Football Features

“Ronald Araujo is The Ultimate Warrior” – Five things learned as Barcelona’s Moyes Moment sees them held by Granada

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:44, 20 September 2021

In a bonkers night of football, Barcelona drew 1-1 with Granada in a game where they sent in 56 crosses.

The Blaugrana fell behind early but went on to dominate much of the match, but couldn’t break their visitors down until a stoppage time header drew them level.

What did we learn?

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1. Ronald Araujo: The Ultimate Warrior

What Barcelona have often lacked lately is strength, guts, fighting spirit. In short they lack the Uruguayan concept of garra. Well, whatever else you can say about them now, they are very much a team with garra. And 90% of it comes from one man: Ronald Araujo.

The Uruguayan defender was not one of La Masia’s much-vaunted prospects, nor was he even regarded as the best young centre-back at the club (that was Jean-Clair Todibo) but Araujo emerged last season as a rock solid defensive colossus.

At just 22 years of age, Araujo has already established himself as one of the most dominant defenders in the division. He has size, speed, fantastic defensive instincts and as Granada found out today; an unrelenting will to win. Not only did he bail the Blaugrana out on several counter-attacks using his sheer speed, but he was the club’s best attacking outlet, launching his massive frame at their crosses.

No player had more shots than Araujo (5), no player won more aerial duels (10), and no player scored more goals than him (1). He was a ridiculous force of nature, and even when playing centre-back would get up and dominate in the air more than Gerard Piqué and Luuk de Jong who were playing up-front. He was terrifyingly good and after scoring the equaliser with a powerful header he almost set-up the winning goal with an outrageous run down the right and a fizzing low cross into the box.

There is no doubt that Ronald Araujo is capable of true greatness. The only question now is are Barcelona able to match him? Because if the rest of the squad can get on his mental level, this is going to be a formidable team when all is said and done.

2. The little things

While it was obvious to anyone who watched the game that Granada were a better-coached side than Barcelona, able to shift so fluidly from a packed defence to a liquid counter-attack and back again. Meanwhile Barcelona could barely function and ended up just hoofing crosses into the box, which was enough to get them a point but precious little more.

Granada’s execution at the Camp Nou must have been influenced and driven forward by the energy of Robert Moreno on the touchline. The Granada coach (who was one of Luis Enrique’s assistants between 2014 and 2017, helping Barcelona to fantastic success) was screaming and jumping around his area, lifting and motivating his team. Meanwhile Ronald Koeman, who had so much more to do given his side were losing for basically the entire game, strolled around his technical area with his hands in his pocket.

3. Barcelona’s Moyes Moment

In 2014, David Moyes’ Manchester United drew 2-2 with Fulham at Old Trafford in a game where they sent in a ridiculous 81 crosses against The Cottagers. That was a shocking performance from Moyes’ men, but no one would have ever thought to see Barcelona replicate it.

Trailing 0-1 and with injuries decimating their attacking options, Ronald Koeman pulled a move out of David Moyes’ bag and began throwing on big strikers and sending in crosses to try and turn the game around. First Ronald Araujo started raiding forward at set-pieces and even in open play, then Luuk de Jong came on at half-time and finally Gerard Piqué came off the bench to play centre-forward.

And all the while, Barcelona were bombing crosses into the box. Some good, some okay, some bad. Granada had a field day clearing the crosses, one from Mingueza struck the bar, another from Memphis gave Luuk de Jong a free header four yards out and somehow he missed. But still the crosses came in. And still. And still. Until finally Granada cracked and Araujo equalised from a Gavi cross.

Were Koeman’s tactics justified? Given the injuries, perhaps, but Barcelona fans and the president will not want to accept that. Barcelona have always prided themselves on playing football the right way; and hoiking in 56 crosses is not playing football the right way.

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4. Injury wrecked

Much as it is easy and indeed enjoyable to mock Barcelona for, well, just, everything. It is partly unfair. Not only are the Blaugrana having to adapt to their first season for 16 years without Leo Messi, a player who had basically become their system, but they are also suffering through a brutal injury crisis, especially in attack.

Whatever you think about Sergio Aguero, he is a proven goalscorer and could at the very least be useful as a super-sub coming off the bench late in games. Yet he is injured. Ousmane Dembélé can be erratic and wayward, but even through all the woes he’s suffered since joining Barcelona, he has always been a consistent difference-maker. And Ansu Fati is one of the most impressive teenagers in world football, a clutch talent and a dangerous goalscorer.

Barcelona could do with all of these men in attack. They could also do with Pedri, one of the most dazzling young midfielders in the world, and Jordi Alba – who is a reliable offensive outlet if nothing else. Without these five players, four of whom would surely start for the club with Aguero coming off the bench, the Barcelona attack looks completely different to how it was surely intended to look. So we have to be cautious in our judgement on the way the team looks because this isn’t how the team is meant to look.

5. Barcelona are a giant video game boss

Video game bosses went through a phase where they were these gigantic lumbering things whose sheer size made them easy to avoid their attacks and moreover, they all seemed to come with big glowing red weak spots where you could hit them and hurt them every time.

Can you think of a better metaphor for modern day Barcelona?

Not only are Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona a massive shambling nonsense that moves far too slowly and predictably to be any real danger, but they come with their own glaring weak points in Sergio Busquets and Eric Garcia.

Busquets is still one of the world’s finest on the ball and in a coherent system can be dominant, as we saw at Euro 2020, but in a shaggy structure like Barcelona’s his lack of athleticism is so often exposed by teams on the break. And this is made 10 times worse when Eric Garcia is in defence. Garcia reads the game very well but is just as unathletic as Busquets and doesn’t have the benefit of the midfielder’s long legs and experience to get him out of situations.

So it was no surprise to see Busquets and Garcia repeatedly exposed in the build-up to Granada’s opener. Or Bayern’s goals midweek. As much as Koeman’s Barcelona have the potential to improve you can only get so much better when carrying around such glaring weak spots.