Ernesto Valverde’s first real test as manager of Barcelona will take place on Tuesday when the Catalan giants host UEFA Champions League finalists, Juventus, in this year’s group stage opener.
Now, many reading this will be aware of the fact that Barcelona suffered a 5-1 aggregate loss in the Spanish Super Cup to rivals Real Madrid in August, but it can be argued that it was too soon to truly judge Valverde as a tactician. His pressing methods and expertise have certainly been implemented since then and it’ll be interesting to see if he can succeed where Luis Enrique failed last season.
It must be noted, however, that Barcelona are a side that hasn’t changed much in terms of possession-play and attacking since their last meeting against the Italian giants, but players like Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets have looked far more comfortable in a narrower structured attack and less direct approach than under Enrique.
The biggest improvement under Valverde, aside from the counter-press, has been Lionel Messi’s more centrally-orientated false-9 role that has allowed him to take the reins more without Neymar in the side. Messi still plays in more of a free-role, but he certainly has shifted his focus to more central areas while also linking up with Andres Iniesta and Busquets for some great rotational play in the centre of the pitch.
The video below illustrates the way some of the players mentioned above have improved in Valverde’s shorter and quicker passing system.
Ernesto Valverde tactics | Barca’s wide possession shape that leads to middle exploitation
Barca’s improved possession-play in central areas can be a good tactic to use to try and stretch out Juve’s low-block.
Given that the last meeting between both sides took place at the Camp Nou for the 2nd-leg of the UCL quarterfinals with the hosts finishing the match with 65% possession, we must remember that Barcelona weren’t as poor in that match as compared to the first-leg in Turin where they lost 3-0. The second leg featured a Juventus side that didn’t nearly possess and high-press as much and as a result didn’t replicate the same form as they did at home.
While it might be stupid to suggest that Massimiliano Allegri will approach the match, in the same way, it’s likely that Juventus will work the match in a more cautious manner. You’re definitely going to see their world class low-block and defensive organization. The videos below show the following:
1. How Juventus react when their press is broken by Barcelona- UCL
2. Juventus flexible in 4-5-1 – 5-3-2 switch
With that said, there still is a chance that Allegri may feel it is best to approach the match in a more aggressive manner. After all, it can still be argued, despite the loss of Leonardo Bonucci, that Juventus are still the superior squad and may want to use this match as a measuring stick to see how their 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 attacking style can do when it fights fire with fire against Barca.
Now, in order to do that, Juve will likely try and high-press Barca like they did at the J stadium in back in April. Watch the video breakdown of their high-press below. Again, this may be unlikely at the Camp Nou, but you never know. And plus, Juve are underrated when it comes to their pressing.
Juve high-press Barca
These matters aside, we must mention the fact that Barca will certainly use overloads to try and use their quick, short passing to find the desired spaces for creation or to stretch out Juventus’ block with overload-to-underload passes.
The video below shows Valverde’s new left-sided overloads and how it failed against Real Madrid. Given that Juventus are better defensively than the reigning UCL champs, I’d say Barca better be on their game if they’re going to succeed using overloads.
Barca builds up into attacking overload that fails
For further visualisation, the video below is going to illustrate just how good Juventus are stopping opposition overloads and it will also showcase how good Allegri’s side is as transitioning from attack to defence.
Juve’s ability to transition from attack to defence
Barca weakness for Juventus to exploit
Aside from the obvious set-piece like scenarios, headers, and overall counter-attacks that can hurt the Catalans, it is Barca’s high line that Juventus should and will likely also exploit.
Regardless of whether it is Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, or Valverde, Barcelona will almost always play a high line. The video below shows the Catalan giants’ high line and how Real Madrid exploited it last season.
Barca’s 4-4-2 high line and Real Madrid’s long balls to get behind
Barca’s high line aside, another weakness that Juventus can exploit is Barca’s poor defensive organization if their counter-press fails. Allegri may certainly look at the way Real Madrid achieved great success in the Spanish Super Cup last month with the way Los Blancos used fast horizontal movements to stretch out a very 1v1-orientated Barca block.
The video below showcases how Messi can be a liability with his sometimes sluggish off-the-ball work rate in Barca’s pressing system. Also, keep in mind how Paulo Dybala can be used in a very horizontal passing approach for switches of play in the half-spaces to dictate the penetration into a Barca penalty box that is hardly defended well. The video below breaks down an attacking approach that Juve may use.
Barca’s defensive disorganization to opposition horizontal build ups
Juventus weakness for Barcelona to exploit
While the main media narrative surrounding Barcelona is that their summer transfer window was a failure and that they are a shadow of their former selves, I’d argue that Barca aren’t as bad as people think and are very much capable of beating Juventus at Camp Nou.
If Barca manages to score early on and force Juventus to open up, they can frustrate the Italians. This, in turn, would lead to one of Juventus’ weaknesses – poor possession management when frustrated.
It is no secret that once Real Madrid went up 3-1 in last season’s UCL final that Juventus struggled to capitalize on good attacking transitions due to poor final balls and generally easy passes.
Juventus aren’t used to having to come back from goal deficits and this may hurt them sometimes when their excellent low-block defending fails and they have to rely on excellent possession to get them back in the match. Barca can use their on-ball mistakes to counter attack and hurt them on transitions from defense to attack.
The video below showcase Juve’s poor ball management that may hurt them against tough opponents like Barcelona.
Juve’s poor ball management
Barcelona’s counter-press is going to be huge in this match. If they can stop Juve’s counter attacks and quickly win back the ball consistently, then they’re going to have loads of chances. Barca are still that good.
Juventus, on the other hand, have to be supremely organised in their low-block defending and have to find ways to get Barca to chase and lose their organisation in order for them to have success. Like Guardiola said in the past, Barca are not a good team when they don’t have ball and I know, more so with the additions of Blaise Matuidi and Douglas Costa, that Juve are more than capable of bringing the fight to Barca.
However, I do not feel Juventus are at the attacking cohesion to beat Barca in a ‘fight fire with fire’ match. I think Allegri will come out with something to prove. That Juventus are still contenders.
I think he will fail at the Camp Nou.