Barcelona headed back to the top of La Liga with a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo at the Camp Nou after two consecutive blunders, one in the Champions League after their draw vs Slavia Prague and the other in their defeat vs Levante in La Liga.
Even though it was a convincing victory for
, a lot of it came down to the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi rather than the team’s tactical prowess.
Both teams opted for some changes ahead of the game. Ernesto Valverde decided to rest Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto replaced him in the middle of the park while Junior Firpo deputized for the injured Jordi Alba at left-back.
Samuel Umtiti also replaced Clement Lenglet and their now 17-year-old Ansu Fati started next to Antoine Griezmann and Messi in the forward line.Barcelona
were deployed in their traditional 4-3-3 system.
On the other side of the pitch, we also saw some huge changes from the new coach and former
player, Oscar Garcia. The team were deployed in a largely unfamiliar 5-3-2 system, used for the first time this season, as opposed to their usual 4-4-2 which we saw in 64% of all of their games in 2019/20
Garcia also made some changes. The backline and the goalkeeper remained the same but the usual suspects in Fran Beltrán and Stanislav Lobotka were joined by Pape Cheikh while Iago Apas was partnered by Pione Sisto from the get-go.
Maybe it is far too early to conclude how well Garcia will get his team to tick, the early signs are fairly optimistic and his squad is showing certain differences in their play already.
The new coach’s influence was probably best seen when his team were in possession as they often tried to build slowly from the back, keeping the ball and waiting patiently for an opening. In those scenarios, Garcia’s tactics instructed them to disperse their five-man defense into a four-man backline and push the full-backs higher up the pitch.
The interesting thing was how the roles of the full-back differed depending on the movement of their wider player.
In other scenarios, the full-backs would overlap instead of underlap and that would give them a chance to get isolated with
’s defenders. In those cases, we often saw long balls being deployed from the back in an effort to successfully find their runs with passes from the back.
Interestingly enough, they were quite accurate in their attempts with 64.58% of their long passes finding their targets as opposed to
’s 56.67%. And even when they weren’t looking to slot a through ball into space, playing from the back to enter the final third had a major role in their tactics.
caused their guests some trouble in their build-up. Usually, Celta Vigo would have a single anchorman in midfield who would constantly drop deeper to receive the ball. But some jitters were visible in their legs and Barcelona actually managed to pin them down successfully and snatch the ball away on a couple of occasions.
Celta Vigo actually managed to keep the ball fairly well – even better than
in the opening stages of the game. Recycling possession in the back and then aiming for their dropping targets from the forward line once a chance was presented to them seemed to work rather well.
And that was definitely a theme in their attacking tactics: holding possession and entering the final third with a swift interchange of positions between their players – either a forward dropping or a midfielder assuming his position, or simply an interchange between the two forwards, Aspas and Sisto.
In both scenarios, Celta Vigo aimed to create space either to receive the ball in the final third or to send their forward blazing behind
’s line of defense. In theory and on paper, that was a clear plan in their tactics but in the end, it didn’t yield them much in terms of palpable results.
The home side was extremely aggressive in their approach and that was probably best visible in the way they defended.
playing with a high defensive line is nothing particularly new but in the game against Celta Vigo, we constantly saw them around or even beyond the half-way line.
The full-backs would bombard forward in a more general scenario, as they did this time as well, but when they stayed back, the backline was still in a more advanced position, as can be seen in the example below.
This was done to push the opposition back and squeeze the ball out of their feet, making the pitch smaller for them in the process. This did result in snatching the ball away in favorable positions for the Catalans.
With the forward trio of Fati, Griezmann, and Messi,
were more effective in their overall pressing tactics, but it dropped off in the later stages of the match.
This proved quite effective as the away team tallied 96 losses while the Catalans managed to register a total of 65 recoveries on the night, edging out Celta Vigo by one in that regard.
When not pressing,
would revert to their standard 4-4-2 formation with Messi and Griezmann often staying as the highest positioned players in the team.
It was interesting to see how their pressing tactics were less intense when Luis Suárez entered the pitch. From that moment on,
defended with eight men while the duo of Messi and Suárez remained higher up the pitch.
This did give
a slight attacking edge but ultimately, they couldn’t make use of it.
Garcia’s men had a similar plan – their approach varied between pressing aggressively and dropping to a compact and narrow block. When going higher up the pitch, we would often see them in a system that effectively mirrored that of
, often even down to a single man.
This was pretty effective in the early stages of the game when they had the stamina and the legs to sustain a more aggressive approach. They tallied 64 recoveries throughout the night and even managed to have prolonged phases of possession.
That happened once in the beginning when they were even in control and once in the latter stages of the game when
slowed down in their own approach.
When they were not pressing high and trying to win the ball back aggressively, Garcia’s tactics were to sit deeper in a narrow block that had two clear goals: shut down all central channels towards the forwards and force
Interestingly enough, it was in those cases that they would revert to a five-man defensive line as opposed to the quartet they deployed when in possession and starting attacks from the back.
While this may seem like a statement that would surprise absolutely no one, Messi was once again the difference-maker for
. But even when we put his set-piece hat-trick aside, the Argentine did an awful lot in the game.
By this point, Messi dropping deep to create is nothing particularly new, but it felt like against Celta Vigo, it was more needed than in some of the other games.
struggled to retain possession in the early stages of the match and even Messi himself lost a couple of balls, including the one that ended up giving away the free-kick for Celta Vigo’s only goal.
But Messi was constantly involved in everything on the night. He would drop deep into the midfield and carry the ball forward. Interestingly enough,
would change their shape accordingly when that happened.
To sum up, despite the fact that the 4-1 scoreline might suggest otherwise, this wasn’t really an impressive victory by
as it felt like they needed their Argentine magician more than ever. Valverde’s troops seem to be reliant on individual brilliance as opposed to great tactics employed by the whole team.
Celta Vigo, on the other hand, are at the beginning of a new chapter with Garcia and some changes can be visible already. Only time will tell how successful the former
man is going to be at his new home.