After another magisterial performance in front of the Camp Nou faithful, Barcelona crush Bilbao ruthlessly, putting four past the surprised visitors. Ernesto Valverde’s first return to Camp Nou ended in a huge victory for the Blaugrana, providing a serious morale boost before a crucial midweek clash against Bayern München in the Champions League.
Barca News Network brings you 4 key talking points from the glorious triumph over Athletic Bilbao.
1. An new-look system
To achieve this compelling result, Xavi made some tactical tweaks in his setup, which paid dividends afterwards. The Catalan master made some essential adjustments to the lineup that made his team suffocate the Basque side in every aspect of play, and take the well-deserved victory.
While it looked like a 4-4-2 on paper, it was quite a flexible setup, especially in the attacking section, where fluid rotations and constant interchanges resulted in a seamless concept, retaining a fixed number of players but giving them positional freedom in itself, in order to continuously combine and disrupt Bilbao’s defensive line.
Instead, I would rather break down the lineup into duos with similar duties. Starting from the back, Eric García and Koundé started in front of ter Stegen, and they did fairly well to stop some occasional attacks that somehow got through the killer pressing in the middle third of the pitch.
Meanwhile, the fullbacks, namely Sergi Roberto and Alejandro Baldé, were tasked to push high and support the attacks from the flanks. Accordingly, both had a great game, Baldé was a constant threat at the left wing with his explosive pace, while he was also great while tracking back to neutralize eventual attacking intentions on his side. In the meantime, Sergi was part of the lively combinations on the right side and played well both on and off the ball, and he was rewarded with a goal for his good performance.
In the middle of the park, Xavi deployed a double pivot consisting of Frenkie de Jong and Busquets, and two attacking midfielders in Gavi and Pedri. Thus, the four-man managed to create numerical superiority against Bilbao’s midfield trio, helping advance the ball into the final third and overcome the pressing face with ease.
In possession, one of the pivots, typically de Jong, was able to drive the ball out of the defence, move higher and combine with either the attacking midfielders or the dropping forwards, while the other one stayed deeper and held his position.
Meanwhile, the attacking mids often pushed high into the frontline, Gavi into the right halfspace, between Lewandowski and Dembélé, and Pedri to the left wing, as an inverted, ‘false’ winger, which opened space for Baldé to make bursting runs into the space and provide another outlet, quasi as a 5th attacker, outnumbering the visitors’ 4-man defensive line.
Thanks to these tactical variations, we completely dismantled the Basques’ defence while also minimizing the chance to launch dangerous counterattacks with a suffocating, heavy counter-pressing, which caught the visitors surprised as Ernesto Valverde admitted in his post-match interview.
2. Dembélé is the name
Due to the brilliant collective performance, several individuals prospered in the setup as Roberto, Baldé and Lewandowski, but the only one who truly deserved to be the man of the match is Ousmane Dembélé. The Frenchman was magnificent throughout the night, having scored once and assisted thrice, being the central figure of Barcelona’s success.
Starting from the right, El Mosquito took the limelight yesterday night, dazzling through defenders with elegance and playing crisp passes to his peers, setting up a hattrick of assists. In addition, he also registered a goal following a great header from Lewandowski’s cross, which happens to be his third goal of the season.
3. Ferrán back on the rise
He may have not shined as brightly as his French colleague, but Ferrán Torres has been showcasing his talent again, clever movement and sublime positioning to find the space to attack and receive before he can place a shot towards the opponent’s goal, exactly how he managed to get on the scoresheet last night.
While he has been massively underrated and over-hated since he signed with Barça due to his lack of end product, the young Spanish forward is starting to regain his confidence and find his form, registering his third direct goal contribution in the last 3 games. With these late performances, he started to silence his haters, and hopefully, he continues on the same trajectory, and then, we will have no need to worry about him.
4. Injuries continue to come
However, despite all the positive events of the game, it filled our hearts with fear and concern when both Roberto and Gavi left the pitch injured. While Gavi reportedly didn’t suffer any significant injury and will be back in the squad soon, the other one wasn’t so lucky.
After a fervent tackle to steal the ball from the opposition, the Spanish right-back remained on the floor, screaming from pain, and he had to be carried out of the pitch with the medical vehicle. Further tests indicated that he has got a dislocated shoulder, which, sadly, requires a lengthy recovery.
It’s unfortunate because he has just got in form, and now, we will have to deal with the Bayern challenge without him. Indeed, Bellerín has just returned from injury and is available for selection, but his profile and sharpness certainly don’t match Sergi’s level.
So, we have to cope with the tough task to beat Bayern München and keep the last spark of hope alive without such an important cog in the system, but in case we pull it off and Viktoria holds Inter back to a draw, which has a really slim chance to be honest, unless some unexpected turn, we will advance through the UCL knockouts. Not an easy task and the final say is not in our hands but never say never. Visca Barça.