Three key-elements which were crucial for Barcelona during their 5-0 win over Levante
Barcelona beat Levante in a convincing manner at the Camp Nou: The match ended 5-0 with a Messi hat-trick. Interestingly enough, Messi wasn’t even at his very sharpest; as it was Barcelona’s intelligent, rapid movement in the last third that allowed them to completely destroy the Levante defense sitting deep.
The importance of Neymar
From early on it was clear what Barcelona’s idea was: Neymar maintained width on the left. Below you can see what happened several times in the match: Bartra plays a long ball to Neymar, and once the Brazilian receives the ball out wide, he has several options. The midfielders have made runs into the box, as well as Messi and Pedro.
Neymar is, indeed, proving to be an important outlet for Barcelona. Below is an infographic of the passes to Neymar during the match [via FourFourTwo]. Quite a few of the passes are long, coming straight from the defense. When Neymar receives the ball after a long ball, he usually has a little bit of space to dribble to, and knowing the destabilizing ability of the Brazilian, this pattern is very valuable to Barcelona as they look to move the ball quickly from one flank to the other.
As the match progressed, Messi started to drift towards the right flank, and Pedro took a more central position. This is something we’re used to with Luis Suárez on the pitch, but the same happening with Pedro shows that Messi feels comfortable in the wider position where he finds a bit more space.
Below is an image of what happens when Messi receives the ball out wide. Montoya plays the ball to Messi, and simultaneously, Rakitic is making himself available. Montoya continues his run towards the box, which gives Messi yet another passing option. Pedro has moved to the center, and as we can see, Neymar is already lurking behind the Levante defender, waiting for the opportunity to make the run behind the defense. This attack ended in Neymar’s lucky finish for the 1-0 goal, but the pattern was everything but lucky: We’ve seen it a thousand times this season, and it is, in fact, quite remarkable how Messi manages to find these passes all the time, although in theory, the opponent should know exactly what is going to happen.
Another key element in Luis Enrique’s Barcelona is trying to press high up the pitch and force the opponent to make mistakes. In fairness, the pressing didn’t always work against Levante who hit Barcelona on the counter a few times, but when it did work, it resulted in dangerous attacks for Barcelona.
Below is an example from the first half. Pedro is putting pressure on the Levante player with the ball, whereas Xavi and Rakitic are making sure that there’s no easy passing lane available. Busquets can’t be seen in the image, but he’s lurking behind the two midfielders, and when the ball is played towards the center circle, it’s Busquets who makes an interception. The ball is later played directly to Messi, who finds Neymar and sets up a decent attack.
Pressing intelligently is crucial, especially against a side that defends deep. Winning the ball allows the attacking trident to strike in numbers, which is usually lethal considering the forwards’ individual quality. This is an aspect that Barcelona already does fairly well, but that can be polished even more as we face sides that have more individual quality at the back.
Published originally on Weloba.com