Ernesto Valverde’s debut in La Liga as Barcelona coach was a lot better than his two losses against Real Madrid in the Supercup. The question is if he can continue this form going into the season against tougher opposition.
Pre-match tactical drawings showed Gerard Deulofeu on the right, Lionel Messi in the center, and Paco Alcacer on the left, in a 4-3-3 formation. And that was apparently what Barça were aiming for at the start of the match, with Alcacer and Deulofeu on the wings as Messi kicked off. It wasn’t that all the time, though, just part of it.
Alcacer tended to drift into the center-forward position as Messi dropped back into the “false nine” role. Sergi Roberto, theoretically the left-sided midfielder, would often operate more as the left wing, counting on Jordi Alba to overlap with him. And Alcacer also tended to drop back as a covering midfielder when Roberto went up to play more as a wing.
For example, for Barcelona’s first goal, Alcacer was further back as Messi operated in the center and Deulofeu on the right. It was actually Roberto that most looked like a left-sided forward on that play, not Alcacer.
And oddly enough, on Roberto’s goal, Alcacer was unmistakably the striker. Roberto comes in as a late-arriving burst from midfield, not as a winger.
Alcacer was tasked with a lot of defensive responsibilities when Sergi pressed forward, which seemed quite unusual to me. Still, him and Deulofeu defended a lot, which is to be appreciated.
After half time, Denis Suarez came in for Alcacer and the only difference perhaps was that Denis didn’t go up and make runs like a striker. He sat more as a winger or as a left midfielder.
Barcelona are rumored to be thinking about Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool, with Angel Di Maria from Paris Saint-Germain as a “plan B” signing. So it seems Valverde wants a left-sided player who can operate as both a winger and a midfielder, and bring both attacking flair and workrate. Alcacer is not that, arguably he’s neither a left-winger nor a midfielder.
In-house, Denis Suarez is the player with the right profile for the role, which brings the question of why Alcacer started at all. Maybe Valverde wanted a few of those centerforward type runs to replicate what Luis Suarez would do. Or maybe he plainly trusts Alcacer more than Denis.
That actually brings up the question of what happens when Suarez comes in, and when/if Coutinho or Di Maria come in. Then, one assumes, the whole tactic needs to be adjusted. Suarez won’t cover like Alcacer in midfield. He will not only moonlight as a striker, instead he’ll be there almost full-time. And if so, the “Roberto” role necessitates a player who does not go forward as much, since Suarez won’t cover for him. Is Coutinho or Di Maria really going to work best like that? Probably not, so I assume this is all a work in progress anyway.
We can assume Ousmane Dembele will play Gerard Deulofeu’s role as a right wing, and Jean Seri will play in Ivan Rakitic’s spot... if they are signed, that is.
Right now, I’m not convinced either way about Valverde’s plans. Alcacer and Roberto’s positional switching was odd, but it wasn’t necessarily bad. Alcacer for his part covered well, despite being nominally a striker. The team kept shape for the most part, though sometimes it looked like there was a missing left-winger when Alcacer went up to play striker. Roberto was not always sure he wanted to go up and leave his spot, although he probably grew in confidence as the match wore on.
And again, there is the matter of at least one (Suarez), if not two (new singing) coming into this starting XI and changing the relationship between those two positions completely..