Barcelona, tactically, are an absolute mess

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was their man-of-the-match and it says much about the total dysfunction of the Camp Nou club

11:00am on Saturday 7th November 2020
Paul Macdonald

When Barcelona play and their best player is the goalkeeper, it is always going to raise eyebrows. But Marc-Andre Ter Stegen's performance against Dynamo Kiev helped to paper over severe tactical deficiencies.

Yes, Dynamo Kiev's 18-year-old goalkeeper had a night to remember of his own, producing 12 saves including superb stops from Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele and on another evening Barca could have had more than the two goals they managed.

But that's almost irrelevant to how the structure of Barcelona is, at the moment, failing.

Defensive personnel

Gerard Pique is quicker across the ground than many people give him credit for, but it's no secret that he's not anywhere near as quick as he used to be.

And in a back four where Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba are auxiliary wingers, it leaves Pique and his defensive partner brutally exposed on transitions virtually every time.

With Clement Lenglet carrying a knock and Samuel Umtiti out long-term, Frenkie De Jong was forced to deputise in defence against Dynamo. De Jong is an outstanding ball player but he is not a defender and on occasion he, and the rest of the team, were easily caught out.

Barcelona defensive transition v Dynamo Kiev

All too often Dynamo were able to transition to attack with absolute ease. There was no counterpress to speak of and the Dynamo forwards were able to drive forward at the back four virtually unchallenged.

In the above image you see how outnumbered they are, and this was a regular occurrence. De Jong is having to turn and chase rather than try to hold a line just because he's inexperienced in the position. As a result, one ball over the top creates a chance which requires a brilliant save from Ter Stegen to avoid a goal.

Easily counterattacked

The above can happen when a team commits, particularly in the modern game when full-backs press so high, but the situation is exacerbated when the team is carrying two players in the double pivot that are the wrong side of 30.

Sergio Busquets and Miralem Pjanic are useful on the ball but don't provide enough protection and with this formation Barca are essentially leaving four players up the pitch - six including the advanced position of the full-backs.

Barcelona 3 v 3 v Dynamo Kiev

In the above image, Dynamo have reached this position in attack with no real difficulty and did so more than once, when poor decision-making stopped them from creating better opportunities.

There's no protection, and there's no wise decision-making defensively to neutralise the attack. This happens every week and it needs resolved.

Four players without defensive responsibility

The front four in Ronald Koeman's formation don't work as hard in regaining possession as they need to for his 4-2-3-1 to work. Bearing in mind that Messi just isn't going to track back - whatsoever - that puts the emphasis on the others and there doesn't seem to be a real philosophy or understanding of the intensity required to get the ball back or, at least, restrict the attack and give the team time to reset.

Koeman may be forced to sacrifice an attacking player and revert to a more conventional 4-3-3 to create defensive solidity. By doing this, it makes it much harder to attack against them at pace, and more attacks should be broken up before the above image, where teams have an attacking overload, shouldn't happen as often.

Carles Alena and even Riqui Puig would likely need to be given minutes for this to happen.

Breaking down a low block

It happened at Alaves on the weekend, and it happened for much of the second half against Dynamo Kiev. Breaking down a team that is well-drilled and in position has been a real problem for Barcelona going back at least a year.

The procession of the ball from left, to centre to right, to centre, to left, is frustrating because the ball isn't moved anywhere near quickly enough, and it's only Ansu Fati and, fleetingly, Messi who are committing defenders to open up the space.

What's more, there's too many cooks. Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Pedri, at times, were right on top of each other in the same congested spot.

There's no incision, nor is there any invention, and Barca will struggle to break down teams with regularity.


Barcelona 2-1 Dynamo Kiev: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

Champions League Groups, Standings, Fixtures and Results

Paul Macdonald watches Barcelona every week. Follow him on Twitter @ PaulMacdFC

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