Barcelona faced the tough challenge of trying to break down Athletic Club in the Final for the Supercopa de España. After defeating Real Sociedad in a rollercoaster of a game at the semi-final stage, now Atheltic Club looked to sit deep, try to frustrate the opposition, and kick start their season with a trophy for their newly appointed coach – Marcelino.
With Lionel Messi playing from the first minute the starting lineup already looked familiar and the much-awaited continuity was present. Ronald Koeman decided to go with what it seems to be his strongest eleven. It was surprising that Messi was on the pitch from the start but that only showed the seriousness with which Ronald Koeman treats that competition.
Barcelona – build-up play and attacking threat
Once again the balance in the midfield was achieved through the perfect mesh of talent, experience, and energy in Busquets – De Jong – Pedri. With De Jong playing in the box-to-box role trying to give that extra presence in all phases of the game it allows for Pedri to control and create in the final third and Busquets focusing on orchestrating the attacks and filtering/recycling possession.
However, once again they were one of the only positives from that game. The midfield was overrun, Atheltic was more determined, stronger, with more purpose just every mental attribute they had in abundance more than Barcelona. Atheltic also kept pressing high up the pitch for the duration of the game.
There was energy in the movement but once again there is almost nobody to channel that, nobody to “play through”, nobody to “play off” and not a real threat. Something impossible to imagine when you look on paper at the team on the field. And yet we all know it just doesn’t mesh well. And it hasn’t meshed well under three different managers. There are flashes of what it can be because the players on paper have a lot of quality but overall they don’t have the opportunity to show it all together at the same time. A prime example was that game.
On the heatmap, we can see that the structure of the team is good and spaces were occupied up to the final third. In that final third, however, there is not much movement, no creativity and certainly, the team looks stagnant and predictable when attacking. The first Barcelona goal comes from the combination between Messi and Alba. The same old pass out wide and cutback.
Griezmann once again showing glimpses of quality that turns into a goal but that once again comes after a disappointing performance three days earlier. No consistency and the team simply relies on individual skill to win games. Always leaves the sense of what it could’ve been. The goals seem to come randomly and the team can’t string together a good run, not of results, but performances.
Review of the defensive nightmare
I’ve highlighted the defensive nightmare for Barcelona over the past few years and the only thing changing is the head coach. The club likes to put the blame on the head coach and hope the next one will transform that average group of defenders.
The first goal comes seconds after Barcelona took the lead. Seconds before the half-time also.
Inaki receives the ball in an area where he is of no danger for the defenders.
Araujo decides that he needs to step back and cover the potential passing lane and Muniain’s run in behind. He drops off too much, doesn’t pressure Inaki on the ball, and allows him to receive the ball, turn around and cross. The lack of defensive awareness does not stop here. Jordi Alba has no clue what is going on around him and he never looks behind. The cross catches him napping and there it is – 1:1.
I am not even going to describe the second goal of Atheltic Bilbao. Jordi Alba once again in a moment when he needs to step up and assume responsibility, he literally ducks and avoids the ball. 2:2 in the 90th minute of a cup final. Another unforgivable, inexcusable piece of defending from him. Any other player would be publicly decapitated. Ask yourself why fans and media tend to overlook the deficiencies of some players, even when they simply choose not to fulfil their duties.
Once again, the third goal as beautiful as it is, the manner in which is conceded is just pathetic. Mingueza decides to insert himself in a situation where he is not needed. Not only he leaves his zone, but he also points out to Griezmann that he needs to come back and cover the wing, the zone he should be in.
By stepping up he leaves Araujo and Griezmann to deal with that space behind his back. He mistimes his movement, can’t intercept the pass, and now can’t come back to help quick enough. That leaves his colleagues covering for his poor piece of judgment.
Even with all this happening in just seconds, Barcelona is still in control having 4 players defending Inaki Williams and simply a shot shouldn’t be allowed. However, the defenders are too deep or just arriving in that position, can’t deal with Inaki and he puts the ball in the top corner. Tremendous goal, superb strike on the ball all made possible by the inadequate Barcelona defending. 2:3.
From bad to worse
With only 4 minutes played in the extra-time, Barcelona found themselves a goal down, and seemed the morale is at an all-time low. And then Lionel Messi showed us exactly why Barcelona is in this situation.
120 minutes played, he was clearly injured and still not at 100%, limited in his movement and needing the support of his teammates in attack even more and simply fed up of people not pulling their weight and rely on him to bail them out. Frustrated, angry, demotivated, and almost looking helpless he swings at Villalibre off the ball, hits him in the head and receives a straight red card in the 121st minute of the match. Sometimes stunned by the development of a game we say “you couldn’t make this up”. Supercopa de Espana tournament proved exactly that. Even the worst enemy of Barcelona couldn’t draw this up better. Truly draining emotionally week for the football club that pretty much sums up what the last couple of years have been for Barcelona.
Some will call it the Mickey Mouse cup and whatever else. That’s sour grapes. It meant everything for Athletic Club. And trust me, the manner of that defeat means everything for Barcelona and one, Lionel Messi.