The UEFA Champions League is back in Barcelona, with an opening group stage game against Hungarian side Ferencvarosi TC. FC Barcelona came in after a 1-0 loss to Getafe in La Liga after a penalty from Jaime Mata while Ferencvaros had beaten Kisvarda 2-0 with goals from Isael da Silva and an own goal from Roman Karasyuk.
Both teams lined up in a classic 4-2-3-1 formation. For Barcelona, Neto Murara started in goal to replace the injured Marc Andre Ter-Stegen. The central defence pairing was Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique, the usual centre-backs that start for the club. At left-back, considering that Jordi Alba is injured, Sergino Dest, the new signing for Ajax, got the nod to play there out-of-position. Taking into consideration that Nelson Semedo was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sergi Roberto was the only one to start there. The double-pivot consisted of Frenkie De Jong and Miralem Pjanic, who got his debut for the blaugranas. Phillipe Coutinho played ahead of the pivot as the attacking central midfielder, with Ansu Fati on the left-wing and Francisco Trincao on the right. Captain Lionel Messi started as the striker who dropped back deep (i.e. a false nine).
Ferencvaros went for a similar setup. Denes Dibusz started in goal with Miha Blazic and Bosnian Adnan Kovacevic started in front of the goalkeeper in central defence. At right-back, Endre Botka got his second start while Eldar Civic started at left-back. The double-pivot consisted of goalscorer Ihor Kharatin and Frenchman Aissa Laidouni. Isael Da Silva started in the right-wing while the Ukrainian left-winger Oleksandr Zubkov played in his usual position. The attacking central midfielder was David Siger and the lone striker was Kenyan striker Tokmac Nguen.
Barcelona’s Double Pivot
Barcelona and Ronald Koeman went for their trusted formation in midfield: The double-pivot. In this game, Frenkie De Jong lined up alongside Pjanic on his debut. The interesting part about how the two midfielders were dynamic in both attack and midfield. The role of the double-pivot was to cover off any passes coming through the middle and to take on one of the opposition’s midfielders in the double-pivot and the attacking midfielder. Frenkie De Jong would generally play deeper while Miralem Pjanic would get into more progressive positions to distribute the ball to the attackers. We can see their relationship below:
In this scenario, Pjanic is closer to the opposition’s central midfielder while De Jong is closer to the striker, Nguen. However, one thing to notice is the body angles of both midfielders. They can cover enough ground to take on Siger while marking their own man. This is done by pulling the opposition’s central players closer together to decrease the risk of conceding a chance. This was especially crucial as Ferencvaros had 78% of their chances coming from the centre and thus, needed to be stopped.
The dynamic part of Barcelona’s midfield was important in their setup. Pjanic, especially, was very mobile when on the ball, moving into the half-spaces and distributing the ball to all the attackers. Pjanic made the most passes in this game as well with 85 passes and a 93% passing accuracy. Considering that Pjanic was able to move around freely in front of the half-way line, Frenkie De Jong was given license to move up and down the pitch, according to where the ball was. In the above example, he is in his own half of the pitch.
De Jong could also move around up and down the pitch to create chances and defend from the opposition. In the image above, he assists Fati to score a goal by flicking the ball past the defensive lines. This shows his willingness to attack and was important to penetrate Ferencvaros’ defensive setup, that we will look at now.
Ferencvaros’ leaky defence
Ferencvaros clearly did not have a great defensive setup against Barcelona, conceding five goals against a young and relatively inexperienced attack. The main reason for this is their disorderly defence as the game went on. When the game kicked off, Ferencvaros was defending in a 5-1-3-1 formation with one of the midfielders falling back in the central defence position as a libero. Their shape was mostly at a low-block until Pique was sent off. Considering that Barcelona generally struggles against a low block, it was a smart decision to set up. However, the problem for Ferencvaros was their defensive positioning or the lack of it and was the reason that they collapsed. We can see an example of their defensive problems below:
In this scenario, Trincao gets onto the ball and dribbles past his marker. Now, he is covered by one defender to block a possible shot while one is taking a plausible passing lane. In the box, Lionel Messi is being marked while there are two players on Ansu Fati in the middle of the penalty box. Finally, there is one marker on Coutinho.
In an ideal and optimal defensive situation, the ball should not have even gotten to Fati because of the proximity of three defenders to the passing lane. Additionally, Fati is marked by two Ferencvarosi players and should have been constrained. Instead, a free pass was sent to Fati who took a shot but was brilliantly saved by Dibusz. This detrimental defending was seen in Fati’s goal that was seen in the section about De Jong. The defender covering for Fati was ball-watching instead of getting to his marker and closing him down. This gave Fati a free license to shoot and subsequently score.
Their defence became even worse after Ousmane Dembele came on for Francisco Trincao, a player we will look at later on in this analysis. We can see Pedri’s goal that was superbly assisted by Dembele in the 82nd minute of the game below:
Once again, Ferencvaros eased up on their defensive pressure despite their opponents being one man down. Dembele exploited the Hungarian’s tired legs to beat them from a dribble from the halfway line and pass it into the path of Pedri who scored with ease. The pertinent problem was how easily Ferencvaros gave up in this counter-attack. Despite having numerical and positional superiority in their defensive half, they did little to close down the only player in the box, Pedri, who was wide open.
Considering that Ferencvaros faces Cristiano Ronaldo’ Juventus in a while, they are definitely in trouble if they do not buck up to improve their defence.
Player in Focus: Ousmane Dembele
Dembele was very clearly an important player in this side, injecting a long-required width that Barcelona lacked with primarily central players like Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann. While Dembele was mostly playing as a left-winger in the 4-3-3 under Valverde and Setien, he was able to play in his best position, the right-wing. And he excelled in that position. Dembele got one goal and an assist in this game, and we will see how he impacted the game.
Dembele coming on to face a tired defence with his fresh legs meant that he could dribble past lots of the defenders that came past him. He played as an archetypal winger that hugs the touchline as we can see below:
Above, he is on the wing with one defender in front of him and three more defenders ready as a backup to cover for Dembele. Dembele’s trademark move is to cut inside the box at the edge of the box and either shoot or pass it to another player. He excels in 1v1 situations by using his sheer pace and individual skills to beat his opponent to get into goalscoring positions or set up chances for his team-mates. In this scenario, he dribbles past two defenders and passes the ball to Pedri who scores.
This game was another example of how good Barcelona was even after losing an integral player in this game to a red card. They created chances and were decently solid at the back as well as seen in this analysis. Considering that Real Madrid lost 3-2 to Shakhtar Donetsk, they look to keep up their form in the upcoming El Clasico.
Like we saw in this tactical analysis, Ferencvaros were very unstable in defence and need to strengthen that part of their game. Their chance creation, however, was quite decent for a team with little European experience. If they can convincingly beat Dynamo Kyiv in their home and away games while hoping to get a point against Barcelona or Juventus, they have the potential to make the Europa League spots this season.