These observations – the place I look actual MadridThe historical past of, its gamers on mortgage, Castilla, tactical info and different related insights – are actually commonplace. Find all earlier editions right here.
This Sunday marks the primary El Clasico in entrance of open doorways since March 2020, and with the return of Ansu Fati and a brand new tactical wrinkle from Carlo Ancelotti, the sport is gaining in intrigue and unpredictability.
LISTEN: Clasico Mailbag preview podcast with Kiyan Sobhani and Lucas Navarrete.
Here’s a fast rundown of two themes that I feel are vital – just a few issues that may probably be a part of the bigger dialogue of Sunday night time’s put up-sport protection:
Submit Ansu Fati
Ansu Fati instantly raised Barcelona’s ceiling upon his return. Amid all of Ronald Koeman’s tactical flaws, wobbly group choice and all of the commotion off the sector, Ansu’s return, uh, fixes the problems. Ansu is nice, a rising famous person – in all probability already higher than he was final season. He helps Memphis Depay carry weights offensively and permits Ronald Koeman to hold Luuk de Jong as far off the sector as doable. In 95 minutes within the league this season, Fati has scored two objectives and gave a visual injection of confidence to Barca’s assault.
Barcelona’s xG climbed to 2.38 towards Valencia in Ansu’s first begin since final season – their second highest complete since matchday one towards Real Sociedad. They by no means actually hit the marks they hit towards La Real once more, however the Valencia sport was a bit nearer to what they imagined the group can be.
Watching a La Liga TV interview with former Real Madrid defender Fernando Sanz final week planted a seed with me – Ansu’s return to Barcelona is not any completely different than Ferland Mendy stepping onto the pitch for Real Madrid for the primary time in 5 months like he is in prime bodily situation, like he isn’t gone at all.
“In his first return match he only played ten minutes and scored an incredible goal against Levante,” mentioned Sanz. “Despite being injured for round 300 days, and all the things that goes with it, his return to motion has been unbelievable. “
Ansu again unlocks issues Barca did not have earlier than. And I imply even easy issues like Memphis not having to play 1 on 3 on offense. Ansu can take the left wing, permitting Memphis to transfer to the middle and join on both facet. Barca have been too simple to cease when Memphis have been teamed up with a variant of Luuk de Jong and some other proper-wing striker. With Dembele injured, they missed lower-throat dribblers. Ansu brings this.
Now comes the query for Carlo Ancelotti: How do you method it? In most instances, simply taking part in Dani Carvajal relieves a headache. He is likely one of the finest defensive ends of the previous decade. Even in his worst kind, he is a dependable defensive presence and a frontrunner. Without him you might be in all probability trying at Lucas Vazquez, and after that, plans B, C, D, E and so forth (Nacho, Fede Valverde, Alaba, Mendy).
Ansu has the potential to vaporize Vazquez, who has had a poor begin to the season however had a great rebounding sport towards Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. There are methods round this. If you get final season’s Vazquez, you may get some containment. More vital would be the cowl not solely of Eder Militao, but additionally of the best winger. If we had this dialogue through the worldwide break, we might give method to the thought of a fourth midfielder – Fede Valverde – on the best to function an extra palliative. But Ancelotti has been adamant that Rodrygo can’t be benched after his final efficiency, and provided that 4-3-3 is the benchmark, I’d count on Vazquez to be mixed with Modric and Rodrygo on that facet. .
The Whites ought to breathe. Rodrygo is nice defensively and Modric is Modric. I’d throw one other wrinkle: While prospects from our newest mailbag expressed concern over Ansu’s sport towards Vazquez, they ignored the opposite facet of the coin: how can Real Madrid make the most of that very same flank within the different path?
Jordi Alba is at present questionable. “I’m on my feet,” Alba mentioned after receiving the ball straight to the toe in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday. “It hit me on the toes and let’s see what I have”
Alba’s presence, mixed with Ansu’s, is extra probably to pin you down. Alba has been good offensively this season, and even once more in 2021 few winger can hit a greater ball into the field.
But even with Alba, Barca are susceptible defensively. The house he and Ansu depart on that flank might be huge – particularly if Ancelotti decides to soak the stress and slingshot on the counter like he did towards Shakhtar. I’d even belief Rodrygo to hunt Alba successfully – but when Alba does not play, much more. I just like the Real Madrid sport on this wing, even with out Carvajal.
(A wrinkle that crossed my thoughts, simply in passing: Would Ancelotti think about taking part in Ferland Mendy at proper-again and Nacho or Alaba at left-again? Barcelona’s proper flank is much less threatening, and the assaults will fall largely on Sergiño Dest’s shoulders. Mendy could possibly be reliable defensively in contrast to any of the best-again choices at present accessible. But I barely point out it as a result of, on the one hand, I do not hate Mendy in the best-again regardless of seeing him there a handful of occasions; and two: I feel Ancelotti trusts Vazquez to do a job in Carvajal’s absence.)
Barcelona’s defensive issues
Barcelona’s protection is a sieve, a black gap ready to be eviscerated. Where they are going to be most susceptible is how excessive they preserve their defensive position. Gerrard Pique does not have the legs to chase Real Madrid forwards in transition, and his companions – Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, Clement Lenglet, and so forth. – are all error inclined.
But Barcelona’s excessive line is not the one place they are often attacked. During slower defensive units, the place they’re surrounded by a defensive block, they’re simple to transfer. Their press was simple to play (particularly with Luuk de Jong, who wasn’t good defensively), and some vertical passes can get them bare.
These balls might be lit for Alaba or Kroos to discover Vinicius on prime:
Attacking alternatives towards this Barcelona facet will current themselves, and I feel it is secure to assume that Ancelotti will, as soon as once more, be much less aggressive along with his dismal urgent plan. The press recall towards Shakhtar helped the group’s defensive kind, but additionally allowed Vinicius and Rodrygo to work with more room. This may appear counterintuitive, as a extremely good excessive press will generate nice offensive possibilities – but when the press is not at an elite degree, you’d higher shut the passing lanes in a middle block. This will unlock transition assaults.
But except Ronald Koeman lives in a cave with no data of the skin world, he might be higher ready for Real Madrid’s extra conservative tactical setup than Ronald de Zerbi was within the final sport. Shakhtar did not know why he could not invite Real Madrid to press. Barcelona is to be anticipated.
And the Catalans are not any strangers to breaking down medium to low blocks that do not help – it has been ingrained in them for many of the previous 15 years, however few groups might be so good at closing passing lanes and counter as Real Madrid can, and that ought to fear Barca – particularly with their facet’s 2021 iteration.
I’d love to see Real Madrid injure Barca with a 3rd man like Bayern did (and do) so effectively. Passing triangles that span the width of the pitch ought to permit Kroos to hit Rodrygo on the swap after absorbing the stress on the left. From there, Barcelona proved susceptible in the best half-house (assume Fede Valverde’s run towards Barcelona at Camp Nou final season, or Modric / Camavinga’s dash as an outlet on the underside). Barça is not going to really feel comfy on this hole between his left-again and his left-heart-again. This house opens simply with fast switches and off-ball runs.
That mentioned, Ansu Fati’s return bridges the hole between these two groups, though I like Ancelotti’s new plan towards Shakhtar which brings extra serenity to the group’s protection. It appears balanced, with Real Madrid having a bonus.