CA Osasuna – Barcelona: Ten-man Barcelona stumble past Osasuna (1-2)

Barcelona fans were among those celebrating Rayo Vallecano’s win over Real Madrid on Monday night, not just because their arch-rivals were defeated but also because it meant they would end the round of fixtures at the top of the table. Just a day later, they faced a tough test to consolidate their new table position against the plucky Osasuna. It was far from pretty, but they got the job done at the end of the day.

Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.

At this time of widespread issues in the world of football, Osasuna are a real exemplar of what the model club should look like. Fan-owned and with an emphasis on youth development, they are a proper community club, but of course, that means success is even harder to come by for them. In their 102-year history, they have never won a major trophy, and the last time they qualified for Europe was over fifteen years ago. The second stat might be under threat this season, as an impressive start placed them up in fifth prior to kick-off in this round of league fixtures.

Relative to their opponents, Barcelona are absolute giants, but by their standards, they were not having a good time of late. Going two seasons without a league title was bad enough, but doing so with a backdrop of financial issues which were slightly compounded by back-to-back Champions League group stage elimination added cause for concern. Xavi was perhaps starting to feel some pressure as a result of that, but leading the league was a good way to divert attention, and in order to continue doing that, his side needed to win.

Osasuna named their lineup in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation, with a back four of Nacho Vidal, the two Garcías – Unai and David – and Juan Cruz ahead of Aitor Fernández in goal. Lucas Torró partnered captain Jon Moncayola in defensive midfield behind young Aimar Oroz whilst Rubén García and Moi Gómez flanked them and Ante Budimir was up front.

Barcelona stayed true to their 4-3-3 system, with Marc-André ter Stegen as the goalkeeper. Injuries to Sergi Roberto, Jules Koundé and Ronald Araújo meant that Alejandro Balde started as the right back alongside Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso and Jordi Alba. Sergio Busquets had Pedri and Frenkie de Jong for company in midfield, whilst Ousmane Dembélé and Ferran Torres were on either side of Robert Lewandowski in attack.

Osasuna’s high press unsettles Barcelona

One of the characteristics behind Osasuna’s impressive start to the season has been their compact defensive shape which has led to them conceding the fourth-lowest xG in the league before this game. They also like to press their opponents high up the pitch, generating the sixth-most high turnovers in the league so far.

Barcelona learned about this the hard way as they were penned in early on and lost the ball in dangerous areas on a couple of occasions. In their 4-4-2 defensive shape, Osasuna’s front two obviously looked to close down the ball carrier when they could, but also attempted to prevent Busquets from being a passing option. The central midfielders almost man-marked their counterparts, whilst the narrow positioning of the wingers incentivized passes out wide, after which they could really spring the press.

5th minute: Budimir makes a curved run to press Ter Stegen after he receives the ball, whilst Oroz shifts across to block the passing lane into Busquets.

In the above sequence, the ball reached Balde via Christensen after Oroz moved across, but the young fullback then found himself cornered near the flag. A risky pass from him and a loose touch from Busquets gave the ball away, but Osasuna’s efforts on goal were blocked by the defenders. Ultimately, though, Barcelona were made to pay as the home side scored from the resulting corner.

Barcelona search for solutions but a sending off derails them

After the opening goal, a couple of things changed the pattern of play. First of all, Osasuna began to become more conservative out of possession and dropped into a 4-4-2 medium block rather than pressing high up the pitch. Still, their defensive tactics remained largely the same, so it was up to Barcelona to find a solution.

They did so by leveraging the numerical advantage their three-player midfield had against Osasuna’s duo. Busquets realized that Osasuna were actively trying to prevent the ball from reaching him, so he no longer went in search for it as much and began to pull opponents out of position. Meanwhile, De Jong and even Pedri on occasion began to drop deeper to receive the ball from the defenders.

22nd minute: De Jong and Pedri drop back whilst Busquets pulls Oroz away to create space for the Dutchman to receive the ball in midfield.

Just as Barcelona started to get into the groove and consistently created openings to get past the Osasuna midfield, their good work was quickly undone when Lewandowski picked up a second yellow card for elbowing an opponent. His first sending-off in Spain left his side down to ten men and made the task much tougher for them.

Quarterback De Jong makes the decisive play

After the red card, Barcelona’s system in possession did not change much except for the fact that Torres moved into a central role, so they were playing without a left winger. That did allow Alba to get forward with greater freedom but also left him isolated at times.

This switch yielded a reward early on in the second half when Alba drilled a low ball into the box for Ferran. An Osasuna foot got to it first, but it only broke for the onrushing Pedri, who put it past the keeper and the two defenders on the goal line.

The job was only half-done for Barcelona with that because they came to El Sadar looking for a win, for which they needed another goal. Osasuna were not looking particularly threatening going forward even against ten men as they struggled to break past their opponents’ 4-4-1 block, so as the match wore on, the visitors were emboldened to take more risks in search of all three points.

They did that in the 74th minute, when Gavi replaced Christensen, meaning De Jong was dropped into the right center-back position. Whilst a potential weak point defensively, the advantage of using the Dutch international in that position was that he would have more time on the ball to play incisive passes. He did precisely that in the 85th minute, playing a lovely chipped ball from the halfway line to Raphinha, who got in behind and headed it over the goalkeeper.


Osasuna will be disappointed with this result because they threw away a very strong start against a numerically inferior side. Their lack of endeavour in the second period was perhaps a little concerning, although it might just be a sign of tiredness creeping into a thin squad that has played six games in the last 29 days. The World Cup break comes at a good time for them.

Barcelona will head into this pause with at least a two-point lead over Real Madrid, which they will feel is deserved after a run of five consecutive league victories since their Clásico defeat. Our model is currently giving them a 67.7% chance of winning the league this season, so the odds are now very much in their favour.

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