After 360 minutes of football in the space of 8 days, Barcelona travelled to Elche hoping they can find a positive reaction after the Supercopa setback and the rather uncomfortable game in the Copa del Rey against UE Cornellà.
The not satisfactory transfer window and the injuries of Dembele and Fati throughout the season meant Barcelona has two options in addressing those wide areas. The first option is to promote youngsters and give them the responsibility where the second option is to tailor the shape of the team so those wide players aren’t as important as usual. In recent weeks we have seen that Barcelona went for neither one.The shape is the same with three midfielders, something similar to a “False 9” upfront with two wide players. The chopping and changing usually take place on the defensive side of the ball as Koeman seems to look for his ideal pair of centre-backs. In the important games in the Supercopa and La Liga, the midfield three and the front players seem to be similar and changes aren’t made even when there is an evident dip in form.
Barcelona’s shape and individual performance review
The issue comes from the predictability for Barcelona offensively. I have mentioned that I am not keen on playing players out of position which seems almost impossible with the current structure of the first team. However, it is obvious to even the casual viewer that Griezmann is frustratingly inconsistent, Braithwaite a decent player on his day being played out wide, and Dembele being the best player easily in the last few weeks. That front line does not function together and there is nobody that can give that last pass consistently ala Lionel Messi.
Braithwaite is an option of the bench but he is not of the quality that Barcelona needs as Number 9 and with that being said he can’t even get a minute on the field as a number 9. I like Griezmann. I like him a lot, but he is just a shell of himself. Lethargic, lacked urgency, lack of creativity that is simply worrying. There are single games in which he was simply outstanding, but I challenge anybody to show me a string of games where he demanded the ball and “banged on the table” so to speak.
Positives were the continuous form of Ter Stegen and De Jong. The dutchman never stopped running and to sum up his work during those last few weeks in one paragraph is unthinkable. Ter Stegen so far this season probably earn around 10 points in the league on his own. They have put a very strong application for the most important player of the season for Barcelona and certainly looking almost certain for Top 3 in that “award”.
Regardless of that move finishing with a goal simply there are not many options when the ball goes out wide to Braithwaite and we can’t rely on him to take on people one-on-one, the support is non-existent and the easy option would be to hold the ball up and try combine with the incoming players.The wing play is a problem for Barcelona. The predictability and the defenders don’t have to make too many tough choices. The attacks feel stagnant and very rarely the team looks dangerous without Messi. Barcelona fails to exploit that completely with only Dembele providing threat one-on-one with his pace and dribbling. However, when the ball goes to him defenders try to close him down quickly and not leave much space behind.
As usual, Pedri had to work in the space between opposition defensive line and midfield areas. However, there were not that many occasions where Barcelona could not find players in that area consistently and the lack of creativity in the team comes from that issue. Teams rather defend with men behind the ball in a tight shape and leave the wide areas open. As soon as someone found that space felt like the team turn up a gear instantly.
The shot chart also suggests that the shots were from various angles and distance but not bombarding Elche either. A very patient approach that paid off in the end with three points that are vital this season in La Liga. Trust in the squad is the most important thing in this tough period and Ronald Koeman saw some performances that will leave him encouraged. A goal from Riqui and a couple of very well played chances by Trincao should guarantee them some minutes if not the full game against Rayo Vallecano this mid-week. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to make some tough decisions and guide the squad towards the end of the season.