El Clasico: Barcelona treading new ground with Koeman's 4-2-3-1

By Sports Desk October 23, 2020

Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

BREAKING THE WHEEL

Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

FATI AND FRENKIE ON FIRE

Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

He, too, has created three goalscoring chances and has a remarkable 100 per cent success rate from 11 attempted dribbles. He has also completed 216 passes, behind only the more possession-focused Gerard Pique (255) and Busquets (261). He is a player with renewed confidence in breaking lines in transition and getting the ball into threatening areas, and Madrid's midfield three will have a real test on their hands to cover the space of Barca's four forwards while keeping De Jong quiet.

And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

Still, Messi has created more chances (six), attempted more dribbles (19) and more shots (15) than any other Barca player in the league this season, and he may be about to face a Madrid defence without Sergio Ramos.

Related items

  • Rumour Has It: Pochettino and Raul waiting in wings for Madrid job, Man Utd in Camavinga battle Rumour Has It: Pochettino and Raul waiting in wings for Madrid job, Man Utd in Camavinga battle

    Is Zinedine Zidane's second spell in charge of Real Madrid coming to an end?

    Zidane guided Madrid to three successive Champions League titles in his first stint, and last season's LaLiga crown after returning to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2019.

    But the Los Blancos great is under mounting pressure amid the club's struggles this season.

     

    TOP STORY – ZIDANE IN DANGER

    Mauricio Pochettino and Raul are waiting in the wings to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, according to widespread reports in Spain.

    Madrid head coach Zidane is in danger of losing his job following Tuesday's Champions League loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

    Los Blancos have suffered back-to-back defeats and three in their past five outings across all competitions to be seven points adrift in LaLiga and on the cusp of Champions League elimination.

    Thursday's Mundo Deportivo, Diario AS and Sport report former Tottenham boss Pochettino and Madrid Castilla coach Raul are eyeing the hot seat.

    ROUND-UP

    - Calciomercato claims the race to sign Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga is down to Madrid and Manchester United. Serie A champions Juventus had also been linked, though there has been talk of Paul Pogba returning to Turin after leaving for Old Trafford in 2016.

    - Bayern Munich star David Alaba is hoping to strike a January agreement with Chelsea, according to Fabrizio Romano's 'Here We Go Podcast'. Alaba is a free agent at the end of the season and he has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

    Juventus have shown an interest in Barcelona centre-back Samuel Umtiti, according to Calciomercato. Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic are also on the shortlist.

    Madrid are eyeing Benfica forward Darwin Nunez, reports Calciomercato. The Uruguay international has also caught the attention of LaLiga rivals Barca.

    - What does the future hold for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland? Heavily linked to United, Madrid, Liverpool, PSG and even Barca, Calciomercato says Juve are monitoring the Norwegian closely.

  • Wizards confirm Westbrook capture as Wall joins Rockets Wizards confirm Westbrook capture as Wall joins Rockets

    The Washington Wizards confirmed the acquisition of former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook in a trade that sent franchise favourite John Wall to the Houston Rockets.

    Westbrook leaves the Rockets after just one season alongside James Harden in Houston, the nine-time All-Star moving to Washington in exchange for Wall and a future lottery-protected first-round draft pick on Wednesday.

    The shock trade comes amid uncertainty over Rockets superstar Harden, who is reportedly eyeing a move to the Brooklyn Nets, while the Philadelphia 76ers have also been linked.

    Wall heads to Houston, having not played since rupturing his left Achilles tendon in January last year. He initially underwent season-ending left heel surgery.

    The five-time All-Star, who has appeared in just 73 games since the start of the 2017-18 season, is fourth for career points for the Wizards after being drafted first by the Washington franchise in 2010.

    "Having the opportunity to acquire a player of Russell's calibre and character was something that we could not pass up when looking at both the immediate and long-term future of our team," said Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard as Westbrook prepares to team up with Bradley Beal.

    "With that said, the decision to part ways with John, one of the greatest players in franchise history, was extremely difficult. What he has meant to our organisation and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten."

    Harden and Westbrook – who played together at the Oklahoma City Thunder – became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to average 25.0-plus points and seven-plus assists per game in the same season.

    Westbrook averaged 27.2 points and seven assists per game for the Rockets, who had their 14th consecutive season at .500 or better but failed to reach the NBA Finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

    But Westbrook's struggles were evident in the playoffs – shooting just 24.2 per cent from three-point range and 53.1 per cent from the free-throw line.

    Westbrook was the first player in NBA history to shoot under 25 per cent from three and under 60 per cent from the line in a single postseason (minimum 30 attempts in both categories).

    Houston had a 29-13 record when Westbrook shot less than five times from beyond the arc compared to 10-13 when attempting five or more.

    Westbrook, meanwhile, has a career average of 19.6 points, 9.0 assists and 6.1 rebounds in Washington.

    Wizards head coach Scott Brooks added: "Russell's accomplishments and honours on the court speak for themselves, but his drive and will to win are what separate him as a truly unique player.

    "As much as I'm looking forward to reuniting with him, I'm equally sad to say good-bye to John. He is one of the toughest and most gifted players I've ever been around and we all wish him nothing but the best moving forward."

    In 573 career games with 561 starts for the Wizards, Wall averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.70 steals. He joins Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history with career averages of at least 19.0 points per game, 9.0 assists per game and 4.0 rebounds per game.

    Over the past six seasons, Wall is the only player in the league to have averaged at least 20.0 points per game and 10.0 assists per game.  

  • World Series hero Schwarber set free by Cubs World Series hero Schwarber set free by Cubs

    Kyle Schwarber is a free agent after the Chicago Cubs non-tendered the 2016 MLB World Series hero, though he could still return to Wrigley Field.

    Schwarber was in the final year of arbitration, but the Cubs opted to make the star outfielder a free agent after six seasons, while tendering contacts to 2016 National League (NL) MVP Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras on Wednesday.

    The 27-year-old Schwarber was a key member of the Cubs team that ended their 108-year championship drought, having returned from a severe left knee injury.

    Schwarber produced a three-hit performance in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians four years ago – he finished with seven hits, two RBIs and two runs in five games as the Cubs emerged triumphant.

    "Listen, he's always going to be a Cubs legend," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "There's no question about that, as he should be.

    "It was a hard conversation. I called Kyle. Expressed that we're definitely going to keep the door open. We have and will continue to talk to [his agent] about ways to bring him back.

    "So, I wanted to express that to him, but also to express that if that doesn't work out, just all the affection we've had for all he's done. I don't think the door is closed, but we had a good conversation."

    Schwarber made his MLB debut for the Cubs in 2015 after being drafted a year earlier.

    During the coronavirus-hit 2020 season, Schwarber tallied 30 runs on 36 hits in 59 games, while recording 11 home runs and 24 RBIs as the Cubs were swept by the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Series.

    Schwarber was the fastest to 100 career home runs among all players ever to debut with the Cubs, and his career rate of 14.9 at-bats per home run is second to only Sammy Sosa (12.8) in franchise history.

    Since entering the league, Schwarber has appeared in 551 games, registered 295 runs, 416 hits, 121 homers and 279 RBIs at .230.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.