Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona is reaching a new stage of its evolution following a lopsided defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain. Since then, Barcelona has put two of its best performances all season against Sevilla, twice. Sure, it’s the same opponent, but it’s one that beat them 2-0 not too long ago, and who trails them in the league by a handful of points.
Part of the reason has been a switch to a 3-5-2 system that can easily adapt into a 4-3-3. It’s benefitted most of the team, although it has been to the detriment of Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman was in a rich vein of form this year, but Koeman has put him on the bench for the good of the team.
The only personnel change from the team that lost to 4-1 to PSG to the one that defeated Sevilla 3-0 was dropping Griezmann for Óscar Mingueza. A defensive switch on paper, it’s resulted in a more balanced team.
While it’s described as a 3-5-2, Barcelona’s system is really a hybrid that can morph into a 4-3-3 in a moment’s notice. The three man line of Clément Lenglet, Gerard Piqué, and Mingueza is supported by two wing-backs - Jordi Alba and Sergiño Dest. However, with the ball, Dest can go forward even further, until he’s playing more as an outright right-winger. That allows Minugeza to push up as a right-back. Piqué then has Lenglet besides him, forming a traditional two-centerback partnership typical of a four-man line.
Alba will push up as much as he normally does when he’s a left-back, but Lenglet cannot go forward like Mingueza. He will typically stay back to help Piqué make up the numbers back in defense.
Frenkie de Jong operates as a box-to-box midfielder, helping the team defend but also pushing up and making central runs. Messi practically plays like a #10, able to drop back a bit and look for runners with his passes. Ousmane Dembélé played from both sides against Sevilla, making runs towards the center. His pace allows him to become a target for the Argentine’s passes as well.
Pedri advances more to help Alba on the attacking side, as there is no equivalent to Dest on the left. Busquets seems to be a beneficiary of the system, looking more comfortable as a single pivot dictating play than asked to cover ground in a double pivot.
It’s just a shame that that leaves Griezmann with no place in the starting XI. Even off the bench, the French star was effective for the Catalans. He expertly assisted Piqué’s last-gasp equalizer against Sevilla, and put in a shift for about an hour including extra time.
With 63 minutes gone and needing at least one goal, Koeman brought in Griezmann for Dest. Dembélé, then, was fielded as a traditional right-winger and Griezmann was the team’s main striker. This was, basically, the 4-3-3 of before. It worked because Barcelona needed to throw everything forward and Sevilla mostly parked the bus. But would it be effective from the start?
That leaves Koeman with a dilemma of whether to continue with his 3-5-2, which seems to benefit the team, or whether he wants to incorporate Griezmann back into the starting XI. That also opens up questions for the future in terms of squad planning.