The first sketches of Barcelona without Messi. Pressure, quick attacks, Depay is the star
Barcelona’s first match since Messi’s departure . It would become an event regardless of the course or outcome of the game. The beginning of a new era is rarely clear – and now is no exception. Everything will change 100 times, from results to aspects of the game. It makes no sense to predict the result of a season with such introductory statements: the team itself will learn its strength from match to match.
Nevertheless, a few observations can be made now. Simply because some of the stylistic details with Messi and without Messi differ radically, and this is definitely not going to change.
One sentence was enough for Ronald Koeman to describe the inevitable downsides . “Without Messi, we need to create chances to score.” It sounds funny, but it’s a fact. Messi is a machine for hacking opponents who are inferior in class and are protected by a low block. And there are most of them in La Liga. With him, Barcelona could choose a cautious scenario and possess the ball without promotion. Because even the slowest and most closed game Messi could blow up in a couple of episodes due to technique, understanding of the game and just genius.
But this text is not an enumeration of what Barcelona lost with Messi’s departure , and not a summary with a calculator: how much worse it got, how much better. Rather, it is a description of the features that are now available.
The first thing everyone noticed was the pressure. Barcelona quickly switched between 4-3-3 (with the ball) to 4-2-3-1 (without the ball) and met their opponents aggressively. In the first half, more than half of Barcelona’s defensive actions (16 out of 31) were committed in the opponent’s half of the field. With Messi, this was not even the case, not even because he did not work out, but because with him on the field, all the team’s coaches in recent years defended behind the ball line.
23 attempts to tackle, foul, blocked passes and interceptions on the account of the attacking three. A colossal figure. And this is the merit of Griezmann , who personally scored 15 actions in defense. So far, it seems that he just retrained as a defensive player, but pressing is not only a defensive tool. This is what the high pressure gave in the attack: it was with the selection in the opponent’s half that the attack began, which ended with de Jong’s serve and Braithwaite’s goal . There are only seven seconds between a tackle and a goal. Moreover, it was Griezmann who initiated the pressure , who was on the right flank.
Pressing will not necessarily be as useful against other opponents: some teams will easily abandon the rally and try to cut Barcelona players off with shots. But now the Catalans have the ability to switch between styles. There was not enough variability before.
Another feature that clearly manifested itself in the first match without Messi is the speed of counterattacks. It’s not about all the quick attacks, but about those that Barcelona started from a deep position, when after interception, even the player closest to the opponent’s goal is still in the central circle. Again, the new trait alone does not make the team stronger. And fans of the usual Barcelona style may even be dissatisfied with the vertical style, because this is a certain primitivization of the game. But the changes are obvious.
Previously, in such an arrangement, Messi was always the highest . And he was the first to receive a pass from deep after interception. An excellent chance for a counterattack – but only Messi rarely jumps to half the field in recent years. His acceleration is more often jerks from the zone in front of the penalty area to the goalkeeper’s line, 15 meters. Therefore, when he received the ball in the center, he did not rush to the other’s goal at full speed, but moved, waiting for his partners. Then he gave them a pass on the move, and he himself ran into the second attack rate. Of course, Alba and Griezmann were ready for such a turn and made jerks (at the beginning of last season, Fati was especially good at such moments ), but the rivals also had time.
That is why Barcelona’s counterattacks in recent years have been five-on-five or even six-on-six. The opponents did not take the correct positions and ran facing their goal – it is difficult to defend in such a position – but even quantitatively it is not the same as a two-on-two or three-on-three attack, when it is much easier for the attacking team to choose the direction of movement.
And in the match against Real Sociedad, Barcelona had attacks with a completely different structure: when the player closest to someone else’s goal waits for no one and accelerates himself, while the rest catch up with him. For example, such an attack took place in the middle of the first half, when de Jong launched the ball to the left at Braithwaite , and Depay burst into the center. As a result, he did not close the cross, the goalkeeper managed to be the first, but the attack itself developed very rapidly and ended with a two-by-two exit – a goal-scoring chance.
Another example – the beginning of the second half, when Barcelona again scattered two by two. This time, Depay played from the depths, but his position was taken by Jordi Alba : he joined not on the flank, but in the center of the attack with Griezmann . There was an offside position, but this is also a clear scoring chance, and again of a new type.
Well, the fourth goal of Barcelona is a classic counterattack after interception in their own half of the field, vertical and without a single pause. Griezmann , Braithwaite and Roberto started from their own half of the field three together, never stopped, ran half the field in 10 seconds and brought it to impact in two passes.
Such moments, too, cannot be called with certainty an indicator of the strength of the team. But this is an indicator of style, and in this new style Barcelona looked solid: they created a lot and implemented well.
The fourth goal came after Depay left , but his impact on Barcelona’s game was enormous. In pressure, he covered a couple of central defenders, and with the ball he could be anywhere on the field. He gave two passes under attack, hit twice, earned five fouls – one of them after a dizzying feint with the ball passing over an opponent. Le Norman deserved to be yellow, not even because of the rudeness of the foul, but simply because he ruined a beautiful moment.
Depay also came up with one of the most striking episodes of the match, when he tried to throw the goalkeeper from 40 meters. Remiro managed to reach the gate, but the attempt itself was both daring and logical – the goalkeeper really came out far. And it was Depay who came up with the third goal when he gave a thin pass to Alba on the flank between the two opponents. He not only opened the defense, but also brought Alba into space for the last pass.
Above, I wrote about four passes under attack, but if you count all the actions that led to the moment (including pre-key passes, like in the third goal, dribbles and fouls earned that led to a shot), then there are eight of them. Twice as many as their closest pursuers: de Jong , Oyarzabal and Barrenechei have four each .
Depay did not double like Braithwaite , did not scissor like Griezmann , he only has one effective action: an assist to Pique from a standard, but he was the main star of Barcelona in this match.
Now you need to evaluate his stability at a distance. But even such an important role in the opening match is already impressive. When he signed the contract, Koeman said that he wanted to see him on the team back in the winter. And Depay himself , according to the Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo, received an offer from Juventus with a higher salary, but chose Barcelona because he wanted to play with Kuman . With such a strong mutual desire to work together, long-term progress can be expected.
Yes, the first match is just one match, this is not a reason to draw conclusions about the team’s prospects. But the first match can be played in different ways. A new style with pressure and high-speed counterattacks and an application for a new star in the team is a lot to start with.