Road To Positional Success #9: Triple Barça Sunday: Two losses, one win, and the story of the Femeni explained.
All three of Koeman’s, Pimienta’s and Cortes’ teams played yesterday; Out of the three, only one returned home glorious — none other than Barça Femeni, that won the 20/21 UWCL final with an emphatic 4–0 over Chelsea’s women. Meanwhile, their male counterparts did less well — Barça B failed to qualify for promotion in play-off following a long and tense penalty shoot-out, while Koeman’s men concede a last minute goal to lose 1–2 at home against Celta Vigo.
Barça Femeni-Chelsea Women: 4–0
At last. If there was one team that deserved the win, the glory and the trophy, it was none other than Barça Femeni. Particularly Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Lieke Martens. They have rolled over the Spanish League, scoring over 100 goals. In the European scene, the hunger was made clearer than ever. Following to lost finals, it is this team that cruised over Chelsea — as good as they were. Winning by four to nil before the end of the first half seems surreal, but with this team, it felt as if it were the most natural.
One of the key figures, besides Lieke Martens, was without a doubt Aitana. Made in La Masia, she was at the heart of every action. That she was warded with the POTM award was only 1% of what Aitana deserved following an excellent campaign, one that can hardly be described in mere words. The team that Lluis Cortes is a dragon when it comes to hunger; The hunger for the ball is stronger than any weapon available out there on the international market. Aitana leads the press, combines, scores, animates. Had women football a higher audience, she would’ve been the name on everyone’s lips. Still, for those that watch her athletic prowess on a weekly basis, Aitana is the fan favourite. Despite her rather small size, she makes herself bigger than the Burj Khalifa, her presence marked everywhere. An inspiration for the years to come for upcoming talents, aspiring to reach her greatness. She might appear like a veteran to many who don’t know her due to her mature decision-making. Yet her dynamism shows a much younger players: In fact, she’s only twenty three years old. Let this sink in!
If this description makes it seem as she’s a monster by herself and a problem big enough to deal with alone for her opponents, she is only one part of the puzzle. Lieke Martens is known for her individual brilliance, and in this collective, it feels as if she’s perfect. Especially next to Jennifer Hermoso, perhaps the best expression and interpretation of what the false nine role entails: Move out opposition, pin defenders, create space. All in one. She was not on the score sheet, but this silent killer was the key piece in Cortes’ puzzle in order to get Hansen and Martens score the goal they scored. A puzzle that reminds the one of Pep Guardiola, one that seems to have very little weaknesses, where strengths seem to be everywhere in this talented but organized squad.
Barcelona-Celta Vigo: 1–2
Where the first story was joyful, this one is not. This match perfectly sums up Barça’s season under Koeman: Many chances, little goals scores, an inadequate pressing, a goal in the middle of our defensive non-organisation, an unfavourable result. Not that Barcelona started off badly, as they rarely have done under Koeman. But that many chances were missed, and soon, chaos arrived, from all sides. And for once, Celta was not to blame.
Celta had difficulties to deal with Koeman’s plans, particularly due do Dembele’s rather unorthodox role. Where his positioning on paper entailed a simple RWB role, he sometimes drifted higher up in the right half-space, but would also sometimes take the ball to the touchline and run with flying wings in possession of the ball. Still, where the scoreline does not feature Ousmane, his impact was clearly seen. And that by Coudet shaping his team to defend quickly, where the second half entailed a defensive-minded blocked by Celta.
Barça are known for their weaknesses in that opponent configuration. The Blaugranas retain their verticality, and it is true that different lanes are occupied; But they do not maintain the horizontal balance to imbalance the opponent, making it predictable and easy to stop runs in the box from all sides: Every defender can read the intentions of the likes of Ilaix, Griezmann or Dembélé before they have even started to run. A troublesome problem. On the other end, Barcelona lack precision, and that begins from high up: We lack the pressing approach, a zonal-focused one on the ball, and not on regular organisation and flexible structure. With that said, Coudet’s organised verticality allowed them to exploited space between out lines, to only score: That is how you lose when you give too much space and time on the ball: Only perhaps the best individualities at the peak of their powers could prevent: It was bound to happen, as it was during the entire season.
Barça B-UCAM Murcia: 2(4)-2(5)
Another brilliant display, particularly from Pena, Comas and Nico Gonzalez. A rather organised structure, as you would expect from a side coached by none other than Xavier Garcia Pimienta. Unfortunately, the score did not go in the blaugrana favor, amplified by the absence of Jandro Orellana, injured and therefore absent for the match.
Still, the frontline showed what they can do. Konrad, electric on that left-wing, constantly put in doubt Murcia’s experienced defenders, and it often looked like they could barely stand on their feet. Meanwhile, Murcia can be glad that Manaj didn’t score more, as he missed a few chances. Despite that, he was the scorer of both of Barcelona’s goals (first on penalty, then by himself). A player that has improved under Pimienta’s orders, though he still remain a rather unorthodox player in this club. Still, his experience and goals were vital. At times, he can be excellent, as he second goal showed, where dribbling through the entirety of the Murcian defense seems like a regular Sunday morning job.
Only, without Jandro, it was Matheus that played. And he was far from having an excellent display, and often slowed down the team’s progression with a hesitant, slow and immature decision-making. There’s no doubt that Ilaix would’ve done better, but he was busy under Koeman’s order s— while Mingueza was with the B boys. Unfortunately, this was the game where Collado didn’t excel — perhaps one of the only my memory can recall. Too inaccurate, he often received the ball too deep and was therefore unable to showcase the usual impact he has on this team. Where the results shows a failure, the game shows otherwise, with a rather convincing display. Especially for Pena, who saved 4(!) penalties in the shoot-out, just like Tenas that was a key piece in holding the Murcian attack back. Heads up.