With just one loss in the last ten games, the match against Real Betis further reinforced some beliefs surrounding Barcelona. The fact that the team is truly improving steadily was apparent. There were many moments of inspiration from the Catalans as compared to earlier in the season. However, the fact that the team needs to improve even more to face the strongest teams in Europe was proven once again. In this analysis, we take a look at what caused these thoughts to be reinforced through the tactical analysis of the matchup between Barcelona and Real Betis.
Initial system: Barcelona
Barcelona started out in a 4-3-3 as expected. Ronald Koeman decided to rest Lionel Messi, Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez. The game plan was to maintain possession, sustain attacking play, and of course, play attacking football. To achieve this, suitable player roles and instructions were observed throughout the 90. The full-backs, Jordi Alba and Oscar Mingueza, had high starting positions. This allows a platform for the team to build-up from. Barcelona always look to play out from the back. Playing as the ever-present pivot, Sergio Busquets would find space to receive and circulate possession in midfield.
At times, Miralem Pjanic playing as the right interior would drop back to receive if Busquets was tightly marked. Riqui Puig was the other interior who had more of an attacking responsibility than Pjanic. In attack, Ousmane Dembele would look to stretch the opposition playing as the right-winger and Martin Braithwaite would either occupy the left-wing or the central areas. Antoine Greizmann would drop back often to help in the transition.
Initial system: Real Betis
Real Betis started out in a 4-4-2 focused on wing-play. The 4-4-2 formation is usually very efficient when it comes to wing-play as it allows for the wide-midfielders as well as the full-backs to move forward as they see fit. However, when attacking a 4-3-3 was visible as we shall see later. The 4-4-2 system was also a 4-2-3-1 at times due to either Nabil Fekir or Borja Iglesias dropping back often.
Nabil Fekir was playing as an attacking midfielder but had a certain degree of freedom allowing him to drop back into midfield or look for combinations alongside Iglesias. The double-pivot of Paul Akoukou and Andres Guardado was crucial to the team with the former being the more defensive. Alex Moreno and Emerson, the full-backs, would move up the pitch regularly looking to contribute to the attack.
Betis tried to get in low crosses often, which resulted in the first goal. A lot of responsibility was given to Betis’ wide-midfielders, Antor Ruibal and Juanmi. Both of them had to contribute to both attack and defence. When defending, they would allow Barcelona possession down the wings. Once the ball was with the wingers of Barcelona, Betis would start pressing.
Tactics in the attack
In the attack, Barcelona tried to play through the middle. However, there was little incisiveness. In the initial midfield or Riqui Puig, Miralem Pjanic, and Sergio Busquets, there was a disconnect between the two La Masia graduates and the Bosnian. Barcelona were able to progress the ball through one channel often but failed to get all midfielders involved in the attack in the final third. As the match progressed, the wingers got more involved. Especially Ousmane Dembele, whose dribbling and pace allowed for regular ball-progression.
Real Betis would look to play down the wings as mentioned earlier and to make the most of this the forward would drop back. In the image below, we see an example of the same. Frenkie De Jong, who came on for the injured Ronald Araujo, is drawn out of position as the forward dropped back into midfield. After a certain area, De Jong would retreat and maintain his original defensive position. Due to this, Betis would have numerical superiority towards the end of the middle third. A fat transition was essential as a result. Since Barcelona pressed Betis often and well, so these transitions were not effective.
Betis would have the wide midfielders tuck in and try and pin Barcelona’s backline. As we can see, this did create space between Barcelona’s midfield and defence. This was effective in the transition as it gave Betis a better chance of winning second balls. The example below also shows how Betis built-up using the forwards for a wall-pass. As they dropped back and the defenders passed through Barcelona’s lines, the full-backs would be available for a first-time pass. This was seen often and meant that Betis would need to exploit the lines accurately to avoid being caught flat-footed.
Both teams would defend in a 4-4-2, with subtle differences. In Barcelona’s case, Puig would press the opposition alongside Griezmann. Both these players have excellent work-rate. When the opposition would attack, naturally both teams’ full-backs would drop back. The back-four would be a compact line as we can see from the examples below. The midfield would have more freedom but would rely on the two central-midfielders to orient themselves. These similarities were seen between both teams’ defensive systems.
Due to Araujo’s injury, De Jong would be deployed at centre-back. This didn’t create much discontinuity as the Dutchman is a capable makeshift defender. Barcelona’s defensive issues were mainly in dealing with crosses. Not only for the first goal but throughout the match, the crosses were a threat. This was an issue consisting of tactics and player profiles both.
Betis were solid defensively for the majority of the match. They failed to deal with Barcelona’s overlaps but allowed little opportunities on goal centrally. There was little to improve tactically. In terms of player profiles, Juanmi and Ruibal were just unable to cope defensively. Though Emerson was solid as Betis’ right-back, Alex Moreno was unable to deal with Barcelona on the transition.