Barcelona take three points from Elche, synonymous of a fifth consecutive win away from home.
Yesterday’s 0–2 win against Elche away from home brought mixed feelings: A satisfying result, but a concerning performance, notably in the first half. No matter ‘how’ Barcelona cashed in the three points, it’s the first time since 2016 that the Blaugranas have won five times in a row away from home, despite the current mess.
The disappointing 2–0 win in Cornella for the Copa Del Rey raised questions about Barcelona’s level. Elche was far from being the perfect game, but did reassure while raising some questions as well: Should Umtiti’s position be reconsidered again? What is Mingueza’s real level? What to take from this win?
One thing is sure: Frenkie is showing no signs of slowing down. May it have been in the first or the second half, Frenkie was key to Barcelona’s attack, particularly in the right side. Whether the ‘goal’ is “stat-padding” is out of question: It may have been a goal anyway, but his performance was screaming for it.
There’s nothing better for a player than scoring goals. For Frenkie, that translates into four goals and three assists in his last eleven games. A sign that Ronald Koeman has found a suitable role for the Dutch midfielder — rather offensive, freer, and more importantly, more impactful. As much as Pedri did well in the second half, it’s clear who’s “the” interior — Frenkie it is, as shown by the heatmaps.
Pedri might shine — but it seems as if he’s more of an inverted winger rather than the Iniesta replacement many hoped to see in the 18 year old. Not only did Pedri seem to be uncomfortable as an interior, but Elche’s formation — a 4/5/1 — didn’t help him either.
Elche, now 19th of La Liga, tried a defensive approach to Koeman’s team. By now, most of the teams have observed a regular pattern in Koeman’s team: A build-up from the wings, especially through the full-backs. However, there was no proper full-back winger duo on either side, making it harder for Barça to advance through Elche’s line. On the left, Alba had to occupy the left wing — but with Braithwaite being his supposed partner, it all became harder as the Danish forward rarely took advantages of reading through Elche’s lines.
If it’s true that Braithwaite’s cross forced the own goal — which Frenkie stole — it can’t be said that the ‘9’ did well throughout the game. This unique moment was a matter of detail — As Elche was caught out late in defense, panic arose amids Elche’s defenders, hence the own goal — and that may also define Elche’s season as a whole: Holding onto the rope, until the suffocation is too much.
There are several problems for Almiron,Elche’s manager. A lack of technical skill for a large majority of his squad, to add to that the problems of encoutering details. As seen yesterday, Elche didn’t seem to have a problem to approach the game in a defensive manner, to not say a very defensive manner. To adress both dangers on each wing, Elche’s fullbacks and winger were both tasked with tightly marking Dembele and Alba on either wing. Eventually this formed a back six which can be observed in their average positions.
But eventually, Elche had to deal with a problem — Sergio Busquets, who was never contained. With long, progressive passes, keeping the team in tight lines became harder for Elche, a mostly overseen aspect of yesterday’s game.
As much as Elche defended against Barcelona’s wing-play, the centre of the field couldn’t be left open for Koeman’s team either. That is why there were always three players, sometimes four in the centre to prevent any central progression — and rightly so. It proved to be a problem for Barcelona, who seemed out of ideas for the majority of the game. A low rhythm game continued, and Barcelona’s had lost its one goal lead if it weren’t for a splendid Ter Stegen, answering present in the goal to deny the equaliser.
Barcelona’s lack of ideas can be explained through the centre-backs, too. Araujo, despite his defensive brilliance, still struggles to pose threat on the ball in front of the opponent. Umtiti, replacing Lenglet, is still attempting to find his former self — something that seems out of reach, as his imposing physique is tied down to the condition of his broken knee. Umtiti himself was conservative as well in the first half, before finally delivering a few line-breaking passes, notably *the* one to Pedri. Prime Umtiti? Certainly not, but it’s a pleasure for any football fan to see Umtiti showing some positive signs.
Last but not least, Mingueza reminded that he might not be the player many thought or hope he was. A direct error that revealed itself dangerous. Mingueza isn’t defensively solid, but offensively, he might be fine: Perhaps, a squad player at best. On the other hand, Araujo kept impressing, almost keeping any sort of possible threat — those were little — at bay.
Griezmann, however, was far from having an excellent display. Set up in a false nine, subject to higher standards — those of Lionel Messi — Griezmann often felt lonely, lacking a focal supporting point as he liked to have one back at his Atlético days, and while his distribution felt decent, he’s far from taking the ‘leader’ status from Lionel Messi. Conclusions should not be taken from one game, but it’s fair to say that Griezmann is thus far unable to take Messi’s role.
At last, two late subs had a major impact — one of them even score, and his name is Riqui Puig, the player that Koeman seems to despise but desperately needs to advance in the game, especially in the midfield. Another of them is one that is labelled as ‘flop’ — Trincao, the 30M transfer from Braga. Despite failing to score — though almost — the Portuguese youngster arguably had one of his best moment in a Blaugrana shirt in a while. Perhaps this will impact his confidence positively.
This game might not have been the best, nor the most impressive. But it brought three much needed points home. At a momentum — two weeks before the crucial Champions League 1/8th of final against PSG, these results lift the mood up and players inhale confidence from it. Job done!