The goalkeeper position is one of the most coveted in modern football. See, each team plays in a much more distinct way than the other one that they need a keeper tailor-made for their style. For example, if Pep Guardiola manages your squad; he’ll seek for a keeper who is as good with his feet than with his hand, hence Ederson.
During his tenure as Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu has – for the most part – failed to sign players that have left a mark at Camp Nou. From André Gomes to Thomas Vermaelen, passing by Nélson Semedo and Douglas, Bartomeu has bought some deadwood to a squad that has been depleted of its most legendary components in Dani Alves, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol or Xavi Hernández.
However, credit where credit is due, the one time the Spanish entrepreneur did decent business was in 2014. After a disastrous 2013/14 season, that ended without any trophies to show, Bartomeu dug deep in the transfer market and brought two goalkeepers to compensate for Victor Valdés’ departure and a few more great additions in the form of Ivan Rakitic, Jérémy Mathieu, and Luis Suarez. The two goalkeepers were Marc-André Ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo. While the Chilean did great at Camp Nou, he left and opened the door for the German to become the number one.
Now, after six years at Camp Nou, Ter Stegen is set to renew his contract, one that could make him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world, but what if he doesn’t? With Barcelona losing a significant amount of money in recent years, however, it might not be feasible, paving his departure from the club. Barca Universal takes a look at this hypothetical scenario, analysing three replacement for ter Stegen.
Candidate Numero Uno: Unai Simón
Simon may not be the best with his feet, but boy does he know how to dominate his box. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
With David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga performing much below their capabilities in the recent past, Spain could have headed into trouble for the upcoming Euros. However, if push comes to shove, the answer lies in the Basque region, where goalkeepers such as Andoni Zubizarreta have guided the nets for the Spanish national team and Barcelona.
Unai Simón’s rise from Kepa Arizzabalaga’s number two to stardom has been sensational. The Basque goalkeeper has made Alex Remiro, another great up and coming Basque keeper, flee from San Mamés to the Anoeta as Simón was simply too talented to dethrone.
A superb shot-stopper, Simón is inarguably the best Spanish keeper at the moment. One of his best games for his boyhood club, one that would give the best perspective of Simón’s ability, came against Real Betis after the lockdown in June. In that game, saving multiple shots, most of them from close range, especially as Betis started attacking more. He frustrated Nabil Fékir to death and kept Borja Iglesias quiet, saving, with a last-ditch attempt, the former Espanyol marksman’s chip shot.
Although Unai isn’t as generous with his feet as ter Stegen, he would still be a safe option for Barcelona, who need a keeper that can come up clutch with stopping shots. Also, Barça’s recent domination of the ball under Ronald Koeman would mean that Simón wouldn’t have to worry as much about the ball being at his feet as ter Stegen when Ernesto Valverde was in charge.
However, the big problem would still be the price, as Simón’s most recent contact does not include a release clause. After being called up to the Spanish national team in multiple breaks, Athletic Bilbao could raise their asking price. Ter Stegen leaving, though, could alleviate the fee as the German is one of the best, and highest-paid keepers in the world. Signing Unai Simón to be number one is a no-brainer for any team in need of a keeper.
Candidate Dos: André Onana
Onana is one of the most rounded keepers in the world. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
As the second candidate, Barcelona could go to Amsterdam to get back a former young star of theirs. André Onana, one of the most rounded keepers in world football presently, has not gone unnoticed in Ajax’s recent rise to Dutch dominance.
From this golden generation, Ajax have seen Onana’s partners in Hakim Ziyech, Donny Van De Beek, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt all depart for bigger things. The African star, too, was close to departing a few years ago, but the transfer fell through because, in his own words, the sports director of the said team thought having a black goalkeeper at the club would be complicated.
Onana was a Blaugrana before departing for Ajax a few years ago. Since then, the keeper has gone from strength to strength to achieve the world-class status he’s at right now. A superb shot-stopper who also knows how to use his feet, as he was taught in Barcelona, he could be proud of his recent performances and the fact he was linked with many sides in the past.
In an interview in 2019, Onana stated that the Catalan team will always be his home and this could open the door for a transfer. Barcelona’s relationship with Ajax is well known to all, with Sergiño Dest’s transfer being the latest example, and it might help to sweeten the transfer fee the Dutch side would demand from any other club. A reliable option with a solid CV, André Onana should be one of the front-runners to replace Ter Stegen if he ever decides to pack his bags.
Candidate Tres: Álex Remiro
Remiro has already put in multiple clutch performances for Real Sociedad, despite being there for one season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
The third candidate on that list is also one of the best keepers in the La Liga – Álex Remiro. As mentioned, Simón kept Remiro out of the squad at Athletic Bilbao, which is when Remiro had to leave for their Basque brothers, Real Sociedad, at the start of last season.
Apart from a below-par run of form the whole Sociedad squad after lockdown last year, Remiro has been nothing short of sensational at Anoeta. He also showed a bizarre level of display with Huesca, helping them gain promotion in 2018.
Capable with his feet, a non-negotiable criterion for a Culé keeper, Remiro is also one heck of a shot-stopper. He has continued to show this in his start to the new season, where he’s been one of his team’s only bright spots.
Remiro has already kept three clean sheets in five La Liga games – half as many as he had last year. Of those three clean sheets, we can cherry-pick the one against Real Madrid, which also stands as proof that he can keep his composure against some of the best.
It’s also worth mentioning that Real Sociedad aren’t the most rock-solid side in defence and Remiro while being impressive, has not helped his team’s lack of concentration, nor has he been vocal enough to organise the defence.
Real Sociedad also lost Diego Llorente, one of their best centre-backs, to Leeds, making the three clean sheets Remiro has registered much more impressive. Sociedad’s price wouldn’t be as high as the two other keepers we have mentioned, as he’s not as highly thought of as Unai Simón is in Spain, for example. Remiro, being a less-known name for many fans, could resemble a ter Stegen signing. A young and impressive keeper signing for a reasonable price for Barça to help them forget about their losses.
Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers and statistics and tactics as FC Barcelona kicked off their UCL 2020-21 campaign in style.
FC Barcelona played the first group stage game of UCL 2020-21 at home against recent Hungarian champions Ferencvarosi Torna Club, also called Ferencvaros. The Budapest outfit were playing against Barcelona in a competitive match for the very first time (previous meetings had all been friendlies), and naturally, Barcelona started cautiously. However, shaking off the rust from the International break and the disappointment of the loss against Getafe in the weekend, Barcelona came up with a dominant display and ran out as winners scoring five and conceding just one.
Barcelona yet again fielded a 4-2-3-1, with an unchanged defence from the game against Getafe. The double-pivot changed slightly, with Miralem Pjanic starting as Frenkie de Jong’s partner. Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincāo started as wingers flanking Philipe Coutinho at attacking midfield, with Lionel Messi starting as the false 9.
The touch-based heatmaps and the pass-map show some interesting tactical changes from the last two league games. First of all, and most importantly, this was the first time this season that both flanks were very well utilised. Having Trincao and Fati, both adept at playing on the wing, greatly helped the team build and attack through both sides.
While Antoine Griezmann added a lot of defensive cover while playing on the right flank in the previous games, Trincao did his share to help out the team, too. He did well in attack while also putting in a brilliant defensive shift – Griezmann’s absence was not felt at all.
Secondly, the positioning of Frenkie de Jong was a lot advanced, bringing the best out of him. Unlike the last two games, where he was placed much deeper and wider on average, last night he had more freedom to venture up and also drift a bit centrally. On average, he took up a higher position than Pjanic and took part in a lot of the attacking moves, while the Bosnian was tasked with the deeper progressions.
Ferencvaros started out in a 4-2-3-1 as well, but soon evolved into a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 structure and settled into it for the game. Their midfield was very compact, and mostly stayed deep. Their idea was to use counters, with Tokmak Chol Nguen the only player taking up advanced positions to lead their attacks.
Attacks and Buildups
Barcelona posted very impressive attacking stats for the game.
Barcelona dominated possession as usual, but the biggest positive takeaway are the pressing numbers. The Blaugranas posted impressive PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) numbers as compared to their opposition. It also indicates that a lot of the game was played in the opposition’s half, showing dominance in the game. The shot maps and the xG flowcharts show how imperative Barcelona were throughout the game, and that a lot of the shots were excellent chances to score.
Next we take a look a gallery of all the goals scored by Barcelona, and the lone goal scored by Ferencvaros to discuss the difference in ideologies of the two teams.
While Barcelona’s first goal took a came solely as a result of moments of individual brilliance by Messi, all of the other goals came through wonderful intricate buildup. Both sets of wide players were very well-utilized, who were able to play out through pressure no matter where the buildup started.
The buildup to the second goal culminated in a wonderful lofted pass by Frenkie de Jong to Ansu Fati, who slotted it past Ferencvaros’ hapless goalkeeper with a first-time finish. Fati was involved in the third goal as well. An intricate set up of passes in the final third led to Messi finding Fati with a pass, who back-flicked into the path of Coutinho, who made no mistake slotting it into the bottom corner.
In contrasting fashion, Ferencvaros were very direct. It was very clear that Tokmac Nguen was their main danger-man. Nguen created a couple of really dangerous moments in the first half with his threatening runs across the backline. The first effort was called offside, while the second led to him setting up Isael for a thunderous shot against the post.
He was also at the helm of their sole goal of the game, running at Pique, who was unable to keep up with Nguen and hauled him down into the box, leading to a penalty.
Barcelona’s passing was on point against Ferencvaros, helping the team to cover all zones perfectly, stretching the pitch and making it difficult to defend. Most importantly, there were a lot more passes into the box as well exchanges inside the box than the previous two games. Particularly impressive were the utilization of zone 14 and the half-spaces. Here are the dangerous passes portrayed:
The key passes came from multiple zones as well and from multiple sources. Messi had 4, Roberto, Pjanic, Coutinho, and Fati had 2 each, while de Jong, Trincao and Dembele had 1 each:
Finally, we compare the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – it’s the number of final third passes completed by a team, divided by the sum of final third passes completed by both teams, expressed as a percentage.
Barcelona completed a much greater number of final third passes almost throughout the game except for a small window when Pique received a red card and sent off for fouling Nguen, and Barcelona had to play with 10 men.
Barcelona’s defence closely resembled a 4-4-2 block with Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi high up, and sometimes in 4-5-1 as Messi was the sole player allowed to stay up.
After Pique’s red card, Barcelona took up a fairly compact 4-4-1 shape. Ferencvaros were pushed back into their own half for the bulk of the match as Barcelona won the ball back fairly fast. The only time Ferencvaros managed to peg back Barcelona was after Pique’s dismissal. Here is a glimpse of the defensive activities of the two teams, showing Barça’s high turnover rate:
In fact, the third goal that Barcelona scored early in the second half came from a great bit of pressing. Messi aggressively pressed the central channels into Ferencvaros’ third and the box, so the ball had to be passed out wide, where Trincao led the charge. This led to a misplaced pass that was intercepted by Pjanic, and Trincao recovered the loose ball. A lovely sequence ensued, and Barcelona were up 3-0 in a blink.
Having discussed the defensive structure and the pressing intensity, now it’s time to discuss some of the issues. In this particular game, the issues were entirely in defence. Ferencvaros – Nguen in particular – exposed the problem Barcelona’s centre backs have against quick attackers. The Norwegian’s runs dragged the defenders all over the place, mixed with the high line that Barcelona employs, it resulted in nightmares as it often does.
Whenever the fullbacks were pushed high, and possession was turned over, Ferencvaros directly took on the two defenders left on the pitch. They could not bypass the press by making long passing sequences, so they quickly circulated ball out wide or to the deep half spaces before launching long balls to Nguen, and sending out supporting runners. One such run led to Pique’s red card.
This current batch of Barcelona players seems a tad too card-happy. Lenglet has already seen a red card in the Liga. Roberto, Dest, Pique – all of them have seen yellow cards just 4 games into the season. This is not healthy, especially given the lack of quality depth in defence.
Coutinho has been playing well, to say the least, and there are little to no doubts over his performance. However, his positioning – which surely is a tactical quirk of Ronald Koeman – is very interesting. Instead of the usual central positions a nominal 10 would take up, he is primarily operating in the left half space. There is quite a bit of overlap with Ansu Fati. Its clear that Barcelona are trying to achieve wide overloads on the left side whenever they can.
Coutinho performances are not an issue. His role, on the other hand, might be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
This system, however, needs a striker and more directness to function. As it stands, the team is deploying two 10s in Messi and Coutinho. While this has worked well against weaker oppositions, it remains to be seen how well the lack of vertical staggering can hold up against stronger opposition.
The story of this game will be incomplete without mentioning the substitutions. Junior Firpo returned from injury and came on along with Pedri and Ousmane Dembele around the 60-minute mark. Ronald Araujo had to come on after Pique’s dismissal, while Sergio Busquets replaced Pjanic later to help see the game off.
While Pedri got his first goal for Barcelona, Dembele’s brilliant dribble and tenacity in the box from where he cut back the ball has to be mentioned. Seven minutes later, the World Cup winner found himself at the receiving end of a pass from Messi and smashed home for the fifth and final goal.
After the drab showing against Getafe, this was a much-needed boost for the team before the El Clasico. Multiple scorers, good buildup plays, high press – pretty much everything except the red card was to the point. Next week’s UCL away game against Juventus will prove a stern test as well, and hopefully, we will see the best of Ronald Araujo in that game.