In a one-sided night of football, Barcelona obliterated Villarreal 4-0 at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona opened their La Liga season with an emphatic victory in Ronald Koeman’s first game in charge. The Dutch coach will be delighted to get off to such a positive, winning start. What did we learn?
1. Ansu The Boy Wonder
With Real Madrid winning yesterday and Luis Suárez powering Atlético Madrid to victory earlier today, it was very important for Barcelona to start fast and answer their title rivals with an impressive performance. To do this, they needed a hero.
Well, in Barcelona’s hour of need, Ansu Fati opened the scoring with a bullet strike into the back of the net just 15 minutes in, taking the ball off the toes of usual saviour Leo Messi no less. It was a beautiful first-time strike to cap a wonderfully flowing Barcelona move. He then doubled his tally and the club’s lead when he coolly slotted the ball in at the near-post to again cap a counter-attack.
Ansu Fati's game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
83% pass accuracy
10 touches in the opp. box
3 take-ons completed
2 chances created
2 fouls won
1 penalty won
17 years old. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/jyTlm0ySOc
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 27, 2020
Ansu continued to create chances and danger whenever he was in possession, winning the penalty from which the Blaugrana scored their third. If there had been fans inside the Camp Nou you can imagine they would have been rising to their feet every time Barcelona’s new no. 22 touched the ball, such was the magnetic power of this teenager.
17 years old. Ansu Fati is still just 17 years old. It’s absurd to think that Barcelona can place so much expectation onto the Spaniard’s young shoulders safe in the knowledge that it won’t overwhelm him and he is more than capable of rising to any challenge set before him. Ansu Fati The Boy Wonder is here to save the day.
2. 10+Messi, not Messi+10
One of the biggest problems Barcelona have had over recent years is their overreliance on Leo Messi. The meme of “Messidependencia” has been around longer than that, but it has genuinely been true over since Neymar left the club. The system set out by first Ernesto Valverde and then Quique Setién was Messi+10.
That is to say, Barcelona built their entire system around Messi and what he likes and wants. This turned guys like Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal into nigh-on undroppable because they linked well with Messi. It also meant that opponents knew that if they could shut down Messi, they could shut down Barcelona. There was no plan besides “give it to Leo.”
Now, however, Ronald Koeman has changed things. It’s not that Messi isn’t still fundamental to Barcelona and a reference for the side, but the entire system no longer pivots around him in the same way. Koeman’s Barcelona is a coherent tactical shape that also happens to have a spot for the best player in the world.
10 – Aged 17 years and 332 days, Ansu Fati is the youngest player from the top five European leagues to score 10+ goals in all competitions since the start of last season. Unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/7lG0JtuheT
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 27, 2020
This was evident because Barcelona’s first two goals were a clear product of system play and what Koeman wants his side to do, and yet neither move involved Messi at all. Both began with sublime Clement Lenglet passes out from the back, breaking the lines of Villarreal’s press and allowing someone (first Jordi Alba, then Coutinho) to an easy pass to set-up Ansu Fati for the finish.
That is an immensely positive thing for the Blaugrana. Now an opponent could stop Leo Messi and wouldn’t necessarily stop Barcelona.
3. Take’s at it again!
In 2019/20 Take Kubo was on loan at Mallorca and was essentially a one-man army. He would pick the ball up on the right side of attack, drift infield and then make things happen. It didn’t always work, and often he would shine individually but suffer defeat all the same.
Well today, despite not starting the game, he followed that pattern perfectly. From the second he stepped onto the field, Kubo re-oriented Villarreal’s entire attacking around him. He demanded the ball and drove at the Blaugrana every chance he got, and given this was a Barcelona side just trying to see the game out, Kubo’s thrusting energy completely caught them unawares.
Unai Emery has now lost all 13 games he has managed against Barcelona at Camp Nou. 😫 pic.twitter.com/FoLUn1a2o1
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 27, 2020
Kubo had more shots than any Villarreal player, created as many chances as any Villarreal player and most assuredly looked better than any Villarreal player. Mr. One Man Army is showing no signs of being a one-season wonder. He shone in defeat again today, and will be hoping that he can start shining and starring in victories soon enough.
4. The Busquets Problem
Barcelona’s 4-2-3-1 shape under Ronald Koeman appears to be a fully functioning system that actually benefits Barcelona’s best players; but there is one of the greats who suffers in it, and that’s Sergio Busquets.
Busquets has been one of the (if not the outright) best midfielders in the world for the last decade, an absolutely essential part of Barcelona and Spain’s dominance. But Father Time is undefeated and he’s come for Busquets in a big bad way.
Now Busquets has never been athletic, but when Barcelona’s 4-3-3 is fully functioning with everyone pressing in concert and a fast-passing system in place it didn’t matter. However in Koeman’s 4-2-3-1, things are very different.
To put it mildly, Busquets was pretty bad against Villarreal. His usually crisp passing was unusually wayward and his pressing ability was non-existent. He was constantly unable to prevent Villarreal incursions and the fact that the highlight of his night was getting into the box and helping force an own goal kind of summed up how out of place he is in this current system.
As hard as it is to accept, Busquets’ time as an automatic starter at Barcelona should be over (especially given how defensively sharp Miralem Pjanic looked after he replaced Busquets late on). But his reputation is such that Koeman may be inclined to keep him in the team. How the Dutch coach handles this selection issue is going to be decisive in how his first season at the club goes.
5. It won’t always be fireworks
Barcelona cruised to an epic 4-0 win. In truth the game was over by half-time when the Pau Torres own goal trickled into the net. Fireworks exploded over the Camp Nou (for unrelated reasons) and it was a dream debut on the Blaugrana bench for Ronald Koeman. They were actually fun to watch! It’s been literally years before you could honestly say that.
But it’s important to remember that it won’t always be that way.
Villarreal are a footballing side, they will always try and engage opponents in an open game of football. That is ideal for Barcelona as it allows them the room they need to express themselves without having to deal with the quandary of a packed defence.
Other opponents will not be so generous. Other opponents will press thunderously, others will park the bus. In a few days Barcelona have to go to Balaidos and play Celta Vigo and they assuredly will hound Barcelona every chance they get. Soon after is Sevilla, then Real Madrid. All of these games will be tougher challenges, and they may be challenges that Barcelona rises to meet, but despite the majesty of their opening win they cannot get carried away because much tougher tests await.