La Liga finally returned to the Camp Nou last Saturday and once again, it was a goal-fest. After they demolished Real Betis 5-2 in Catalonia on matchday two, Barcelona did the same to Valencia on matchday four. Ernesto Valverde can be satisfied with most of the things he saw and Los Che did well, considering what a hectic week they had.
This tactical analysis will aim to give you analysis on both Barcelona’s and Valencia’s tactics on the night and dissect how exactly the Blaugrana crushed the Bats of Valencia in the heart of Catalonia.
There were a couple of changes on Barcelona’s side of things from the last time we saw them in La Liga. The majority of the team, however, remained the same. Lionel Messi was still in the stands as the little Argentine is recovering from his injury but Luis Suárez returned to the squad and featured off the bench in the second half.
The only changes from last time were Arthur Melo, whose fantastic appearance against Osasuna warranted him a start at the Camp Nou, and the same goes for the 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who was once again the star of the show.
As far as Valencia’s lineup is considered, no major changes were made by the new coach. With Marcelino sacked just days prior to the game, it was to be expected the team would be shaken and Alberto Celades would make minimal changes to the team that featured before the international break.
With that in mind, we only saw one change in the backline: Moucktar Diachaby was replaced by Gabriel at the centre-back position and the remainder of the team stayed the same as in the game against Mallorca.
Valencia’s clear plan
It’s difficult to blame Celades and his tactics for such a big defeat at the Camp Nou. Marcelino before him has proven that Valencia can certainly tango with the best of them, especially with Barcelona, but this was, in so many ways, just a shadow of the team we’re used to watching in La Liga.
Celades’ Valencia were rather conservative in their tactics, which makes the analysis of their team rather straightforward: they came to survive, salvage a point if possible and regroup until everyone has recovered from the shocking events that preceded the clash.
The idea was clear: shut down two of Barcelona’s most prominent weapons – midfield control and blazing wings. The Catalans have, as expected, tended to use both Fati and Perez’s speed and their combinations with Jordi Alba and Nélson Semedo respectively, to breach the compact defence of their guests. With that in mind, Valencia’s idea was to stop the trio of Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo and Frenkie de Jong from feeding the speedy attackers with great passes.
Notice how Valencia don’t press high up the pitch but just make sure they close down the channels that lead towards the pivot or any of the two more advanced midfielders. That way, Barcelona had to go wide and when they did, the second part of Valencia’s tactics unfolded.
As soon as one of the wingers or the advancing full-back got the ball, Valencia would try to create overloads on the flanks, always having at least a 2v1 situation to combat the potential overlap or a through ball.
Notice in the following images how that looked like on the pitch. As soon as Barcelona have the ball with one of the wide players, Valencia double down on the flanks, putting multiple markers in order to somehow stop the bleeding and prevent penetration.
Their tactics were clear but even though they had the right idea with the zonal marking across the pitch- especially in the midfield area, and heavy man-marking on the flanks, ultimately it didn’t bring them much because they surrendered all control to Barcelona who, in turn, soon found a way around this system, exploiting it and running away with the game.
Barcelona establish dominance
With Valencia sitting deep in their block and rarely getting out to actually contest the ball, Barcelona were happy to circle around and starve their opposition of possession. As a result, they ended up with 63.62% possession on average throughout the clash.
And the majority of that boils down to midfield control which Barcelona seized and never let go. The trio of Busquets, Arthur and De Jong were nigh untouchable and would rarely lose the ball. But Barcelona had a perfect positional play in place with a player in each of the respective zones in the attacking phase, making sure there’s always an option available to them, even when navigating through a well-structured block.
Notice in the image above how Barcelona change their 4-3-3 structure into some sort of a 2-3-5 when attacking in order to occupy each of zone of the pitch with at least one player. The centre-backs stay high and start the attacks while the three players in front serve as a base behind the frontline.
Since the Blaugrana faced a compact block for most of the game, enabling good ball circulation was essential in bypassing it. These specific positional tactics meant that there was always someone who could either recycle possession in case pressure was put on the ball-carrier.
It also enabled a lot of movement in-between the lines with the midfielders and forwards exchanging places at all times, reshuffling the deck, moving the pieces and finally, penetrating the defence. If Valencia tried overloading the flanks, Barcelona would react accordingly, dropping an additional midfielder to support the winger and the full-back so an option was there to recycle possession and swiftly change sides.
That way, the possession of the ball was guaranteed and Valencia’s shape had to constantly be changed as it was moved around by Barcelona’s pulling of the strings. The main idea, however, was to always have one winger or full-back stretch the backline and then once the space was created, an additional player would slot in there and occupy a dangerous, between-the-lines position.
Let’s take a look at one of the examples of that below. Perez hugs the touchline on the right, which immediately attracts two markers since Valencia were adamant on doubling down on the flanks. While this did create an overload and it prevented an overlap, it also left space for De Jong to rush forward an occupy a position with a lot of space in a dangerous area.
Naturally, the young winger’s run once again creates space for Barcelona since it opens a clear channel for De Jong towards Fati, which ultimately results in a goal for the Catalans. Both De Jong and Arthur were constantly in between the lines and driving forward, interchanging places and swapping sides, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of.
But Barcelona’s intense tempo did not stop there. They kept going, kept controlling the game, dictating tempo and never letting Valencia breathe. When out of possession, they would set up a 4-1-4-1 formation or a 4-4-2 system with various pressing triggers that would change it to a 4-3-3, among other variations.
When pressing, they would either mirror the opposition and shut down the possible passing channels or chase them until they made a mistake. You can see an example of one of their pressing tactics below.
Upon losing the ball, they were more energetic and intense than usual, always collapsing and always trying to get the ball as soon as possible. While that is usually a big part of their tactics, the inclusion of younger players like Perez and Fati, who are active in both their offensive and defensive duties, made hunting for the ball that much easier.
The perks of having Suárez and Messi in the team are enormous but one downside is that they don’t run as much as the youngsters do and in this particular situation, Barcelona prospered from having some young blood in the lineup.
Signs of life for Valencia
Even though they were the passive ones for the majority of the game, there were still some positives for Celades and his troops. Without having too much time on the ball, Valencia’s greatest chances arose from attacking Barcelona when they were out of their shape.
Those situations included immediately after losing the ball or when they succeeded at bypassing their collapsing tactics. But they couldn’t capitalise on transitions as they initiated three counter-attacks in total but none ended with a shot.
What they did do well, however, was a positional game of their own. Just like Barcelona on the other end, Valencia also made sure to position their forwards between the lines and then exploited runs behind their defence, which is still shaky at the moment. Notice down below the positioning of their troops in attack.
The goal they scored was actually a pretty impressive display of a positional attack. The movement was key in these instances. Throughout the match, Pique would always get dragged away by one of the forwards, which would create space to run into, and that’s exactly how their first goal came to be.
Notice the movement of two players highlighted below: one creates space by moving Barcelona’s centre-back, and the other immediately rushes into it. A fantastic through ball creates a brilliant 1v1 situation that, after some VAR drama, ends up in a great goal.
Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get many chances like that one throughout the game and they were mostly sloppy in possession, losing the ball on 97 different occasions, not being able to string together enough attacks to seriously threaten Barcelona.
The Catalans, on the other hand, couldn’t wait for that to happen as their transitions were put to much better use with 2/3 ending with a shot on goal. Barcelona enjoyed snatching the ball away (76 recoveries) and attacking a disjointed Valencia with pace.
A rather disturbing chain of events that happened with Marcelino surely had a big impact on Valencia’s mentality heading into the game. Barcelona were extremely dominant and at the end of the day, they very much deserved their victory.
But saying this was Valencia at their very best would be wrong and unjust. Celades is fighting an uphill battle and even though he has a great team at his disposal, it is a broken squad that needs rebuilding- more so mentally than in personnel or specific tactics.
Let’s hope that he is up for the challenge.
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