La Liga

Pedri is a star in the making, but Ronald Koeman's Barcelona just isn't working

The 18-year-old remains the one bright spark in a season which isn't going anywhere for Koeman's dysfunctional side

1:00pm on Sunday 20th December 2020
Paul Macdonald

Barcelona's frustratingly inconsistent season continued against a Valencia team struggling to make an impact against, well, anyone. And as has been the case, for every step forward Ronald Koeman's team takes, a regression immediately follows.

Barca were excellent in midweek, for the opening 45 minutes at least, against Real Sociedad, creating clear chances and moving the ball at pace. But here, the bad ways at both ends of the pitch returned.

The Catalan giants' ability to be utterly ponderous in possession knows no bounds. Their average possession time was 23 seconds, they had 68% of the ball, and had 67 entrances into Valencia's final third, but only 30 of those (44%) actually led to an entrance into the area. By comparison, of Valencia's 26 forays into Barca's final third, 21 (81%) ended up in the box.

What does this tell us? Well it shows this Barca are doing a lot of ball circulation, from left, to centre, to right, but they aren't penetrating the most dangerous area of the pitch. There's a lot of pre-amble but very little in the way of clear chance creation.

The stats may show Barcelona creating 2.8 xG worth of chances, but that's a little misleading. More than half of that number comes from Lionel Messi's missed penalty and subsequent converted rebound and many of their efforts on goal came from low tariff areas. Eleven shots came from outside the area, eight of which were off target.

This is what Barcelona do when they get desperate. In the absence of creativity, they pass it around, from full-back to full-back, Jordi Alba to Sergino Dest, and back to the centre. The majority of their attacks came through the centre simply because they have Antoine Griezmann, Pedri, Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho who all want to operate within that space.

Pedri remains one of the few bright spots in this season. Against Valencia only Messi made more Key Passes, while only Jordi Alba made more successful actions in total. No-one made more ball recoveries in the opposition half, while his fantastic tackle which led to Ronald Araujo's superb goal typified his all-round display.

What's more, his importance is underlined by the fact that only Alba and Messi attempted more passes than him. He became the central player to everything Barca tried, and tried is the operative word. He was inventive while those around him, such as Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, played safe. Coutinho's pass completion was virtually 100% - that's not a good thing from an attacking midfielder.

Barcelona v Valencia
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And Koeman's tactics didn't help. Despite the relative inexperience of his two centre-backs, he opted to play only Sergio Busquets as protection, with Coutinho and Pedri in front of him. Not only can Busquets simply not cover the ground any more, even if he could, one man is not enough in this formation.

It's difficult to see where Koeman goes from here. He has too many players underperforming, while he has stuck to 4-2-3-1 for much of the season despite the fact that it isn't working with the personnel he has. Yet he persists.

There are so many underlying issues that are haunting this team. But Koeman and his players aren't making things easy. And this season is in danger of slipping away altogether.

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