Tactical analysis Barcelona Granada 1-0 LaLiga

Barcelona – Granada: Quique Setién’s tyrannical ball control eventually pays dividends in debut victory (1-0)

Barcelona might have had the ease of possession but the same could not be said on the chance creation front. Granada stood up and were counted as their aggressive medium block defense aimed to strangle the home side’s interplay in Barcelona’s fresh-faced system.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter Munnelly.

Quite a lot has happened since the Catalan giants were last seen in Spain – they flew out to Saudi Arabia, lost a Spanish Super Cup semi-final to Atlético Madrid, returned, sacked Ernesto Valverde, and then replaced him the same night with surprise candidate Quique Setién. 

The sixty-one-year-old head coach has only managed Las Palmas and Real Betis in his short four-year spell in the top flight, and yet he has left a lasting impression – be it good or bad – on just about every viewer to have crossed paths with his football in this time. 

In his appeal to win the support of the fans, and restore some life to this side, he set out in a very different manner, albeit one prohibited by the absences of Frenkie de Jong and Luis Suárez through suspension and injury, respectively.

Setién’s 3-5-2 system paired Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi up front. And, as well seeing Ivan Rakitić return to the midfield, it also meant Ansu Fati got his first start since November.

Compared to their last LaLiga outing – a 1-0 victory over RCD Mallorca – manager Diego Martínez made a few changes, seeing Dimitri Foulquier step in at left back ahead of Carlos Neva; Maxime Gonalons took over at the base of midfield instead of Ángel Montoro; Antonio Puertas made way for Álvaro Vadillo; and Ramon Azeez partnered Carlos Fernández up front as a part of a 4-4-2 formation.

Barça get a feel for their new shape

The stark difference in systemic approach was the use of a back three from Setién. Opting not only to try and gain numerical advantages across the pitch but also to benefit the specific profiles he had out on the pitch, the coach used blind-sided movements If a defender looks one way, an attacker can try to make a run behind the defender’s back, on the side where he is not looking. This is called the blind side. from the two men up top to create situational diamonds on either side, but mostly on the left. 

Granada had other ideas about letting them beyond their first line of pressure so easily. The away side were incredibly narrow but not to their own demise. The 4-2-4 shape aimed to have the wide midfielders block access past the outsides of the strikers, whilst also trigger pressing onto either wide center-back, keeping the element of pressure there. 

Although this made life somewhat difficult for the hosts, Granada did have plans in place to deal with losing ground down either halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. which was to have the defensive players follow the markers upfield, before the wide midfielder dropped in to steady the space between the lines, additionally nullifying the threat of the wing-back initially beyond him.

How Barça tried to combat this very congested set of defensive lines was by having Griezmann, from the left, drop against the grain into the pocket of space between Granada’s two holding midfielders. Then, with three players short and around him, the Frenchman could look to combine first time with the aim of sucking in their double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. to then transition it across into space. The double pivot soon became very isolated like this because the wide midfielders were slightly disconnected, and the center-backs did not have a reason to all push out so highly.

Example of Griezmann dropping through the center to create a left-sided diamond.

Example of Griezmann dropping through the center to create a left-sided diamond.

In terms of the first phase, Barça found it much easier using this left-centric diamond to then find Messi camped out in the opposite halfspace, where – if he was deep enough – he could drive back across like he does so often, or simply play it into Fati in space. It was in the second phase where results were a mixed bag though, as the follow-on support was lacking, more so in these more common routes of play.

With no Suárez to get across goal, Fati’s main options ended up being on the cutback, which Granada were great at keeping covered during retreat. On the left, however, there was more promise, as it often provoked the same Messi and Jordi Alba partnership they are so well-known for, as well as seeing a more aggressive runner like Arturo Vidal, because he is already closer to goal through rotation with Messi at this point. 

The benefits of actually stretching an opponent

One feature that was lacking from Barcelona was the use of switches. A pass from one side to the other. Against such a narrowly robust shape, it can be vital to make use of the width as frequently as you can, but Barça teammates struggled to co-ordinate their runs with the ball-holders and receivers throughout the encounter. 

However, the rewards from doing so were plain to see just ten minutes in when a simple switch out to Alba forced a retreat and afforded Messi the room to step backwards and offer more clearly across. Then, in typical Messi fashion, he hopped past one and jinxed past the other to take out Granada’s midfield pairing before manipulating the positional aggression of their defenders to feed Alba’s out-to-in run through the opening halfspace channel. With Fati having made a run across to the inside just prior to this, he was primed to receive short inside, where his first touch kicked the ball up leading to a misguided shot over the bar.

From a throw-in ten minutes later, Messi picked up a similar position deep, across and in front of Granada’s midfield once again. The Argentine then proceeded to exploit that open channel as the positional manipulation of Granada’s back-four was exploited by another pacey run from out-to-in by Alba. In an even clearer position at the byline this time, the Spaniard slipped it across towards Fati at the back-post, who was put off by Foulquier’s challenge, resulting in him failing to make contact in front of a wide open net.

When you set up camp right outside the box, but can’t find a way in.

Despite a growing frustration during the first half because of an increasingly flatter and disjointed structure, Barça would go on to have one more chance right before the break, this time perfectly encapsulating the key aims of Setién’s rotational diamond. As Griezmann and Messi lurked in the midfield channels, Vidal pushed up to maintain the central figure. Then, during a transition to the other side, they had the room to play straight into Griezmann for the layoff which Messi took to dribble back against the grain. 

With Granada’s double pivot so continuously isolated, Rakitić was then able to connect play in the left halfspace into Alba’s overlap before Vidal’s necessary run to the frontline to draw open the space for a trademark cutback back into Messi. The side-netting teased many in the stadium but the ball was most certainly wide.

Granada attempt to adapt

In the second half, Granada were, unsurprisingly, deeper and even changed shape, dropping Azeez back to create a 4-1-4-1 shape that substantially helped to cut out the overloading When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. threat through the middle. But that was not the main cause of Barcelona’s second half frustrations. 

Vidal and Rakitić were soon adding to the aforementioned issue of Barça’s attacking runs, or lack thereof. The two were needlessly dropping out of Granada’s block to offer deep, which instead congested play and did nothing to pin open the flanks or help create ties into players between the lines.

On the few occasions a switch was attempted, either Alba or Fati did not attempt the run, or the ball-holder was too reluctant to try and find them. 

This slow, horizontal passing was preventing them from stretching open the center, which was where they were trying to attack. 

This is… extreme.

Granada get their first glimpse at goal

It took a while, but the first real opening for Granada came mostly as a result of their adjustment. From a goal kick, Sergi Roberto forced the riskier, straighter forward pass – as Barça had been focusing the majority of their play around wall passes A one-touch pass that quickly sends the ball back to sender. In the meantime the sender has quickly moved into free space, and he momentarily escapes pressure. and getting the deep ball-holders on the ball already forward-facing – but had was intercepted as a result. With the striker nearby and the host’s midfield pushed up, they had room to combine to get into space on the edge of the box, where Yan Brice Eteki rifled a shot onto and out off the inside of the near post. 

That half-chance, which might have breathed some life into their attacking prospects, here, was soon squashed by the sudden dismissal of central defender Germán Sánchez. 

Granada camp in but can only hold for so long

For the next five minutes, Diego Martínez held out the home side with what was mostly a 5-3-1 shape, content to drop into a 6-2-1. And, if Barça did not have control of their third before, they most certainly did now.

However, Setién’s side only managed to make the visitors pay in the 76th minute, right after the introduction of the highly-rated youngster Riqui Puig. The twenty-year-old’s contribution was as simple as a closing down job, but it was one which regained possession high up. And, in the same fashion to the scenarios in the first half, it was Messi receiving deep and across from the left which did the trick.

This time, he looked to get involved as the space in and around the isolated double pivot was much more easily passable. So, with a first-time pass around the corner to Griezmann, he then flicked it forwards Vidal before he completed the move with an intelligent back-heel onto Messi’s run from deep. The Argentine then, as cool as you like, passed it into the bottom left corner with his weaker foot.

It was a goal which saved them, all thanks to that genius once again. Granada could not get near the victors for the final fifteen minutes – certainly not whilst being a man down, and so that is how it ended.


In one of the most ball-dominant displays in recent times in Spain (as can be seen in the tweet below), there were many positives to claw from a painstaking watch. The basics were lacking in many senses but the boldness in Setién’s decisions showed important invention, looking to benefit individuals whilst catering to the opponent.

Granada’s defensive display, particularly in the first half, was by all means impressive, but it is hard to look past just how little threat they posed going forward. And that was not all down to Barcelona’s pressing, either. 

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP