Barca vs Intercity: In a game that brought massive excitement despite what could be expected from the big difference in the quality of the two sides, Barcelona fought out a narrow victory against Intercity, and thus, the right to continue the chase for the Copa del Rey trophy in the round of 16.
Barca News Network brings you four points to talk about regarding the surprisingly narrow 4-3 triumph over third-tier side CF Intercity.
1. An unpleasant opponent:
Given that CF Intercity competes in the lower divisions of Spain, it was easy to take a Barca victory for granted. However, the Alicante-based outfit proved to be a much tougher opponent than expected, and caused a lot of inconveniences for the Catalan giants, pushing them into extra time – indeed, the much deeper sources of energy and quality of the Blaugrana made the difference there, and Ansu Fati’s goal in the 103′ minute won the game for them.
As expected, Barcelona had vast majority of the possession, while Intercity clearly played from second intent. Gustavo Siviero’s men played in an extremely compact, usually deep, defensive structure, where often the whole team was between the range of 30 meters, limiting the space to operate for the Garnet and Blue, especially in the central regions, which often caused difficulties in progression and creation of big chances, typically in the first half.
Furthermore, as this compact block often halted progression in the middle third, it invited our defenders even higher to match the numerical superiority of the hosts. Thus, it wasn’t a rare phenomenon to see both of our center-backs operating well into the opponent’s half, leaving acres of space behind to be exploited by occasional counters, which leads to an old dilemma.
2. Our archnemesis: counterattacks
Stylistically, Barcelona carries a certain stigma in their play, concretely the vulnerability to counterattacks. As described above, the constant eagerness to dominate and attack the opponent as much as they can also carry the danger of being easily exposed to quick counterattacks into the immense space left behind the high defensive line. The coaches try to minimize the chances of such situations, however, often it remains a lethal gamble to trust the predestined path.
Thankfully, against Intercity, it didn’t come to the surface so spectacularly, first and foremost thanks to the brilliant Araújo–Koundé partnership. The return of the Uruguayan, who also made a crucial goal-line clearance to deny Aarón Piñán at the end of such a counterattack, alongside Koundé, who seemingly really enjoyed being placed back in his natural center-back role, solved the main issues in terms of defending in a high line.
The pace and athleticism that these two possess give the security for Xavi to play his team with a high defensive line given that they can easily cover these open spaces and shut down potential counterattacks due to their physical capabilities. Contrarily, when they were changed to the slower García–Alonso duo, this problem reared its head right away, and the latter duo proved, once again, to be a liability to a successful defensive structure.
Indeed, Alonso made a huge error but that doesn’t correct the fact that such a situation caused the third conceded goal. As both García and Alonso were caught high when the latter lost the ball, the retreating Busquets was the deepest man to defend against 2 attackers, and the others were just helpless spectators as the former La Masia product, Oriol Soldevila completed his hattrick – in the opponent’s jersey, though.
3. A new attacking solution?
However, positives cannot be withheld from Xavi’s team, and the statistics show that even though Intercity fought well, Barcelona dominated the game and were the indisputably better team. Xavi also claimed to be satisfied with the game his team produced, but also highlighted the ineffectiveness in front of the goal, which should have sealed the win much earlier, and most importantly, eliminate an extra 30 minutes of fatigue ahead of the crucial Atlético clash.
Coming to the point, a general tendency was noticeable in the attacking play, concretely that the wingers operated more centrally, combining more with their peers and taking more shots to the opposition goal. This was also due to the fact that the two fullbacks were Alba and Bellerín, who were comfortable pushing high to provide the width – with Kessié usually staying deeper to compensate their forward runs – and thus, enable the wingers to drift infield and enhance their impact.
In special, the Dembélé-Ansu-Raphinha collaboration was the most convincing setup, and the pacy, fluid, combinative trio caused a lot of trouble for the opposition defenders. Ousmane Dembélé was, undoubtedly, the star of the match, and managed to make good use of his skills, dazzling past defenders and taking shots.
While being a serious threat to the defenders, from both left and right, the Frenchman also found himself often in the striker position, and he played well there too. Maybe something similar could be Xavi’s answer to Lewandowski’s absence against Atlético.
4. Ansu Fati, the savior:
Finally, what many culés wanted to see for long, after Raphinha’s precise cutback, Ansu Fati found the back of the net again, and this time, Intercity had no answer. The young Spaniard, who just stepped out of his teenage years not too long ago, scored the winner in the extra time, and hopefully, this goal will restore his confidence that was nowhere to be seen after his return from his latest injury.
The critics already started to grow onto his head, and the fans started to really worry about whether he will be able to ever return to that magnificent self of him from the past or will it fade away as an old memory about just one in the long line of fallen wonderkids.
Playing without the confidence he once swelled from, seeing the people around feel disillusioned and lose hope in you while also starting to lose trust in yourself too; it was the best possible moment for the young titan to score a decisive goal and get a so badly needed confidence boost, ahead of a crucial weekend clash that he is expected to play a key role in the absence of team’s number one star, Robert Lewandowski.
Overall, a lot of positive and also negative conclusions can be drawn from this game where we suffered more than we should have, but hopefully, this will also help us to learn from our mistakes and get stronger. Força Barça!