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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

Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP

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.

Team Structures

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.

Passing

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.

Defence

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.

Issues

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 Substitutes

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.

Conclusion

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.

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