An interesting fixture this is for Spanish football fans. Barcelona and Real Betis against each other always calls for an interesting game to watch.
In 2018, Real Betis, under a certain Quique Setien travelled to Camp Nou for a La Liga fixture, where numerous records were broken, and records were set, as Betis cruised to a 4-3 win with current Barcelona man Junior Firpo scoring for Betis.
Last season, Lionel Messi scored a wonder hat-trick against Betis at the Benitto Villamarin and Antoine Griezmann scored a brace in the Camp Nou.
These two teams again locked horns and Barcelona had a rather thrilling victory of 5-2.
In this tactical analysis, we look to provide analysis of the tactics used by both teams and we will try to analyse them systematically.
Barcelona had three changes in their starting lineup compared to the one Ronald Koeman put up against Dynamo Kyiv midweek. Sergi Roberto came in as the right-back in place of Sergino Dest. Clement Lenglet resumed his centre-back role alongside Gerard Pique. Frenkie de Jong assumed his midfield position and Miralem Pjanic was dropped. Lionel Messi was rested and Ousmane Dembele came in place of him.
Real Betis had only one change in their starting lineup compared to the one Manuel Pellegrini played against Elche at the weekend. William Carvalho came in, in place of Nabil Fekir. Fekir had sustained a hamstring injury against Elche.
Barcelona went with a 4-3-3 on paper but it immediately shifted to a 4-4-2. This is the first time Koeman has renounced his 4-2-3-1. Real Betis also gave up their favourable 4-3-3 and went with a 4-4-1-1. It was a conservative approach from Betis owing to Barcelona’s high line.
Barcelona in possession and Betis’ pressing
Barcelona averaged 58% of the ball but there were periods in the game where Betis were able to keep Barcelona away from the ball and create severe goal threats.
In the first half, Betis controlled slightly more of the ball compared to Barcelona, which was due to the high pressing intensity they maintained in the first half. Betis started with a very high PPDA of 73.0 and then lowered it down to 7.0. After that, it was a slippery slope for Betis as they went through periods of really high quality pressing and also periods of no pressing at all. (PPDA means opponent’s pass per defensive action. It’s a proxy indicator to analyse a team’s pressing. The lower the PPDA, the more intense is the press).
With the ball, Barcelona shifted to a 4-3-3 with a front three of Fati, Griezmann, and Dembele in the first half. In the second half, it was Messi, Griezmann, and Dembele initially, before Fransisco Trincao replaced Dembele.
Barcelona created some really high-quality chances throughout the game. This is seen in the xG graph of the game.
Barcelona looked to build from the back as is always the case with them. Busquets and de Jong became the organisers of Barcelona’s attack, forming the link between the defence and attack. Both de Jong and Busquets affected the highest and second-highest passes in the game respectively. de Jong made 76 passes, 68 of them were on target earning an accuracy of 89%. Busquets made 74 passes, 68 were on target with an accuracy of 92%.
They were also the ones involved in most of the actions in the game. Busquets was involved in 89 activities, succeeding in 75 of those, and de Jong was involved in 87 actions, succeeding in 72 of those.
Barcelona attacked mostly from the centre, with 61% attacking danger originating from the centre, but they mostly looked to progress from the flanks using the wide men. This was due to the fact that throughout the game, Betis pressed centrally, leaving Barcelona’s wide men completely unmarked. We can see this in the build-up to Griezmann’s goal.
Here we see de Jong with the ball. There’s a Betis player marking Griezmann, but there’s absolutely no one marking Jordi Alba (in black circle), Dembele (in red circle), and Sergi Roberto (in orange circle). They have huge spaces in the flanks and that’s what de Jong and Alba do in their next move.
Here we see Jordi Alba has the ball. Emerson realises the threat from Alba so he goes to press him. Marc Batra and Mandi are trying to cage Messi (in red circle) to stop the Messi-Alba link. This way the Betis defence gets stretched and goes out of shape leaving a huge hole at the centre of the park which Pedri (in black circle) is looking to penetrate.
Alba then crosses the ball to Messi. Batra and Mandi try to cage him. This leads to a huge space in front of Griezmann (in orange circle). Griezmann runs into the space. Messi effects a dummy pass, that only he alone could have done. Claudio Bravo (Betis goalkeeper) comes out of his line to stop Messi, leaving an open goal for Griezmann to shoot at.
This is how Barcelona progressed throughout the game. Betis would press high, committing too many men forward. Their defence would look to go central, leaving Barcelona’s wide players totally unmarked. Barcelona would progress using their wide men. Betis would then stretch up leaving spaces in the centre. Barcelona’s central players would run into those spaces, waiting for their wide men to pass the ball to them. This is how all the goals for Barcelona came. This also meant that apart from the 61% danger from the centre, Barcelona also had 19% from both the flanks respectively.
Griezmann missed four open chances and a penalty saved in the first half otherwise the goal margin would have been much wider in favor of Barcelona. Nevertheless, he had a great game apart from those misses. He had the most xG of 1.44 in the game.
Real Betis’ lack of shape with the ball
With the ball, Pellegrini’s men lacked structure and creativity. This can be seen in their pass map.
The pass map clearly shows the lack of organisation. This is due to the fact that Real Betis don’t have highly technical and creative players in the centre of the park. This results in their attack lacking centrality. This turned out to be a huge problem for them, as Betis initiated 61% of their attacks from the centre. The lack of centrality caused them to lack sharpness in front of the goal.
This can also be seen by the fact that their central defender, Marc Batra is the one to make most passes and not any of the midfielders or forwards. Batra made 54 passes, 49 of them were on target. This gives him an accuracy of 91%.
The attacks that originated from the centre were mostly counter attacks due to the lack of pace in Pique, Lenglet, and Busquets.
We can see that in the first Betis goal that was scored just at the stroke of the half time whistle. Barcelona lose the ball in their final third. Betis’ no. 10, Sergio Canales runs with the ball, and Pique and Busquets are way too high.
There’s a huge space in front of Canales and Cristian Tello. Both of them keep charging up at full speed. Pique and Busquets can’t even get near them to fill the space.
Canales (in black circle), after entering the final third, passes the ball to Tello (in red circle). Canales runs into that space between Pique and Lenglet. Antonio Sanabria (in orange circle) tries to enter the half-space between Lenglet and Alba.
Lenglet then tries to close down the space between him and Pique. In doing this he opens up space between him and Alba. Tello crosses the ball that Canales misses. It goes to Lenglet. Lenglet tries to stop it with his outstretched leg but misses, so Sanabria is able to score the equaliser.
This lack of speed in Pique, Busquets, and Lenglet resulted in Betis getting a lot of chances to score. This is the reason, even after lacking in possession and having a dishevelled pass map, they earned an xG of 1.53.
For a really long time this season Barcelona’s press has been shambolic. Rather than pressing as a unit, they have pressed mostly individually, lacking in proper organisation and shape as a result.
In the game against Betis, though, Barcelona pressed as one single solid unit. This is evident in the PPDA graph of the game.
It’s clearly visible from the above graph that Barcelona affected a really solid press throughout the game. There did come a small period of time when Betis had a PPDA of 7.0, better than Barcelona, but other than that it was all sloppy for Betis and a great consistency from Barcelona.
A properly organised press meant that Barcelona had a resolute shape while defending.
Here we see a proper defensive shape of 4-4-1-1 from Barcelona. The initiation of an organised press means that the forwards can now cut down crucial pass lanes. Here just the mere presence of Messi (in black circle) in front of William Carvalho cuts down 3 important pass lanes. Had Messi not been there Carvalho could have passed the ball to Guido Rodriguez, who then would have two options – either pass it to Joaquin and start an attack from the left flank or loop it over the top for Emerson to win it.
Both these scenarios could have led to goals but Messi’s positioning in Barcelona’s defensive press neutralises all these scenarios.
Griezmann’s contribution to the press was also very crucial. He was able to pressurise Betis’ players to look for panic passing instead of intelligent passing.
Here we see Joaquin with the ball. Griezmann (in black circle) immediately goes to pressurise him. Pedri (in red circle) presses Carvalho. Alba (in the pink circle) immediately spots a free Emerson (in orange circle) at the left flank and goes to press him and cut down the passing lane between Joaquin and Emerson.
Dembele’s pressing and awareness was also exceptional. He was really crucial in guarding the right flank as Sergi Roberto often leaves huge spaces in the right flank and is relatively weaker in 1v1 situations.
In the above image, Carvalho plays a loop to Canales. Roberto (in black circle) tries to stop the ball by intercepting it with his left foot. The ball hits his foot but ricochets to Canales all over again. Dembele runs ahead of Canales, wins the ball with a sublime first touch, and then calmly passes the ball to Marc Andre ter Stegen.
It was, at the end of the day, a one-sided affair as Barcelona won their first La Liga game in the last five that they played. The scoreline was the same as it was last year between these two sides when they met at Camp Nou. Betis came back on a win over Elche and had more rest than Barcelona but that didn’t seem like an advantage at all.
Barcelona will be happy that Griezmann has finally got a goal and that did seem like an opening of floodgates for him, as he played wonderfully well in the second half after going through a traumatic first half, missing 4 open chances and a penalty. Leo Messi also scored his first open play goal this season and Barcelona would be looking for more from their dynamic duo moving ahead as reports are coming in that Fati has sustained a long injury.
Real Betis would be looking to get back to winning ways after the long international break and Pellegrini wouldn’t want his players to sustain injuries in the break. The lack of centrality will also be something Pellegrini would be thinking about in the break. Koeman will also be thinking about the lack of pace with Barcelona’s defenders.
That should be the punchline from this game. Real Betis have pace and agility. They would be looking for creativity and centrality. Barcelona have creativity and centrality, and they would be looking for pace and agility.