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What should the Barcelona line-up be against Espanyol?

Ahead of a rare derby against Espanyol, what is the ideal Barcelona line-up?

Adithya Eshwarla

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Header Image by José Jordán / AFP via Getty Images

Barça prepare to welcome local rivals Espanyol to the Camp Nou for what will be a fiercely fought derby. In a game that could potentially relegate Espanyol, what should the Barcelona line-up be tonight?


Derbies are amongst the most passionate games played in the world of football. It is indeed games like these that form the heart and soul of the sport. The level of emotion, passion and fury these games involve is what gives football meaning. The Derbi Barceloní is no less.

What makes tonight’s match between Barça and Espanyol even more special is that it may be the last Barcelona derby for the foreseeable future. A victory for the blaugranas would see the Blanquiazules effectively relegated and cement their position in the Segunda Division for the next season. Given the gravity of the clash, here is how Barcelona should line up to ensure the three critical points:

Marc-André ter Stegen

The German shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen has undoubtedly been the game-changer for Barcelona on multiple occasions. His lightning-quick reflexes often cover up any defensive lapses on the counter. After keeping five consecutive clean sheets, he missed out on the stat for the last three fixtures. With such an important game coming up, he will be more motivated than ever to get back on a fresh streak.

Gerard Piqué

Time and time again, Gerard Piqué is one of the most heavily criticised players for the azulgranas. Despite being unable to keep clean sheets in the last two games, it is impossible to undermine the importance of the Spaniard in the team. He has been largely on point for the Catalans since the restart. Given Samuel Umtiti‘s injury, he will certainly be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Clément Lenglet

After a classy display in Sunday’s 1–4 victory against Villareal, Clément Lenglet will be eager to continue his good run of form. He is cool, calm and collected, yet firm and solid even in the most tricky situations. His partnership with Piqué goes from strength to strength with every passing game. Surely one of the easiest picks for the coach.

Clément Lenglet Barcelona Espanyol line-up

Clément Lenglet has been an unbreakable wall at the back in recent weeks | Photo by Alejandro García via Imago

Nélson Semedo

Like most of his compatriots, Nélson Semedo has been rejuvenated since the restart. His new role against Villareal saw him venturing more forward than usual and he delivered a solid show. After Sergi Roberto delivered a midfield masterclass against the Yellow Submarine, it seems Semedo will hold on to his starting role.

Jordi Alba

After racking up another assist in the last match, Jordi Alba continues to impress. After struggling for fitness in the first half of the season, the two-month hiatus did him a world of good. He looks as fit as ever. Junior Firpo missed out on selection owing to a hip injury, which leaves no doubt as to who will start at the left-back.

Sergio Busquets

It has been a long time since Sergio Busquets got some much-deserved rest. But the wait might be extended for another duel till Frenkie de Jong returns. In a formation that is heavily attack-oriented, the magical number 5 provides vital defensive reinforcement while integrating the team as a unit. His genius will certainly be in high demand against a team like Espanyol that plays a low block.

Iván Rakitić

Iván Rakitić has been on the rise since the resumption of football. While posing an attacking threat, the Croatian also wins the ball back swiftly which is an asset. Derbies can be very intense and his experience and defensive solidity could provide the side with a lot of stability.

Sergi Roberto

After being out with injury for a couple of games, Sergi Roberto announced his return to the side in grand fashion. He dropped a stellar performance against Villareal at the left interior role on the weekend. He showed a remarkable connection with Jordi Alba and the front three, thereby contributing to extremely potent attacking openings. Undoubtedly, he deserves a second start to continue what he started.

“[Against Villarreal] Sergi Roberto helped and did things very well”

Quique Setién

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi has not seen a minute of rest since the resumption of football. At the same time, it doesn’t look like he will want to be rested anytime soon. He continues to break record after record, delivering masterclasses week in and week out. He is one assist away from becoming the first player ever to record 20+ goals and 20+ assists in a single season. Given his impressive form, expect some more records broken in the all-important derby.

Antoine Griezmann

The game against the Yellow Submarine was arguably Antoine Griezmann’s best performance in the red and blue Barcelona colours. After 34 long La Liga matches, the Frenchman finally looked cohesive with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, showing the world what the MSG trio is capable of. Quique Setién will be looking forward to giving him another chance to replicate his success.

“He [Griezmann] has enough ability to show his level. The other day [against Villarreal] there was a moment of inspiration and the players who played on the inside and the threat on the outside were closely linked”

Quique Setién

Luis Suárez

Luis Suárez has been a curious case. He hasn’t been at full fitness and struggles to make the runs. At the same time, though, he scores absolute screamers. After Setién has seemingly found the solution to maximising the rewards from the MSG spearhead, it would be surprising to see one of them not starting tonight.


See more

Barça can relegate Espanyol, but the Barcelona derby will be missed

• Barcelona vs Espanyol: Match Preview

Has Quique Setién finally cracked the MSG code?

• Comparing the debut seasons of Neymar and Griezmann at Barça

I’ve watched football for years, but never again felt that special tug that I experienced when I watched Barcelona play for the first time. What started off as just a little inquisitiveness on Quora, ultimately developed into a magnificent passion for writing articles. The best part: You never stop learning in football; and it never ceases to amaze you.

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Analysis

Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

In collaboration with Anurag Agate.


Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona faced Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. In a game marred by defensive blunders and devastating injuries, Barcelona lost the game 1-0 to fellow title-challengers.


A 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in La Liga left Barcelona reeling midtable. This was also the first time Diego Simeone’s side beat Barcelona in the La Liga. Coupled with crucial injuries to Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, Barcelona now face a dire path ahead of their UCL game against Dynamo Kyiv.

Barcelona structure and formation

Ronald Koeman went in with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Marc Andre Ter Stegen started in goal again. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet formed the centre back pairing, flanked by Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. In the absence of Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanic stepped up to form the double pivot with the ever-present Frenkie de Jong.

Pedri and Ousmane Dembele played on the flanks, with Lionel Messi in the hole and Antoine Griezmann upfront. However, as before, Messi and Griezmann had lots of interchanging positions. Pedri played more in the half-space in possession while Dembele stayed out wide. This often made the team structure a lop-sided 4-4-2. In defensive transitions, it was always a 4-4-2 with Griezmann dropping deeper to defend. Messi restricted his pressing to zones high up the pitch.

Frenkie de Jong had the freedom to push up high in the first half. However, the absence of Ansu Fati meant that the usual overload on the left side did not work in this game. Pedri had a poor game in general. Him moving far too infield to let Alba run down the left did not quite work – the passing was far too restricted by Atleti’s excellent defending. A second-half injury to Pique meant that de Jong had to play 35 minutes roughly as a centre back, which he did very well.

Atletico structure and formation

Atletico were missing some key personnel as well, most notably perhaps, Luis Suarez up top. They also missed a regular left-back Renan Lodi, and Hector Herrera and Lucas Torreira in midfield. They lined up in a highly asymmetric 4-4-2/5-3-2 structure and style.

Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez formed the centre back partnership. Mario Hermoso played in a hybrid centre-back/extremely defensive full-back role. Kieran Trippier was the more offensive fullback, practically functioning as a wing-back. Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente joined the reliable duo of Koke and Saul Niguez in central midfield as wide midfielders. Carrasco played almost in a hybrid wide midfield/wingback role. Joao Felix and Angel Correa formed the front two.

The hybrid system was particularly evident in the different phases of the game. In attack, Hermoso would push out wide like a full back but stay in more defensive, withdrawn zones. Carrasco had the freedom to stay wide looking for overlapping runs to meet Felix’s clever passes. On the other side, Llorente would shift infield, allowing Trippier to bomb forward.

Felix himself overlapped down the left side several times, trying to create numeric overloads against Roberto and Pique, dragging Pjanic wide in the process. Carrasco’s and Felix’s overlaps on the left, coupled with Saul Niguez moving ball-near side and Correa dropping in to give options – this combination created quite a few problems in the first half. Here is an example – it led to Saul’s shot early on which was saved by ter Stegen.

Game Stats

The game was more or less evenly balanced – neither team were outright dominant than the other in any aspect. Here is the game data at a glance:

Barcelona enjoyed marginally more possession, marginally more shots and shots on target, and a better press than Atletico. Of course, the hosts had the all-deciding goal in their favour. Neither team generated high-quality shots overall, as the shot map and xG flowchart shows :

Barcelona’s possession superiority was pretty stale. Barcelona failed to dominate critical territorial zones, measured by field tilt – which is the percentage share of final third passes of each team. Even though Barcelona had higher field tilt, it was only marginal. What strikes out is that just the goal came when Barcelona were enjoying their best bit of territorial dominance.

Buildup to shots and goals

Next we take a look at some of the shots and the goal. Early on, Barcelona had the chance to score. Dembele burned his marker with pace and sent a cross into the box. It was met by a clever flick by Greizmann. The shot sailed high unfortunately.

Atleti had their chances on the other side as well. Soon after Saul saw his shot saved, the other flank created yet another moment of danger. A brilliant interchange of passing involving Correa and Trippier met Llorente’s clever run into the box. The shot crashed against the bar.

Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona could have scored again. There was a brilliant bit of buildup, a clever run by Griezmann to drag a defender, and then Messi ghosted blindside of the center mids to meet Alba’s nutmeg pass. The angle was too tight and Messi failed to score.

Soon after, Barcelona conceded the goal. Pique stepped up to intercept a long ball. Ideally, that should have been fine, except Pique miscontrolled the pass. That left almost everyone out of position. A simple ball over the top released Carrasco into oceans of space. But the maddening part perhaps was that ter Stegen left his box wildly to tackle the Belgian. He missed; Carrasco did not – he scored into an empty net from distance.

In the second half, Barcelona had chances to equalize. However, Lenglet headed straight at Jan Oblak twice. Greizmann headed straight at Oblak once. Barcelona failed to engineer any better chances than those. The key passes map shows the crosses into the box:

Passing Characteristics

Atletico’s strength lies in engaging from wide areas. In this game, their biggest threats came again from the wide zones. Hermoso, Koke, Saul and Felix regularly released Carrasco and Trippier down the flanks. Trippier would often look for cutbacks or layoff into Llorente upfield.

Barcelona on the other hand tried to create from all possible zones. Frenkie de Jong managed to pull off a wonderful long pass into the box that Greizmann miscontrolled. Dembele single-handedly created chances from the right. The combinations of Alba and Messi created – in subdued amounts – danger from the other side.

For Barcelona, Messi, de Jong, Dembele and Alba were the bulk progressive passers. For Atleti, Koke, Trippier, Hermoso and Savic progressed the ball the most.

Both teams also tried to use width a lot. Surprisingly, Barcelona had more switches of play than Atleti, who have built their game to attack wider areas. For Barcelona, perhaps the reason for frequent switching was that they could not progress a lot directly.

Defence

The game data table posted above shows us that neither team pressed a lot. PPDA, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, was around 20 for both teams (low values of PPDA indicate high pressing). Here are the maps showing the defensive activities of both team:

Atleti forbade any progress down the centre. Upfield, they tried to press Pedri and Alba from creating too much danger. Deep in their half, they tried to force Dembele as wide as possible and tried to isolate him. Barcelona pressed all over the pitch in the middle-third. In deeper zones, they had to deal with the wide threats of Carrasco and Felix, and Llorente’s infield runs. The following plot also shows how Atleti forced passes wide and forced mistakes :

Two recurring issues troubled Barcelona yet again. The lack of chemistry and the lack of experience of the youth meant that certain runs went untracked. Atleti’s rapid front line dragged Barcelona into wrong zones, allowing trailing players to ghost into blindside runs. Saul and Llorente’s efforts at goal are perfect examples of this. In the first case, Pjanic was pulled in, leaving Saul free. In the second case, Pedri’s inexperience led to him losing his mark against Llorente completely.

Speed is always an issue that Barcelona has had trouble against. Llorente’s quick underlaps created quite a bit of trouble for Lenglet. Here is yet another example of a run – the pass from Llorente was thankfully cleared.

Conclusion

The goal was a combination of poor positioning and lack of speed, combined with some poor touch and terrible decision-making. Pique was out of position when he made the failed interception. No one in the team was speedy enough to catch up to Carrasco down the left. Ter Stegen should have communicated better with Lenglet and stayed in the box because Lenglet was haring down to secure the centre.

Issues have now been compounded with injuries to Pique and Roberto. If they face lengthy spells away from the pitch, Barcelona are stretched thin in the defence department. De Jong looks set to continue as a centre back for the next game at the very least and Sergino Dest will have to start. Barcelona faces extremely testing times ahead.

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