Real Valladolid vs Barcelona

Barcelona’s 3-0 thrashing of Real Valladolid will be best remembered for Lionel Messi’s 644th goal for Barcelona, which took him above Pele for the most goals in history for one club.

That represents a rare moment to smile for the Argentine this season as he was neatly set up by youngster Pedri for the third goal.

However, the notable difference in Barca’s penultimate fixture of 2020 was a switch to a back-three, an unusual setup for the Catalans.

Ronald Koeman has overhauled the Blaugrana’s tactical system by employing a previously unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 to instill some solidity into the side and allow the array of attacking stars to flourish. Nevertheless, the Dutchman has changed it up a few times to neutralize opponents.

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And the 57-year-old sought to tinker following a 2-2 draw with Valencia. In came a 3-4-3 shape which allowed Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba to focus on providing width whilst Messi and Pedri could create behind Martin Braithwaite. 

Lionel Messi

TOPSHOT – Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal  during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on December 22, 2020. (Photo by Cesar Manso / AFP) (Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP via Getty Images)

“We changed to improve the defence and the wings,” Koeman said after full time.

“We’ve seen a very serious performance with good concentration and good chances created.”

Pertinently, this system offers balance considering Barca are without Gerard Pique and the rest of their first-team stars are either aging or out of sorts.  

The visitors lined up with Clement Lenglet back in the defence alongside Óscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo. Lenglet scored and helped keep a clean sheet, and he spoke about the changes after the match.

“Today was a very complete performance. We didn’t let them have too many chances. We needed to win this game and we have done it with quality.

“It depends on the game in turns of what the system brings us. Today it worked well. Jordi and Sergiño were able to get further forward without having to make long runs back to defend.

“We looked good with this system. We tried to practice it but there’s not much time between games to train. We have one day to recuperate after games and then it’s the next match.”

Rightly so, the tactical flexibility and adaptability is par for the course of a team in transition, even more so with the lack of training in pandemic football.

This season could have gone much worse for Barca who sit fifth on the Liga standings and have a Champions League last 16 tie against PSG to look forward to. Koeman must take credit for understanding what the team needs and seeking the solidity required to stay competitive.

The three-at-the-back system might be unlike a traditional Barca team and not suitable for their sheer amount of attacking stars. However, it is a trait they need to develop in this unlikeliest of campaigns. 

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin
December 23, 2020
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Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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