Barcelona have finally done it – after three successive games without a win for a much flawed Catalan side, the Blaugrana has once again reigned over the mythological Wembley. In the heart of it all was, of course, Lionel Messi, but apart from the greatest of all time schooling yet another opponent, there was someone else orchestrating in the shadows and marking his first true Champions League debut with a masterclass performance. His name is Arthur Melo and here is the full tactical analysis of his best game for the Barcelona shirt so far with the provided statistics.
When word first spread of Barcelona eyeing an exceptional Brazilian talent Arthur Melo, the analyses started flowing in on a daily basis. His idol is Andres Iniesta and he moves and plays like Xavi Hernandez – young, talented, good on the ball, impeccable in his passing of the ball and movement off it with a huge football IQ to partner them with. His 40 million price tag that was paid to Gremio seemed like a bargain, and yesterday we saw glimpses of that brilliance.
Arthur assumed a position of a left-sided central midfielder alongside Ivan Rakitić on the right and Sergio Busquets on his traditional CDM position. Still, that was Arthur’s position on paper but during the game, he would transition into higher or lower positions in relation to Tottenham’s focus of attack – dropping deeper when pressed and moving high up the pitch himself when applying the “gegenpress”. This was especially visible in the first half of the game where Arthur was utterly dominating play.
The Xavi comparisons might be premature considering Arthur is only 22 but his ceiling is frighteningly high. His abilities to pass the ball under pressure, twist and turn while keeping his head up all the time and retain possession do, however, make it rather difficult to stay away from them altogether. Arthur managed a total of 64 successful passes out of 75 that were attempted, noting a true Blaugrana style 91.4 % accuracy. This is even more impressive when considering that he only lost two balls when recycling possession or moving the attack. While most of his passes were directed sideways or backwards, it was almost always meaningful and with intent rather than simply finding the easiest way out.
Barcelona bossed the midfield with Arthur being a key figure next to Sergio Busquets and that was the breaking point of the game. Blaugrana’s deadliness is rarely in question but apart from Messi, there are not many players that can pour constant supply into the final third and feed the attackers quality balls. Arthur did not make any assists against Spurs but his distribution was crucial, to say the least. His, line-breaking but albeit short, pass to find Messi for the Argentine’s first goal was the move that set the whole attack in motion. Arthur opted for the ball forward instead of the more diagonal pass towards Semedo on the right and the well-known Messi-Alba-Messi combination followed by a goal happened next.
This was actually no coincidence that Arthur found Lionel with a through ball. The Brazilian found the Argentine a total of 12 times throughout the game, and Messi was the player Arthur distributed the most passes to. The only player who passed the ball to Messi more often than Arthur was Rakitić with 16. Since almost of every incarnation of Barcelona has roots in a well-established midfield, the fact that the partnership of Busquets, Rakitić, and Arthur was fluid and comprehensive should come as a refreshment to every fan out there. Busquets sent most passes to Arthur (17), and Ivan and the Brazilian interchanged a total of 15 amongst themselves with the Croat receiving eight while Arthur is sitting at seven. As a result, the midfield was theirs to command and command they did.
Although it was Messi who made the final or (prefinal) touches, every attack was coordinated by the trident around the centre of the park. Arthur made it easier for others to do their job. Busquets was not the only one receiving the ball from the defence and moving it forward. The burden was somewhat lifted from him by Melo which, in turn, made his job that much easier. Busquets was flawless as a result of that, acquiring a perfect 100 % pass accuracy (67/67) with 7/7 tackles. Rakitić also profited of Arthur’s efforts. When assuming a defensive formation during out of possession instances (57-43) Arthur would often drop deeper and Barcelona would change to a 4-4-2 shape. Ivan would cover the right and help Semedo while Coutinho would drop from LW to LCM and position himself next to Arthur. Still, while the Croat usually has a lot of defensive responsibility, much of it was actually transferred to Barca’s rising star. Arthur successfully completed 3/3 tackles and won six of the nine duels he took part in. It has to be noted that only one resulted in a foul while he himself was fouled three times.
During the attacking phase, Arthur was usually on the left always forming a triangle with Busquets and Rakitić, maintaining passing options and switching play with the Croat. His role was much more offensive than that of the other two midfielders with the task of breaking the lines falling on his shoulders, as well as recycling possession and soaking up pressure.
There were two options for Arthur in defence: Compact 4-4-2 shape or high up the pitch “gegenpress”. If Barcelona failed to secure the ball seconds after losing it, they would default to a more solid formation with Arthur dropping deeper to cover, mostly alongside Coutinho and Busquets.
Off the ball
His movement was also underrated but not unnoticed. In the build-up to the first goal, Arthur initially starts the play by returning the ball to Lenglet, and then moving his guard away from his defender, opening up two passing lanes – one for Ivan Rakitić to the right, and the other to Sergio Busquets to the left, which was, in the end, rightly chosen by the French.
Time and time again we have seen talented youngsters being compared to legendary players and time and time again they crumbled under the pressure. For that same reason, everyone is still (more or less) quiet and patient with Arthur. Sure, the comparisons with Xavi cannot really be stopped but his path is as clear as it can be. The question still remains whether he can weather the storm and do what so many La Masia prospects have been failing at these past years. With Riqui Puig, Carles Alena and Oriol Busquets already waiting in the shadows, and with Arthur leading the charge, the future does look bright for the Catalan giants. If it proves to be anywhere near as good as its potential is suggesting, the post-Messi era might be that much less painful for Barcelona but painful nonetheless.