As Barcelona visit Villarreal on Sunday night, which line-up should the blaugranas field at the Estadio de la Cerámica?
Despite talk about the La Liga race being virtually over with Real Madrid strong at the top, Barcelona must intend to give it their all and not lose heart just yet. If there’s one club that can turn a four-point deficit around, it has to be the blaugranas. Therefore, as Barça approach the much-awaited Sunday clash against Villarreal, here’s how they should line-up in order to certify the three crucial points:
Marc-André ter Stegen
Marc-André ter Stegen has arguably been one of Barcelona’s most valuable players this season, playing a crucial role between the sticks. Although Barça have been shaky in defence in the past two matches, the German shot-stopper invariably guarantees giving opposition strikers a tough time. Ter Stegen must once again be featured in the starting XI, especially if the club desire to retrieve their solid record at the back.
In spite of starting every game since the resumption of football, Gerard Piqué‘s inclusion will be essential in such a high magnitude fixture, one that could possibly determine the fate of the Catalans in La Liga. Piqué has been in tremendous form lately, anchoring Barcelona’s backline and establishing a formidable partnership with his partner, Clément Lenglet.
With not much rest to benefit from, the Spaniard could certainly fall victim to fatigue and exhaustion, but without him in charge of Barcelona’s not-so-stable defence, the chances of securing a win could go down the drain.
French international Clément Lenglet enjoyed an illustrious return against Atlético de Madrid as he was utterly faultless and proved to be an indestructible wall at the back. With Samuel Umtiti’s constant struggles with injuries and Ronald Araújo‘s lack of experience, Lenglet would be one of the easier picks for coach Quique Setién. Following some rest against Celta de Vigo, Clément would be fit enough to operate at his very best.
Catalan right-back Sergi Roberto was forced to remain out of action for about two weeks due to an injury, even so, his inclusion in the last two squad-list means he will be ready to start games from now onwards.
After missing three games through injury and coming off the bench against Atlético de Madrid, Sergi Roberto could return to the starting XI tonight | Photo by Cordon Press via Imago
Nélson Semedo displayed a couple of exceedingly promising performances for the azulgranas ever since football returned, but has failed to be at his daunting best as of late. The Portuguese was uninspiring on the left flank against Atlético de Madrid and was unable to make a significant impact in the final third. Sergi’s presence not only helps the team be purposeful in possession, but also more imposing moving forward.
Given the fact that Barcelona are deprived of options on left-back and will desperately require a win to keep the title race alive, Jordi Alba’s addition seems to be a no-brainer. While he was ineffective in his previous outing, an in-form Jordi Alba is simply a menace on the flanks.
Sergio Busquets is just another one of Barcelona’s veterans to be aching from lack of rest, but a much-needed break against Celta may have surely helped the midfielder recoup and recover. Busquets has been the heart and soul of Setién’s side and his services from the pivot role will be in high demand against a side like Villarreal.
From rags to riches. Iván Rakitić was practically said to be done at the club a few months ago, but his marvelous performances as of late have shown that he’s more determined than ever. The Croatian midfielder has been instrumental in various encounters thus far, and, despite a relatively less influential display against Diego Pablo Simeone’s side, he has been a key member of Setién’s squad. With the lack of options in midfield and his impressive form, he must unquestionably continue to feature in the line-up.
Young, energetic, and zestful. Riqui Puig has brought a completely new dynamic in the culés‘ stale midfield. In spite of facing a physically robust team such as Atlético de Madrid, the youngster proved to arguably be the best midfielder for his side, brushing off fierce challenges and always looking to do something innovative on the ball.
“We’ve all seen his level. He has taken a very important step and has earned continuity in these games. But I tell him not to stop what he’s doing, but to improve. He is aware of the opportunity he has been given”
on Riqui Puig
His priorities as a player have always been to progress forward and operate in an electrifying manner, which is exactly the kind of profile Barcelona require at the moment. Arthur Melo and Arturo Vidal, in their current form, stand no chance against young Puig.
After sealing his 700th career goal at long last, Lionel Messi would be playing with a large burden off his chest. Although the Argentine hasn’t had much time to rest recently, there seem to be little debate over his inclusion considering how vital his involvement against a mighty opposition such as Villarreal could be. Messi may need rest more than ever, but now is certainly not the time to afford that.
Antoine Griezmann‘s grieving performances in these last few weeks have been dismal to say the least. But with Luis Suárez in one of his worst patches of his career, Barça seem to be deprived of options upfront. The Frenchman has been involved in countless hearsays and rumours after the draw against Atleti. Therefore, an opportunity to start may not only help clear the air, but also enable the 29-year-old to get back to his well-known stride.
“Antoine is fine, he is a great professional. I have exchanged a few words with him, he is an extraordinary, professional boy and it will not affect him when he has to play again because he is a very mentally strong boy and I am sure that we will have him at 100% when he has to go back to the field”
on having benched Antoine Griezmann against Atlético de Madrid
Ansu Fati‘s exclusion against Atlético de Madrid proved to be a huge blow for Barça as the side lacked width and verticality on the field. The youngster is yet to establish himself as a regular starter, though, he has already become an incredibly necessary asset up front. If the club intend to stretch Villarreal’s defence and aim to find chances frequently, Ansu must start.
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.