Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet’s strong partnership key to Barcelona’s defensive solidity

(L-R) Barcelona's Spanish defender Gerard Pique, Barcelona's French defender Clement Lenglet and Barcelona's French forward Ousmane Dembele celebrate at the end of the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 2, 2019. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) Barcelona's Spanish defender Gerard Pique, Barcelona's French defender Clement Lenglet and Barcelona's French forward Ousmane Dembele celebrate at the end of the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 2, 2019. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images) /
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Barcelona’s defence kept another clean sheet against Real Madrid with the centre-back pairing playing a large part in that.

Facing Real Madrid is always a huge game for Barcelona due to the nature of the heated rivalry, but facing them twice within a week meant that this was a pivotal part of their season. Los Blancos held the advantage going into the Copa del Rey semi-finals second leg due to the away goal in the 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. However, Barca overturned that with an efficient 3-0 win and then a 1-0 victory in a match they dominated and largely controlled.

In both Clasicos, the Catalans were comfortable sitting back in their defensive shape and absorbing pressure from the opposition when needed. Therefore, they showed how adaptable they are because they didn’t have to control possession or territory at all times and were comfortable launching quick counter-attacks. This flexibility will serve them well for the rest of the season as it means they have no clear general weakness which opposing sides can use.

A key part of this is having a defensive line comfortable dealing with the variety of threats coming their way. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are both comfortable on the ball but are also strong in the air as well as being adept at the various defensive actions such as tacking and intercepting. Lenglet deflected two shots wide with his body and Pique put his body on the line on a number of occasions so they were willing to do the dirty work when needed.

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Between them, they won four tackles, made five interceptions as well as 22 clearances and won four aerial duels, according to WhoScored. It was a dominant defensive display, although Sergi Roberto deserves credit for shutting out Vinicius Junior and Jordi Alba nullified Gareth Bale. Both full-backs balanced out their responsibilities effectively to have an influence in both of the final thirds. Roberto actually provided the assist for Ivan Rakitic’s chipped finish that decided the match.

Samuel Umtiti has been an excellent option since he joined the club in 2016, however, Lenglet appears to suit Pique better due to being more reserved than his fellow Frenchman who is very proactive with his defending which can make him unpredictable. He will find it hard to wrest the starting place away from his compatriot, but the competition for good places is ideal for Ernesto Valverde as they compete on multiple fronts.

Next. Barcelona register narrow 1-0 win over Real Madrid in the away Clásico. dark

Back-to-back clean sheets is a hugely impressive feat, especially within the same week, and the defence deserves praise for their transformation into a tough to break down unit after starting the season poorly. There will be other matches this season where they need to repeat the high level they reached in this match if they are to win the European treble.