There’s a belief we often share that what’s beautiful is fragile. That wonder is always on the verge of breaking apart. That what’s beautiful cannot put up enough resistance to last in a world that can be so difficult and harsh. This belief isn’t universally subscribed to – but it’s quite common across cultures.
In fact it seems that we often cherish something for its aesthetic qualities precisely because we know it’s ephemeral, that it doesn’t have adequate defenses to resist, that it’s lovely because it isn’t resilient enough to stay for very long. Japanese cherry blossoms. An aria sung. Landscapes painted on scrolls bleached by the sun. The colors of Holi washing away in the rain.
Football itself shares this bias. In the unresolvable debate in its soul between romanticism and pragmatism, there’s a notion that the beautiful game simply isn’t robust enough to survive outside of a few flickering moments of brilliance. The Netherlands 1974. Brazil 1982. These are fundamental touchstones for belief in the game. Ephemeral beauty that ultimately couldn’t survive the pragmatic world it was faced with.
Guardiola’s Barcelona continues to prove all of this wrong. It continues its alchemy of mixing romanticism and pragmatism to produce a kind of aesthetic that is equal parts beauty and strength.
A new kind of wonder all over again. That’s what we’re watching.
I try my best to be objective about the game. To be dispassionate as I can. It’s part of what I have to do for my writing here. And I do that by using an analytical framework to watch and to try to understand the game. Those are my tools, my point of view. It’s in my nature.
And honestly, before this tie, objectively, I did not think this team was going to win.
I watched them play in person against Manchester United on the summer tour — they weren’t even remotely close to match form or fitness.
Then they had those other mediocre-to-disastrous pre-season games topped off by the 1-4 drubbing at the hand of Chivas. The squad was not even close to match ready. Sure those Barça squads were filled with youth players — but that also meant that the first team wasn’t available, wasn’t working within the system, that they weren’t even engaged in the process of getting ready through the experience of match play together.
In the first leg of the SuperCopa all of those issues came to the fore. Barça were overwhelmed by a much more prepared, more match fit Madrid team. A team which had clearly prioritized winning the SuperCopa as a way to start its season, and draw a stark contrast to the 5-0 victory Barça secured to start the Clasicos last year. But in the end this Barça team was robust enough to survive and secure the result they needed at the Bernabeau. But it literally took everything the group had, all of the resources that could be drawn upon from its experiences as champions.
Even after that first leg — objectively speaking — I didn’t know if they could win this second match. There would be accumulated fatigue. The team was short due to injuries. Objectively it just would not be possible to secure needed fitness or form in three days time.
But in the end the heart is such a funny object. Strange and wondrous. Who can understand it? And make no mistake about it, this was a performance that came straight from the heart. Yet another victory from Guardiola’s Barcelona that demonstrated that what’s beautiful in football doesn’t have to be fragile or mercurial — that in fact being tenacious and robust makes the whole of the project even more wondrous and joyful.
It’s football that makes you believe again. In a whole new way.
In order to fully appreciate the dynamics of this match and how play changed from the first leg it’s important to the relatively unorthodox manner in which Madrid implement their pressure defense. As discussed in detail here at Barcelona Football Blog last season, Madrid press in a very interesting fashion. One of the central tenets of strong defending is staying compact. This is especially true to pressing. In order to press effectively you need to make the field as small as possible. To make the field as small as possible it’s important to stay compact.
Arrigo Sacchi famously made it a point to demand that his team leave no more than 25 meters between their forward and back lines. The goal was to squeeze the opposition to one-quarter of the entire pitch. With the liberalization of the off side trap however it’s likely impossible for any team to stay as compact as Sacchi wanted.
Nonetheless staying compact remains critical to the best pressing sides in the world.
When Madrid press they don’t stay nearly as compact as other sides that successfully press. Staying compact means that you must play a high line. Playing a high line involves significant risk for being beat over the top or through transition play. Mourinho is attempting to have his side press, but to also decrease the risk associated with playing his back line high.
In the first leg of the Super Copa, based on average position, Madrid had approximately 50 M between their front line and back line. For comparison, Barcelona had approximately 40M between its front line and back line.
How is Madrid simultaneously doing both of these things — pressuring the ball effectively without keeping its back line very high? They are utilizing pace. This is the most interesting tactical defensive innovation Mourinho has implemented while at Madrid. Their team has tremendous athleticism distributed across the pitch. Rather than depending on “hunting in packs” by staying compact Madrid initiates its pressure by having a select number of defenders run at the ball at pace. When the ball is passed, they utilize pace to close down the receiver. Because they have so much athleticism across the pitch they attempt to launch defensive attacks from numerous positions.
This is not to say Madrid’s defensive formation is loose. For example, they become very compact on the press when the ball is played to the touchline. It’s just that their formation is not as compact as one would anticipate given how effective their pressing is. They are using velocity to make the pitch small.
The still shot above from leg 2 typifies how Madrid presses. Notice how Madrid has numerical equivalence with Barcelona in the Barcelona defensive half (this is a major tactical adjustment Mourinho has made in response to the changes Guardiola made between the Copa Del Rey and Champions League Semi — fully explaining this adjustment will require a separate post however).
There is one marker on every Barcelona player at the back. Once Barcelona attempt to advance the ball the Madrid defenders runs to close down the ball at speed. Each marker follows the players without the ball to make ready pressure if a pass is made. When the new Barça player receives the ball a new defensive attack is launched.
This defensive system takes advantage of two Barcelona characteristics: 1) Barça players tend to play passes to feet when they are building play out of the back; 2) Barcelona players tend not attempt to beat defenders 1 vs. 1 off the dribble (more on this later in the explanation of goal one but a full explanation is out of the scope of this review)
However, all tactical systems have their trade offs. And if you press the way Madrid does that means there has to be space in the interior of the defense. What Madrid is gambling is that they can repossess the ball faster than you can find that interior space.
The way to beat this system is very clear. Circulate the ball faster than they can run. This requires quick decision making, rapid passing, and strong off the ball movement. Barça’s problem in the first leg of the Super Copa was that all three of those facets of their game were off form. The major problems were: 1) they lacked the fitness required to move off the ball to probe interior space; 2) because neither Xavi nor Busquets and Pique didn’t start they lost the central axis of play. The decision making was slower and the touch and passing not as deft or controlled.
Addressing the Madrid Press
In this match, Barcelona made critical adjustments to counteract the way Madrid pressed. Their ball circulation was much more rapid, with Xavi and Busquets back their central passing axis was much improved and their ability to build from the back markedly better. This was supported by Pique’s presence in the back. In addition, their off the ball movement was somewhat better, especially in the first half (but due to lack of fitness the off the ball movement still wasn’t good and it decayed severely in the second half which is why the team struggled so much later on). Barça also attempted to play longer balls over the top more often (as opposed to leg one where the long balls were more like desperation heaves).
Finally, once it’s understood how Madrid’s system of pressure defense operates, it becomes very clear that one of the best ways to cause the Madrid system of man marking pressure based on team pace is to drop players who have the ability to beat players off the dribble deeper on the pitch. If the Barça player can beat the man marking him 1 vs. 1, then the Madrid defense can become very vulnerable as interior space will open up quickly. This is especially true if you can do this in midfield because Madrid was not keeping its back line very compact. Space could be found between those lines. And this is exactly how Barcelona scored its lightning first goal.
The play starts simply enough. Pique plays the ball to Xavi who plays a simple ball to Messi. The key issue here was Messi’s positioning. He stations himself out on the flank in midfield. Because C. Ronaldo is marking Alves on the press there is space behind him. Carvalho, who was marking Messi for much of the match, steps out and picks up Messi and marks him out along the toucline. Coentrao drops deep and central into the space Carvalho has vacated, functionally playing the CB position now. However, Messi beats Carvalho off the dribble and this creates a cascade of problems for Madrid.
In the still shot above notice what’s happened once Messi beats Carvalho off the dribble. He has created a 2 vs. 1 situation for Khedira. Pedro has intelligently dropped into that same space. Messi was Carvalho’s responsibility. As Khedira attempts to slide over to cover, he is caught wrong-footed and Messi easily blows by him.
The other key issue in the still shot above is that Xabi Alonso was responsible for man marking Iniesta. When Messi breaks containment off Carvalho, Alonso starts drifting to the middle anticipating a Messi run through that region.
In the still shot above Messi has beat Khedira. The key issue to note here is the positioning of the Madrid center backs. Notice how much space Messi is about to move into. This is because Pepe and Coentrao are staying deep rather than stepping up or staying as compact as they could. They are too far away from where Messi has received the ball to step out on him. Rather than “hunting in a pack” to pressure Messi it’s only the defender assigned to mark him applying pressure 1 vs. 1. The other defenders move away from Messi to deeper positions rather than towards him to press.
Once Messi beats Carvalho the deep Madrid backs start to move deeper rather than moving forward to close down and pressure alongside Khedira (or to facilitate the off side trap). Instead Khedira is left to pressure 1 vs. 1. This open space forces Alonso to disregard Iniesta and commit to this area. Iniesta reading the play makes a tremendous run.
The entire Madrid defensive system has collapsed because Messi beat Coentrao in a 1 vs. 1 situation. They have a 6 vs. 3 numerical advantage around the ball and get carved open.
Rather than making the run that Alonso and the center defenders are waiting for however, Messi unleashes a brilliant through ball between the center backs for Iniesta to run onto (notice how it was not a ball to feet pass that caused the Madrid defense so much trouble).
In the still shot above, Iniesta has lost all of the defenders and timed his run brilliantly. Iniesta then goes on to show terrific composure and coolly beats Casillas with a lovely chip after dinking him. Madrid has a 6 vs. 3 numerical advantage around the ball, and still get carved open in moments. This is the risk they run by pressing in this fashion and not staying compact. Defending the interior space can rapidly become a problem.
Overall, Barcelona’s off the ball movement simply wasn’t rapid and crisp enough to allow them to take advantage of the Madrid defensive system. They simply did not have the fitness to do so. In turn they struggled to maintain coherent possession a problem which would become a mounting problem as the game progressed.
All this said — the Madrid pressure defending was outstanding all evening. Credit to them for their work rate and coordinated, system-based defending.
However, in the end Barcelona controlled 60% of possession in this second leg. Not their usual domination of the ball but an improvement. While the statistics varied in the first leg, Barcelona only had roughly 53% of the possession at the Bernabeu.
The Return of One Touch Play: Barcelona’s Second Goal
In the first leg of the SuperCopa, Barça’s touch and weighting of passes were off all evening long. In leg two, both were improved, though still far from where they will be once they regain match form. However, Barcelona’s second goal was just remarkable for the quality of its one touch play.
The goal, of course, was an utter work of genius between two players who are so skilled on the ball it is hard to get over. The goal was scored off a corner that was created when Pedro beat Ramos off the flank. Messi is positioned at the 18 yard line. Xavi directs the corner and it deflects off Benzema toward Messi. In theory this is not supposed to be a dangerous area to receive a corner. It should be straight forward to close the man down, given how tight space is.
However, this is Messi and what he did was just genius. Too much attention is being placed on this goal to how it ended. What not being paid enough attention to is how it started. Messi is being marked by Carvalho on this corner. That’s how worried Madrid was about Messi. They placed one of their CB out to the 18 yard line to defend him. Xavi’s corner bounced once and starts rising as it approaches Messi. That is a very difficult ball to even control off a corner when you are closely marked.
Not only does Messi control it but he beats Carvalho in an instant. Messi intentionally one touch passes the ball off the bounce to Pique. Just think about that. He doesn’t even settle the ball with his chest. He passes it perfectly to Pique. And like that Carvalho is beat. He turns to locate the ball and Messi instantly starts his run to goal.
Pique then makes a play that perhaps no other CB in the world can make. First, once he sees the ball directed to Messi at the 18 yard line he comes backwards towards Messi. He knows Madrid is going to run the off side trap from the corner and he beats them into an area of space in the crowded box.
In the still shot above just look at how much space Pique has found inside the box on a corner. That is a remarkable reading of space on the play. He’s actively making himself a point of reference for Messi to play the ball off of. Though I’m not sure I would guess this is a play Pep designed for this situation. And it worked perfectly.
Pique receives the ball and then one touches the ball on a back heel pass to Messi, who is in stride on his run. Just phenomenal skill from Pique there. C. Ronaldo and Khedira attempt to catch Messi but his acceleration is just too much and he coolly beat Casillas yet again.
Overall, one of the key factors that won this trophy for Barcelona was their skill and tremendous execution on goal. Here is a comparison of all shots on goal over the tie between the two teams.
Barcelona Concede off Set Pieces
I’m not going to spend too much time analyzing these goals. To be honest, both were the result of awful set piece defending. On the first goal Barça did not close down Benzema as he collected a deflected corner. Benzema made an outstanding cross to C. Ronaldo. The goal may have been offside (it appeared Ramos got a touch putting Ronaldo into an off side position). However, that is irrelevant. The fact is Barça did not execute its off side trap properly off the corner.
The second goal was even worse. Kaka put in an awful corner directly to Adriano, who proceeded to shank the clearance. The Barça defenders then engaged in a comedy of clearance errors until the ball rolled to Benzema, who finished well.
Both of those conceded goals were filled with errors. With more practice and drilling they are unlikely to occur later on in the season.
Nonetheless — credit to Madrid for taking advantage of the opportunities when presented. Both C. Ronaldo and Benzema finished nicely. And ultimately Madrid won the corners through their consistently high tempo direct play.
Barcelona’s Pressing is Improved but The Team Tires: The Back Line Saves the Match — The Story of the Second Half
One of the major problems for Barça in Leg 1 was their inability to press effectively due to limited fitness and stress from not retaining possession. In this match, the pressing was better but still far from where it is when Barça are in full fitness and sharp. But with the improved coordination and work rate their pressing was better.
A major key to all of this was the return to Sergio Busquets. Busquets was still off form — but his presence defensively was enormous (as was his calm ball circulation). Perhaps the biggest impact his return had was to help neutralize Mesut Oezil. Oezil had a wonderful game in leg 1 — by far his best match against Barça. Oezil is a very interesting player. He has phenomenal vision and is a wonderful passer (especially off crosses from the flanks).
However, while he has good touch – he does not have great touch. And while he has good close control of the ball it is not great either. He’s not a player that is going to beat players off the dribble in tight space. In fact much of his game is predicated on roaming laterally from touch line to touch line to find space.
As such, Oezil has often struggled with facing a team that presses vigorously (the Germany vs. Spain match in the 2010 WC exemplified this).
In this second leg Busquets supported by the overall Barça pressing did a marvelous job once again marking Oezil out of the game.
However, as the match proceeded Barça’s ability to press and engage in off the ball movement fell off significantly due to limited fitness. As the second half went on there was a marked change in Barça’s play. In turn they got caught in a vicious cycle of losing the ball and then not being able to repossess it through pressing. Madrid — who were also tiring — took the initiative and put Barça on the back foot again in the second half.
The team just couldn’t press with the vigor they usually do. They don’t have the fitness. In this regard while the actual way Madrid scored was due to an comical mistake, they were dictating play towards the middle to end of the second half and it looked like it was only a matter of time before they scored.
That Madrid did not take control of this game and put it way in the second half with the Barça press tiring is a testament to how brilliantly the back line played. After a very poor game in leg one the defensive back four were outstanding in open play.
The Barça back line did what it rarely every has to do or is designed to do — absorb relentless pressure while defending deep. That the back line could execute what was required to keep the team ahead or level was a testament to their determination, intelligence and hard work.
Cules will have differing opinions on who played the best — but Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano were both utterly brilliant this game. Alves is often thought of as a poor defender. But what his critics often confound is his position on the pitch with his defensive skill set. In the Barça system his function is to get as forward as he can. Pep is willing to risk players getting behind Alves — when they do that it is not a defensive lapse on Dani’s part. It’s just a component of tactical risk.
In both legs of the SuperCopa, Alves was brilliant. Guardiola likely adjusted how he wanted Dani to play and had him prioritize defending C. Ronaldo. And in both games Alves had the Madrid attacker in his pocket. Over and over he made key tackles and interventions to neutralize Madrid’s chief goal scoring threat.
C. Ronaldo is known for his pace. But in these two games we saw what a great athlete Alves is. Over and over C. Ronaldo attempted to beat Alves on the flank through pace and couldn’t do it. This was a major reason why Madrid had difficulty scoring from open play in these games. Their biggest scoring threat was caged in by the Barça RB.
What can you say about Javier Mascherano? He is a wonderful example of how it’s so easy in football to confuse a player’s role and his skill set. In Liverpool he was confined to an extremely narrow, tactical role. He was a specialist player operating in Benitez’s highly autocratic system. It seemed very odd that Guardiola was so interested in bringing to Barça a player who seemed limited to a “destroyer.”
But Pep knew better. He saw that Mascherano’s skill set was far richer than his role allowed at Liverpool. And since coming to Barcelona he’s been something of a revelation.
Over these past two games he has been an absolute rock. He has played at a world class CB level. And with Mascherano it all starts with his intelligence and defensive reading of the game. The only other player on Barcelona who has similar talents is Puyol. With every passing game at CB, Mascherano is looking more and more like the heir apparent to Puyol’s position on the team.
In the SuperCopa, Masch made one critical intervention after another after another. For a player who was supposed to be a yellow and red card magnet outside of the rough EPL it’s particularly amazing to watch his dexterity and intelligence on challenges. His ability to read a game is remarkable, and he used that ability to it’s fullest to anchor a back line that had to be perfect to see this team through.
Abidal had an absolutely terrible match in leg one. He was off form and repeatedly made clumsy mistakes. Tonight he was back to looking like himself. Calm and collected on the ball and very solid at the back. He still is coming into form — he should have stepped up much more quickly on the off side trap on the first goal. He and Pique both should have cleared the ball on the second. But overall a terrific performance.
Similarly Pique was very good. He’s still recovering from a knock and has missed significant training time but he played well at the back. And his assist to Messi was an outrageous piece of skill from a center back. Piquenbauer indeed.
Keita came on as a late sub for Busquets. While he wasn’t involved very much, he also didn’t make any mistakes in a position he’s still adjusting to.
Finally, Victor Valdes was again just superb. Time and time again he was pressured and challenged. And Madrid just could not beat him from open play. He was magnificent. Once again he proved how unique he is. Not only was his contribution saving shots fundamental but he was critical to building play from the back with his ball skills and distribution.
Guardiola Changes the Dynamics of the Match: The Composed Play and Positional Intelligence of Cesc Fabregas and the Brilliance of Messi
Pep has done just a phenomenal job preparing his club for what turned out to be a vicious war when they were not close to being in the form Madrid were in. One thing he probably should have done however was to bring in fresh legs sooner as the team was fading in the second half. Now his hands were absolutely tied in many ways due to injury. Sanchez would have been perfect to bring in for this match – but he picked up a knock. Same for Afellay.
Villa and Pedro faded significantly during the second half due to fatigue. Bringing on Adriano as a winger for Villa was a creative move.
But the area where Barcelona was really suffering was in the center of the pitch. They lost control of the middle as the second half went on. This was in part due to fatigue from Xavi, Iniesta and Messi (notice how infrequently Messi dropped deep to pick up the ball).
At the same time this was far too heated a game to bring in a youngster like Thiago. He would have been overwhelmed. It’s the kind of experience that can ruin a young player’s confidence and development. It’s just beyond the scope of what they can do.
So once Madrid leveled the score Guardiola brought on the weapon he’s wanted so badly since he took over as manager. And we saw tonight in very clear, stark terms why Pep wanted Cesc Fabregas so badly.
In a dying game where Madrid had all of the momentum and Barça were fading badly due to fatigue, Fabregas changed the dynamics of the match. After conceding the equalizer, the entire team took on new determination. But determination only gets you so far in the face of exhaustion.
Fabregas came in for Pedro and Pep moved Iniesta nominally to the wing (Iniesta of course pinched in to midfield a great deal). And once he came on to the pitch he added significant composure and energy back into midfield play. He was composed on the ball and did a wonderful job directing play. He looked extremely comfortable right away. In addition he played very well defensively making several strong interventions.
Fabregas and Xavi played as a very fluid two man central midfield with Xavi moving to the center right and slightly deeper and Fabregas largely towards the middle and moving into an advanced position. Here’s an example of how Barça lined up:
Fabregas played as a trequarista more than even as a central midfielder at Arsenal. Even in the youth ranks at La Masia he was a player who looked to get forward and score. Those traits were enhanced when he went to Arsenal and yesterday Fabregas made several intelligent runs forward — it seemed clear that he knew that he would have to provide a threat as the man with fresh legs.
In the still shot above Alves has played the ball off to Adriano on the right wing. Xavi is trailing the play towards the right. Iniesta is behind in midfield.
Fabregas is making a direct run to goal and he is the most advanced Barcelona attacker. This is something we rarely see from a Barça midfielder, and it’s a good example for how Fabregas will diversify play tactically for Barça.
The key to understanding the immense value of Fabregas making runs like this lies in Messi’s positioning in the above still shot. With attacks engineered off the flanks Messi frequently slows down. Often he does not make aggressive, direct runs to goal. Instead he chooses to find space between the line for the pull back or delayed ball. This is what he’s doing in the still shot above.
However, look at how space is being created for Messi. It’s Fabregas’ run that is driving two defenders towards their own goal and away from Messi leaving him unmarked in space. This is the potential interplay we are going to see from Cesc and Messi. It is brilliant positional football.
Fabregas would go on to be integral to Barça’s final goal — the one that sealed the victory. Much is being made of the fact that Fabregas made one of the passes before Messi’s otherworldly strike. This is is missing the larger point. What was so impressive about Fabregas’ play on that goal wasn’t his pass — it was his positional intelligence.
The goal scoring play started harmlessly enough. Xavi plays a corner short, gets the ball back and plays it to Adriano, who then plays it to Alves, who plays it back out to Mascherano (stationed just inside of the midfield line in the center circle). In other words, in the 87th minute of a 2-2 match Barça turn a corner kick into a ball played back to their CB standing at midfield. They are playing the ball backward, and still transform the situation into a goal.
The screen shot above marks the start of the play as Xavi pulls the ball back towards Adriano. The key thing here to notice is Fabregas’ initial positioning. He’s toward the middle of the pitch and is double marked.
Above, as the ball is played backward, notice how Fabregas changes his position. He is moving away from the center where he was double marked and is drifting out to the wing into the space vacated by Adriano who has pulled in to the middle to receive the ball from Xavi. As Fabregas drifts outwards Xavi drifts into the middle between the lines. Messi is walking back from an offside position stationing himself in the channel between CB and FB.
Two sources of movement: The ball played backwards vertically and Barça’s attacking central midfielder drifting horizontally into space.
What starts out as harmless, typical Barcelona “negative” and “boring passing backwards” rapidly turns into catastrophe for Madrid.
When Mascherano receives the ball at the midfield circle he plays speeds up the tempo of play by playing a brilliant long ball over the top to the player completely open in space — Fabregas.
In the still shot above, look at how much space Fabregas has found. The perfectly weighted long ball over the top from Mascherano (he is an outstanding long ball passer over the top — perhaps the best on the entire team) cuts out all of the clustered Madrid defense in the middle. But it’s Fabergas’ open positioning that allows Mascherano the target to circumvent the defenders.
Fabregas controls the ball with fantastic first touch to start the final attacking maneuver, and here’s what’s so remarkable about this entire sequence tactically: Fabregas started this play being double marked by the Madrid defense. Through his positional intelligence he has now turned that initial double marking into a 2 vs. 1 situation for Barça out on the flank against Marcelo. Not only that — he has created a 2 vs. 1 where the defender is isolated alone in space. That is brilliant football. The epitome of what the fluid interplay of tika taka is supposed to create.
Marcelo is forced to defend four things. Fabregas, Adriano, the space behind him toward goal and the space lateral to him. He cannot hope to defend even two of the four never mind all four. Fabregas has multiple choices in how to exploit the situation.
And here’s where Fabregas’ training from La Masia comes into play. Normally at this stage in the game it would make sense to use a 2 vs. 1 situation to attack the goal directly. And Fabregas starts to do this.
Fabregas doesn’t quickly one touch the ball away. He shows Marcelo the ball. He uses it to draw out the defender. He makes two slight feints toward goal, and in the end he achieves his goal. In the still shot above notice how he’s forced Marcelo to commit to him. This leaves Adriano alone in space. But rather than playing the ball to the nearest open man, Fabregas further exploits the positional advantage by threading the ball unexpectedly to Messi who has found space between the lines (Adriano does a fantastic job letting the pass go right by him — that’s a great example of the small things players have to learn in the Barça system. A year ago he think the pass is for him and traps the ball.)
Suddenly the tempo of play accelerates. Messi rapidly one touches the ball to Adriano who has started a delayed run. Marcelo is completely out of position because Fabregas forced him to commit. Messi’s one touch pass perfectly plays Adriano back into open space.
Adriano then delivers a perfect cross into Messi who executes a volley of staggering quality.
What’s amazing about this entire sequence is that Madrid really haven’t made any defensive mistakes at all. In the still shot above notice how Coentrao has done an excellent job of tracking Messi’s run to goal. Messi is marked in the box. And he still scores.
At this point, I feel compelled to say something about Messi. But what is there possible to say. His genius is unfathomable at times. His vision, intelligence, positioning, strength, balance, touch and ability to finish are beyond belief. You can watch. It no longer surprises. But it’s still difficult to believe it’s real.
To start off the season Guardiola wins his 11th trophy equaling Cruyff’s club record. It is an almost outlandish level of achievement. But what truly mattered here wasn’t this trophy — the SuperCopa is after all only a pre-season tie (one that is nice to win but not indicative of play in the real season). What mattered was how this team won.
Barcelona proved robust in the face of tremendous difficulty. This was a squad that prevailed yet again despite the fact that they were not even close to full form and fitness. While Madrid was also in pre-season shape it is now clear how much they focused and prepared to win this trophy. They were far ahead of Barça in terms of readiness to play. And despite all that Barcelona produced a devastating result through a combinations of systems based discipline, tactical intelligence, skill and heart. What Pep did to get this team through these two brutal matches was astonishing.
There is of course another story to this match — an ugly, unfortunate one. But there will be plenty of time for that later.
Right now is a time to appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to witness this spectacle. We will probably never see this again. So we should always feel fortunate to have had the chance. It will be up to us to explain to others years from now the wonder. The determined heart. The light and heat of this beautiful blaugrana fire.
How long can it last?
Man of the match? I’d pick Guardiola. But he wouldn’t want me to. So instead I’ll select who I think he’d tell me to.