It’s a strange start of the season for Barcelona’s team this year. Until now, the Catalans have recorded one defeat and one win in two matches with some unconvincing performances. In addition, three out of the four attackers of the first-team are currently injured. Messi, Suàrez, and Dembélé are out of service. Finally, the negotiations for a Neymar’s return have been complicated and stressful for the whole Blaugrana environment. On the other hand, Osasuna had a quite good start in this La Liga 2019-20 season. Despite investing little money during the transfer window: only 13.5 million euros, the Pamplona team won 4 points in their first two matches.
I will try in this tactical analysis article to discuss the different details that decided this game.
Despite the above mentioned injuries in the front line Valverde chose a 4-3-3 system for this game. The Spanish manager put in place the same team that played against Real Betis last Sunday. He renewed his confidence on Carles Perez and Rafinha to start on the side of Antoinne Griezmann. The other news is that Roberto is in the starting XI for the third time in a row. Ivan Rakitic is on the bench one more time.
On the other side of the pitch, Jagoba Arrasate, Osasuna’s manager chose a 4-4-2 slot.
Barcelona’s unique positive point of the first half
During this section, I will try to look into a specific step of Barcelona’s possession phase. It’s the first step of the attacking phase: ball exit from its own half and this is actually the unique part that Barça had mastered during the second half. And to be honest, this can be partly due to tactical choices from Arrasate.
During Blaugrana’s kick-offs, Ter Stegen could reach seven passing targets within a no-more-than-30-metres pass. It’s often organised this way: Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and Clement Lenglet are in the penalty box. The two full-backs alongside the wide midfielders stay higher up the pitch. Osasuna put three players just in front of the penalty box to block forward short-passing options. They had another three players positioned just behind the first ones to cover central paths to the centre.
Well, this set up did not function well for the hosts. This is essentially due to the numerical inferiority they faced at both levels: around the penalty box (4 vs 3) but also on the midfield (another 4 vs 3). Osasuna’s attackers could not pressure Ter Stegen so this left one from the defensive trio free. They could not man-mark each of them either- if they do so to Piqué or Lenglet, this will open holes in their first attacking line.
The image above shows how Barcelona did make a profit of these restrictions. De Jong dropped back and thus he spreads the opponent’s attention between him and Busquets. Osasuna’s attacker gets confused and is confined between two players. The visitors could also play to Piqué who will have a double, or maybe a triple passing option among the midfield line.
Barca Problems and absence of solutions
The real struggles begin higher up the pitch for the La Liga champions. To have an opinion on that, Barcelona did not create a single chance in the first half. They did not manage to have a single on-target shot. Such statistics must alarm the Catalan’s technical squad. Here I have noticed, during my analysis, a general lack of forwarding passing options for the ball holder. This becomes more visible essentially on the opponent’s zone of the pitch. A typical offensive move for the hosts starts with the ball on their centre-backs’ feet.
In the following pictures, you will see Pique advancing with the ball with only one vertical passing line for him. This is one problem, the other is the absence of any connection around his target passing option. He can get the ball to him but there is no chance that he combines with other teammates since Busquets stands very low on the pitch, and the left-side trio (in yellow in the first picture) tend to sometimes not follow the ball movement and the side change. They were often far away from the ball holder and unable to bring help.
This led essentially to a progression on the flanks. Again, Barca struggled to create a real danger this way. When playing down the right side, the winger and the full-back had been on the same vertical line most of the time. Both of them stuck to the sideline and do not give any possibility for an inside pass. It’s then easier for defenders to close them down the sideline.
It’s Sergi Roberto who tried to bring solutions in these kinds of situations. He tried during the first half to unlock spaces by dragging opponent midfielders as seen below. This results in a good space to exploit by other midfielders as seen below. Once more Busquets, De Jong and Rafinha are positioned too far to receive a pass inside this space.
One last thing to wrap up with all of Barcelona’s offensive problems is the inexplicable absence of risk-taking. Here are two different situations in which the Blaugrana players made the choice to play towards the flanks despite having a clear and easy way to go through the centre.
Over the whole match, Osasuna did not show any great football sequences, though they did stop Barcelona from creating goal chances really well, during some parts of the game. On the defensive side, Arrasate put in place a highly efficient block. Once the opponent gets possession, all ten players must be behind the ball. The block must be very compact and have to move continuously in the function of the ball position. Here is an example taken from the match’s first period which bears witness to this. The ball starts on the left and moves to their right side within nine seconds.
The team succeeds to keep a minimum distance between their midfielders within few seconds between the two pictures. Here you can also see how defenders try to catch up to any player who drops out of position.
As said before, Osasuna did not perform amazingly on the offensive side. However, they tried to take advantage of some of Barcelona’s positioning errors. As you can see in the picture below, Los Rojillos had most of their attacks on their left side.
It’s Semedo who is in charge of this flank and the least we can say is that he made multiple defensive errors. The main issue for the Portuguese is his constant doubts about what player and what area to cover. Most of the time there is more than one player to cover in his domain. It’s often a striker who makes a run at his back while the left midfielder goes towards the centre.
In situations like the image above the Catalan right back tended to stay halfway between the two options which cannot help win the ball. He will set exactly in the position where the chance to cut off a pass is the lowest.
Changes during the second half
The major thing that happened during the second half is the dropping back of Osasuna’s defensive block. This can seem quite reasonable given the match result and the physical efforts realised in the first half. Yet this backing off movement had also brought a lack of intensity among the hosts. They looked unable to make fast runs to close opponents, to cut passes or even to shorten the distances between themselves.
Barcelona advanced and controlled the ball higher up the pitch. They also positioned their midfielders differently and corrected the first half failures. We’ve seen stronger links between the midfield trio. Whatever the playing side is, the other wide midfielder would come to provide an additional solution.
It’s Arthur here who comes to offer a third passing option in a third direction. Without pressing the ball holder, it becomes impossible for Osasuna to close down so many targets.
In another domain, midfielders let centre-backs advance with the ball until they reach the final third. They position themselves between the lines and occupy the half-spaces. Wingers occupy the flank at the same moment so centre-backs dispose of several passing options. Whether the ball goes towards the centre or the flanks, there is room for progression through combinations.
In the second half, the Catalans knew that their opponents would not be able to maintain an intense rhythm for 90 minutes. They made two changes within the first minutes of the second half alongside the new tactics to make a profit of this.
It’s another disappointing result for Barcelona under Ernesto Valverde. And unfortunately, we cannot say that their performance can hide the result. The first period was way under the fans’ expectations. However, the changes made by the coach are the real positive point. Valverde seemed to identify clear problems and proposed solutions to his players. It did work out especially in terms of creating connections in the last third of the pitch.
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