Samuel Umtiti arrived to Barcelona in 2016, offering privileged physical and tactical conditions. But an injury a couple of years ago changed his life. Still, fans hoped to see Big Sam shine again. Yet time passes, and that faith in the player disappears. Yesterday, against Celta de Vigo, Umtiti could have signed his potential departure from Barça.
Samuel Umtiti. That physical, reliable and solid defender who avoided countless times that the rivals scored a goal. That French beast that culés considered as their new Carles Puyol, and the next partner of Gerard Piqué. A centre-back who, from the first day, fans fell in love with, since, for his characteristics and security, he was entertaining to watch. However, a knee injury that sidelined him for 28 games in the 2018/19 season forced Umtiti to undergo a treatment.
After such treatment, Big Sam looked the same physically, but, when he was on the pitch, there was no trace of the old Samuel. Sure, there were games in which he did well, but there was no consistency or confidence to consider Umtiti reliable for the important clashes. Still, supporters continued to believe in him, having faith that the talent of a few years earlier was going to regain his level. Unfortunately, a long time has passed and we continue without response.
Since the return of La Liga, Umtiti had not made his debut yet, as the staff was not entirely sure of his fitness after suffering a slight injury during the break. Notwithstanding, the 26-year-old was in charge of defending the blaugranas‘ shirt against Celta de Vigo on Saturday, a game with a high level of demands and pressure since the league title was at stake. As expected, Samuel did not fulfil his duties and ended up being one of the main culprits of that draw, especially for the local’s first goal. A disappointing game, but one that could definitely change the footballer’s future.
Samuel Umtiti in the 2019/20 season
With just 18 games played this season, four of which came from the bench, it is clear that Umtiti has dramatically gone from being in the foreground to being a secondary option. He has only been part in 33% of matches. In addition, most of the teams that Sam has faced have been from the lower half of the table. Almost never against top La Liga sides. And, despite extreme measures with little rest after the pandemic break, Umtiti is also not an active part of the rotations, especially given the importance behind each matchday.
Moreover, with Clément Lenglet in the team, it is even more difficult for Umtiti to develop his confidence since his compatriot is an essential man for the defensive approach of manager Quique Setién. Although Samuel offers different things to Barça’s game, Lenglet is a safer bet. Clément is a physically healthy player, very unlikely to be injured, usually focused through the full 90 minutes, and working well under pressure. While Lenglet has all these features at the fullest, Umtiti has lost all of them.
Umtiti for Barça against Celta de Vigo
After having lost the top spot of La Liga against Sevilla, Barcelona faced a Celta de Vigo that had been playing fabulously at the hands of Rafinha Alcântara, Denis Suárez, Iago Aspas and obviously coach Óscar García. Furthermore, the match was held at Balaídos, a stadium where the blaugranas had had many difficulties in recent years. To everyone’s surprise, Quique Setién trusted Samuel Umtiti for this match against Celta. A duel in which the Frenchman certainly didn’t cover himself in glory.
Umtiti was out of position in the majority of Celta’s attacks, leaving a lot of space behind, pressing up when he shouldn’t, and lacking concentration. Celta de Vigo had multiple chances of danger for the simple fact of having Umtiti on the defensive line of Barça. Sam did not add, but subtracted.
A match to forget for Umtiti | Photo by Octavio Passos via Getty Images
Umtiti’s disappointing display gave extra work to Gerard Piqué, who did a great job in supporting his teammate when he made a mistake. However, there was an error that neither Gerard nor Marc-André ter Stegen could save. In the action of Celta’s first equaliser, Samuel wanted to anticipate and move forward when he left Okay Yokuşlu run behind him, leaving Piqué alone in defence against two attackers. As a consequence, Fyodor Smolov was able to open the scoring for the celestes.
And this did not end there. He kept making similar mistakes throughout the match. Fortunately, the resulting errors were fixable. Additionally, against an opponent like Celta and with so much at stake, these mistakes by Umtiti were unforgivable for a club as professional and demanding as Barcelona. Having rested in the previous game, he should have been an asset in rotations, but he was not. Umtiti was a liability that unbalanced the approach of Barça against Celta.
Is it time to say goodbye to Big Sam?
Samuel Umtiti’s first season at Barcelona was unbelievable. Full of physical power, and with the joy of seeing how rivals battled and struggled to beat him. It really was like having a defensive wall. You could see the faces of the attackers when they had to overcome Big Sam in a one-versus-one, in a counter-attack or in a build-up. They couldn’t be calm the day before knowing that on the following day they were going to face Umtiti.
Unfortunately, the years go by, players come, players leave and others lower their performance. The case of Umtiti belongs to the latter. The worst thing is that he surely tries hard, but a physical issue such as his dramatic knee injury forced him to make a 180° turn in his career. Undoubtedly a depressing situation, as culés will end up sad to see what it was to once watch the iconic Carles Puyol in the body of a Frenchman that finished being a set of poor performances.
Barcelona fans thought they had found their rock at the back for many years to come | Photo by Alex Caparros via Getty Images
After two seasons full of bad moments, at Balaídos it was time to realise, or rather confirm, that there is no turning back. We can assure the faith to get Umtiti back is over. With the return of Jean-Clair Todibo, the good displays of the young Ronald Araújo, and the irreplaceable Piqué and Lenglet, Umtiti would not only have fewer minutes, but would practically not be considered.
Now, what should Barcelona do? Selling Umtiti sounds like the most logical option. In 2018, before his injury and in his prime years aged 25, Barça received multiple offers for him, whose release clause was of 60 million euros. A fair price. However, currently, his market value is half of what it was two years ago, if not less. Of course, there is a lot of difference but, given the circumstances, it would not be wrong to sell him for that price. The problem is that no club may be willing to pay such high fee and wages.
For Samuel Umtiti, all that remains is to continue working and giving his all to recover his level. To keep smiling as on the day of his presentation, where he started spreading his happiness to the entire Barça entity. It hurts everyone to see his current situation, but for both the footballer and the club, the best thing for him is to finish his spell in Catalonia.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.