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Much of the same, or something new? Barçelona’s start to the campaign

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A look at the win over Villarreal

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

A slick Barcelona attack downed Villarreal 4-0 at the Camp Nou. It was a great start to Ronald Koeman’s tenure as Barça boss, with his favoured 4-2-3-1 system looking especially handy. With goals from Ansu and Lionel Messi, Barça looked a far cry from the team that got hammered by Hansi Flick’s Bayern a month ago.

But, is this 4-2-3-1 a sustainable set-up? As of now, Koeman has seemed almost bullish with his tactical decision making, and has stuck to his guns. Right from the off, he’s implemented the double pivot, and has looked to offer structural support to a weak defence. With Frenkie receiving from zone 4, in and around the half-space, this has worked well up to now, at least for him. The same cannot be said about Sergio Busquets, who has struggled in this setup. He has often looked lost, due to his receiving zones being occupied by De Jong. Perhaps, Miralem Pjanić may be a better fit in this system. It is vital that Koeman finds a sustainable midfield pairing in this supporting pivot, which is key to the functioning of a 2-2-5-1 staggered build-up.

What of the full-backs then? Against Villareal, both full-backs were high, and wide, with Jordi Alba proving especially adept at holding width. This is nothing new, of course. Barça have been playing with stretched full-backs for years now. However, Koeman’s insistence on two midfielders as a base may help Barça’s cause in defensive transitions, where they will rarely be caught in 2v3’s (provided there is positional adherence, of course). It remains to be seen what actually happens, but this is a potential positive.

Now, the attack. Last time out, Koeman featured a front four of Messi, Ansu Fati, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho. This attack worked well, except for a few teething problems here and there. However, natural width remained a problem, especially with Griezmann putting in another “nothing” shift on the right. Perhaps, he should be replaced by Ousmane Dembélé or Francisco Trincão against Celta. If not, then Koeman may be looking at similar problems of centrality as 19/20 Barça did. It just does not make sense to start Griezmann as a winger when Barça have three young wingers raring to go. Dembélé, Trincão and Pedri are all capable of holding width and creating 1v1’s. Griezmann can do none of that. As of now, it seems as his reputation, and price tag, is all that’s keeping him on the pitch. For his own sake, Koeman should rectify that.

In all, things are not looking as bad as they were last month. The squad is in better shape than many expected, and the addition of Sergino Dest is very welcome.