Even though it was a friendly match, the tactical battle was intense between Xavi and Pep. The objective to create numerical advantage in the midfield was at the core of how both the teams were set up. I thought Barca played in an unusual shape and got the better of us early on. They were able to pass through us easily. But Pep adapted and we looked much more comfortable as the game went went on
1.Sergio Gomez and Rico Lewis Positioning
It is quite obvious by now that Pep wants to play with both the full backs inverted this season. But, the Newcastle game showed that such an approach could make us more predictable. Specially when we are up against fast and pacey attackers, inverted fullback system might not work as effectively.
This game kind of showed that Pep adapted to the errors he made tactically in the Newcastle game. It was only one of Sergio Gomez or Rico Lewis that was tucking in and the other held his width. But, there were instances when both of them came inside. So, i guess Pep is still in the process of perfecting this inverted full back approach. In the future matches, we might see variations of this approach with little tactical tweaks depending on the opponents strengths and weaknesses.
2. Walker at Center Back
This might not be the last time we see Kyle Walker playing in that Center Back role. He has experience playing in a back 3 for England. But, as far as i can remember, he has not played in a 2. Now, positioning is a key attribute for playing in that Center half position and that is not the strongest part of his game. Maybe, Pep feels that his recovery pace might be much more useful, and could make up for his positional awareness.
Shifting Kyle Walker to that Center Back role could have an additional advantage. It could allow Cancelo to play on the right and unlock further levels from him. Just imagine Cancelo cutting in on that Right foot and playing first time crosses to Haaland. Also, this could allow Pep to start Sergio Gomez on the left and link up play more effectively.
3. Ortega’s passing out from the back
There was a pass that Ortega made to Cancelo by jinking the ball over the top of a Barca player. For me, that was the moment of the day. Barca were pressing high, but Ortega did not look flustered at all. He completed most of his passes well and always found the spare man.
Also, Ortega’s positioning was excellent and he sweeped up a couple of balls in behind. The only negative of the night for Ortega was the way he conceded the first goal. I thought it was almost bizarre on his part to concede at the near post. Specially, with his reputation being built on excellent shot stopping and positioning, he will be very unhappy with that
4. The Pressing from Alvarez
The energy from Alvarez was infectious. It looked like he was the perfect Pep Guardiola center forward. He dropped back into the midfield and carried the ball exceptionally well. There were moments when he was running at defenders and then he quickly realizes there is no way froward and recycles possession. He rarely lost the ball and kept it extremely safely even in tight spaces. It is this decision making that is so impressive from Alvarez. Alvarez could actually be the perfect Center forward partner for Haaland.
5. Mahrez might be the designated penalty taker after all
When Haaland won the penalty, everyone was convinced that he would take it, just like he did against West Ham. It was very surprising to see Mahrez stepping up to take the spot kick without any debate with Haaland. This means he was already the designated taker before the match even started.
Pep mentioned in a press conference before the season started about leaving it to the players in terms of selecting a Penalty taker. Might be that Mahrez has been designated as the one to take that responsibility and Haaland might be second on the list. I am sure that all of us would have been surprised with this.
6. Stones looked shaky at the back again
The third goal we conceded seemed like a repeat of that Callum Wilson goal against Newcastle. The center backs were found missing and Depay raced through into open space and finished it off. Seems like Stones has not learned his lesson against Newcastle. Also, this explains why Pep started Walker along side Dias. Stones is someone who relies heavily on his confidence and right now his confidence doesn’t appear to be great. He just doesn’t look in the right frame of mind.
With the defensive injuries we have got, Pep will be hoping that Stones returns back to his best imminently. It remains to be seen if Pep starts Stones against Palace or he will go with the pairing of Walker and Dias. One thing is for sure, Pep will be putting in a lot of emphasis on the organization of the defensive structure in his training sessions. It is not often that Pep Guardiola teams concede 3 goals in back to back games