There’s a team in Catalonia with a bold brand of attacking football that’s leading the race for the La Liga title. And it’s not FC Barcelona.
Girona Futbol Club is in just their second season in the top flight since achieving promotion, and they’re winning games with style and technical excellence.
This is something that Culers should appreciate.
Because when their opponents make the short drive down to the Olympic stadium on Sunday, they’ll be looking to showcase what makes them brave and special.
Expect goals in this game.
Manager Míchel, a future Barcelona target for sure, has a distinct philosophy, and has gotten his team to embody it on the field with surprising results.
Like Barcelona, Míchel starts with the idea of playing in a 4-3-3, with the goal of keeping possession. But this shape is just a starting point. Unlike Barcelona, who can be rigid and predictable, Girona’s system requires the players to recognize space and the situations they find themselves in. At which point, the positioning becomes fluid.
The full-backs play wide, but also inverted as the build-up continues into the final third.
The center-backs can even push up to join the attack, knowing they have a pivot who will recognize this, and drop behind to cover the position.
In certain areas, however, Míchel asks his players to maintain positional discipline. This mainly comes from the forwards, with wingers who stay high and wide, while utilizing a traditional center forward.
Given the phase of a game, the shape can look more like a 4-1-4-1, or some variation of a three in the back, such as a 3-4-3.
The players understand the principles, and after much practice and commitment to the philosophy, now have the freedom to make decisions according to the patterns that have become innate.
Pretty exciting stuff. Something us Barcelona fans have a yearning to see more of at our own club.
Some of the faces will be recognizable. Míchel brought in Eric Garcia from Barcelona as a ball playing center back, because he fits the system perfectly, leveraging his strengths, while minimizing his weaknesses.
The versatile Daley Blind, an Ajax product, was brought in for the same reason.
There’s a reason why Girona was so friendly with Barcelona in the market over the summer. Pablo Torre isn’t getting a lot of minutes, but you can believe that Míchel has a plan for him as the long campaign continues on. The Spaniard has Girona playing the way Barcelona wants to play, but can’t quite figure out.
No wonder the Blaugrana are keen on poaching talent from their regional rivals. Aleix Garcia has made it known that the feelings are mutual.
But both sides should be careful. This is not a situation where the talent is carrying the day, but rather the ideas.
Oriol Romeu is a case in point. He played well in the system, but when the system was removed, his limitations as a player were exposed.
That’s not to say that Barcelona is at a disadvantage in this match, just because they trail Girona by four points in the table.
Rather, it’s Girona who will be tested.
Barcelona will be grateful to play against an opponent who is brave enough to play the beautiful game beautifully.
On paper, they are still superior when it comes to talent.
Joao Felix and Raphinha will have space to go to work. Robert Lewandowski will have his chances to put away goals.
Because there will be goals in this one, likely on both sides.
Barcelona would do well to also think about their defensive game plan.
Now is not the time to go mano a mano, and use attacking full-backs from both sides. Sorry Alejandro Balde, for the time being, you’ll have to continue sitting it out.
They need Ronald Araujo to be fit to have their best defense to shut down Girona’s dynamic attack from the left side, courtesy of Miguel Gutierrez, Aleix Garcia, and Savio.
That means having Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen joining in, while allowing Joao Cancelo to exploit the space from the left side.
This matchup will be exciting, but Barcelona also needs to remember what’s on the line.
They can’t afford to lose this one, especially considering that it’s being played on home turf.
Girona and Real Madrid already have a healthy lead, and Barcelona needs to be focused on both sides of the ball, to get the crucial win.
In the matchup of Xavi versus a potential future Barcelona manager in Míchel, it will be intriguing to see what the coaches throw at one another.
May the best team on the day win.
As spectators, we’re likely to be winners regardless.