Who would’ve thought that the first victory of the new season that Leganes would find would be achieved over the reigning champions of Spain? Barcelona visited Estadio Municipal de Butarque on Wednesday and fell short to the team that was, until then, without a win and bottom of the table with just one point in five games, losing three in a row before facing their toughest schedule yet. Here is the full tactical analysis of Leganes’ big night with the provided statistics.
Leganes (5-2-3): Cuellar – Juanfran, Bustinza, Tarin, Silva, Carnero, Perez, Vesga, El Zhar, Oscar, En-Nesyri
Bench: Serantes, Rolan, Gumbau, Carrillo, Nyom, Sabin Merino, Santos
Coach: Mauricio Pellegrino
Barça (4-3-3): Ter Stegen – Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Vermaelen – Rakitić, Busquets, Coutinho – Munir, Messi, Dembele
Bench: Cillessen, Semedo, Arthur, Suarez, Malcom, Alba, Vidal
Coach: Ernesto Valverde
Barcelona opted for the traditional 4-3-3 formation that suited the club throughout the most of their history but with some big changes in the first 11. In came Thomas Vermaelen and Munir while Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba were benched (rested) since the Catalans have a tough round of fixtures coming their way. Rotation was necessary but along with some big individual mistakes as well as lack of motivation and desire cost the league leaders all the points in an, on paper, easy away mid-week fixture.
Leganes assumed an interesting 5-2-3 formation which was focused on proactive pressing instead of the traditional soaking up, laid-back tactic that lower-tier teams adopt when playing Barcelona, home or away. Leganes were deadly on the counterattack and although they had only one clear striker on the field, their direct and sharp through balls were extremely effective against a (mostly) disorganised guests.
Barcelona started the game with high intensity and focus which resulted in an early goal. The Catalan side has more than enough firepower to score goals against any team, and even without their number 9 on the field they looked hungry and poised to strike fast. Ousmane Dembele was on the left flank, Munir in the middle, and Messi free roaming from the right, and characteristically cutting in and dropping deeper when needed. This time Semedo was benched, and Roberto regained his starting position on the RB position. The plan was the same, though. Messi would leave the right flank open for Sergi, and position himself behind the young striker up front with the Argentine often combining with the midfield trident to pour sharp balls to the striking force.
The first goal came in the 12th minute and was purely a result of individual brilliance rather than team effort. Messi picked up the ball near the centre of the field, danced around three players and found Coutinho free near the box. The Brazilian received the ball by lifting it up in the air and setting it up for an unbelievable volley that left Cuellar without a chance in the world. It seemed like Barcelona would soon rip the bottom of the table team to shreds. But that was almost the last proactive thing they did that game.
Just like in many other instances before this one, Ernesto Valverde opted for the more defensive approach after getting the initial lead on his opponent. Barcelona soon removed the foot off the gas paddle and started moving the ball slower and without purpose. Again, the only real threat to Leganes was coming through individual qualities – Messi hit the bar (again) after a great long shot but the little Argentine and the aforementioned Brazilian were the only ones in the mood for the most parts of the game. The choice to rest Jordi Alba hurt Barcelona the most. Valverde doesn’t seem to trust in Miranda just yet since the 18-year-old is still in Barca B getting experience, and a proper substitute was neither bought nor called up for the game. Instead, the coach decided to put a slow-paced CB on the left back position which backfired exponentially.As can be seen from the pass-map above, Barcelona was mostly one-dimensional in their attack, focusing completely on the right wing where Sergi Roberto had to overlap when Messi was cutting inside to the centre of the park. Vermaelen is solid defensively (when fit) but offers next to nothing in attack. Stretching the play on that left side was a task that solely depended on the young Frenchmen Ousmane Dembele, who was, for the most part, sub-par to say the least. Barcelona’s world champion lost far too many balls trying to dribble past his opponents with his traditional “Dembouz“ trick thus providing no real width to the Catalan’s attack. Leganes was well organised in defence with a five-man block which forced the guests to switch play to the sides and funnel balls into the box without a real threat. With the left flank gone AWOL, and Roberto not playing his best game, Barcelona was left without a chance.
Second half: Remontada
One thing that was clearly missing was the aggressiveness or rather – pressure. Far too many times last season Barcelona would play for the result and try to close out the game, submitting control of the game and preserving the lead even if it was just by a one-goal margin. In the 2017/2018 campaign, they almost went unbeaten and managed to cover for their mistakes when falling behind or surrendering the reigns of the game. But what was incredibly apparent in the game against Roma (3:0) and Levante (5:4) came to light again in yesterday’s clash: Barcelona is not Atletico Madrid – they play open football and the best form of their defence is attack.
After scoring the goal the pressure was off of Leganes, and they could move more freely, making use of every ball and every free kick they could get. In the first 45 minutes, Barcelona was intercepting a lot of passes and recovering balls often within the opposition side of the pitch. A total of 33 interceptions were made in the first half but only 22 in the second. Still, most of that happened when defending in the zone 1 and 2 (Barcelona’s side) with only 12 of 55 coming in zones 2 and 3 (Leganes’ side).
Leganes had a simple yet effective plan: strike on the counter and aim for the main man up front: En-Nesyri. Still, they had one thing Barcelona was missing and that is width. Both Juanfran and Silva were crucial in the link-up play with the wide attackers with multiple balls being played to Rodriguez and El-Zhar. Both teams had a total of 9 shots over 90 minutes but Leganes managed 0.62 expected goals as opposed to Barca’s 0.59 despite a total domination in possession (78 – 22).
Tactical and individual mistakes
Ernesto Valverde handed his team a handicap in the form of Thomas Vermaelen as a LB, as we have already mentioned, but deploying Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitić as double pivots also hurt Barcelona in the creative sense of the play. Both players were far too deep and could never fully link up with the final third. Busquets was only searching for Messi with his passes and the Croat was back to his back and side-passing for most of the game. Munir was completely cut off the rest of the team and could not receive any balls at all. Notice how Rakitić is playing far too deep for a CM and has no possible solutions besides playing either Busquets or try with long balls. In this instance, Leo finds Philippe who is in an ideal position but it is still a positional error of the Croat which was probably instructed by Valverde himself.
The final nail in the coffin was the defence or to be more precise Gerard Pique. The big man was at fault numerous times in the game against Girona but also in yesterday’s game. His bad pass resulted in the second goal for Leganes in the span of less than one minute after the first goal was conceded. Pique initially intercepts the attempted ball but then proceeds to forward it to the sprinting Oscar who pummels it behind ter Stegen. The German had no chance. Pique and Umtiti were not really in unison when defending which can be seen below. The Spaniard plays Ennesiry onside instead of staying in line with the Frenchmen and then does one more crucial mistake and becomes the one directly responsible for conceding in the first place.
It was truly a game of two halves for Barcelona. After initially weathering the storm (sort of), Leganes slowly but surely got back into the game. Still, this was made possible strictly because the away team decided to give them enough space to do so. A clear-cut game plan, as well as almost flawless execution, resulted in the biggest upset of the season so far. David did beat Goliath in the end and deservedly so and one has to question the attitude of Ernesto Valverde moving forward. Is he demanding the right mindset from the players? “The Ant“ seems to be calm and collected almost 100% of the time but without the passion and the fire, Barcelona are in danger of completely losing their identity.