Barcelona travelled to Ipurua last Saturday and managed to snatch away all three points after beating Eibar 3-0. Even though the Basque hosts fought bravely, the Catalans were clinical and made use of the hosts’ disorganised pressing tactics and the abundance of space they were given when entering the final third.
The home team were deployed in a fairly standard 4-4-2 system that they’ve used for the majority of the ongoing season. There were a couple of changes to their setup from the last game they played in La Liga.
Jose Angel Cote started at the left-back position while Orellana and Diop were joined by Álvarez and León in the middle of the pitch. Up front, Sergi Enrich and Charles led the way.
On the other side of the pitch, Barcelona were deployed in their usual 4-3-3 formation but saw some changes in the lineup. Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti both made their big returns after injury and Sergi Roberto returned to his right-back position.
The rest of the squad didn’t see any changes as the Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Arthur Melo midfield was followed by Griezmann/ Suárez/ Messi forward trio.
Eibar’s pressing tactics
Generally speaking, Eibar have one of the best pressing systems in the league. And from the get-go, we knew what their gameplan would be: charge at Barcelona with pace and numbers, creating overloads and squeezing the Catalans into mistakes.
They would press in a 4-3-3 scheme with the ball-near full-back advancing forward if the ball was progressed down that flank and into their territory. Sometimes, Eibar even made sure to mark Barcelona’s players man by man, effectively mirroring them and making sure they had no escape routes.
But even though that did pin Barcelona back in the latter stages of the game, it didn’t really work according to plan throughout the clash. Ernesto Valverde’s troops quickly recognised Eibar’s tactics and patterns of movement and they had a couple of different solutions ready for them.
The Blaugrana midfield played a key role in escaping the press. Usually, they would have the pivot, Busquets, drop deeper to receive the ball but he was often shadow covered for that very reason. To counter that, De Jong would also drop to the same line as Busquets, effectively forming a double pivot in the process and also creating an additional passing channel.
If, however, Eibar attempted to put more bodies into Barcelona’s defensive third, the Catalans would use their heavy man-marking tactics against them. De Jong would drift wide to the right and usually just in front of Sergi Roberto, which would, in turn, drag away Eibar’s marker and suddenly open a channel for them to use.
We can see an example of that below. De Jong drifts wide, a channel gets opened and Busquets is found with a simple pass that moves the action forward.
Interestingly enough, Eibar were living and dying by their pressing tactics in this particular match because whenever they managed to execute them well, it yielded them a good opportunity but at times, they just left themselves exposed, which Barcelona embraced with open arms.
You can see an example of a well-executed pressing sequence below. Ter Stegen is forced to send a long ball over the top and towards an open teammate out wide but Eibar have enough men to scoop the ball in a dangerous position after Barcelona’s panicked clearance.
But, as we’ve said, that did not always work according to plan and when it didn’t, Barcelona almost always capitalised on it.
Take a look below how Eibar push forward in a 4-4-2 system but fail to cover huge free spaces they left in-between the lines. As a result, De Jong drops slightly deeper in the right half-space and can easily be found by Busquets’ long ball.
A quick flick progresses the ball forward and out wide and before Eibar can even turn, Barcelona are rushing into the final third.
In the second half, however, they did fix this and Mendilibar tweaked his tactics ever slightly so his troops stopped pushing all the way to Ter Stegen and decided to simply box Barcelona’s midfield and then man-mark the full-backs.
You can see an example of this down below. Barcelona are forced to recycle possession because no openings were to be had through the middle and all the channels to progress the ball centrally were closed.
Even though it did help in containing Barcelona as the Catalans couldn’t find as much free space as before, ultimately Eibar didn’t get much more than that out of it.
Barcelona’s attacking tactics and Eibar’s defensive woes
For the away team, it was all about finding that space to burst into the final third. Eibar’s troops did show courage and they were sometimes relentless in their approach but their defensive structures were heavily flawed.
If their press was bypassed and Barcelona regained a firm control over the possession, Eibar would default to a mid-to-low block with two banks of four. But the problems started occurring when Barcelona’s players moved out of their positions, especially the forwards.
All three of Messi, Suárez and Griezmann would regularly interchange their positions and were very dynamic in their approach. And for Eibar, this proved to be deadly – if they followed their opposition around, spaces would suddenly appear behind their backs and if they didn’t, Barcelona would easily find their targets in dangerous positions.
Notice below how Suárez drifts to the right half-space to receive the ball and is quickly found by a ball from a deeper position.
This was happening throughout the game – Barcelona’s pieces would move across the board and Eibar’s reactions were not good enough and their defensive structure was too leaky, to say the least.
Take a look at another example where Griezmann drifts a bit deeper into the left half-space to receive the ball and then quickly plays it towards Suárez who’s ready with a first-touch pass to Messi. The Argentine reacts just as quickly to release the Uruguayan into space but the offside flag breaks up the attack.
Still, just by moving into the danger zones and exploiting those free pockets of space throughout the game, Barcelona were always dangerous when moving forward. Of course, having the likes of Arthur and De Jong in the middle to feed the forwards with penetrating passes definitely helps but Eibar’s defensive structure kept leaving too many holes in the first place.
One other thing the Catalans would heavily exploit were the wide areas. Since none of their front three are natural wide men, they would all occasionally tuck inside, leaving the flanks for the overlapping full-backs.
But the key here was how they pinned down all of their markers and in that way freed their teammates to burst forward. Notice below how Barcelona are inviting all the pressure to their right side and Griezmann finalises that extremely narrow attacking structure.
This gives enough space for Alba to receive the ball on the left with a quick swap of sides and after a quick one-two with the French forward, Barcelona are storming towards the box with pace and intent.
That’s a part of simple tactics that make sure their forwards can be set up in an isolated battle out wide. In this instance, Griezmann and Alba double down on the left and Expósito can’t defend properly in a 2v1 scenario.
Eibar barrage the box but Barcelona stay vigilant
When defending, Barcelona would revert back to their standard 4-4-2 formation and would not utilise their pressing tactics unless triggered. Typically, there were a couple of different triggers that prompted the Catalans to push forward: the ball going either back to Dmitrović or Eibar trying to access their full-backs.
Otherwise, the Blaugrana would remain in their mid-block and look to close the passing channels instead. Upon the ball moving out wide, the ball-near midfielder would engage and push forward to apply pressure.
Still, Eibar didn’t have that big of a task when it came to bypassing Barcelona’s frontline. Griezmann would often drop into the midfield and act as the fourth wide midfielder on the left and while he did work extremely hard off the ball, the same can rarely be said for Messi and Suárez.
Barcelona’s illustrious duo would put some effort into cover shadowing when possible but were, other than that, quite easy to bypass. This was actually pretty big for Eibar because it gave them free rein around the middle of the park from where they could distribute the ball onto the flanks.
You can see an example of that said freedom in the image above. The hosts have enough time and space to determine where to put the ball next since Barcelona retreated in a deeper block instead of engaging the opposition.
For that reason and whenever possible, Eibar would go wide with Fabian Orellana pulling the strings and deploying the balls. Once they got their men in space, as we’ve seen in the examples above, they would mostly rely on long balls over the top and then winning the second balls to set up an attack on the wings.
We can see an example of this below as an accurate pass finds its mark up front and Eibar quickly transition out wide and make use of Barcelona’s narrow positioning. In total, they’ve sent 54 long balls on the day with an impressive 72.22% accuracy.
Needless to say, barraging the box was a big part of their overall tactics as they managed to send in a total of 30 crosses into the box but only 12 were accurate.
Unfortunately for the hosts, none resulted in a goal as Barcelona were pretty good in the air themselves, winning 52.94% of their aerial duels.
Even though Eibar went out bravely and fought until the end, their structural issues were too big to ignore. Barcelona happily accepted those “gifts” by the Basque squad and capitalised on some clean passing and excellent movement of their players, as this tactical analysis has hopefully explained well.
This time around, Valverde’s tactics prevailed and Barcelona took home all three points.
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