Sergi Roberto: Barcelona’s embodiment of intelligent versatility

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Sergi Roberto is among the few players who put in a shift wherever they are employed, so despite beginning as a midfield player in the reserve team, ​​his position changed when he was called up for first-team duty.

He was promoted to the first team 2013-14 season under the leadership of Tito Villanova and participated in 27 games all in midfield. However, the 2015-2016 season under coach Luis Enrique was a turning point as he was used in the right-back position and since then he has become the first right-back for the team. In this season, he has seen a transition back to his natural position, as Quique Setien has favoured Nelson Semedo for his pace and dynamism in the flank.

In this tactical analysis, we will showcase the difference between the two roles of Roberto.

Sergi Roberto as a full-back

Sergi Roberto as a right-back has played in 21 games out of 37 matches he played in Barcelona this season in various competitions. We can notice how Sergi Roberto played as a defender in both phases – attacking and defending.

At first, we can talk about Sergi Roberto’s ability to control the ball, and also his ability to pressure a little so in each position, we will divide it into two states, what Roberto does without the ball, and what happens when he has it.

Roberto without the ball

Roberto put pressure on competitors this season on 235 occasions during the Spanish League matches, which is a large number that is true that the success rate is only 30%. Still, he is well-positioned in front of the matter of cutting the ball, there are other things, and we will try to see his defensive role when Sergi Roberto as a right-back comes into the role through the following examples.

1DEFEND

Here we can see when the Barcelona team was in the process of building the offensive, Sergi Roberto was stationed on the right side to widen the attack, making it harder for Getafe to press the central players.
2defend

Here, when the Getafe team managed to win the ball from Barcelona through Marc Cucurella, Sergi quickly took dropped back and pressed well to regain possession for his team.

Sergi Roberto intercepted the ball 34 times in LaLiga this season with his intelligent defending, and he was well compared to Nelson Semedo. The latter was able to intercept 24 times in this season.

5defend back

Here we can see his superiority in the double ball defensively against Marc Cucurella where he managed to win the airball.

But when Roberto participates as a right-back, he not only defends but appears to have an offensive role helping the Catalan team in the last third.

Attacking on the flank

When Sergi Roberto takes part in the right-back position, he appears to have a prominent offensive role in advancing the last third with an attempt to break through the opponent’s area and play cross balls, or even shoot.

We will try to illustrate this during the next example, noting how to move horizontally within the last third.

3attack

Here we notice when the ball was with Arthur Melo in front of the Getafe penalty area, Sergi Roberto was stationed on the right side expanding the pitch.
4attack

Here, upon passing the ball towards Junior Firpo left-back, Sergi moved into the penalty area diagonally, positioned as an outspoken striker and scored for Barcelona.

With a target score of 0.9 expected this season, Sergi Roberto will be one of the players who managed to influence the offence with Barcelona. Still, we must not forget that Roberto returned to his original position as a midfield player this season in many games.

Sergi Roberto in the midfield

Sergi Roberto participated this season in the midfield during 13 games with Barcelona. During which, he was trying to play his defensive and offensive roles distinctly, whether by pressing the ball holder or by making assist through the passive passes of the lines.

We will try to see during the next examples the importance of vertical movement towards the opponent’s area, whether to squeeze and cut balls or to make risky passes.

His ability to press

Roberto moves vertically when playing in midfield in an attempt to apply high pressure and cut balls from competitors in areas higher than their defensive thirds, which we will try to explain.

Sergi Roberto pressed 64 times into the opponent in the offensive third of Barcelona, in an attempt to apply reverse pressure and quickly regain possession.

6defend midfield

Here we can see the rise of Roberto to the Real Betis penalty area and the application of high pressure, which resulted in a chance.
9defe mid

Here the same idea is repeated as he presses the Real Betis player to prevent the building process.

He not only plays a defensive role when he is involved in the midfield but can create goals for his colleagues in the final third.

Contribute in the final third

His vertical movement made it a solution in the offensive midfield. It enabled him to create possible scoring opportunities, as he has an expected assist (xA) rate of up to 2.2 this season.

Roberto contributes significantly to Barcelona’s play industry in the last third, whether it is a right-back or a midfielder, as we will notice in the next example.

7attack mid

Here we see when the ball was with Nelson Semedo on the right side, we notice Sergi Roberto move vertically deep in the field to become a solution to receive the ball in the counter-attack by the Barcelona team.
8attack midf

Here we see Sergi passing the broken lines, which contributed to Barcelona to achieve the equalizer, we note his distinctive vision of playing the ball in the vacant place for the right back.
12

Here we notice the space Roberto moves in on the right side, whether he plays in the center of the right-back or right-wing, in a 4-4-2 plan or 4-3-3.

Sergi Roberto does well for both the offensive side and the defensive side, but he has some problems with his performance.

His Weaknesses

Some of Roberto’s problems are evident when he plays in the right-back position, especially those spaces he leaves behind, or between him and Gerard Pique.

These things cause some blunders, especially when Barcelona has possession and loses the ball.

10 2

Here we see his delay in going out to put pressure on the ball bearer, as well as leaving the space behind him, which facilitates the issue of the next opponent’s face to Barcelona. His bad timing has caused errors for Barcelona.
11 1

Here, we note Roberto should have filled the lack of coordination with his colleagues in the defence line with the breaking of the intrusion of the two-centre-backs depth, and the space of Fargo.

Roberto tries to defend well all the time but has some problems with positioning, and timing his press.

Conclusion

In this analysis, we tried to shed light on Sergi Roberto’s offensive and defensive capabilities, with or without the ball, while noting some problems. While he has demonstrated time and again, that he is an integral part of the team, he has been played out of his natural position for a long time. The idea of playing him in his natural position is now possible with the system’s requirements of pace and dynamism in the flank as well as more intelligent and creative midfielders in the midfield. Though Sergi Roberto in the midfield shows true potential and skills, but it is his versatility that makes him so valuable to Barcelona. 

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