of Barcelona can truly play some beautiful football.

Defence

Barcelona had a fairly comfortable day in defence. Their pressing up the field was much more intense compared to the La Liga game against Atletico, as shown by the PPDA time-flow chart here:

 By virtue of fielding a bulk of young, energetic players, Barcelona could actually afford to maintain intensity all game. Here is Barcelona’s defensive heatmap:

Barcelona pressed aggressively through the center higher up the pitch, forching Kyiv to go wide and play long balls to escape pressure. And while Kyiv did that a few times, Lenglet and Mingueza aggressively won the ball back along each flank.

On the few occasions that Kyiv completely evaded pressure and progressed the ball high up, Mingueza showed brilliant skills to block shots or cut out dangerous passes. The following graphics – displaying Kyiv’s unsuccessful passes – clearly show how they had to play long balls from the deep to escape the press, and that they were unsuccessful fairly often.

Kyiv, on the other hand, chose not to press high. As shown, Barcelona had no problem passing out from the back.

Their major pressure areas were the middle and the defensive thirds. They tried their best to stifle all progression in the first half. They dealt with Dest’s crosses fairly well too. However, intricate passing and better movements by Barcelona in the second half unlocked their defence easily.

La Masia and youth to the forefront

Oscar Mingueza deserves a special mention along with Sergino Dest. Both youngsters produced sterling displays. Mingueza was calm and composed in defence, and very tidy in passing bar a couple of mishit long balls. He did not shy away physically from any duel and made some excellent blocks.

Dest used his recovery speed to great effect in sniffing out attacks down his side. But his biggest quality was in the offence. Fearless in taking on multiple players, playing neat passing combos with Trincao and Pedri in particular, he fully deserved his first goal in the Garnet and Blue, or we can say Black and Golden.

Carles Alena also got a rare start and justified his cause with a very assured and composed display. With an astonishing 99.1 % passing accuracy (106 out of 107), he kept the Barcelona midfield ticking. He also had two key passes to his name.

Riqui Puig finally got some minutes to play. He found himself in wide midfield role after Barcelona’s system changed to a 4-4-2 later in the second half. While he was not at his sparkliest best, he could easily have scored a goal had he kept his composure.

Matheus Fernandes and Konrad de la Fuente also made their first-team debuts in this game. Limited game time meant they could not particularly assert themselves.

Conclusion

The previous weekend was harsh for the Blaugrana. They succumbed to the battle on the field to Atletico Madrid and lost two senior members of the squad in Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto to possibly long term injuries. Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong were rested for this game, and Sergio Busquets was already ruled out with a previous injury.

Given all these setbacks, it was a wonderful display from the team and the youth in particular to overcome a tricky fixture. This display should also bolster the team’s confidence as they return to La Liga action next weekend against Osasuna.

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