Analyzing Barcelona’s attacking brilliance vs. Atletico

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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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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).


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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!

You might also enjoy…

-> Goalkeepers in the build-up – a new meaning to the ‘Sweeper Keeper’
-> How to beat a low-block like Antonio Conte’s Spurs
-> Xavi Hernandez – FC Barcelona – Tactical Analysis

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