Following an abysmal defeat from Bayern that sealed our relegation from the Champions League, Barcelona returns to action in La Liga, against Gattuso’s Valencia. Barca News Network brings you 4 talking points before the 12th matchday of the 2022/23 La Liga campaign.
1. Gennaro Gattuso
The former legendary Italian midfielder, who is known for his firm, temperamental character, took over the Valencian club in the summer, following the sacking of José Bordalás. The former Getafe coach failed to prevail in the chaotic environment surrounding the patinated club and blossom his football at the team seen better days.
In such a beehive had Gattuso put his hand into, accepting the proposal to manage the prestigious Spanish club that unfortunately, because of Peter Lim’s disastrous management, has become a miserable ruin. This was a surprising step, especially knowing the temper of the Italian master, but so far, it’s looking good for Los Che.
From the get-go, it promised to be an exciting project to keep an eye on, until the time bomb explodes and the talented manager, due to the frustration caused by the defects of the club structure and upper management, is fed up and decides to storm out of the collapsing building. Thankfully, this break point didn’t come so far, and we can enjoy watching a refreshed Valencia side.
2. Revolutionary switch
After some early frustrations – as the loss of arguably the two most important players of the team, namely Carlos Soler to PSG and Gonçalo Guedes to Wolves, and the still present financial struggles blocking significant reinforcement of the squad – Valencia took on a mixed start to the season and struggled to keep consistency ever since.
However, the advanced statistics show significant progress in Los Murciélagos’ game, having shifted into a more proactive approach. Although we can see some slight underperformance at both ends of the pitch, statistically, they have the 3rd best-attacking play based on expected goals (20 XG), while they have accumulated the 4th most shots taken (precisely 167) in the 3rd most time spent in the final third (71% field tilt).
On the other hand, their defensive record is rather average, with strong mid-table numbers (12 XGA, 114 SHA). With that, they have theoretically the 4th best expected goal difference, and thus, the 5th best-expected points, which indicates a much better position on the table; luck wasn’t always on their side too, which resulted in some undeserved draws and losses, concluding in a rather mediocre 9th place, with just 15 points claimed.
3. Tactical battle
Expectedly, Barcelona will control possession, as they have, by far, the highest possession percentage in the whole league (65%) – coincidentally, Valencia is the second in that matter – so let’s take that as the bottom line.
Usually, Valencia likes to press high, having the 3rd best PPDA (passes per defensive action) and the 2nd best BDP (buildup disruption percentage), which measures the intensity as well as the effectivity of the pressing.
Los Che have used a variety of formations during this campaign, especially when playing against bigger teams like Sevilla or Atlético. However, they usually line up in a traditional 4-3-3, which opens up numerous options for Xavi regarding what to do, even with or without the ball.
As I mentioned above, Gattuso’s team presses the opposition high, which immediately requires organized movement and a clever plan to play out from the back, depending very much on the formation one chooses to play, not to mention the options in open play.
Just like in the glorious win over Athletic Bilbao, we might use 4 midfielders to secure progression through the middle, but as we could see against Bayern, a prepared, organized defense can neutralize our attacking intentions in that structure.
Alternatively, we can stick to the original plan, stretching the last line of defense with 5 players up front, including the interiors to outnumber the 4-man line. Moreover, we might even see a more extreme 3-1-6 shape, just like we did in the second leg against Inter.
So, plenty of options are available, which makes it possible for Xavi to variate and even try new things that we couldn’t see so far, innovations that one could expect after such a severe failure that we displayed against Bayern.
Similarly, changes have to be expected in the personnel too, replacing the ones still in a poor mental state with ones that are motivated to prove their worth. In plus, the ones just warming the bench in these depressing moments, also have the advantage of fresher legs (along with a more competitive mentality) over their mentally and physically tired peers.
Thus, this game could serve as a great opportunity for the likes of Raphinha and Jordi Alba to recover their starting spot with a potentially great performance, while Ansu Fati and Ferrán Torres might get some well-deserved game time, because, to be honest, they did nothing wrong lately, however, they have fallen as the victims of Xavi’s tweaks.
All in all, it is a great opportunity, individually as well as a collective, to recover from the recent trauma of losing out on the Champions League knockouts qualification and get back to our best, something that 3 points taken away from the Mestalla could greatly assist.