Barcelona vs. Elche Analysis

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Today, FC Barcelona went to play Elche at the Manuel Martinez Valero stadium. The Calatans dispatched their opponents in a 6-0 win. Due to having played a Copa del Rey match against Atletico Madrid just three days prior to playing Elche and having another Copa match against Atletico this Wednesday, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique decided to rest some players. Usual starters Andres Iniesta, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic were all on the bench, with Busquets coming as a substitute. Also rested was Barcelona’s record signing Luis Suarez who turned 28 today. Here you will find analysis of the performances of the whole team and each individual player.

The Blaugrana didn’t start the match very well. Although they were in control from start to finish, they didn’t look their usual effervescent selves at the beginning of the match. Although they were leading 1-0 at halftime off a Gerard Pique goal, at that point Elche had registered more shots than Barcelona. Despite their original struggles, the Camp Nou outfit looked organized throughout the match and was very calm in possession and on defense. At first, the front three of Neymar, Pedro and Lionel Messi were linking up well, but that was to change. The match was a very physical one with Elche committing 18 fouls and Barcelona 12. As always, the Catalans dominated possession, having the ball for 72% of the match. They also completed an astonishing 89% of their passes. Barcelona spent most of the match in and around Elche’s final third.

Claudio Bravo:

Once again, the Chilean goalkeeper wasn’t called into action very often, but he came up big when he was, registering a save on all three of Elche’s shots on target. Bravo’s best moment came in the 25th minute when he pushed away a free kick that was destined for the bottom corner.

Martin Montoya:

Montoya, who was filling in for Dani Alves at right-back, put in a decent performance. While the Spaniard wasn’t nearly as active in the attack as Alves usually is, he certainly got the job done on defense. Multiple times he could be seen making a tackle to thwart an Elche attack. Montoya proved he is a good option at right-back for when Alves needs a rest.

Jordi Alba:

The Spanish left-back didn’t play as well as we have come to expect him to. He did not contribute much on attack and defended mediocrely. Alba, however, did almost score a beautiful volley in the 14th minute after Xavi delivered a beautiful lobbed pass. In the 66th minute, Alba was booked for stepping on the foot of Elche’s Aaron and was promptly taken off for Adriano three minutes later.

Gerard Pique:

The center-back from Spain marked his 200th La Liga appearance for Barcelona by scoring a rare goal. In the 35th minute, with the score still tied at 0, Pique scored a half-volley off a Xavi pass from a free kick. On the other end of the pitch, Pique’s tackling was very strong, even though he was easily dispossessed on multiple occasions. A strong showing for the Spaniard.

Marc Bartra:

Getting a rare start, the Spanish center-back put in a good performance. He defended very well and was skilled in the tackle. He distributed very well in defense, not looking nervous or out place. In the 88th minute, just as Ray Hudson (the beIN Sports commentator who I like very much) was criticizing Bartra’s performance, the young Spaniard played a beautiful through ball to Lionel Messi who danced around a defender and beautifully place his shot in the back of the net, giving Bartra the assist.

Javier Mascherano:

The Argentine who is usually played at center-back for the Blaugrana, was used in his natural defensive midfield position today. As always, Mascherano proved a great defensive presence for Barcelona, thwarting many attacks with his well-timed tackles. Playing in a slightly more advanced role than usual, the former Liverpool man was somewhat of a creative force, playing many long balls forward. Mascherano also did very well at shielding the defense and dictating play. He was eventually substituted off in the 69th minute after receiving a yellow card for a poor challenge on Elche’s Damian Suarez. Despite being substituted, Mascherano touched the ball more times (94) than any other player on the pitch.

Rafinha:

The Brazilian was handed a rare start and did not fail to impress. Playing as a central midfielder, Rafinha helped to control the tempo of the match very well. His best moment came on what was essentially the last play of the match when he gave Neymar a beautiful long pass, setting him up to assist Pedro. Rafinha touched the ball more times (90) than any other player besides Mascherano.

Xavi:

The central midfielder showed once again why he has been a pivotal figure to everything Barcelona and the Spanish national team have achieved in recent years. In his first match back from an injury that sidelined him for several weeks he was dictating play and delivering beautiful passes the whole match. For much of the match he dropped back into a sort of defensive midfield role and played beside Javier Mascherano. In the 35th minute, Xavi delivered a beautiful free kick through the air to Gerard Pique, who scored to give Barcelona the lead. Xavi completed an astonishing 97% of his passes and was taken off for Sergi Roberto in the 71st minute. The diminutive Spaniard played an amazing match and could very well have had more than an assist to show for it.

Neymar:

The Brazilian played in his usual left-wing position and was phenomenal. His work rate was magnificent and he set up his teammates as well as scoring himself. In the 53rd minute, Neymar was fouled in the box, winning a penalty for his team which Lionel Messi scored. In the 69th minute, Neymar received a great through ball from Messi and put the pass in the back of the net. Two minutes later, Messi played a beautiful pass over the Elche defense, which Neymar delicately volleyed into the back of the net. In the 93rd minute, Neymar received a beautiful long ball from Rafinha, dribbled past several defenders and put in a beautiful ground cross that Pedro scored on with ease. Another incredible match from the 23 year-old Brazilian.

Pedro:

The Spanish right-winger surprisingly started in place of Luis Suarez, who was most likely being rested. While Pedro started the match out quietly, he started to heat up in the second half and scored in the 93rd minute thanks to a beautiful assist from Neymar. A good performance from Pedro.

Lionel Messi:

“Don’t write about him, don’t try to describe him. Just watch him.” The wise words of Pep Guardiola about Lionel Messi make complete sense. But I have to disobey him by writing about the magical Argentine. It is nearly impossible to describe Messi; he is a complete player, well disciplined and does pretty much everything on the pitch perfectly. Today, Messi registered a brace and an assist for the Blaugrana, bringing his combined goal and assist tally for the season to 39 in 25 matches. After a fairly quiet start to the match, Messi dispatched a penalty in the 55th minute. However, he was far from done. In the 69th minute, La Pulga played a beautiful little through ball to Neymar who scored for Barcelona. Two minutes later, Messi gave Neymar an even better assist by lobbing the ball over the Elche defense, right into the path of the Brazilian. In the 88th minute, Messi received a great pass from Marc Bartra, danced around a defender and took a great shot for his second goal of the match. Another absolutely amazing performance from the Argentine.

Subsitutes:

Sergio Busquets:

The defensive midfielder came on for Mascherano in the 69th minute. He didn’t make much of an impact but did well, floating all over the pitch, passing and defending very well.

Adriano:

The left-back came on for Jordi Alba in the 69th minute and played decently. He combined very well with Neymar and made runs down the left wing. Defensively, he did well to block crosses from the Elche attack.

Sergi Roberto:

The Spanish central midfielder was thrown into the action for Xavi in the 71st minute. He didn’t do very much but he passed and tackled well.

*All stats were obtained via ESPNFC.com and WhoScored.com

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Tactical Analysis of Barcelona vs. Deportivo

FC Barcelona extended their good form on Sunday with a 4-0 away win over Deportivo. The Catalans looked good and manager Luis Enrique’s tactics worked very well. Here you will find an overview of how the team played as a whole and how each player played individually.

Whole Team

 

Enrique fielded a weakened squad in the midweek Copa del Rey match against Elche so that he could give his key players rest and give playing time to others as Barcelona had a 5-0 aggregate lead after the first leg. This rest seemed to greatly benefit Barcelona and they played very well against Deportivo. One of the few negatives in the Blaugrana’s performance was the fact that their defense was easily cut open at times, often because of a Gerard Pique error. However, the defense and rest of the team was constantly pressing the opposition and winning the ball back when they needed to.

Barcelona’s midfield and attack played incredibly well. They dominated possession throughout the match and kept hitting Deportivo on the counter by seamlessly transitioning from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Although Luis Suarez blew many chances he was given, he still played decently and the deadly trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez continued to become more familiar with each other. Although they “only” had four goals, the Catalans completely dominated the match, registering fourteen shots to Deportivo’s seven and having possession of the ball for 68% of the match.

Individual Play

 

Claudio Bravo:

The ‘keeper had a good match in which he wasn’t called into action very often but when he was, he came through with big saves. One save stands out. At one point in the match, Gerard Pique allowed Deportivo midfielder Juan Dominguez to break through the defense. Dominguez’s shot from six yards out seemed destined for goal, but at the last second Bravo stretch out and diverted the shot from the goal. He also could be seen distributing the ball very well –like Victor Valdes used to— and he organized his defense very well by leading from the back.

Dani Alves:

As always, Dani Alves was a constant attacking threat at right-back for Barcelona. He kept pushing forward with the ball and putting the ball into the box. He combined well with the whole Barca attack, especially Messi. His defensive contribution was also substantial.

Jordi Alba:

Just like Alves, Jordi Alba was as much a constant attacking threat for Barcelona at his full-back position as ever. The left-back could constantly be seen running up and down the left wing, contributing in both defense and attack. He exchanged a countless amount of passed with Neymar, leading the Brazilian to create chances for his teammates.

Javier Mascherano:

Mascherano was once again a reliable choice for the Blaugrana at center-back. The Argentine was skilled in the tackle and succeded at making one last-man tackle. He pushed forward much more than usual, playing like a defensive midfielder, his natural position. He often when on long runs with the ball into Deportivo’s territory. Mascherano proved again that he is the best center-back on Barcelona.

Gerard Pique:

The Spanish center-back didn’t have the best of times against Deportivo. Pique allowed to defenders to brush by him, resulting in goal-scoring opportunities more than once. Hopefully he will be better next time out.

Sergio Busquets:

The defensive midfielder put in another very solid performance. He was calm in possession, drew many fouls and did very well at shielding the defense. He was substituted off for Marc Bartra in the 66th minute.

Andres Iniesta:

Iniesta, the captain on the night, put in the type of performance we have come to expect of the little maestro. The midfielder dictated play throughout the whole match and delivered many beautiful through balls that created scoring chances. In the first half he delivered a ball over a few Deportivo defenders to give Suarez a great chance at goal, but the Uruguayan shot wide. Iniesta completed 94% of his chances before being subbed off for Rafinha in the 66th minute.

Ivan Rakitic:

The Croatian midfielder was magnificent against Deportivo. He played with loads of heart and determination and clocked up two beautiful assists for Messi. On the first one, he put an inch-perfect lobbed pass right in the path of Messi who headed in. On the second one he thread the ball between two defenders at a tight angle, right to Messi who scored with a beautiful shot. Earlier in the match, Rakitic delivered a perfect corner kick to Messi on the ground, but the Argentine’s shot was brilliantly saved.

Neymar:

While Neymar didn’t put in one of his usual amazing performances, he still had a decent game. He constantly got past defenders with skill moves and was linking up very well with Jordi Alba. Neymar still seemed to be a little injured from his collision with Atletico’s Jose Maria Gimenez last week. He was being defended very physically, so he was taken off for Pedro in the 69th minute.

Lionel Messi:

The magical Argentine was pretty much flawless once again. He scored three goals, taking his all-time hat trick tally for Barcelona up to 30. Messi officially played as a right winger against Deportivo, with permission to roam wherever he pleased. The first goal of the night for La Pulga came in the 10th minute. He slipped through the Deportivo defense undetected and was founded by a beautiful lobbed pass from Ivan Rakitic which he headed in. His second goal was officially assisted by Suarez, but he created it himself. He received the ball on the edge of the box, dribbled past a few players, appeared to have lost the ball and then beautifully chipped the ‘keeper. Messi’s third and final goal came when he received a beautiful pass from Rakitic deep in the box and unmarked, fire an amazing low shot into the back of the net. During all this attacking, Messi somehow managed to largely contribute in defense also. Another mind-blowing performance from Messi.

Luis Suarez:

Deployed centrally, the Uruguayan had a decent game. Although he assisted Messi, he blew many golden chances to score or create. At one point, he received the ball on the left side of the goal with Messi on his right. The goalkeeper closed off his angle and a pass to Messi would have been a surefire assist, he instead chose to shoot and fired wide. This was uncharacteristically selfish of the former Liverpool man.

Subs:

Rafinha:

The Brazilian midfielder came on for captain Iniesta in the 66th minute but didn’t make much of an impact except for a nice through ball to Suarez that was just of the toothy Uruguayan’s reach.

Marc Bartra:

The center-back came on for Busquets in the 66th minute and received a yellow card due to a bad officiating call almost immediately. However, he quickly recovered and went on to play well including a sliding last man tackle on the goal line.

Pedro:

Pedro came on for Neymar in the 69th minute and played on the left wing. Although he didn’t have much of an impact, he combined very well with Messi and Suarez in attack.

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*All stats were obtained from WhoScored.com

Predicting The Top 5 2014 Ballon D’or Finishers

It is time to start thinking about who will win the 2014 Ballon D’or. There are a few clear-cut candidates already. Here you will find my predictions of who the top 5 finishers will be.

5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Easily the best current footballer to have not won a Ballon D’or, Zlatan Ibrahimovic improves as he gets older. Currently playing for Paris Saint-Germain, the Swede must play even better than his current impeccable form to have a chance at the esteemed trophy as his nation won’t be in this summer’s World Cup.

4. Luis Suarez

The Liverpool and Uruguay striker has been unstoppable lately. He is on track to break the record for most goals in a Premier League season even though he missed the first six games (for biting Bransilav Ivanovic of Chelsea). Currently the lone leader in the EPL in both goals and assists, Suarez has done all but given his acceptance speech to collect the PFA Player of the Year Award. Suarez must also impress at the World Cup this summer and lead his team out of a difficult group to at least the quarterfinals. While playing very well along the way.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo

The reigning Ballon D’or winner has a much harder path to the trophy this year. He has had a recent small dip in form with Real Madrid and now faces much stiffer competition in the form of Luis Suarez and a fully fit Lionel Messi. Although he easily won the last trophy, come January not many bookies will have him first on their list.

2. Neymar

The Brazilian wunderkind has played fairly well with club team Barcelona of late. But the key to him winning the golden ball of the whole world in January, is winning the World Cup with Brazil and winning that golden ball.

1. Lionel Messi

The 4-time Ballon D’or champion has the biggest chance of winning the trophy next year. He finished a close second to Cristiano Ronaldo last time around, even though he was injured for much of the season. If the stellar forward can keep up his current form and continue winning trophies with Barcelona, all he will have to do is finally have a good World Cup with Argentina (a title wouldn’t hurt).