Barcelona went to the Estadio de Balaídos to face Celta Vigo in their second La Liga game of the season. It was a must-win game for Koeman’s Blaugrana after a disappointing 19/20 season, and a big test, given the Estadio de Balaídos curse. Despite getting a red card at the end of the first half, Barca still managed a 0-3 win. Here’s a tactical analysis of the game.
Barca’s starting Lineup
Koeman went with the same lineup and formation from his first game. He seems to like the dynamic between De Jong and Busquets, so we are yet to see Pjanic start. Even though Griezmann was luke-warm as a Right Winger in Barca’s Villareal game, Koeman played him in the same position.
Passing out from the back
Whenever Barca tried to pass out from the back, Celta Vigo pushed forward and marked all six defensive players one-on-one, cutting off passing lanes for the Goalkeeper, Neto. Because the 4-2-1-3 formation has no midfielders, Neto had to rely on Coutinho dropping deep to create a passing option. Neto’s passing range wasn’t perfect, and he gave the ball away several times from the back. This could just be early nerves. He should improve with time.
Barca’s pressing is the best it has ever been. When not in possession, the players moved forward quickly to cut off passing lanes, forcing Celta Vigo to either play the ball back or play inaccurate long balls forward. The players are also smart with their pressing. They make use of good positioning and dynamic overloads to suffocate the opposition’s passing options zonally. This is an improvement from last season, but the players will have to remain fit to maintain this style of play.
As predicted in my Koeman Analysis article, Barca is very dynamic. Coutinho, Fati, Messi & Griezmann all switched positions with each other going forward to make use of space. Coutinho, as number 10, is doing that very well. When Messi dropped deep into his usual position (centre-right), Fati moved into the central area. Coutinho or Alba would then slip into the left-wing area to make overlapping runs. Celta Vigo struggled to man-mark Barca because all the players are comfortable moving around.
Video: Barca Tactics vs Celta Vigo
Goalkeeper (GK): Neto
Neto didn’t have much to do, facing only three shots on target. He was reliable and made the right decisions. However, he has to work on his long-range passing, because with the opposition man-marking the defenders tightly, he will have to make long passes to the forwards more often than not.
Center Backs (CB): Pique, Lenglet & Araujo
Pique was very sharp. He made crucial blocks, and his positioning was excellent. He had a close call with a red card that later was rescinded because the Celta Vigo forward he brought down was offside. Kudos to him for maintaining the defensive line and playing the offside trap successfully.
Lenglet was less fortunate. He had a decent performance but was sent off just before halftime because of an incorrect 2nd yellow card. According to Marca, the referee’s report stated that Lenglet was “Reprimanded for the following reason: hitting an opponent’s face with his arm in a reckless battle for the ball,” but video highlights show that this is not true. Araujo was brought in after the sending off to steady the ship. He did very well under pressure and shows great promise.
Video: Barca Centre Backs vs Celta Vigo
Fullbacks (LB/RB): Alba & Roberto
Koeman relies heavily on fullbacks to act as temporary wingers when his forwards switch positions during an overload attack. Since Roberto is not a natural RB, Koeman employed a left-sided overload that relied on Alba as an attacker. Alba did very well and is developing excellent chemistry with LW wonderkid, Fati.
Roberto, however, struggled. He lost the ball several times in dangerous areas. He was often out of position, allowing the opposition LB to run past him and send crosses into the box. He did this in the Villareal game too. Celta Vigo’s best chance to score (hit the post), came from Roberto’s mistake. Hopefully, the arrival of Sergino Dest can remedy this problem.
Video: Barca Full Backs vs Celta Vigo
Defensive Midfielders (DM): Busquets & De Jong
The double-pivot is working as it should. De Jong and Busquets have managed to prevent Barca from conceding goals through their dynamic defending. They can defend together in a horizontal line to block passing lanes or defend in a vertical line (De Jong ventures forward) to press the opposition very high.
The two also participate in the attack. De Jong, with more pace, is the usual suspect, but Busquets can also make the forward run if De Jong is sitting deep. It will be interesting to see what Pjanic can add to the dynamic.
Attacking Midfielder (AM): Coutinho
Coutinho is currently the best Barca player. He is the engine of the team, expectedly. As I mentioned before, the 4-2-1-3 formation has no midfielders, so the AM has to do a lot of work in linking the backline to the forwards. Coutinho has done this excellently.
When the team is pressed high, he drops deep to create a passing option for the GK/CBs/LB/RB. He then uses the opposition’s press against them by making a piercing run through space they leave in the middle. He can then link up with Fati, Messi or Griezmann.
Coutinho has also shown us that his natural position is number 10: an attacking midfielder with the freedom to go anywhere. He has shown good positional awareness by moving into the right places when the other three forwards switch positions. It’s great news for Barca that their biggest investment is performing well.
Video: Barca Attacking Midfielder vs Celta Vigo
Left Winger (LW): Fati
Fati has been excellent, and the second-best player on the team. As a natural left-winger, he can outrun the opposition on the left, take them on a one-on-one, cut inside and score.
He can also slide into the F9 role when Messi drops deep and score from there as well. His positional awareness is impressive, and his defensive work rate is also admirable. He is filling the hole Neymar left on the left side and will indeed become a superstar one day.
Right Winger (RW) and False-9 (F9): Griezmann & Messi
Griezmann played on the right again. Even though Koeman said that he would play Griezmann in his natural position, RW doesn’t seem to be it. Griezmann had a very quiet game and didn’t impact the attack very much. He had two key opportunities, one from a brilliant pass from De Jong from the left and another from a brilliant lob pass from Busquets. In both chances, he failed to control the ball. He was taken off for Araujo after Lenglet was sent off.
Messi played in the F9 position, but never actually stayed there. Messi prefers to play in the middle, and that’s where he spent most of the game. This means that there was a giant gaping hole where a ST/CF/F9 like Suarez would usually play. Messi did make forward runs into that position when the attack advanced, but since he doesn’t have the pace or the natural positional awareness of a striker, the attacks had to slow down to allow him to catch up.
A potential solution to these issues is playing Griezmann as the ST/CF/F9 and Messi on the right. But of course, since Messi drifts into the midfield area, the RB (Roberto or Dest) would have to fill in as a temporary RW. It is not a guarantee that this will work, but Koeman has to try to solve this issue; otherwise, the €120M spent on Griezmann will waste away.
Overall, Barca played well as a team. Given our failure to beat Celta Vigo at home for the last five seasons, it was very encouraging to see a 10-men Barca playing in rainstorm beat them comfortably. I guess the answer to the question “But can they do it on a wet, windy night at Balaidos?” is a resounding YES.
Koeman still has a few issues to resolve. Firstly, he has to get Neto to become more confident in his long-range passing. He also has to work with Dest and Roberto to improve the situation at RB. Most importantly, he has to find a solution for Griezmann because he is a world-class talent that is sadly not performing anywhere near his best.