After impressing mid-week, Rakitic, Ansu Fati, and Riqui Puig started for FC Barcelona. Umtiti replaced Lenglet, while Arthur was benched, hence confirming the exit rumors.
Surprisingly for Celta, Rafinha, Olaza, Notlito, and Murrilo were not included in the starting lineup.
Celta defended in a 5-3-2 shape, with high wing-backs. Though the midfielders/wingbacks defended zonally, the CBs occupied the opposition forwards in a man-marking scheme,with the CDM dropping between the lines,then,causing a 4 at the back system.
Barcelona, on the other hand, would build up in their regular 4-3-3 scheme, overloading one side of the pitch, to release the opposite fullback on blindside overlaps in the half-spaces. In most situations, Semedo would drop back to form a back three while defending. When both full-backs remained high or under pressure from the two strikers, Rakitic would drop in between the CBs to help drive the ball forward.
The Blaugrana built good rhythm in the first half, dominating 80% of possession and having ten shots on goal.
The usual shape was
The high right wingback in Kevin Vazquez would immediately push up to press Alba, as soon as Barcelona move the ball to him in an attempt to prevent him from running into space. Similarly, on the right, the Celestes played a right-winger in Jacobo to follow Messi high up, to prevent him from space to collect the ball.
This was one of the reasons that Semedo got lots of space in the right flank and got into many good positions through out-in runs and receiving behind the defensive line.
Despite Celta’s deep block, the blaugranes were able to stretch the defense because of the width held by Ansu Fati on the left and Semedo on the right. While Vidal looked sore on the day, Riqui Puig was instrumental in moving the ball from one wing to another or linking up Messi. This not only improved the pace and momentum of the game but also gave the wide players 1v1 situations to dribble into.
The large number of players Setien moved forward, had benefits as it helped Barca earn eight corners and five free-kicks in good positions. Surprisingly, the set pieces caused the Celetes the most damage, with Pique making a good run to head into the crossbar, and Messi himself almost scoring twice.
But on the contrary, it also caused Barca’s rest defense to be vulnerable to counterattacks.
The first goal for Barcelona also came through a well trained free-kick drill, into the empty head of Suarez, who scored.
The away forwards pushed Celta high up the field, while Riqui Puig pressed the CDM to prevent them from playing their way out of pressure. The rest of the Barcelona team stayed rather deep to defend the long ball. This caused a large gap to form between the two lines, which is where Rafinha began operating once he was subbed in. He would win second balls, in acres of space to dribble into, thus giving Celta the advantage in a rather see-saw second half.
Though the alarm bells were ringing well into the second ‘quarter’ of the game, with Denis Suarez threading a neat through ball, the home team finally got on to the score sheet in the 50th minute, with Iago Aspas playing an exquisite through ball to Youkslu, who played Smolov with a simple tap in.
This brings us on to Rakitic and Umtiti. Rakitic was very good at attacking transitions and bringing the ball out. He was exemplary in driving the ball forwards in space and anticipating tackles. However, he was found guilty in defensive transitions, where he was in a double mind between attacking the dribbler and running back to cover space and was often found in the middle ground doing neither. This resulted in lots of space in front of him for the player to dribble as well as space in behind for the player to make a run deep.
Umtiti, on the other hand, was found lacking concentration in times of need making only one key tackle in the box. With Setien asking Umtiti to man-mark Aspas, he would move higher up the field to press him before he got the ball. Even in the first Celta goal, he jumped at the wrong time, leaving acres of space in behind, with Pique in 1v2 situation. He made many other mistakes in following the player that’s making the run in his zone, as the players shielding were focusing on the ball,which led to two shots on target. His athleticism comes under significant criticism, which has caused Lenglet to rightly play ahead of him.
In the second half, Celta enjoyed more possession on the ball and forced Barcelona deep into their own half, defending in a 4-4-2 shape, with Ansu Fati being the highest player for the away side due to his speed. The youngster had an on and off game at the Balaidos, finding it very hard to dribble past Aidoo, who physically bested him. This was one of the reasons that Setien decided to take him off for the more physical Brathwaite, who didn’t have much chance to run at the Celta defense.
The second Barcelona goal exemplifies the improvement under Setien. Semedo presses for the ball high up the field as soon as the turnover occurs. Vidal makes a good run out wide to drag the marker, which gives Messi enough space to pick out Suarez. Suarez, despite being marked by Araujo all game, lets the ball get into a good angle to shoot on goal. Any other striker scoring two goals signifies a wonderful game, but Suarez was awful bar the goals, letting the ball bounce away, unsuccessful dribbles, poor diving,etc-all in all a typical Suarez game.
In the last ‘quarter,’ Celta looked to amp up the pressure, with the former la Masia graduates pulling the reigns. Nolito moving into space on the left and drawing two good saves from Mats, who was brilliant throughout the game.
In the dying moments of the game, it only took a rare mistake from Pique, a rash challenge on Rafinha, to score the equalizer. Aspas buried the game, curling the ball into the net from a spectacular free-kick.
From the post-match press conference by the Barca faithful, we understand the difficulty that they’re going through with the Arthur transfer situation and the difficult draw at the Ballaidos, but they’ll have to regroup quickly for the next big test, against Atletico Madrid (in 3 days).