FC Barcelona – Real Betis: Barcelona Slightly Tweak Their System And Thrash Betis Despite Early Scare (5-2)
Real Betis were able to take the lead early on at the Nou Camp in one of their few attacks throughout the game. Barcelona initially found it tough to break down a compact Betis side, who defended increasingly deep once they were ahead. Eventually Barcelona found a way through with two Antoine Griezmann goals either side of half time, after which the floodgates opened for Barcelona to increase their lead further as Betis’ intensity dropped.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Barcelona’s season began with disappointment as they were defeated 1-0 away at Athletic Club. They also had injury problems for this game against Betis, especially in the forward area. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé all missed out, meaning they had to turn to Carles Pérez and Rafinha to lead their 4-3-3 formation either side of Antoine Griezmann.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets returned to the lineup, meaning a more advanced role for Frenkie de Jong alongside Sergi Roberto. The defensive line was more familiar than the players in front of them, as Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba took up the fullback spots either side of Gerard Piqué and Clément Llenglet.
Betis also had an opening day defeat, against Valladolid. Now under the leadership of former Espanyol manager Rubi after parting company with Quique Setién, they lined up for this game in a 4-2-3-1 formation including their star signing Nabil Fekir in the forward line.
Barcelona with the ball.
Barcelona’s possession structure
In this game, like they did previously against Athletic Club, Barcelona set up with a 4-3-3 shape in possession, which was slightly different from the systems seen for most of Valverde’s reign at the club.
The most noticeable difference is in the behaviour of the central midfielders, in this case Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong, who started in very high positions between the defense and midfield line of the opponent. This is in contrast to much of Valverde’s time at Barcelona where the nominal central midfielders have spent a lot of time outside the opposition’s defensive block A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. in deeper areas.
Accordingly, wingers Pérez and Rafinha started very wide, with Semedo and Alba the fullbacks behind them remaining slightly deeper in early phases of attacks, and made their overlapping runs perhaps slightly later than they would ordinarily do under Valverde.
Basically, the system is more structured and the players’ positioning in possession more fixed than previously. It remains to be seen whether Valverde will continue with such a system when Messi returns, especially with regards to the wingers hugging the touchline, or if Barcelona will instead return to their less structured possession play once their star man returns.
Betis take unexpected lead
Naturally, Barcelona were relatively dominant from the start in their first home game of the season. However, they were given an early shock as Betis were able to take the lead via their new signing Fekir. The Frenchman was able to fire past Marc-André ter Stegen after Betis pounced on a loose pass from Busquets towards Alba on the halfway line and hit Barcelona in transition.
Betis defended in a compact 4-4-2 shape. Loren and Fekir as the two strikers looked to guard passes into Sergio Busquets, while the midfield remained narrow as the central and wide midfielders kept tight distances to prevent De Jong and Roberto from receiving in their advanced positions in the halfspaces. 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.
The positioning of Barcelona’s central midfielders pinned Betis’ midfield back and drove them deeper. This was especially the case once Betis were ahead, where they were seemingly happy to let themselves sink very deep into their own penalty box and have the game be played in their own third.
The space for Barcelona was primarily on the wings against Betis’ compact low block. A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. On the right, Pérez looked to offer a one-versus-one threat, hugging the touchline before cutting in on his left foot. Roberto made frequent underlapping runs in behind the defense, facilitated by his high starting position in the right halfspace. Semedo was more cautious than Alba on the other side but still supplemented Barcelona’s right side attack with occasional underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. or overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. runs.
Frenkie de Jong’s starting position between the lines in the left halfspace was an interesting role for him, as he has built his career operating from deeper positions. Like Pérez on the right, Rafinha would start out hugging the touchline, but was more likely to move inside to leave space for the overlapping runs of Alba. When Alba overlapped, De Jong would often move slightly deeper into a more familiar position to balance the left back’s movement.
Barcelona struggled for much of the first half to create clear chances. They were dominant in the sense that they had pushed Betis far back and were in control of the ball, but they also compressed the game into Betis’ own third to such an extent that there was very little space behind the Betis defense for Barcelona to exploit, and creating from wide was difficult against a packed penalty box.
Barcelona find breakthrough, Betis collapse
A few minutes before half time, Barcelona finally found their breakthrough via Griezmann. The Frenchman was impressive throughout the game in his linkup play with his back to goal, which was a big responsibility of his in this Barcelona system.
His first goal came through on one of the rare occasions in the first half where Betis were pushed further up the pitch and there was actually some space for Barcelona to play through the lines and get in behind the defense. In this case it was Griezmann who got on the end of an accurate lofted pass from Roberto in the right halfspace and finished from close range to make it 1-1.
Griezmann found his second from the edge of the box early in the second half, and his effort was quickly followed by goals from Pérez and Alba. Betis’ organised deep defense had collapsed and the game was more open than in the first half, which Barcelona thrived on.
Betis had some more spells of possession but rarely created meaningful attacks. Barcelona pressed high in a 4-4-2 shape as one of the midfielders, usually Roberto, would push up alongside Griezmann to pressure Betis’s center-backs. Barcelona did leave space in behind the midfield which Betis could occasionally pick out with their attacking midfield filling these spaces, but generally they struggled to get out of their half.
With the pressure off, Barcelona were able to introduce a couple of new faces to the Nou Camp in the late stages. Sixteen year-old Ansu Fati replaced Pérez and looked lively playing from the right wing. Former Betis player Junior Firpo was also introduced in place of Rafinha, and De Jong also got to move back to a more familiar defensive midfield position as Vidal replaced Busquets. There was time for a Betis consolation goal from Loren’s long range strike, but the result was not in doubt as Barcelona ran out 5-2 winners.
Barcelona went behind early and struggled to create clear chances initially, but once they found some space behind the Betis defense and got their breakthrough, the game was relatively easy. The more interesting questions from the game are about their tactics going forward when it comes to integrating their talent.
A structured 4-3-3 formation with both central midfielders between the lines and wingers on the touchlines has been far from common at the Nou Camp for a while. Will this continue when Messi and Suarez return? And if so, do players like De Jong and Griezmann end up in unsuitable positions? These are questions which will be answered in the coming weeks.
Betis initially did well to keep Barcelona out after going ahead, but were punished by two moments of quality in Barcelona’s goals either side of half time, and never looked like getting back into the game after that.
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