Yes, Lionel Messi is an alien and scored four goals and, yes, Barcelona have superior players, but Eibar’s manager, Jose Luis Mendilibar, got a lot right on Tuesday night at the Camp Nou. The final score reads 6-1, but the first-half showed why Eibar are a brilliant side to watch no matter how tough the opposition. No side is too big for them to ever ditch their beloved high-pressing personality, and it is worth discussing how and why they do it.
Eibar were spot on with their pressing tactics in the first half. Mendilibar gets applause from me.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) September 19, 2017
The headlines will, and rightfully so, however, praise Messi for netting his 300th goal, and there’ll also be talk of how Paulinho, the seemingly “underwhelming” summer signing, has scored in two consecutive matches. But here at ESDF, we’re going to focus a lot on Mendilibar’s tactics and some under the radar improvements Barca have made under Ernesto Valverde.
To keep it short, this match was over when Denis Saurez, who got the starting nod with Gerard Deulofeu (Luis Suarez was on the bench), made it 3-0 shortly after the interval. And although Sergi Enrich made it 3-1 at the 57th-minute mark, Messi would score twice in three minutes soon after and crush all hope for Eibar supporters.
Some Barca supporters, on the other hand, actually started to clear the Camp Nou after the Argentine’s hat-trick, their Catalan side had already won, but Messi being Messi, wasn’t finished and gave those who stayed another reason to love him as he scored his fourth in the 87th minute.
His quality and sheer brilliance aside, it was Denis Saurez’s post-match comments that were telling of just how much Eibar’s first-half efforts can’t be overlooked:
Denis Suarez post match: "we tried to enter their half [early on] but it wasn't easy." Yup, huge aspect of my analysis will be Eibar press
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) September 19, 2017
It’s true, coming into the match, that Eibar have been inconsistent since the start of the Primera campaign. They suffered back-to-back defeats after earning a win in their opening match of the season. But Mendilibar’s men bounced back last weekend and claimed a victory over Leganes.
The inconsistency, however, leaked onto the Camp Nou pitch on Tuesday night with their second-half performance offering little of the strengths that helped them control the first-half. Now, although Valverde’s men went up 2-0 in the first stretch, (a Messi penalty and Paulinho set-piece header offered little justification in terms of Barca’s actual team play), it was Eibar who were more composed in their game plan for the first 30 minutes.
Eibar’s high-press disrupts Barca’s build up to perfection
Eibar’s game plan was to come out with a 5 to 6-man man-orientated press in a 4-2-3-1 and disrupt Barca’s out-the-back build up from the opening whistle.
As with any style of pressing, it requires good anticipation, the timing of runs, aggressiveness, and positional awareness from every pressing player. The graphic below shows one of the main, and consistently tried, ways Eibar high-pressed Barcelona:
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) September 20, 2017
As seen above, the 4-2-3-1 man-marking press allowed for Eibar to cover Barcelona’s midfield three, both of their full-backs, and at least one of their centre-backs.
However, the graphic alone won’t do the pressing system justice. Below, you’ll find an in-depth video breakdown of Eibar’s 4-2-3-1 press, in a number of phases, which they used successfully in the first-half.
Eibar’s 4-2-3-1 man-marking press on Barcelona part 1
The video above shows how Eibar pressed Barca in a man-orientated manner, but what happens when Messi drops deeper to help with the buildup in midfield? How do Eibar adjust?
Essentially, when Messi drops into midfield, Gonzalo Escalante shifts from his right-sided DM position and tracks Messi. However, this leaves Andres Iniesta open, so right-back Anaitz Arbilla will push up higher to mark the veteran Spaniard.
The video below breaks the adjustment down.
Eibar’s man-marking press and how they adjusted when Messi dropped into midfield
Eibar used this pressing tactic to success. It became very difficult for Barcelona to play through this type of cohesion and pressure. Barca rarely were able to build from defence to midfield and any odd skirmish that managed to break Eibar’s pressure was met with little creation in Eibar’s defensive half.
So, as a result, let’s further analyze the team that was in control.
How did Eibar attack?
Well, they set up their attack in a certain way and took a number of things into consideration:
- When winning the ball in Barcelona’s half, it became essential that Mendilibar set up his side to quickly transition from high-press into a direct attack to take advantage of the fact that Barcelona would not be in an organized defensive shape due to just having lost the ball.
- Eibar, if there was no clear entry into Barcelona’s penalty area upon winning via press, would recycle possession among the backline and deeper midfielders to find cracks in Barca’s high line for long balls into wide areas.
- Lastly, Eibar, when building up, avoided short, quick passes in central areas as a Barcelona counter-attack, with Messi playing higher than usual, increases the chances of conceding a goal.
So, below, the videos break down how Eibar decided to attack Valverde’s side.
1. Eibar’s direct attacking approach 1
2. Eibar’s direct attacking approach 2
The pattern was clear for Eibar – go direct, try to get behind the defence as quickly and directly as possible, and avoid trying to build up the play centrally to limit Barcelona counters from central areas.
The screenshot below also further illustrates a common overload Eibar tried to use on Barca’s left-side, perhaps, to exploit Iniesta and Lucas Digne.
Furthermore, on counter-attacks, it was much of the same except that Eibar’s full-backs were wide options to initiate the final long ball rather than join the attack. On one particular occasion early on, Enrich was at the end of a long ball, settled it, but ultimately failed on his 1v1 with Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The video below explains further.
Eibar’s counter-attack against Barca
For all of Eibar’s huffing and puffing with their pressing, they couldn’t match the same effectiveness in attack. They controlled, but couldn’t match Barcelona in front of goal.
Moving on, and as stated before, Valverde’s outfit didn’t offer much in terms of their famed possession play in the first-half – Eibar’s high-pressing cohesion was at 10/10 while Barca’s passing abilities were at 7/10.
Nonetheless, Messi capitalized on a penalty in the 20th minute after Alejandro Galvez took down Nelson Semedo and put his side up 1-0. However, about eight minutes later, Barcelona displayed one of the under-the-radar improvements of their play – their mid-block press.
The video below breaks down the improved off-the-ball work that Valverde has implemented.
Barcelona’s mid-block 4-5-1 and man-mark press
The second half started with Eibar down 2-0 and it all fell apart after D. Suarez made it 3-0 early in the second-half. As mentioned earlier, Messi then ran riot and all was lost.
Why did this happen? Well, Eibar, per usual, didn’t change a thing and got even more aggressive with their pressing strategy but this time their pace and focused dipped, for obvious mental reasons, and couldn’t replicate the same effectiveness at pinning Barcelona down in their own zone.
Once the Catalan giants had broken the pressure, Eibar’s defence had to rely on their 1v1 attributes (which aren’t very good) to stop Messi on transitional phases with more space to work with. This was the end for Eibar.
Barcelona, despite not looking their best, maintained their 100% start in LaLiga. We shall see what team will give Barcelona their first defeat domestically and how they do it.