A glorious night concludes as Barcelona found the winning way again, and in quite a fashion. The Catalans came out victorious from the game against Villarreal, putting three past the visitors, and made a huge step to recover from the traumatizing defeats from Real Madrid and Internazionale.
Barca News Network presents you 4 talking points following the Blaugrana’s convincing, 3-0 victory on matchday 10.
1. Rejuvenated attacking play
Nevertheless, Lewandowski’s great game didn’t come out of nowhere, as our offensive structure worked seamlessly, especially in the first half. As we also pointed out ahead of the match, the importance of direct forwards took center stage yesterday as Xavi opted to deploy Ansu Fati and Ferrán Torres on the left and the right side of Lewandowski respectively.
Their dynamism helped to stretch the Villareal defense vertically, and their movement drew the attention of the defenders which created space and time for their peers to prevail, while they did not lack getting into those dangerous zones themselves. This could be perfectly demonstrated in the first goal, where Ansu, positioned fairly centrally, tied up the opposing fullback, creating space for Jordi Alba to run into and cross.
In the third goal, it was Ferrán who got the ball on the right flank and brilliantly drove past two defenders to then find Ansu in front of the goal with an easy assist. Characteristically, the young number 10 was frequently able to find good positions in the box, interchanging with Lewandowski fluently, as he registered 7 shots of a 1.3 xG just by himself.
Moving on, Torres’s ‘assist’ described his contribution well: smartly positioned, receives in open space, and creates a sitter for Fati, but unfortunately, he hit the ball as badly as it hits the post – which dismisses Ferrán’s assist – but somehow still converts the rebound. Similarly, Ferrán’s performance is like that, quiet yet useful for the team, not the fanciest, not the most spectacular, often goes underrated, but has an essential place in Xavi’s ideas.
2. Pivotal takeover
What we all were waiting for in the past 3 years, finally, seems to materialize. Frenkie de Jong, following his strong showings lately, took over the starting spot from Busquets, and we can start wondering whether it will remain a permanent switch or just an occasional solution based on the current form of the players.
In 2019, the young Dutchman was signed by Barcelona, with the purpose of becoming the heir to Sergio Busquets’s throne, but to this very day, they did not found what made them interested in him, and the veteran, although enjoyed redemption following Xavi’s arrival, became unmovable despite some obvious signs of aging.
The crisis went so far that in the summer that the club wanted to get rid of the Dutchman and his enormous wages, but failed to do so following continuous resistance and unwillingness to leave from the player’s side. With sudden competition arriving in the name of Franck Kessié to the midfield, one could be concerned about the former Ajax man getting some reasonable playtime even as a rotational option.
In the end, de Jong’s tale concluded as the symbol of loyalty, perseverance, and hard work, as he decided to stay, no matter the consequences and difficulties, and now we can say it paid off. With Busquets’s recent setback, de Jong got a golden opportunity to finally fill the place he was once predestined to, and he is seemingly on the right path.
Against Villarreal, he produced a decent performance, both on and off the ball. Although the pivot role requires other abilities than his main strengths, and his attacking impact is minimalized, his dribbles and long balls were immaculate (100% completion rate) alongside the obviously great pass accuracy (95%), which were crucial in launching the attacks.
For example, in the second and third goals, he was the one to drive the ball out of the defense into the final third before passing the ball, and just 3 passes, one dribble, and a clumsy finish after the ball left his feet, the ball ended in the back of the net.
What is more interesting, though, the Dutchman also excelled in the defensive phases too, which wasn’t typical of him previously. In numbers, he won all of his duels (10/10), 4/5 tackles, and frequently recovered the ball, precisely 9 times. His significant improvement also contains a more mature positioning and growing up to the role, which we look forward to seeing more about.
3. The Lewandowski Show
Week in, week out, we are witnessing a true show the Polish superstar puts on. Yesterday, he didn’t disappoint either, and scored a brace of fabulous goals, increasing his tally up to a total of 16 goals scored so far in the new season, and crowned the night with a man-of-the-match performance.
The beauty of his goals conjured smiles and joy on the faces of the Blaugrana fans, and the elegance of his executions bore witness to his greatness. In the 31′ minute, he exceptionally received a cutback from Alba with his heel, turned from his marker, and comfortably put the ball into the net.
4 minutes later, he showed up again as he received the ball on the left, and after taking a few steps inside, blasted it home from the edge of the box. Knowing his past, the variety and quantity of his amazing finishes don’t come as a surprise, but once again, the Pole showed us his oozing class, the reason why he is regarded as one of the best players in the world.
4. Defensive tweaks
Speaking about the defensive unit, it’s safe to say that there were far fewer problems than we faced in the weekend against Madrid, which, of course, has more roots, including the personnel used and a better working collective defending, which also depends on the quality of the opposition.
First and foremost, Villarreal found really few chances to significantly overcome our counter-pressing and create dangerous situations if we lost the ball. It can trace back to the fact that the Yellow Submarine simply does not have the quality players Real Madrid have in the likes of Kroos, Valverde, or Vinícius Jr.
But what was Xavi experimenting with lately is using Marcos Alonso as a center-back, in consequence of the poor performances of Gerard Piqué and Eric García. Thus, Koundé’s imminent return into the starting lineup had to be expected after he recovered from injury, but the choice to play Alonso alongside him is interesting to say at least.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, who is naturally a fullback or wingback, also due to his advanced age, lacks the pace to keep up with quicker, explosive forwards, but thankfully, he did not have to do that frequently yesterday. Moreover, as a fullback, or even more preferably, a wingback, has whole other skills and tasks generally when defending, and in terms of experience and familiarity in that position, I believe both Piqué and García are ahead of him.
What is more, comparing him to the latter mentioned duo would be unfair, given the difference of oppositions and circumstances of the games. Piqué and García had way more pressure on them, facing oppositions of indubitably greater force than Villareal’s, not to diminish their ability. In plus, Barcelona relatively quickly got ahead with a comfortable, 3-goal margin, while it was just a slim advantage of the momentum and an even aggregate scoreline against Inter in the first half.
Nevertheless, seemingly Alonso is enjoying the trust of Xavi, but we cannot say he would have deserved the opposite. While clearly not the quickest, nor the most technical, he can add stability to the backline, and compensate for his physical deficiencies with his experience.
Meanwhile, in his natural position, Jordi Alba regained his place (and celebrated it with a great assist), pushing Baldé onto the bench, yet he was one of the greatest surprises in September. Does Xavi feel the urge to rotate or is there something else?
Anyway, at least Sergi Roberto is a constant point in the defense – who would have thought? – and even if Christensen can recover until the game against Bilbao, he has no need to worry. Even though we all know his defensive weaknesses, his attacking contribution is so highly valued that it’s worth it.
Filled with happiness and positivity about the result but with a lot of questions in mind, we shift our attention to the next challenge, which happens to be against Athletic Bilbao, on Sunday. Until then, some questions have to be answered, decisions to be taken and preparation to be done properly, and every focus on grabbing all the 3 points in the next game as well, crucial in the pursuit of Real Madrid for the top.