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Analysis

Where does Ansu Fati stand in the Golden Boy race?

Adithya Eshwarla

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Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

The Golden Boy award that boasts of the likes of Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Kylian Mbappe as winners, goes on growing in stature year after year. Since its introduction by Italian outlet Tuttosport in 2003, it has gone on to become one of the most awaited awards of the year. The coveted trophy attempts to crown the best under-21 player of the year, thereby recognising upcoming talents. Joao Felix and Matthijs de Ligt are the previous two winners of the Golden Boy award, with one of our own, Ansu Fati, among players who will try to clinch it.

This year’s race started in mid-June when Tuttosport released the 100 players shortlist. The announcement naturally created a lot of noise with 23 players from the Premier League making the cut. FC Barcelona had indigent representation, with only teenage sensation Fati and loanee Juan Miranda featuring.

Four months after the centurion list, the table of the top 20 contenders is finally out. Incidentally, Barcelona continues to have 2 starlets names on the list in the form of aforementioned Ansu Fati, who has made the cut, and new signing Sergiño Dest. The shortlist features some of Europes finest pedigree with the like of Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Eduardo Camavinga, Alphonso Davies, and Rodrygo headlining it. This year’s title seems to be fiercer than ever.

At the time of his nomination in the top 20 for the Golden Boy last season, Fati was just getting started. He had less than 200 minutes of top-flight football under his belt. Understandably, the addition of his name in the final shortlist created a lot of unrest. This year, however, he enters the race as an entirely different phenomenon.

The teenager comes in on the back of the season where he went on to break record after record. The youngest scorer in La Liga for Barcelona, youngest player to score and assist in La Liga, youngest Champions League debutant and goalscorer, youngest La Liga player to score a double, youngest goalscorer for the Spanish National Team; it really is a diamond-studded catalogue.

Unlike last year, Fati’s inclusion this term is no longer a surprise. His exploits in the last season have earned him a direct promotion to the first team, finishing the 2019-20 season with eight goals and an assist in 33 appearances.

This season, however, the story has flipped. Initially used as a substitute to cover for the injured Ousmane Dembele, he has gone on to displace the Frenchman from the starting spot altogether. Under Ronald Koeman, he has become a bonafide starter for the Catalans, featuring in all the 3 clashes so far. With 3 goals in 3 games and a penalty won, he has been the Blaugrana’s biggest attacking threat, also clinching the La Liga Player of the Month for September.

Dortmund’s Dangerous Duo. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

While it is undoubtedly the dream of every Cule to see Fati be crowned the Golden Boy of 2020, its chances are very slim. The rules of probability dictate that the chance can never be zero; however, this season’s title does not seem to be the one for the Spaniard. Nevertheless, it is not because what he has achieved can be belittled, but because other clear favourites have had not just decorated seasons but also spectacular numbers to speak for them. Undoubtedly, more minutes provided help build a stronger case, which is why Alphonso Davies, Erling Haaland, and Jadon Sancho have a better stronghold on the award.

Where does he rank among the favourites?

Alphonso Davies has emerged as one of the worlds top young prospects in the last season. At the young age of 19, he already boasts of two Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy to his name, not to mention the domestic cup and the UEFA Supercup. Since his move from the Vancouver Whitecaps, the youngster has excelled at the left-back role for the German champions.

By revitalizing the left flank with his incredible pace and immaculate recovery, he has been crucial to Hans Dieter-Flick’s rebuild. Not to mention the incredible three goals and ten assists for a Bayern side that went on to win it all is certainly enough to make him one of, if not the favourite for the title.

Alphonso Davies’ breakout campaign makes him a favourite for the award. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Also, gunning for the top spot are Borrusia Dortmund’s young gems, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland. With 20 goals and an equal number of assists in the 2019-20 season, Sancho once again proved why he is one of the highest-rated youngster in the world. He only tightens his grip with statistics like 2.2 key passes per game and 19 big chances created.

His team-mate Erling Halaand too has been on fire for Dortmund, since his move in January this year. The 20-year-old wonder kid wound up the last season with 44 goals and ten assists, setting two different leagues ablaze. Over a year, he has proved to be one of the most reliable in front of goal, with an unparalleled killer instinct. Not to mention the Norweignan seems to feel absolutely no pressure on or off the pitch – an attribute that goes a long way.

When the bar is set so high, it would be unrealistic to expect Ansu Fati to get close to a top 3 finish. However, one must remember that the young gun has just begun. At the raw age of 17, he is competing with the likes of players who are the fulcrums of their respective teams. Surely, the only way forward for him is to soar higher. For this term, however, the award is indeed out of reach. Nevertheless, Fati is still eligible to win the award for three more years, and if he continues the way he has begun, the Golden Boy can only be the start of a possibly illustrious career.

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

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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