Before the game, Xavi made it clear that he would refresh the lineup, thus continuing to look for more effective combinations. As we wrote earlier – in the long term Xavi will come to the fact that in the center of the field played De Jong – Pedri – Gavi. In this match, this set-up was tried.
Changes on the flanks of the attack were caused more by the need to rest Rafinha and Dembele, although on the Brazilian Xavi may have some doubts about his effectiveness at the moment. Alba came out to help diversify the attacking action (only the fourth match since the start in La Liga). Also, Alonso was tested in the two of the central positions.
Xavi also used some new tactical details to make Barcelona’s possession game less predictable. Lewandowski swapped places with Fati for a few minutes in the first half, and Gavi situationally with Torres. But in essence, before the first goal, the Catalans were again hampered by the lack of space – the opponent predictably defended tightly and deeply – and the only way to get the ball into the penalty area was through crosses and throws.
Until 30 minutes, the Barcelona players made 10 crosses into the penalty area – all to no avail – and finally, on 31 minutes, Pedri spotted Alba’s inclusion, which had a result. It has long been known how dangerous Alba is when engaged in this way. In the last 5 seasons in La Liga, the Spaniard has given 51 goal assists.
In fact, Barcelona’s static attacking and sterile possession, with an abundance of crosses in recent matches, is due to the fact that the fullbacks have remained on the flanks during attacks, exclusively supporting possession.
In the long term, Alba can be an additional option to create chances, plus he is useful in situations where the team possesses the ball, as he has a high passing culture. Jordi’s statistics for the match against Villarreal were 125 assists with 91 percent accuracy. It is also significant that since the middle of the second half Alba was given the whole left flank, and there were also 5 attempts to connect the Spaniard in attacking combinations.
De Jong has shown that functionally he can cover Busquets’ position. From the advantages of Franky in front of Sergio it can be noted that the Dutchman is more dynamic with the ball – can drag the ball through the holding midfield when pressing the opponent, as well as near another`s penalty area. In the match against Villarreal there were several such moments.
Xavi was delighted with Frankie’s actions and said after the match: “De Jong is the best in the team to anticipate the opponents’ actions and break down their lines.
A clear problem for Barcelona was the defense in the space of the opponent’s quick attacks. In the middle of the half, with the score 0-0, Villarreal had two dangerous lunges. And it was in them that the center of the defense did not show its best side. In the first one Alonso failed to clear the ball, and in the second one Kunda let himself be beaten by the opponent. In general, Barcelona pressed and defended well, giving the opponent the only real chance to score only at the end of the game.
The victory over Villarreal was good both for the confidence of the players and for Xavi – he saw an opportunity for some changes. Barcelona have a number of difficult matches ahead: Athletic and Bayern at home, then a trip to Valencia. In my opinion, the starting lineup will look as follows: Ter Stegen – Sergio Roberto – Kunde – Garcia – Alba – De Jong – Gavi – Pedri – Fati – Lewandowski – Dembele.