After months of turmoil and turnover, FC Barcelona are finally hitting their stride under Xavi Hernandez. The Catalan club had their best performance under the Barca legend this past weekend, securing an easy 4-2 win against arch-rivals Atletico Madrid. With the likes of Dani Alves, yes Dani Alves, and a younger version of Xavi himself in the form of 17-year-old Gavi, Barca have a mix of incredible experience and youthful verve to propel them into the top four moving forward. Here is our match analysis of Barca’s 4-2 win over Atletico, and Barcelona’s attacking variety and balance throughout the match.
SYSTEM OF PLAY – 4-3-3
Xavi’s Barcelona set up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Adama Traore making his debut on the right-hand-side, and Gavi playing an unorthodox role on the left of the front three. Ferran Torres played up top as the false nine, with Pedri and Frenkie de Jong restored to midfield. Since our Xavi Hernandez – FC Barcelona – Tactical Analysis a little over a month ago, the Spanish manager has implemented just about every suggestion we gave, and the Catalian giants have instantly looked better.
While Barcelona set up in a 4-3-3 formation, it must be said that this resembled much more of what they did in defense than attack. With 57% of the possession, Barça were free to take risks and present innovative ideas to break Atletico down. At times, their shape resembled more of a 2-2-2-4 (without over-complicating things). This involved Pique and Araujo circulating the ball around with the help of Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets in a box-like structure. Pedri and Frenkie de Jong would seek space out to in, sometimes dropping wide and low in reference to the initial 2+2 box. Adama Traore hugged the touchline down the right, as Alba ventured forward down the left. Gavi and Ferran Torres operated more in central areas, both taking turns dropping deep to pick up the ball in between the lines. With Barcelona preferring attacks down the left, both players also took up positions down the left-hand-side more often.
VARIETY IN PROGRESSION TO CREATION
As expected of a Barca-Atletico encounter, the Catalans dominated possession throughout. Circulating the ball around their centre-backs in a 2+2 to 2+3 shape in the attacking half, Barcelona enjoyed many positional rotations and variety to their precision passing sequences. Dani Alves’ role in the progression to creation stage was of particular note, inverting in central areas as an auxiliary defensive midfielder. The Barca legend featured as a central midfielder throughout his time in Brazil, and the role allowed him to get on the ball and spray his beautiful long passes from right to left, often toward Jordi Alba. It also allowed Adama to hug the toucline down the right, where he was more easily able to isolate defenders 1v1. Alba on the other side was impeccable in getting up and down the left-side, constantly overlapping Frenkie de Jong and Gavi, and seeking space in behind Atletico’s stern back-line.
Gerard Pique was also essential to Barca’s possession, and like Alves, exhibited brilliance in long passing range. From the left half-space, the Spanish defender perfectly found Adama Traore over and over again, allowing the wing wizard to go on and display his silky smooth moves down the right. Traore was incredible in 1v1 situations (or even 1v2’s), assisting a goal, and winning all of his duels up against Mario Hermoso, who he tormented throughout. In other moments, the likes of Pique, Alves and Araujo would look instead for passes vertically into Ferran Torres as he dropped in deep. Bounce passes became commonplace in the progression phase, with Torres playing with his back to goal, and then spinning around to hunt down space following his back-pass.Embed from Getty Images
Down the left, Gavi also performed well, oozing with poise on the dribble and linking up nicely with Alba as he overlapped. Pedri and Frenkie barely needed to get involved with the attack, with the 2+2 build-up structure almost completely bypassing central areas. Wide areas were the key to the match, and one winger always looked to get into the box when the other winger had the ball in danger areas. Similarly, the fullbacks roamed forward in the creation stage, and both scored on the day through their high attacking position. With so many numbers forward in the attack, Atleti had a torrid time defending, and looked a shadow of their high defensive standards set in seasons past.Embed from Getty Images
Crucially, the Catalans were also incredibly intelligent and patient with thrusting the ball forward. They did so with precision nearly every time they went long, but they were also smart about when to play it safe and pass backwards. They created wide overloads to break down Atleti’s defense when appropriate, and progressed vertically when pockets of space opened up in behind Simeone’s shape.Embed from Getty Images
With so much variety and gusto in attack, Sergio Busquets’ positioning in behind to recover loose odds and ends also deserves notice. The Spanish midfielder is having another excellent season, almost under the radar again, leading Barca to better times with the captain’s armband wrapped around his bicep. Dani Alves’ experience and sheer imagination has also been a massive plus. He’s even taken on set-piece duties on occasion, targeting Barca’s big men at the back with whipped balls into the penalty area. Inverting into central areas is the perfect role for the 38-year-old, as it not only gets the best out of him, but Adama Traore. The former Wolves man is then free to stay wide as much as he likes, and can constantly be an outlet on diagonal switches, and the first few passes after recycling. Incredibly difficult to stop when in full flow, Traore can use his pace and power to cut inside and break lines laterally, allowing other players like Pedri, who see space excellently well, to run in behind. But with Alba constantly overlapping down the left and Alves’ precision passing, Xavi’s team will likely continue to emphasize the left side in their attack, as they did in their 4-2 win over Atletico (50% of attacks).
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Barcelona’s 4-2 win over Atletico presented the first big sign that Xavi is finding a balance with his team in attack, as he gets into his groove and instills his principles of play on his players. The mix of youth and experience has been a perfect balance, and Xavi needs to keep this momentum going into the second half of the season as Barcelona chase down a top four finish.
So there it is! Our analysis of Barcelona’s attacking variety against Atletico, propelling the Catalan club to a 4-2 victory. Be sure to check out more of our Match Analyses, and more articles similar to this one below! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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Barcelona have been on a deep, downward spiral ever since rumours of Messi’s departure started to surface toward the end of the 2019-20 season. The La Liga giants have won just the 2020-21 Copa del Rey since the 2018-19 season, and now look destined to finish below a UEFA Champions League place this time around. Xavi Hernandez has come into the club to try and restore normality, but with the club floundering under uncertainty of poor budget planning and insufficient funds, Xavi’s task appears to be a mammoth one. Barcelona sit in just sixth place at the moment, and they’ve had very few convincing performances since the former Barca legend arrived from Al Sadd. With young players not quite ready and old heads no longer at their best ruling the starting lineup, Xavi’s ability to find consistency before the end of the season could be impossible. So with that, let’s take a look at some of the tactics Xavi has deployed since taking over the helm at Camp Nou, and what needs to change if the legend is get his team back into the UEFA Champions League next season.
Former Barcelona man Xavi Hernandez is widely considered one of the best midfielders of all time. In his hay-day with both Spain and Barcelona, Xavi formed one of the best midfield triads the game has ever seen, alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. He won twenty-five major trophies with Barcelona and three for Spain, before moving to Qatar ahead of the 2015-16 season. He then went on to finish his career in style, winning the Qatari league in his final season at the club in 2018-19. The very next season he was named manager of the squad and soon afterward completely revolutionized Al Saad into a near unstoppable unit in the QPL. The Spanish midfielder has quietly gone about his business at Al Sadd, playing in Guardiola-esque ways and doing del-Bosque-esque things, winning six trophies in two seasons so far. Barcelona are keeping a close eye on the now 41-year-old, and in time we may see one of the game greatest ever midfielders become one of the game’s greatest ever managers. Here is a tactical analysis of Xavi Hernandez’s Al Sadd.
La Pausa – Spanish for ‘The Pause’ is a fantastically useful skill for players looking to fool their opponents. La Pausa is a skill whereby players in possession pause on the ball, drawing in defenders and enticing them to make a movement toward the ball. After the defender makes a movement toward them, the player in possession will often quickly speed up play or then make their pass or movement in a direction that exploits the fact that the defender has approached them.