Barcelona found themselves in the semi-final of the Supercopa de España battling Real Sociedad for a spot in the final on Sunday in Seville.
In previous seasons, those games are seen as a lose-lose situation for Barcelona. If they win the game the notion is that that’s what they were supposed to do. However, if they lose the game – how they dare to lose such a game. So the glass is always going to be half empty for those sets of supporters.
Quickly, take a look at the line-up. Nothing seems like too out of the ordinary. No surprises and nothing worth mentioning apart from Mingueza being at the RB position and Braithwaite starting at No.9. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Opening 25 minutes
The start of the game was not what most Barcelona fans expected. Real Sociedad had the majority of the ball, wanted to create chances and simply were more aggressive and determined. We can easily state that in the first 20 minutes there was only one team on the pitch.
Jordi Alba continues to mix performances of real quality and staggering decisions in defensive situations.
He has Isak in the box, and clearly, Araujo is looking at the incoming cross. Because Jordi isn’t feeling well suited to challenge aerially Isak in the box he decides to call Araujo and switch positions with him at that precise moment. His awful decision-making meant neither one have Isak covered and that is simply inexcusable from your senior players. If that situation resulted in a goal I would’ve loved to see the reaction of Jordi Alba. Araujo turned around and questioned his judgment immediately.
Losing the possession battle, failing to attempt a single shot, and struggling to organize anything meaningful while building from the back. On another day against stronger opposition, the game could have been out of hand before anyone had a chance to sit on their sofa.
In the midfield seems like the coaching staff is excited with the “new-found” trio in Busquets-De Jong-Pedri. When, similarly to the previous game against Granada, out of possession they align in double-pivot with De Jong dropping back to support Busquets.
Somewhere around the 30-minute mark Real Sociedad decided to not spending too much energy and press so high up the field. From then on Barcelona started dictating the tempo which allowed the team to step up higher off the pitch and try to put Sociedad under some pressure.
The Front Three and Griezmann
As usual in those articles, I try to provide an objective opinion and not so much focus on results, but on performances. With that being said, I was surprised and didn’t particularly like the structure of the front three. When Lionel Messi is in the team the role of creator/second striker is for him. We can track his positioning in those pockets of space since the dawn of time.
This means Griezmann is playing out of position, trying to create from the left-wing. When Messi isn’t in the team, like yesterday, Griezmann comes along in his place and now somebody else needs to play out of position on the wing.
The sacrificial lamb yesterday was Martin Braithwaite and I felt sorry for him. Many people were disgusted with Luis Suarez’s departure and the demand for a new No. 9 was echoed in social media, forums, etc. And fast-forward a few months later the only No. 9 at the club has to be used as a winger. Everybody can make their conclusions but seems bizarre.
Exiled on the left side of the pitch Braithwaite was non-existent in that game. He touched the ball 33 times for 90 minutes. By far the least of anyone in the team. Ter Stegen had almost double the amount with 59.
Which meant Griezmann and Dembele had to take responsibility for the attack. Dembele was dangerous every time he had the ball in his feet. Doubled, sometimes even triple-teamed did not stop him trying to beat people with pace or dribble past them. He was easily Barcelona’s best player on the pitch in my opinion.
His partnership with Mingueza was not the greatest at the start of the game with the young Spaniard being unsure when and how to provide the overlapping runs. The game went on and he grew in confidence and even delivered few quality balls into the box.
With the absence of Messi, Griezmann’s role was basically to take the reins that Messi usually holds. He drifts out of most games and the Granada performance was probably his most efficient and helpful to build his confidence, although not utilized as a primary creator. Once again, he follows the good performance with one that just confuses me. He touched the ball three times more than Braithwaite but in moments of the game lacked aggressiveness and looked for the simple pass, not his greatest game by any stretch. Nevertheless, the stat lovers will tell you he had a high pass success rate, had an assist, etc and that’s fair.
The path to the final of Supercopa de España: Extra-time and penalties
What usually happens in games like this is that the teams, once entering extra-time both teams will try their best not to lose and take the match to penalties. Real Sociedad sat behind the ball for a majority of the game, apart from the two periods at the beginning of each half and that fierce press with 4-5 players was not there anymore.
Barcelona, however, did exactly the opposite. The more time was elapsing the more Barcelona pushed forward. Almost felt like they will do everything not to go into penalties. The game in extra time was more open than the regular 90 minutes. Barcelona had chances through Griezmann, but ultimately left themselves open for counter-attacks and only the fortune and Ter Stegen made sure the game goes into penalties. Adnan Januzaj came off the bench to absolutely torture Barcelona, hitting the post from a free-kick, setting up a clear chance for Oyarzabal, and simply ask questions the defenders could not answer.
A crazy, crazy game that only deserved to be decided with a penalty shootout. Once again, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen showed why he is one of the top goalkeepers in the world saving the first two penalties to cap off a perfect performance for the German. The twists and turns continued when Griezmann had the chance to win it from the spot but instead blasted the ball into the stands.
Like that wasn’t enough, Riqui Puig, of all people, stepped up to take the last penalty for Barcelona with a chance to send the team to the final. Like I said – crazy, crazy game. And while Barcelona players are still in ice baths trying to recover, Real Madrid could not make to the awaited El Classico final. But more importantly – Barcelona has a chance to win a trophy this season and feel a little bit better about themselves in this truly unpredictable season. On their way – Atheltic Club.