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Pau Cubarsi comes to rescue Barcelona’s defense: An in-depth analysis

In only two months, Pau Cubarsi has gone from being a relatively unknown quantity to the toast of the town in Barcelona.

Just 17, he has become a first-team regular for FC Barcelona under Xavi Hernandez within two months after his senior debut and has also broken into the Spanish national team as well.

Standing out for his ball-playing abilities and maturity that belies his age, the teenager is deserving of the plaudits coming his way.

After all, Cubarsi has put everything in place. It could be that the addition of the La Masia player has been a ‘coincidence’ in the improvement of the team but it is not – I analyze it here.

The ball output

The first point to highlight is Cubarsi’s best virtue: his great ability to make the game progress in a controlled way. In essence, Cubarsi is seen as the ‘chosen one’ to find the first pass.

Cubarsi has the ability to spot the free man and play a precise pass.

What makes him such a key outlet is that Pau Cubarsi quickly identifies the free man and, once he has done so, prioritizes a pass to the most distant player to catch the opposition off guard. He finds the gaps in the rival pressure in an infallible way.

If he has to cross two lines to do so, he does not mind because he has the skill to do it with his feet. His passes are always sharp and have a cutting edge.

Cubarsi playing a long pass into the forwards bypassing the midfield.

In addition, the youth player has the advantage of being able to connect with his flank (left) as well as the opposite (right) because he is able to play cross-field passes with ease, allowing him to connect with the frontline.

Cubarsi’s skill and positioning allow him to play a variety of passes.

This breaks the opponent’s lines and makes them desperate. As a result, the close pressers lose belief with every minute of the game. It has even caused some opponents to give up pressing as can be seen in the image below from Barcelona’s game against Atletico Madrid.

Atletico Madrid players stopped pressing Cubarsi at one point.

Pau Cubarsi accumulated 858 passes in 915 minutes between La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. That is an average of 85 passes per game. And with amazing efficiency: he boasts of 95% accuracy when it comes to short passes and 57% success in long balls.

But even if the opponents do not have high-pressing as their game plan, the teenager knows how to bait them. This is because his calmness on the ball helps him attract rival pressure, thus freeing up a teammate higher up the pitch for him to play a pass as he intends to.

Cubarsi luring in an opponent in and then finding a free teammate.

This is the passing map of the Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona match, in which one can clearly see Cubarsi’s ability to pass to all teammates, across different lines. It is also clear that he is the one who leads and assumes the responsibilities of playing the ball out of the defense.

Cubarsi Pass Map from win vs Atletico Madrid.

Impact on teammates

The presence of Cubarsi on the pitch has positively impacted the game of those around him, which in turn has allowed Barcelona to tighten things up at the back in recent matches.

Cubarsi’s game allows Ronald Araujo to play in his preferred role, one in which he is comfortable and differential – that of a corrective player.

Araujo can concentrate on helping out defensively both on the right and on the left and take little responsibility with the ball. And when he is in a tight spot in possession, he can pass it to Cubarsi.

Indirectly, Cubarsi has also raised the level of Jules Kounde, who has returned to his best in recent weeks, because when a young player enters the team and is the best performer, he forces his more experienced partners to raise their level.

Apart from Araujo and Kounde, Cubarsi’s inclusion in the side has also liberated a certain Ilkay Gundogan to a great extent.

With Cubarsi at the back, the German does not have to go deep into his own half to get on the ball and start moves, but instead, the ball goes to him.

And that has allowed Gundogan to play in the area of the pitch where he makes the biggest difference: near the opponent’s box.

Cubarsi’s presence at the back means Gundogan can take up higher positions

Even when Gundogan has had to operate in a deeper role due to injuries or absences, having Pau Cubarsi as a starting element lowers the demands on him and, in particular, reduces the distance he has to run.

In essence, the youngster’s presence helps Gundogan have a better impact.

Positional intelligence, with and without the ball

Another aspect of Cubarsi’s game that deserves to be highlighted is his positional intelligence.

Cubarsi has great intelligence to be always (or almost always) where the game requires him to be. He knows how to get near when a teammate calls for close support and knows how to spread out when the situation requires a distant outlet.

Cubarsi also tends to take up wider positions when the opponent presses with two narrow forwards or even when Marc-Andre ter Stegen has the ball, on occasion.

Cubarsi taking up a wider position on the left side.

What it does is this positioning stretches the opponent’s lines, both horizontally and vertically. It makes it easier to pass to the No. 9 and gives him more space to control the ball and get it under his spell.

Cubarsi plays a pass to a teammate who has time and space to get the ball under control.

Cubarsi’s game intelligence is not only limited to his positioning and passing but also allows him to come out on top in battles with opponent players.

Indeed, the 17-year-old wins many duels – specifically, he averages a 58% success rate in duels. And he doesn’t do it because of his physique (which he does too) but because he anticipates the play and the opponent’s movement.

The teenager always gains that meter over his opponent and that helps him to get in a strong position to defend earlier.

Cubarsi gets into good positions to stop attacks.

A clear picture

Perhaps, his impact and influence were most evident in the 4-0 win against Getafe, in which he was directly involved in three of the four goals, while not conceding any.

Barcelona 1-0 Getafe: Cubarsi found Jules Kounde out wide on the right after receiving the ball from Marc-Andre ter Stegen before the Frenchman sent Raphinha through on goal to make it 1-0.

Ter Stegen passes the ball to Cubarsi
Cubarsi passes to Kounde, who then sets up Raphinha.

Barcelona 2-0 Getafe: Cubarsi makes the “click” in the play. He receives a horizontal ball from Ronald Araujo and sends a fantastic pass to Gundogan near the centre line. From there, three more passes and Joao Felix scores.

Cubarsi receiving a pass from Araujo.
Cubarsi finds Gundogan with a sharp pass.
Gundogan releases Raphinha, who plays Christensen through.
Joao Felix makes no mistake after being played in.

Barcelona 4-0 Getafe: Leading up to Barcelona’s fourth goal, Cubarsí was involved four times in the play – the first three times to play easy passes with the pivot and the fourth to send a pass diagonally for Frenkie taking out a few opponents in doing so.

It triggered the sudden change of pace of the attack as Frenkie drove forward and played Vitor Roque through, but the Brazilian’s shot was saved, only for Fermin Lopez to bury the rebound.

Cubarsi exchanging passes with the pivot.
Cubarsi finds De Jong with a crisp pass.
De Jong sends Roque through.
Roque’s shot is saved, but Fermin buries rebound.


It may seem exaggerated because he is a youth player. And it surely is because of his age and because he still has to mature as a player but, if we only take a footballing perspective, Cubarsi is making a difference at the back for Barcelona.

Tools used: @Effmatch, @gusfop, @KlipDraw

Article edited by Michel Durant

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