Super Copa Review Leg 1: Barcelona 2-2 Madrid

Robustness is an important quality for nearly every type of system.  Robustness is the ability of a system to withstand stress and pressures while still functioning as it needs to.  One of the reasons why the internet works so well is that it’s extremely robust.    You can knock out hundreds of thousands of servers and the whole network will continue to run. 

One of the hallmarks of contemporary football is that it’s become a systems based sport.  Individual effort and talent are fundamental – but their ultimate impact and value depends on an underlying foundation for how play is organized and functions.  Individuals can be resilient – up to a limit.  But it’s systems of play that allow teams to become robust and fend off all of the various challenges that need to be overcome to win at the highest levels in multiple competitions over a grueling season.

This was one of the most remarkable parts of Barça’s 2010-2011 campaign – how robust it proved to be.  Despite the back line being decimated by injuries and accumulating  fatigue across an undersized squad causing significant drop off in individual player performance – the whole system remained relatively intact and functioned at the level needed to win the double.

There’s only so much one can learn from a pre-season match, even one that’s played for a trophy.  It’s simply far too early to draw specific conclusions.  However, often the best opportunity to understand how a system normally functions is by examining what happens when parts of it break and stop working.

From the Barcelona perspective, what was so interesting about the first leg of the Super Copa was how it demonstrated key limits to how robust the Barça system can be.  As such it clarified characteristics of play that the team readily cannot do without.  At the same time it also demonstrated other dimensions of play which the team usually does not need to depend on to compete – but that they can turn to in moments of need.  The game showed both the limits to how robust the Barcelona system is but also how diverse the system is when placed under stress.

From the Madrid perspective, what was interesting was how the game demonstrated their continued transition.  Madrid continue to evolve as a squad from what they have been in the recent past – a collective dependent on and oriented around individual talent and effort – to what they are becoming now – a systems based squad in which individual talent operates in a larger, cohesive framework.


Match Summary:

Madrid came out from the start playing at a very high tempo.  The key to their approach was aggressive, physical pressing high up the pitch by their forward line.  Not only did Madrid maintain this tempo defensively – but also in attack.  They played the ball forward rapidly and executed attacking maneuvers at pace.  This combination allowed Madrid to dominate long stretches of the match.  However, this dominance of play was thwarted by limited end product.  Here Victor Valdes’ outstanding game was critical to minimizing the damage Madrid could inflict especially at the very onset of the match when the Barcelona defense was particularly porous.

In the eighth minute C. Ronaldo played an excellent cross into Benzema which the striker was able to head into the ground.  Valdes made an outstanding one handed deflection to avoid a certain goal to keep the match scoreless.  However, given how play opened it seemed as if it were only a matter of time before Madrid would find the back of the net.  Madrid execution in attack and defense put Barcelona under significant pressure for much of the match, the first half in particular.  This play set the tone for much of the match.  However, Madrid was far from fully fit and as the match progressed they clearly tired particularly in the second half.  In turn their ability to continue to press aggressively high up the pitch decreased.

Barcelona opened  with significant uncertainty in their play.  As was widely anticipated, Barcelona’s lack of recent match fitness and form and players absent from the starting line up left Barcelona with significant gaps in play.  While both teams are not close to fully match fit and have traveled widely in preseason, Barça started their match preparations as a team a week later than any other team in La Liga due to the Champions League Victory and Guardiola’s desire for his players to take time off rather than return to train early in the summer.  And the two team took different preparation pathways as well with Barcelona playing their preseason games heavily dependent on youth players from the B team while many first team regulars rested.

For a number of key Barcelona players this was their first preseason match of the season. And the effects were apparent.  For example, Messi was so lacking fitness that he vomited out on the pitch.

Key starters were missing due to the Copa America and Guardiola did not want them to return early to train.  While national team experience is match play, the systems they run are entirely different than Barcelona’s. Additionally,  due to his late signing and international duty, Alexis Sanchez only had a few practices before the match.  Barcelona’s system is highly intricate and depends extensively on timing, movement, coordination and mutual understanding.  The squad simply hadn’t spent much time playing together recently and it clearly showed.

The starting line up Guardiola chose reflected these issues with several key players out of the starting line up, most notably the Xavi and Busquets who together form the central midfield axis of the team.   The absence of those two was further heightened along the spine of the team through the absence of Pique (whose ball skills were sorely missed especially early on) and the long standing problems Puyol has had.

All that said – credit to Madrid.  They sensed weakness in Barcelona and exploited it, dictating play in this match.  They were excellent.  It was interesting to see the same 11 players who started the 5-0 match last season come together and now play an entirely different way for Madrid.


Tactical Analysis:


Average Positions Super Copa Leg 1 (Courtesy Opta Sports)

The Limits to Robustness:  What Barcelona Were Missing

In Guardiola’s interpretations of Michels and Cruyff’s total football, players are expected and trained to be all around footballers first and specific positions second.  These strategic imperative means that the team has a tremendous variety of skill sets distributed across the pitch.  Players are able to take on a diverse set of roles – not only across a season but within games and individual plays.  This fluidity and flexibility is at the heart of why the Barça system is so robust.  It’s what saw the team through to the double last season.

But in the first leg of the Super Copa we witnessed two specific tactical issues diminish that caused Barça’s entire system of play as usually practiced collapse.  First, in defense Barça did not systematically press the ball with coordination or energy as a unit.  Secondly, the team’s axis of play in the center fragmented.  This fragmentation made it difficult to maintain the usual geometry and shape Barça depend on across the pitch to maintain coherent possession and to use the ball efficiently.


The Barcelona Press

The Barcelona back line looked very unsteady throughout this match, with Eric Abidal in particular having a clumsy, pre-season game.  However, while the back line looked suspect it wasn’t the fundamental problem Barça had defensively.  In some ways the problems at the back were more a symptom than a cause.  The larger problem was the lack of the usual aggressive pressing we have come to expect from Barcelona.

As detailed in the preview one of the major open questions headed into this match was how form and fitness would impact the ability of the teams to defend.  In Barcelona’s case the question was whether the team would have the fitness and energy needed to press a highly athletic team like Madrid.  It was clear from the onset that Barcelona was not going to press with nearly the intensity they usually do, likely due to limited fitness and stamina.  This was likely a tactical adjustment by Guardiola as it was the entire team that was defending at a much lower tempo and intensity rather than a few individual players.

The lack of pressing crystalized the overall state of the squad.  Much of what makes pressing effective is under one’s own control.  It depends on coordination, positional intelligence, reading the game and perhaps above all work rate.  These are all qualities Barça has exhibited in defense over and over.  And from the start of the match what was noticeably missing was that intense work rate in defense.

Intense pressing is fundamental to the Barcelona system.  What this match demonstrated was how vital it is as a tactic.  Because without that intense, coordinated pressure across the pitch the high line Barça play in order to retain possession by staying compact gets exposed and cannot maintain cohesion.  In other words, tactically,   the Barcelona system cannot be robust against the the absence of intense pressing.  This is why fitness is such an area of focus for Guardiola.

And it was this tactical limitation which was directly involved with Barcelona conceding that first goal.

Much has been made out of the defending of Abidal, Mascherano and Keita on the goal scored by Oezil.  However, the primary defensive problem occurred far up field.  To start the you have to go back to Barcelona’s possession as the goal was scored through transition play.

Madrid Making the Field Small By Pressing - No Off the Bal Movement from Barca

In the shot above Iniesta has just passed the ball to Villa along the touchline and Messi is making a run through.  Notice how effective Madrid’s shape in pressing is.  They have four defenders in a disciplined box around two Barça attackers forming a cage around the ball.  To beat this kind of pressure requires rapid ball circulation and strong off the ball movement.  But one of Barcelona’s major problems in attack was that their off the ball movement was sluggish.  This was evident from the start.  Much like the issue of pressing off the ball movement was likely related to fitness.  This is not to say that the Madrid press wasn’t effective in it’s own right.  It’s just to say that Barça didn’t have the usual tools they would have at their disposal to counteract the defense they faced.  Above, after passing to Villa in tight space Iniesta stands outside of the box of Madrid defenders rather than making a run into open space.  With not clear outlet Villa attempts a close pass to Messi and Barça are dispossessed of the ball.

The still shot below typifies much of the game defensively for Barcelona.

Barcelona Fail to Press to Regain Possession

Ramos has gathered the ball.  But rather than attacking him as they usually would Messi, Iniesta and Villa largely  watch the ball.  Villa makes an effort a moment later but there’s not coordinated “hunting in a pack” which we see time and again from Barça.  In real time what’s most striking is the way that Messi simply stops the play once they lose the ball.  He stands up and starts walking.  He never does this in a real match and given him being sick on the field later this half it’s likely that he was far from fully fit.  For much of the game he looked to be conserving energy (Interestingly it was Messi who was marking Xabi Alonso on Madrid’s second goal.  He pulled off marking Alonso far too early – again very curious defensive mistakes from Messi – but the kind of thing you expect from a first pre-season match.)

Ramos then plays a very skillful ball to Di Maria – and once he does Madrid have broken defensive containment and have found space.  And this is where they are simply deadly in attack.  Adriano is isolated as a lone defender and caught in no man’s land as there is no one around him to coordinate pressing.  Di Maria then plays an outstanding through ball down the flank past the Barcelona defense for Benzema to run onto.  Again – there’s little the bara back line can do to stop any of this penetration.  The press has failed higher up the pitch and now defending is trying to control damage.  Benzema does a wonderful job using his close control of the ball to drive Abidal back while simultaneously holding up play for the midfield runner – Oezil to catch up.

Madrid was at a 2 vs. 3 numerical disadvantage with Abidal, Mascherano and Keita defending.  In theory they should not score.  But Benzema puts Abidal (who had a poor game) on his back foot which requires Mascherano to run towards the ball to back up Abidal.

And it’s at this point where the second major problem Barcelona faced – their central axis of play – becomes a major issue.  Initially Keita does what a DM is supposed to do in this situation – he tracks the midfield runner.  But seeing Abidal on his back foot and not looking up to locate the other CB, Keita leaves Oezil to assist on stopping the ball.  This isn’t really Keita’s fault per se.  It’s just an example of his limited experience at DM.  He approaches the play as if he were an advanced midfielder defending on the press.  He moves to close down the ball rather than track the runner.  With Mascherano and Keita both moving towards the ball Barcelona turn a 3 vs. 2 advantage into an open man in Oezil.  Benzema makes the play with his excellent skill on the ball – holding it up and then threading a perfect ball onto Oezil’s stronger left foot.


Barcelona’s Central Axis

The first leg of the Super Copa vividly demonstrated how dependent Barcelona is on play through the base of their formation – the central axis of play.  And for Barça this central axis is formed by the central midfielder in Xavi and the holding player in Busquets.  These positions are fundamental to everything Barcelona does.  It allows them to control possession, dictate tempo and build play up from the back.  Building play out from the back through this axis is particularly important when the team is facing the kind of physical pressing Madrid were utilizing.

This match showed how vital that central axis is to the team.  The system cannot be robust without it.  And this is likely why Guardiola was so intent on acquiring Fabregas for this season.

In this match neither Xavi nor Busquets were in the starting line up.  Instead Thiago and Keita took their place.  This was the right thing to do for Guardiola.  Not only in terms of resting Xavi and Busquets who have had recent knocks – but in terms of giving the other two midfielders experience against Madrid in controlled circumstances.  However, both Thiago and Keita struggled.  For much of the first half Thiago looked uncertain.  His touch was heavy and he misdirected several passes giving Madrid dangerous transition opportunities.  That’s not a criticism – Thiago is only 20.  Neither Xavi nor Iniesta could have controlled a game at the Bernabeau with Madrid playing as well as they were at that age.  Keita has very limited experience at DM and in this game it showed.  It’s just an enormous amount to expect for him to play in a relatively new position – a position he himself has said he does not feel comfortable in – and expect the team to operate as it would with Busquets.

These comments about Thiago and Keita aren’t criticisms.  They are more to point out the responsibilities that are involved with these two position in the Barça system and how vital they are to how it operates.  The system is not robust to loss of play along this central axis.


Barça Survive their Deficiencies:  Robustness through Brilliance

From a systems perspective, Barcelona was completely over run for much of this match.  But despite that – despite all of the fundamental tactical problems they were faced with they obtained a wonderful result in the first leg and did so in the away leg at the Bernabeu.  This match was a testament to what this squad has learned by winning all of the trophies it has.  It figured out a way to walk off the pitch with what it needed in terms of the competition itself.

But in addition, we also witnessed part of Barcelona’s “plan B.”  Much of the system Barcelona usually depends on broke down.  But the team overall was still robust – it still obtained a favorable result.  And it did so through another resource it can depend on – individual skill that is able to change the dynamics of the game.

With the midfield breaking down – the forward line wasn’t getting any service.  Despite that – it was very clear that the forward three would have to take on the responsibility of producing magic – and they did – twice.  On the other end, with the pressure defense missing and the back line disorganized, it was clear that Victor Valdes would have to save the game for Barça through his own effort – and he largely did.

From a tactical perspective what was noteworthy about the two Barcelona goals was that in both situations Barcelona were at enormous numerical disadvantage.  Not only did Barça produce goals against the run of play – they did so against the numbers as well.

Villa’s goal was simply an amazing wonder strike.  There are only a handful of players in the world who could have made that shot – fortunately Villa is one of them.  And before anyone wants to describe that as luck – that goal was very reminiscent of the one Villa scored in the Champions League final – it depended on the same curling action to the corner.

However, while that piece of skill was remarkable, the set up for Villa’s goal was brilliant and indicative of all the ways Barcelona can hurt another club.  Madrid had a 6 vs. 3 advantage in the final third on Villa’s goal.  While’s Villa’s strike was wonderful skill, what was critical for him being able to score that goal was that he found himself isolated 1 vs. 1 in enormous space against Ramos.  How does a 6 vs. 3 numerical disadvantage in the final third turn into a 1 vs. 1 situation where the defenders must cover large amounts of space?  The still shot below show how:

Messi Drawing Three Defenders Leaving Villa 1 vs. 1 With Ramos

The play starts with Messi dropping deep to receive the ball and making a run. He beats the first defender – Carvalho – and then forces both Khedira and Pepe to try to close him down.  One attacker has drawn 3 defenders.  This leaves the other two Barcelona attackers 2 vs. 3 in the final third.  And Ramos initially pinches in centrally to make up for the two CB’s who have stepped up to stop Messi.  This means that on the initial move Villa is completely unguarded.  A 6 vs. 3 disadvantage has turned into a 1 vs. 0 advantage for Barça.

This is one of the most brilliant parts of Messi’s game tactically – he has the ability to turn situations of significant numerical disadvantage for his team into numerical equivalence or even superiority on other sections of the pitch by drawing such a disproportionate number of defenders to him.  Even when Messi releases the pass – three defenders track his run.  This leaves Villa alone 1 vs. 1 with Ramos.

The other critical tactical aspect to this goal was Barcelona’s use of width.  Both Sanchez and Villa are playing near the touchlines when Messi makes his run.  By making the field as large as they have Villa and Sanchez make it difficult for Madrid full backs to receive support.  Finally, this width also forces Ramos to have to defend an enormous amount of space by himself.  Villa can go in any direction he wants on the initial move towards goal.  This is why Ramos does not attempt to close out the ball.  There is too much space around him to defend.

Barcelona’s second goal was another piece of brilliance by Messi.  His ability to maintain balance and fight off much larger defenders was remarkable.  But there’s an aspect of this play that has gone largely unnoticed that I wanted to point out – as it was the key to the goal itself.  This piece of play was created by Alexis Sanchez who had an outstanding debut game – especially given the circumstances of his first game being a Clasico away.

Here is the set up to the goal:

Sanchez Anticpating an Opportunity for Messi

Madrid have a 7 vs 3 numerical advantage in the region where the ball is (notice all of the Barcelona midfield players standing and holding their deeper positions rather than joining the play – very unusual).  Thiago has played a pass in the air at chest level in very tight space to Alexis Sanchez.  Sanchez then proceeds to make one of the most intelligent and skillful plays of the match.

Notice in the still shot that Sanchez is starting to bend deeply at this knees to receive Thiago’s pass.  The natural reaction to that kind of pass from Thiago would be to trap the ball with your chest.  But Sanchez does not want to do that.  Instead he’s trying to get under a pass which while in the air is not head height.  Why is he doing this odd maneuver when it would be so much more direct to control the chest level pass with his chest?    He’s already seeing a play develop before it happens.

Sanchez’s priority is to play the ball into the only open space available – the region between Pepe and Marcelo.  However, if he traps the ball with his chest – the play is done.  He’ll get closed out by the swarm of Madrid defenders around him.  The only way to make this play is through one touch football.  And the only way to play one touch football is to pass the ball with his head.  So that’s what Sanchez instantly decides to do.

Sanchez Collapsing to Knees to One Touch the Ball

When Sanchez executes this maneuver Messi is hardly in the play – he’s trailing and behind Thiago.  Despite that Sanchez has the vision and creativity to play the ball through for Leo to run onto – even in the absence of any immediate space around them.

Messi Freed Into Space By Sanchez Pass

And what’s so wonderful about this connection is that Messi is already starting his run.  He also see the potential for the play.  Messi’s makes these kinds of runs often – he can see something – even something that may appear impossible.  And while visionary players like Xavi and Iniesta can spring him free many others cannot.  This is especially true of players new to the team who have to learn how to play with Messi.  For Sanchez to be able to read this play and spring Messi through a sliver of space on a perfectly executed one touch pass with the head is very special – and that’s only with the two of them playing together for forty minutes.

And this is exactly why Guardiola was intent on acquiring Sanchez.  He has the skill set to remove the burden of play in advanced positions from Messi’s shoulders.  Rather than Messi opening up play for others  through his creative brilliance here is another player who can open up a game for Messi.  Sanchez sees this unlikely play.  Most other players would not – and on top of that he has the skill to perfectly execute what he envisions.

It’s remarkable to see how much better Sanchez has gotten this last year and how rapidly he’s improving.  In the past he’s had a reputation of dominating the ball too much – and he himself had stated this tendency is one of the challenges he needs to overcome in his career.  Last year in the World Cup you could see his skills – but often he was guilty of trying to do too much with the ball through dribbling.  But he blossomed this past season at Udinese.  And here he is in his first match at Barca playing perfect one touch football with Messi – a talent who is very challenging to learn how to play with.


Brilliance in the Net

Finally – Barcelona was able to obtain a result despite the system level problems they had in critical areas due to one of their most under appreciated resources – Victor Valdes.  Valdes was man of the match and again demonstrated the elite nature of his game.  VV is often criticized for not having much to do.  But this match was just the opposite.

Madrid outshot Barcelona four fold.  Were it not for Valdes’ agility and skill in the nets the game would have gotten out of hand very quickly and Barça would never have had the chance to level the match.  In addition, due to the problems in the central axis of play Valdes was under even more pressure to act as a distributor of the ball and initiate play.  Few goal keepers could have supported a shaky midfield under duress of intense pressing the way Valdes did in the first leg.  When the usual ways Barcelona uses to control play fail, the team is fortunate to have Valdes as a last line to keep them functioning at the level they need to find success.


    1. That’s an interesting article, Miguel, but not so smart that the writer uses 2 examples of this Barca tactic where the opposing teams actually scored! LOL (Unless, of course, he’s trying to make the point that the system doesn’t work!)

    2. I saw I think Cesc Pistol posted it up some time back, as he mentioned below. The writer was saying that it is effective but the two examples he gave were instances where it broke down as in the gameplan wasn’t followed, which makes sense. As in these components being present make this system of defending from corners work, in these two examples one of the components was missing by a mistake or whatever and it led to a goal.

  1. Top analysis yet again, Euler – thank you.

    I must say that I was kind-of dreading this match because I thought that, with the lack of Barca preparation and the amount of training that RM had done, it was going to be a win to RM.

    Instead, we got a draw in a match which was pretty exciting for a lot of different reasons than for those we usually experience when watching our team. Certainly Villa’s outstanding goal (the first shot at goal for Barca AND in the 35 min!) helped to put the team back in the hunt.

    There’s no doubt that RM is more coherent and playing more as a team. Their fast plays, and insanely almost-psychic ability to find each other on the pitch to pass to, is breath-taking. As you rightly pointed out, they didn’t capitalise on their domination by finishing with more balls in the net due to the last-pass breakdowns and also to the brilliance of Valdes.

    The team fielded by Guardiola was pretty interesting.

    We had a brand new player on the pitch – Sanchez – who had less than a handful of training sessions with the team, and here he was, in the first official game of the season, at the Bernabeu playing RM! It was all very promising stuff from Sanchez, even with some tough refereeing calls that he got, but he showed himself to be very even-tempered and just shrugged it off and kept playing. His header assist to Messi was so sublime that I had to watch our recording of the game a couple of times just to fathom out what he had done to get that ball into the gap.

    I hope that Sanchez will prove himself to be the perfect partner for Messi – one who thinks quickly and can thread that lightning pass. In the past Messi has thrived under those conditions – with Ronaldhino, Henry, Eto’o and even Yaya Toure. Some fast play to mix it up with the ronda play wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    I don’t think that I’ve seen a Barca game in recent years that wasn’t controlled in the midfield, such as this game. The midfield was almost non-existent. Certainly Keita wasn’t played in his best role, and Thiago has a lot to learn – especially his intent with the ball at his feet. He almost looks lazy or out of ideas at times. Iniesta was being shut down because he was too slow, and he also didn’t have the Xavi/Busquets pivot to work with.

    Just looking at the team formation, I think that it was a very smart move on Pep’s behalf. He’s approaching the 2 Supercopa 90 min games as if it is one long 180 min game. The first half at the Bernabeu was to put out a team against which RM could have no real gameplan because of the unusual-ness of Barca’s play, and the second half will see a stronger line-up at the Camp Nou.

    The advantage is that Pep and his coaching team have now had one game against a full-strength RM which they can use to analyse RM’s play, and on which to make tactical changes and formulate their own strategy for Wednesday.

  2. You’ve got incredible eyes for detailed analysis, I feel like I’m a mere human and you are the super eagle that can see (and construe) the smallest details from 300 yards out – and who is capable of perceiving 4 times as many pictures in a second 🙂

    I did not even remember that Sanchez headed the ball into Messi’s run. Once again awesome review!

  3. Incredible review. Kudos to you!

    VV is the best keeper in the world. His distribution is better than most outfield players, his reflexes and shot stopping ability is second to none and his one supposed weakness (crosses and corners) has improved so much that I dont see it as a weakness anymore.

    Alexis impressed me so much. From his pressing, to his work rate to his intelligence and skill. I cannot wait till he and Messi are on the same wavelength, it should be one of the best strike partnerships the game has ever seen.

  4. Brilliant review Euler.
    I saw the match only once, that too online, as it was not shown in India. It sounds like I have revisited the pitch, with commentary from an Eagle. Excellent review.

    1. The match was indeed shown in Ten Action. They will also telecast the repeat one at Camp Nou on Wednesday

  5. Thats an interesting breakdown of Messi’s goal and how you pointed out Sanchez’s eye for spotting out potential play-making passes, and its not just a one off thing, even if you watch video highlights of him at udinese you can notice a lot of the time he makes very creative passes ,most of the time they don’t work, but you can always tell he sees those spaces that his passes can exploit.

  6. Brilliant analysis, Euler! Thank you.

    I watched parts of the game in a stream that was slow and lagging so the pictures were useless. Was basically just listening to the commentators.

    Very happy to read about Sanchez’s astute play and brilliant execution leading to Messi’s goal. I’m so very hopeful now for this coming season despite Madrid seeming to gel together better and looking really strong.

  7. Excellent review Euler. The second goal was rather unexpected, and I hardly even noticed Sanchez’ contribution with that header… but kudos to you for breaking it down for us like that. A great debut for our new ‘9’

    My only worry concerning the diminutive Chilean is whether he can become a proven finisher or not. Insofar his career, he hasn’t hit the back of the net often. I can only assume that Pep is banking on the hope that this will change, but do you (or anyone else for that matter) think he can eventually become a 20+ goal a season player?

  8. For Sanchez to be able to read this play and spring Messi through a sliver of space on a perfectly executed one touch pass with the head is very special – and that’s only with the two of them playing together for forty minutes.

    Wow, Euler! I have to confess that I usually skim through your tactics posts, as they are not really my thing, but this section on Sanchez caught my eye and blew me away. Thanks for breaking the play down for those of us too slow to notice while it is happening. I can see the beginnings of a beautiful partnership between Sanchez and Messi.

  9. @nzm: Thanks. Reading it now.

    @Miguel: An excellent article that even I found a few days back and have been spamming allas to make a vid on it. I propose everyone do so as well!

    We came back from this match leaving Madrid in the position in which we left the Emirates in the CL. Playing the full team, dominating and yet coming out with a disadvantage. Pep’s gamble really paid off. While the squad’s position has not drastically improved, morale is high with Cesc’s signing and the entire group trains together for 2-3 days, add to that the psychological stability of facing them with an away goal advantage at home, things are looking pretty good.

    Finally, excellent article Euler! to examine Barca within the frame of its system is one thing and to examine it without is quite another! Job well done. It also comforts me that our strongest bench players are along the central axis in sMach and Cesc. A deliberate choice by Pep it seems. As well as Alexis along the axis for Messi.

    Speaking of Alexis, the match and further your analysis has me on the edge of my seat excited about the potential of this kid and the orgasmic thought of his and Messi’s combination play at its peak. Alexis and Messi are two players who can create and drive through oppositions through sheer will against the motion of play, this individual talent of winnability will go further in enforcing a no-points dropped policy.

  10. Absolutely wonderful analysis, yet again, Euler. Your posts are my favorite posts here and I read every word that you write. Thanks for that. I’m not gonna add anything more as everything has already been said by people before me.

  11. Yup. I started taking notes in prrparation for a review, and wrote “LAZY!” after their first goal. Effort makes our train run. Want the ball, get the ball.

    As Guardiola says, we’re crap without the ball. It allows an opponent to take advantage of our far-forward defenders. I think that goal would have happened whoever was on the back line, because the attackers unwillingness to battle led to a fire drill. Those rarely end well for our, or ANY defense.

    The posession stats said it all. When was the last match in which we were out possessed?

  12. Ps. Nzm, Google says its 28 degrees Celsius in Barcelona. That’s not sweltering by Malaysian standards, it’s like 33-37 degrees over here haha.

    1. Yeah, but it is for Barcelona standards. The boys were dying out in the Maryland 100 degree heat last month.

    2. Yeah – that’s what Google says, but try being here! The temp is in the low 30s with quite high humidity. I trust our 2 thermometers on our shaded balcony over some Google reading which is most likely taken at the airport where a seabreeze is cooling things down!

      We lived in Dubai for 3 years where summer temps get over 50degC, but we aircon-hopped from apartment to the office to the shopping mall, and had very little reason to be out in the heat. Pity the poor workers who had no choice.

  13. In awe of Euler’s analysis again. 😐

    Hats off to Madrid. They were clearly the better side, but football is not unfair. They had their share of bad plays which lead to the result, that must be said.

    The fact that we were able to pull of a 2-1 result after half-time speaks volume about the quality of our players. No one on earth would have predicted that result when Barca was playing so poorly. This match is the best demonstration of just HOW GOOD we are, even when we are not 100% in almost every position.

    Victor Valdes deserves all the credits. Most of the time we utilize him as another sweeper at the back to recycle plays and help out on distribution. He demonstrated that he is not only good at one-on-one blockade, he is also an excellent excellent goal line keeper, or some may call, static goalkeeping.

    Other than the series of great saves from Benzema’s attack. vOne of the best saves to me has to be the one off the volley of CR7. ( see 1:33 of this video: by allas)
    The most difficult part is that Dani Alves was standing in Victor’s way, trying to head the ball. As a goalkeeper you have to decide 1)whether to trust Alves to head it, 2) should i risk bumping into him to save it, 3) is it even savable to begin with.
    In less than 2 seconds, he flatout saved it like it’s nothing.

    Man of the match. If we won the cup, it will be Valdes who won it for us. I could easily imagine us losing a Manita to them if it wasn’t Valdes who pulled off such world class performance.

  14. This draw was a too good resulat for the game. Barça has to seriously improve to win this cup. I doubt if 3 more days of training will be enough to close the gap…

  15. Let me call it out though: Valdes’ intentional elbow that tripped CR7 was sneaky. Not unsportsmanlike, but it’s a foul which would result a penalty. Ref ignored it, and we played on.

    It was unnecessary risk that Valdes took, because frankly, that play won’t lead to anything even if CR7 could get the ball near the corner flag.

    1. I have a hard time defending Valdes on that one. I’d say it was definitely unsportsmanlike. I may not like it, but I recognize that to win trophies sometimes it’s necessary to practice the darker arts of football. We have a couple of players who aren’t afraid to revert to those types of tactics (Busquets, Alves, and Valdes particularly come to mind).

    2. His employing the “dark arts” of football and being sneaky are not too bothersome to me. Fouling in the area when it’s not necessary is what bothers me. Go ahead and push the limts to some extent, but don’t be stupid about it.

  16. Young Rodri of Sevilla has signed for Barcelona for 1.5 mill..Sevilla has buy-back for two seasons..If we want him we’ve to pay 10 mill

  17. So I’ve just been watching Messi’s goal over and over, and with the benefit of Euler’s comments, I can now see exactly how fast Sanchez’ thought process was. Amazing.

    Also, it’s fun to watch Messi bounce off Khedira and fool Pepe into falling down. Over and over. 😛

    1. Yeah I kept playing that part too. Beautiful! The way he bounced off. What a monster!!

      Also the numerous times that Cronaldo was pms-ing. Especially after he missed the volley that VV saved. He must be wondering how he can score vs. Barca from open play. When was the last time he scored vs us? Never!

  18. Good analysis by Euler. Thanks to reading his pieces over the months, I have intuitively managed to get a grip on the tactical aspects of the game, even if rudimentarily and could relate to what Euler has talked about in his post even as the game was in progress.

    A point that I thought Euler missed out – Added to the pressing and sharp defensive abilities within the system, Madrid also took recourse to some dirty play – the kick at Abidal’s head by Khedira was not innocent; Marcelo’s halting of Messi in an off-the-play deliberate foul; couple of rough tackles against Alves and Alexis and repeated efforts by Marcelo and Pepe in particular and Alonso to my surprise to use rough end tactics. This was wilfully ignored by a rather soft referee who seemed pressurised by the presence of the home crowd. This is yet another tactic from the get-over-the-Barca-hump-playbook which was very much Dutch-in-the-WC-final like.

    1. Absolutely agree with you. Euler missed out one part in his review, Madrid’s recourse to dirty play.

    2. The focus of my review was on tactics. It’s a preseason match so there’s not a lot of new information that you’re going to be able to take away from the match.

      So honestly – it’s not that I missed the way Madrid played with use of physicality – it’s just that I didn’t feel like writing about it.

      It’s just not interesting to discuss, especially in a preseason match. We all know how they are going to try to play. Didn’t think it was worth spending more time writing about given how long the post was to begin with.

  19. What did you guys make of adriano?
    Hes looking to become our first choice LB with Abi being a CB.
    How wud u rate his performance?

    1. I’d give him a 6. The intervention that weakened Benzema’s header is his major defensive credit. Other than that, his going forward and pace still needs work. Solid overall, but in a game which everyone was kinda crappy, he is not lighting things up.

  20. hello gutys, may be u dun understand why we bought Fab, i think both guardiola and spain were smart in that deal, they wanted to get a future for spain and barcelona. thats why we bought FAB. now here is the hidden meaning for FAB. F = FABREGAS A = ALCANTARA(THIAGO)/ANDRES(INIESTA) B = BUSQUETS. hence FAB.

  21. Thanks Euler, mes que un match review, as usual.

    I think you are right on target that it was tactically decided not to press and get into mixing it up to heavily with them in this match – for a couple of reasons; the fitness that was mentioned, and the risk – it just wasn’t worth it at this point. It’s the super copa for goodness sake, don’t risk the season on it with intense challenges on partially match fit key players against a team playing deliberate aggressive challenges, right? It is clear Mourinho is likely to double down on aggressive defending and physicality as a way to disrupt the flow of play by Barca, while their own attack and fluidity is impressive when weakly challenged, we can beat all that with off the ball movement and pressing and our possession game at the appropriate time… heck, we almost beat them without these key elements of our system in what we played just a tick above a training match level. They came out guns blazing and were much more advanced in their fitness.

    Busquets was really very missed in this match IMO, maybe even more so than Xavi based on where the “center of gravity” of play was because we weren’t pressing. It also made the case as to why we needed Cesc in the absence of Xavi (which his injuries are suggesting he won’t be available for a full table of 60 some matches)
    Your notes on Thiago, while non-critical, speak simply to experience, that you can’t get through anything but…well, experience. I think this also speaks to the wisdom of the club and the systematic way of brining youth players forward. Especially given that so much of how we play hinges (as you’ve so aptly outlined) on the strength and wherewithal of key players in key positions within the system.
    Thanks again, enjoyed the review.

  22. That was a very messi review!

    I think we’re in for a treat this year once everyone is fit and integrated. We’ll be better off for Pep’s insistence on vacation days. This is gonna be a great season…oops…I mean we’re all gonna die!

  23. I didn’t watch the game because i was traveling, and also cos i really didnt want to get too worked up about a supercup. But having read your article, i feel like i have seen every bit of it. kudos to you. i am also glad that this was the match i missed as it seems to be common opinion that barca played poorly. i am, like everyone else, very excited to see alexis and fab combining with messi and iniesta and producing magic. but i cant help but point out that you have over exaggerated sanchez’s creativity and vision, which i’m sure he no doubt has, in that particular analysis of the play. i didn’t see the match, but from watching the replay of the goals, you can totally tell that messi has already begun his full on sprint as soon as thiago plays that pass, BEFORE alexis has received the ball. all sanchez has to do is put the ball into his running path. he has to head it, that we know because such is the nature of thiago’s pass. it is not sanchez who has seen the play like you say, it is messi. in fact that sanchez pass too, wasn’t as accurate as messi hoped it would be. it took a little bit of luck, some rebound and messi’s obviously unbelievable ability to stay balanced that led to the goal.

    1. Disagree. I think that Euler’s point about possibilities and players is valid. If Sanchez’ creativity and vision are exaggerated, why isn’t Messi’s? Is it because Messi is the team star and Sanchez is the new, unproven dude? Good question, but look at the play as analyzed by Euler, and wonder what other players would have done in that same situation.

      Yes, Messi began the run, but think of the many runs he makes in which a player can’t get him the ball, or doesn’t have the vision to just lay it out there for Messi to run onto. Talented players see the game in a very different way. They say that Wayne Gretzky, for example, was so great because he knew where the puck was going to be. Same with Michael Jordan.

      Think Pedro would have made that same pass? Or Villa? If the only option that a player has is to drop to his knees and head the ball, how many players have that thought even cross their minds? Probably the same kind of player who took Marcelo on a dribble, then had the presence of mind to push the ball forward, hurdle a sliding Alonso tackle and keep on running. That bit of brilliance amounted to nothing, because our players are so used to our guys just taking those challenges, getting a card for somebody, rolling around a bit in agony then taking the free kick or throw in.

      But what if somebody had thought about that possibility, and made a hard run toward goal? Sanchez would have been ready to feed them for an easy tap-in. Maybe he was thinking, “Don’t these guys have any match awareness?”

      It’s impossible to know, and all that we can go on is evidence rooted in what we know and what we see. To me, it was a hell of a play from two very good players.

    2. Perfectly stated. Your point on players not making runs when Sanchez beat Marcelo and then jumped over Alonso’s tackle is a great one.

      How many player on Barca were anticipating that one of their teammates could beat two defenders in that way – I better start my run.

      That maneuver took tremendous athleticism and control. Sanchez executed it without any hesitancy (and he’s done that kind of thing before – it seems to come naturally to his game).

      When’s the last time Barca had a player close to that athletic? I don’t even know if Henry can make a play like that because he has a much higher center of gravity.

    3. I think you guys got me wrong. Let me say first off that i think Sanchez is a hell of a player. Let me also say that I am not trying to teach Euler tactics, that would be suicide. 😀

      My expectations are not that high. I notice and love the simplest of passes and that’s why i am obsessed with Barca.
      @kxev – I think you might be reading into what i said a little too much to suggest that i am making Lexus to be an overrated unproven player. Please. Anyways it was nice to hear your comments. If anything, you have only convinced me about something we ALL WANT TO believe. that Lexus is good, even phenomenal, even more extra terrestrial than messi. that can only be good for barca and all us cules.

    4. First off – you really need to watch the match to appreciate the play. Barca’s possession was so fragmented and lacking in cohesion there was very little effective link up play the entire first half. You have to understand the play in context.

      Second, regarding your point about Messi already starting his run. I commented on that in my piece. I explicitly stated that point.

      But the thing is – Messi is always making those runs. Always. It’s because he has the vision to see possibilities that most other players don’t. And that’s why it’s such a challenge for other players to learn how to play with Messi.

      So even on Barca when Messi starts runs like that – they are often missed. The run isn’t seen or the ball isn’t played to the space he needs it to be. This happens frequently just because Messi is so active and is constantly trying to make dangerous runs.

      This is especially true to new players. Just look at the adjustments Villa had to make last year before he developed understanding with Messi. The same was true for Adriano. The same was true in the beginning even when Alves first came.

      Sanchez had been on the pitch with Messi for 40 minutes – and he sees the run Messi is making. He sees the same possibilities that Messi is seeing. And has the skill to place the ball exactly where Messi needs it.

      Third – I think you’re completely underestimating the tactical imbalance. Sanchez was surrounded by 7 madrid defenders in tight space. Thiago made a low quality pass that was very difficult to control.

      That Sanchez was able to one touch the ball surrounded by 7 defenders in closed space into the area messi needed it is tremendous skill.

      Sanchez had a brief instance to envision that play and execute the skill given the intense defensive pressure he was surrounded by.

      I have no idea what your level of expectations are.

      Pedro does not pull off that pass. No way. Don’t think Villa would either.

      Vision, skill, athleticism – making that pass surrounded by 7 defenders in a game where Barca is playing horribly – it takes all of those to spring Messi for that score.

    5. like i said above, i sincerely hope you are right. We all want to believe that Sanchez is going to belong to the league of the Ronaldinho’s, Messi’s – skill wise and success wise. There is evidence to suggest that and i am very excited. you are spot on by saying “you really need to watch the match to appreciate the play”.
      i agree and thats why i also mentioned that i didnt, in my comment.

      Also, how can you speculate whether Pedro and Villa would not have pulled a pass like that. i think that is also an underestimation of our players. i dont exactly remember which match, but during the 2009 – 10 season there was a goal by messi which was assisted similarly by keita.

      And about kxev’s point on him beating marcelo and skipping over alonso and our players seemingly being content to get fouled and take a freekick/throw is a little ignorant. i mean come on, this is lexus’ first game for barcelona. the world best team. against Madrid. What more do you want? i think its common sense that a player of Sanchez’ calibre would want to stay on his feet, come what may. this is his first game. He is not going to waste his first minutes for barca rolling in the ground!

    6. The problem with the rolling on the ground thing is it stops the momentum of the play. I like the offensive aggressiveness shown by the Alexis in the discussed play. Even in the future, I think Sanchez is the type of player that will shrug off fouls to press the advantage instead of trying to sell one to the ref.

      Brilliant review by Euler as always and the primary reason I am a fan of this blog. Kudos to all of Barcelona from Pep to Zubi to Rosell to the talent scouts for the single minded pursuit of Alexis, then getting him at a fantastic price. Alexis is the one player that Barca could have gotten this summer that was going to raise the team to another level hence he was No. 1 priority even over Fabregas. Having him on the field with Messi is the closest thing to having 2 Messis. I’m sure someone has written in the past that if we had 2 Messis we would be unbeatable. So there you have it.

    1. nah, he should come on at the 82nd minute to realize that it only takes 8 minutes for him to win a trophy at Barca.

    2. OK, time to stop. No more hubris, no more optimism. Doom and gloom guys…it’s the way of the cule 🙂

  24. Thanks for the comments everyone. I thought it an interesting match as it draws in relief the critical components of the system.

    The second leg will be fun to watch. Barca still won’t be close to match fit – how they compensate defensively on their press is going to dictate what happens in terms of the dynamics of play. It’s going to be a difficult thing to ask the team to play another 90 minutes so soon after the game on Sunday.

    Messi was getting sick out on the pitch and despite that played all 90 minutes. Coming back only 3 days later is going to be a challenge.

    Getting Busquets back will be enormously important. It’ll allow them to better build play out from the back.

  25. So how come Cesc wasn’t fit enough for any of Arsenal’s pre-season tour but passed all our medical tests?

    1. Perhaps it was an order from our camp not to let him play in order to avoid any injury or it was Cesc himself who said it.

  26. Just wanted to say that I pointed out Sanchez’s contribution to Messi’s goal on twitter and I asked if anyone else noted that, but only one person replied.

    I knew I could count on Euler to talk about his contribution in some depth. Thank you.

    1. FIFY. I noticed during the game and I saw the tweet, but I was still on a game high + the Fabregas announcement, that my brain didn’t register it all until a day after.

      In any case, I’m excited for the game on Wednesday. The two away goals are huge.

    2. I saw it. A lot of people may have missed it because the video feed picked up the action a split second after the pass was played to Sanchez. And why was that? Because the TV production crew spent close to half the match focusing on Mourinho. Foul by a Barca player? Pan to Mourinho’s outraged face. Madrid player called for blatant foul? Pan to Mourinho’s outraged face. Pepe nearly maims someone? Pan to Mourinho’s outraged face.

    3. I noticed your tweet, Jnice.

      Except that my stream was so bad I couldn’t visualize what exactly Sanchez did. So I’m glad Euler discussed it and turns out that Sanchez is a really great buy for us. Hope he continues with this form and gets even better.

  27. Euler you are god. I gotta ask, what do you do in your real life? Also I’d love to see Messi play the Xavi role as an experiment.

  28. Yeow! Euler, my head is spinning…Is there a degree program somewhere I can get credit for reading this? (assuming I’ve taken enough Ramzi pre-requisites to qualify!)

    Happy near-end-of-silly-season everyone.

  29. @ Josep
    Either it had to do with the transfer (Cesc refusing to play etc) or my other guess is that the med test don’t have anything to do with current injury perhaps, but rather looking at medical injury and assessing the risks associated with it for future.

  30. Guardiola: “Like all players of the squad, Cesc can play many positions.

    This right here tells you everything you need to know about how Cesc will fit in to the team. Pep loves flexible players. He will definitely try Cesc out at DM, at the tip of a diamond midfield, maybe even as a fullback.

    Guardiola: “On Sunday, Alexis had the modesty to work hard for the team and that says a lot about him. He ran as much as 6 people.”

    Uh oh! He’s stealing Pedro’s shtick already!

    1. Yeah but he doesn’t run about like a demented ice-skater imitating a windmill – like Pedro. 🙂

      Apart from Sanchez’ sublime header assist to Messi, my all-time favourite action from him during the game was his from-behind play to take the ball off Cristiana. That made me chuckle.

  31. Great tactical review.

    The only dissatisfaction with the game I can add to it is about the technique used by some of the players…

    For the first goal, my two main culprits were Villa and Abidal. For Villa, he should have learned that the Barcelona way is to play beautiful but never to over elaborate. I’ve seen him execute that backheel into blind spots waaaay too many times, killing plays. Euler is right about Real Madrid discipline in defending the play, but Villa could have gone towards the end line and then either turn and pass along the line to Messi or play it safely to the back. Nowhere can a backheel with that many defenders around be considered a good idea.

    For Abidal, my only reservation about him as a defender in the past has always been because of that defending style he used against Benzema. I have seen him use it a few times, but running away against a skilled attacker is suicidal. Messi, Iniesta, Ronaldo, Benzema, Aguero, Higuain and many more will kill you with that style. It’s a style used by slow defenders, but not one of Abidal’s calibre. The way to defend against Benzema would have been to close out the path to the inside, force him to go out, then close him out and pressure him into a hasty kick.

    For Madrids second goal, the only complaint I have is that all the defenders turned away from Alonso before he shot. I couldnt help missing Puyol on that one, because he would have put his body on the line.

    Having said that, Villa’s goal was simply breathtaking. What’s more amazing is that he looked in full control of the ball, like he used to in Valencia. In Barcelona, he has looked more like he is fighting with the ball. This has to be a good sign.

    Messi’s goal is also simply genius. The subtlety of his initial move was poetry in motion. Pepe was tracking him more that the ball, so he faked Pepe out by looking like he was going right, only to quickly change direction and leaving Pepe chasing the wind. His ability to then bounce off Khedira, change direction, fight off Pepe who was then near to where the ball had deflected to and score was just beautiful.

    The way Xavi calmed down the midfield area when he came on brought a smile to my face!

  32. Great post by Euler, agree on pretty much every point. I have been watching Chile closely and if Alexis can build something meaningful with Alves as he has with Isla then we’re in for a treat, needless to say if he learns how to combine with Mess.

    OT: According to Marca the city of Madrid won’t allow EE to celebrate the Super Cup in Cibeles due to a few other events that will happen in Madrid at the time..Is it just me or is this really desperate? Who celebrates a Super Cup whether national or European?
    I hope we don’t do it if we win!

    1. I don’t think it’s the Pope – he was here last year. It’s some big Christian Youth Brigade Rally. They’ve been all over the country (including Barcelona) in the past week. I couldn’t step out of our front door without battling through brigades of youths following people with flags of their regions, and all wearing event t-shirts. There were even groups of novice nuns hunting in packs. 🙂 The culmination is at Cibeles – as shown on TV last night. My first glance at the TV had me thinking that the RM fans were celebrating their 2-2 draw in Sunday!

    2. K_Man – the Font de Canaletes in Barca where Barca fans go to celebrate EVERY Barca win. Cibeles is the Madrid equivalent, so it’s natural that they will gather there for an RM win.

  33. Pepe was tracking him more that the ball, so he faked Pepe out by looking like he was going right, only to quickly change direction and leaving Pepe chasing the wind.

    Bill makes a wonderful point here. He’s 100% right. I was going to write about this in my review but it was already so long I cut it out.

    It’s just difficult to write about Messi because so much of what he does is simply amazing over and over.

    You can just write about it almost endlessly because even small subtle things he does on the pitch are remarkable when you analyze them.

    If you go back and watch that goal it’s just unreal how intelligent Messi is and how he sees space on the pitch.

  34. On another note – arsenal’s injury situation is just absurd.

    Kieran Gibbs has already pulled his hamstring in the home leg of the CL qualifier tie with Udinese. This is the player who was supposed to replace Clichy.

    Djourou comes on for Gibbs. And he’s on the pitch for 5 minutes – and he pulls his hamstring.

    That forces Arsenal to turn to 19 year old carl jenkins – the player they bought who was not even playing in a first division league last year. Jenkins is forced into action in what is arguably the most important game of their season.

    No one stays healthy there.

    1. Apparently that was another big reason Cesc wanted to leave. He didn’t think the club’s medical staff were handling his injuries properly.

    2. It’s becoming (if not already) a farce. It’s unbelievable.

      The worst is that they haven’t got any players left to replace them. They’ve sold Eboue, lost Gibbs and Djourou, and apparently players in their reserves at those positions have also gotten injuries. Arsenal really, actually, and honestly need to buy defenders – they’ve got none left. Injure to Koscielny and Vermaelen – who is coming back from a long term injury himself– and it could get very, very ugly. What’s worse is that on top of all of this, they’ve got Liverpool at the weekend, the 2nd leg, and Man Utd at Old Trafford.

      What saved them in this tie, IMO, is that Udinese is still in preseason and aren’t match fit yet. (Italian season starts on 27/28 of this month).

      It puts our CB situation a bit in perspective, doesn’t it?

    3. And isn’t Song going to be serving a three match ban, too? Why Wenger doesn’t have an adequate back up for the Cameroonian is what worries me.

    4. Did anyone else sense the irony in the fact that Arsenal and Udinese were playing each other last night – both teams having recently lost key players to Barca? 🙂

  35. just saw the arsenal udinese match.

    udinese dominated arsenal from start to finish,at times their play is simply mesmeric.

    really impressed with pablo armero

  36. Graham Hunter’s piece on ESPN re: Those whom shall remain nameless –

    “But to play right up to, and beyond, the rules of physicality and fail to accept the consequences of your actions is demeaning, juvenile and dispiriting to witness.”

    Couldn’t agree more, and explains much of our posture in the first round of the tie

    1. And Graham Hunter completes Euler’s writeup to give a full grounded review of the first leg. Here’s to the second leg and yet another trophy win..dedicated to new signee Fabregas

  37. Udinese played very well. Had a lot of the ball and defended well. But they tired and their pressure defense fell off.

    Much is made of Udinese losing Sanchez – and rightly so.

    But they also lost Gorkhan Inler – and his presence was sorely missed today in midfield.

    Dinatale was wonderful. What technique he has. And to push his team that way without Sanchez or Inler behind him was terrific.

    Udinese keep losing player – but they keep finding new ones. Their talent pipe line just keeps on rolling.

    That second leg is going to be very difficult for Arsenal. They needed that second goal at home to be comfortable.

    1. I thought Isla had a good game. Armero’s(?) miss in that one v one situation is inexcusable, though. Great game from a neutral’s(Fab or Sanchez) perspective.

Comments are closed.