Football Features

“He is the striker that Barcelona need” – Five things learned from the Blaugrana’s 4-0 battering of Mallorca

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:23, 13 June 2020 | Updated: 10:02, 30 March 2021

In an impressive night of football, Barcelona smashed Mallorca 0-4 at the Visit Mallorca Estadi.

The Blaugrana extended their lead at the top of La Liga with a supremely comfortable 0-4 win on the road, which is not something they’ve been able to do much at all this season. Four goals from four different scorers gave Barcelona the win, but what did we learn?

1. Braithwaite’s simplicity is genius

When Barcelona signed Martin Braithwaite, eyebrows were raised and not just because they signed him outside the transfer window. Obviously the Dane came in as an emergency signing following Ousmane Dembélé’s season-ending injury, but given his lowly reputation people viewed it as more of a panic signing, a joke of a transfer on par with Julien Faubert joining Real Madrid.

Today he proved emphatically why he is an almost perfect signing for Barcelona. Sure, Braithwaite is not world-class nor even close, but he is a player who possesses great pace and tactical intelligence and most importantly: a willingness to run off the ball.

All Braithwaite did against Mallorca was lurk off the ball and make runs into space. He often didn’t get the ball, but he repeatedly opened up space for team-mates with his movement. He was so good at moving off the ball that on 37 minutes he found himself in space right into the middle of the box when Messi deftly headed the ball his way.

And when the ball fell to him he, in classic Braithwaite fashion, didn’t overcomplicate things. The Dane just focused and hit it high and hard into the roof of the net to double the Blaugrana’s lead. It was a supreme goal, and his movement was on display again around the hour when he made a nice short run in behind to meet a Messi pass and almost scored but for an amazing save from Manolo Reina. All night long he ran and ran, constantly giving Barcelona a vertical threat.

Martin Braithwaite isn’t the striker that Barcelona wanted, but he is absolutely the striker that Barcelona needed.

2. Kubo the once and future king

Takefusa Kubo once played for Barcelona. The Japanese teenager joined the club aged 10, but five years later Barcelona’s transfer ban also saw him restricted from playing, so he returned to Japan. He shone so much in his homeland that Real Madrid re-signed him this summer (and Barcelona, for some reason, declined even though the fee was minimal) and loaned him out to Mallorca to gain experience.

And as he showed today against his old club, he is gaining plenty of experience. The Japanese teenager was one of the brightest players on the park, and certainly the best Mallorca player. Despite being 19-years-old he functioned as Mallorca’s key offensive playmaker with everything running through him. He had the most shots (4) of any Mallorca player and kept on pushing right up to the final whistle.

The former La Masia graduate may have lost today but he will have won the respect of his former club, who know they will have to contend with him as a deadly rival for years and years to come.

3. Antoine Griezmann still doesn’t get it

Standing in contrast to Martin Braithwaite, who already looks absurdly comfortable in a Barcelona shirt, Antoine Griezmann spends most of his game time looking like a hard-working youth teamer who isn’t quite up to it quality-wise but keeps getting picked because he works hard.

It’s bizarre to watch a player of such immense quality and intelligence so consistently fail to “get it” when tactical understanding has always been one of his strengths. But even the extended training and “second pre-season” afforded the players because of the global pandemic hasn’t helped.

Griezmann spent all of his 56 minutes on the field constantly looking on a different wavelength to his team-mates. Passes would go astray, his runs would always be mistimed. About the only thing he did well was defend, and sure, he does defend superbly, but a €120m striker has to do much more than that.

A half-fit Luis Suárez managed to be more threatening in attack than Griezmann, and that is deeply concerning. Barcelona expected more from Griezmann, Barcelona needed more from Griezmann. Luckily for Barcelona but unluckily for Griezmann, Braithwaite has emerged as a viable alternative so, when Suárez is fit again, you wouldn’t be surprised if the Frenchman made way for the Uruguayan. And with the club chasing Lautaro Martinez in the summer, could Antoine Griezmann’s Barcelona adventure end after just one season?

4. Ronald Araujo passes the test

With Clement Lenglet suspended, Samuel Umtiti not fully fit and Jean-Clair Todibo playing for Schalke, Barcelona had a problem when deciding who to play next to Gerard Piqué at the heart of defence. They chose to use 20-year-old Uruguayan Ronald Araujo, a tall, rangy defender with no shortage of technique, pace and confidence.

Araujo got sent off on his debut, but here on his first La Liga start he absolutely looked capable of performing at this level. A few times he was caught off balance when back-tracking, but by and large he handled himself well in the face of concerted pressure from Mallorca. Now, Lenglet will walk back into the team next week, but Araujo has proven himself reliable enough be Barcelona’s back-up centre-back. And given his age, should he continue to excel like this, he could save the Blaugrana a fair bit of money in the summer.

5. Quique Setién’s in the groove

Part of the problem Quique Setién faced at Barcelona was that he didn’t have enough training time to properly implement his ideas. Well, the lockdown-imposed hiatus granted him that, and it’s shown here with a dominant win away from home where Barcelona absorbed several waves of Mallorca pressure and never wilted. They continued to play their game and found unique ways to score.

The Spaniard even had a command of his squad that showed a coach who is more comfortable. He didn’t rush Luis Suárez back, but had no problem hooking an underperforming Arturo Vidal at half-time (despite his goal) and even pulling Antoine Griezmann before the hour. He made fantastic use of his squad to rest as many starters as he could whilst always keeping Barcelona viable as a threat in attack.

This was just the second time this season that Barcelona had scored more than twice away from home and the first time they bagged four goals. It was also their first away clean sheet of 2020. For both of those things to come in one game, and for Messi to score and bag two assists whilst looking impossibly better than everyone else, and for Barcelona to go five points clear atop La Liga… it’s clear Quique Setién is in the groove.