European Super Cup Match Review – Barcelona 2-0 Porto: Barça’s New Dimensions of Play

Barcelona wins its twelfth major trophy under Pep Guardiola, who is now the most decorated manager in club history, surpassing Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team era mark.  Xavi wins his eighteenth major piece of silver, making him the most decorated player in club history.

Cruyff and Guardiola.  Guardiola and Xavi.  History making itself new again.

And most importantly, this match demonstrates again how driven this squad is.  The intensity of their dedication to winning is remarkable.  And the frightening part is that the team continues to grow and expand its capabilities.  Complacency?  Nowhere in sight.  In fact, they are getting better.  Against a wonderful Porto team that played an outstanding match, Barça demonstrated both the determination and execution needed to see the game through as well as exciting new dimensions to how they can play.

 

Overview:

When two highly talented teams playing similar systems and styles face off, the match result can sway heavily from small differences in execution, opportunity and decision making.  This was the story in large of this Super Cup match.

Both Barça and Porto play a dynamic 4-3-3 oriented around attacking flair.  Both sides look to dominate possession and aggressively pressure the ball high up the pitch.

Average Position for Barcelona and Porto

Porto manager Vítor Pereira made his intentions very clear coming into the match.  Porto would play their game.  As Pereira said, “You will see our own game plan and identity; you don’t adapt to your opponent.”

However, given that Porto was unlikely to be able to control possession the major question headed into this mach was how would Pereira and Porto articulate their game plan and identity without the ball?

Match Context

This was a match in which focusing on the overall quality of play was unfortunately secondary.  Simply put – the pitch was horrendous and had a major impact on the quality of play for both sides leading to many uncharacteristic poor touches and passes.  Both teams played on the same surface so both faced similar challenges but the pitch very much dimmed the brightness of play.  This was an occasion where you look to obtain a result and move on.

Match Analysis

Porto’s High Pressure Defense

Porto came out very aggressively and pressed very high up the pitch.  How high Porto came out pressuring is well illustrated by the average positions on the pitch they occupied in the first fifteen minutes of the game:

Porto’s formation is on the right.  Notice how high up the pitch their front four attacking players are positioned.  They are higher up the pitch than Barça’s front four were.  While part of this was Porto’s attacking intent, even in the first fifteen minutes Barça had the majority of possession.  So most of Porto’s positioning was due to how they were defending.

This effective high pressure forced Barça to build play from very deep and shifted a significant proportion of Barça’s possession into their own half.  The key feature to how Porto pressed – and the key feature of the match at large – was how compact Porto was and how high their back line needed to play to stay compact.  That compact shape is evident from the positional diagrams above but is vividly demonstrated in the still shot below:

Porto Compact

The image above typifies how Porto defended and the shape they pressed out of.  They are arranged in a highly organized block with a single holding player (Souza) stationed between the lines.  This shape was the foundation for Porto being able to aggressively pressure across the pitch while also maintaining discipline (this is very reminiscent to how Barcelona press).  What is perhaps most noticeable is how remarkably compact Porto is playing.  There is only roughly twenty-five meters or so between their back line and most advanced player, Kleber.  Porto’s goal was to make the field as small as possible to suffocate how Barcelona could use the ball and for much of the match they did this very effectively

However, in order to make the field so small and pressure so dynamically, Porto had to play their back line extremely high.  In the still shot, their back four in stationed just inside of the center circle.  In other words, nearly half the entire pitch is behind Porto’s back line.  The other concession that a team needs to make when playing their back line that high is tactical fouling.  Playing that high up and that aggressively almost dictates that a team uses fouling to stop the ball.  And this means that there is always a high risk for having players sent off, especially when the opposition has the ball for 70% of the game.

The Central Balance of the Match

Given how high this line was playing and how congested Porto’s compact, dynamic pressing made the pitch in advanced positions it was clear that Barça’s approach would require them to attack that high back line.

Ultimately, this was the dynamic that shaped the match.  Porto insisting on a high back line in order to stay compact to pressure while Barcelona was attempting to unlock the density of defenders occupying a small space on the pitch by probing and unlocking the vulnerabilities in that high back line.  In other words, Barcelona was trying to exploit the Porto defense in the same way opponents are constantly trying to beat Barcelona.

 

Barcelona Reorients its Central Axis 

The surprise immediately headed into the match was in Guardiola’s player selection.  Against a side that was going to press aggressively, he chose to start Keita at holding midfield.  Given how strong Busquets is in that holding role and how deft he is at rapid ball circulation his skill set is almost ideal to counter a team like Porto.  It did not appear that Busquets was injured, either.  And his absence from the line up caused cules no end of worry given that a trophy was at stake.

However, since it became clear over the summer that Barça would not be adding another center back, it become quickly apparent that a key feature for Barcelona’s success this season was Keita being able to play holding midfield, a position he has not played very much and doesn’t feel particularly comfortable with.  The entire issue of buying another center back had much less to do with the “problem of playing” Mascherano at CB – the issue was that Barcelona lacked the needed number of central defenders between CB and holding midfield.

If Mascherano plays CB that means that the first team only has one holding player remaining on the roster.  That just isn’t a viable situation.  So if Mascherano is going to play CB for major minutes, as it’s clear he will need to, then Keita is going to have to play holding midfield and play it well.  It’s simply a function of math.  And a major part of that math is the number of competitions Barcelona is playing in.  They have a very difficult match against Villareal to open La Liga only three days after the Super Cup.  It is possible that Guardiola played Keita as a way to rotate the squad.

Given this, it is misleading to focus the evaluation of Keita’s performance in the holding role with Busquets as a point of reference.  Keita and Busquets are very different players with different skill sets and levels of experience at the position.  Keita is not going to circulate the ball like Busquets and if that becomes the standard Keita is held to he is going to be a failure almost by definition.  Compared to Busquets most experienced holding midfielders would seem insufficient when it comes to rapidly moving the ball and building play.  So Keita’s performance at the role needs to be seen in it’s own context.

And in this match, Keita played perhaps the best game he’s had in the holding role.  His positioning was much better – he stationed himself to ensure that he could defend deep and didn’t get caught higher up the pitch (which has been his instinct in the past – he’s played the holding role too similarly to the way he plays his more advanced, defensively oriented midfield role).  He made several key interventions (including one that likely prevented a goal after he himself had turned over the ball).

No, Keita didn’t circulate the ball as well as one ideally would like – but he’s still growing into the role and his ball distribution was better in those deeper positions than it has been in the past.  For example, Keita completed 90% of his passes this match and did so against a team that was pressing very intently.  He’s a very intelligent player who will hopefully get better in this new role as the year goes on.

Now all that said, one of the reasons why Keita played better this match was a major tactical change implemented by Guardiola.

 

Xavi Hernandez Turns into Guardiola’s Guardiola

It’s rare for any player to achieve brilliance.  It’s even more special and infrequent to encounter brilliance consistently.  But that is the level of play that Xavi has attained.  It’s one of  the characteristic that distinguishes him from other great midfielders.

In this match, Pep changed Xavi’s role in subtle, but critical ways to address the absence of Busquets and to counteract the Porto press.

Pep rarely gets credit for what he does tactically.  In general everything about the way Barça plays gets thrown into a generic black box of, “the players have been playing this system since they were boys.”  Even when that’s not true, it still becomes the over riding logic for explaining Barcelona’s performances.  And Pep wants it that way – he wants the focus to be on the players.  But in the process his own impact on matches as a manager goes overlooked.

In this match, Pep dealt with the absence of Busquets by functionally splitting the holding midfield position in two.  He distributed the responsibilities of that position not only to Keita but to Xavi as well.  Keita was responsible for ensuring a defensive presence in the holding position when Barça was defending.

However, Xavi spent significant amounts of time playing even deeper than Keita when Barcelona was in possession – especially when they had to build play out of the back from very deep in the face of Porto’s intense, high pressure.  In this deeper position Xavi functioned almost like Pep himself did when he was playing the deep lying pivot for Barça.  Here’s an example of how deep Xavi was playing for much of this game:

Xavi Drops Deep to Defensive Line to Build Play

Above, Xavi has received the ball in almost precisely the position where center backs usually play.  That’s how deep he was playing to counteract Porto’s pressing.  Keita is in a deep position but advance of Xavi.  Keita’s role here in building play is to make himself available as an outlet for Xavi.  This inverts the relationship Xavi usually has with Busquets.  With Busquets playing, when Xavi drops deep he often  does so to make himself available as an outlet to continue building play. It’s Busquets role to initiate play.

Here Guardiola has expanded Xavi’s usual role even further by having him play as the deepest midfielder, asking him to not only build play but to initiate it as well.  And this showed in how hard Xavi had to work this match.  Xavi covered 11 KM this match – more than any other player on the pitch.  The Barcelona player who covered the second most distance was Iniesta at 10KM.  Xavi ran more than 1 KM more than any other Barça player.  And while Xavi often leads the team in distance covered the reason why the gap between him and Iniesta was so large this match was due to Xavi being asked to make runs to play so deep while also orchestrating play in the center.

Xavi’s ability to expand his presence on the pitch in this fashion was instrumental to the way Barcelona was able to manage against Porto’s high pressure defense.  It was the key to the match.

 

From a Deep Position Xavi Creates Space for Iniesta and Messi

To better appreciate the enormous impact Xavi had on this match let’s compare two moments from early on.

Porto Very Compact Making Pitch Small

What’s striking about the image above is how compact Porto are in the center around Messi who has the ball.  Porto has nine outfield players within roughly fifteen meters of each other from front to back  (approximate distance from the back line to Moutinho; Kleber is higher up and not directly defending].  90% of their outfield players are defending 15% of the entire pitch.  They have made the pitch very small.  The result of this is extreme congestion around Messi, who is forced to play the ball backwards under pressure.  Notice that in this moment, Xavi is in an advanced position and Keita is open as the deep midfielder.  Compare that image to the one below:

Xavi Dropping Deep Opens Space Inside Porto Defense for Iniesta and Messi

Notice how much more open space there is in the middle.  In the image above, Xavi has dropped deep to receive the ball and build play.  Notice what happens to Porto’s ability to stay compact.  As Xavi receives the ball Porto are forced to run out quickly to defend him by pressing in numbers.  The effect of this is to open space in the middle.  And it’s this space in the middle against one defensive midfielder that Iniesta and Messi attempted to exploit the entire game.

In fact, this became Barça’s primary mode of attack.  Have Xavi receive the ball in a deep position to force Porto to open up and lose their compact shape.  Once that area opened Iniesta and Messi could ghost into that newly created space and look to play the ball quickly forward to exploit the Porto high back line.

It was up to Xavi to orchestrate this entire mode of play.  For example, this was partly why Iniesta produced so many dangerous runs and near moments of magic.  He was able to find space Xavi had created for him. Barcelona tried this approach again and again.  And on several occasions it almost worked.  But poor touches and inconsistent finishing limited the benefit Barça derived.

On a horrendously poor pitch and facing an excellent pressure defense, Xavi attempted 122 passes and completed 113.  That’s a 93% completion rate.  No other player on Barça or Porto came close to dictating that much of the game.  Figures like this are often dismissed as Xavi just passing sideways or backwards.  But in the Super Cup more than 10% of Xavi’s pass attempts and completions were long range.   And on those long range passes – the ones often most difficult to execute – his completion rate was 80%.

Xavi was once again the center piece for how Barça played. He expanded his role to support Keita and allowed Guardiola to rest Busquets in a match which had a trophy at stake.  He dictated the game both directly through his presence on the ball and indirectly through the way he created space for Messi and Iniesta to move into.  He was the most influential player on the pitch, carried the most responsibility and was the centerpiece for Barça tactically.  For all of these reasons, Xavi was man of the match.

 

All Tactics Involve Trade Offs

At the same time, there was a distinct trade off to having Xavi drop so deep and tactically splitting the holding role between him and Keita.   Keita had to maintain positional discipline even when Barcelona had the ball.  He had to make sure that he wouldn’t get caught out if Porto rapidly repossessed the ball with their pressure defense.  The effect of this was to leave Barcelona with both Xavi and Keita stationed relatively deep when they had the ball.  In turn, this left Barça at a relative disadvantage in terms of numbers higher up the pitch.

In the same light, while Porto’s high pressure was critical for much of the first half, Barcelona starved them of possession and forced them to chase the ball.  This took Porto’s leg’s away from them.  And when they tired their back line became progressively more exposed with the reduction in advanced pressure.  Barcelona had more time and space on the ball while the back line remained high.  This opened up the pitch, allowed Barcelona to control more of the play and ultimately forced them to resort to more tactical fouling.

 

Villa and Pedro Struggle Against a High Back Line

Villa and Pedro both had subpar games.  Pedro should have scored two goals and were his touch and game decision making in more midseason form he likely would have netted at least one of the two opportunities he had.  But even with those two opportunities he wasn’t as much of a presence in attack as one would expect.  Villa had a very quiet game and his presence was infrequently felt.

The problem both Villa and Pedro encountered was related to how Porto defended.  Both Villa and Pedro’s greatest strengths in attack are their finishing.  They are at their best when they are closest to goal.  A high back line though moves them away from goal.  Because beating players 1 vs 1 off the dribble in open space isn’t a primary part of either players game, against a high back line they are dependent on other players to create through ball opportunities for them to run onto.  This is why Barcelona was off side so much – Villa in particular.  Part of why Villa is off side so often is that he doesn’t have great pace.  In order to beat the defenders for balls played into space behind them, Villa is constantly trying to start as early as possible.  In turn he’s off side repeatedly.

Messi and Iniesta came close to springing both Villa and Pedro for goals on multiple occasions.  But last minute interventions by Porto, poor touches and finishing, and the status of the pitch all resulted in missed opportunities.

The ineffectiveness of Barcelona’s wide attackers exacerbated the trade offs that had to be made to play Xavi and Keita deeper.  One of the best ways to beat a high back line for example is late runs from deep.  Keita excels at this but couldn’t make these runs often because he had to maintain tactical discipline.

This left Barcelona with too many moments such as the one below:

Messi Breaks Down High Back Line with Run But Barca at Numerical Disadvantage

Messi has broken containment in the middle of the pitch and run at the Porto high back line leaving them completely broken in shape and under great pressure to defend all of the space behind them.  Messi plays the ball to an open Pedro.  But there’s no effective shot on goal that results.  The problem is lack of support.  Barcelona are completely outnumbered.  The midfielders are all trailing the play from deep positions but not making runs forward. Villa doesn’t have the pace to break with the play.  Pedro doesn’t have the skills on the ball to beat players to make up for the numerical disadvantage.  He tries to square the ball to Messi – his only other option – but it’s deflected away.

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t to criticize Villa or Pedro.  I’m only trying to explain part of why they were so quiet.  All players have certain strengths and limitations.  The impact of those players skill sets is influenced by the tactical systems they are up against.

All that said – Barcelona this season has a deeper more diverse set of skills than any other year under Guardiola.  Remember that image above when we talk about Fabregas’ goal later on.

 

The Barcelona Pressure Defense

Barcelona’s pressing was excellent yesterday.  Against a Porto team that is very good on the ball, Barcelona defended high up the pitch effectively.  This was a marked improvement compared to prior games they’ve played so far this season.

As an example of this effectiveness – one of the most striking aspects of this match was how invisible Joao Moutinho is.  Though Falcao and Hulk received most of the attention during Porto’s great season last year, it has been Moutinho who makes the team run.  Yesterday he was largely taken out of the game and the the Barça press was a major reason.

Much has been made out of Guarin’s mistake that led to Barça’s first goal.  And while a clear mistake, the way the play is being described misses the context of what was happening on the pitch.  This wasn’t simply a mistake that arose out of nowhere, inexplicably.  Let’s take a look at what happened in the moments before hand:

Wave 1 of the Press: Iniesta Closing Down Guarin

 

Wave 2 of the Press: Xavi Closes Down Guarin in Support of Iniesta
Wave 3: Pedro Presses Guarin Who Under Pressure Makes a Crucial Mistake

Consider how much pressure Barça put Guarin under.  First Iniesta runs at Guarin.  Guarin avoids him and retains possession.  But then Xavi comes and presses in that next wave while Iniesta continues to try to close down.  Guarin keeps the ball.  But then Pedro arrives as a third wave and in response to these three waves of pressure Guarin tries the ill fated back pass which winds up going directly to Messi (note – while Pedro didn’t finish well he was outstanding on the press – his work rate again, tremendous).

While Guarin’s decision making was poor, a major problem is the Porto players just standing around not moving off the ball to provide Guarin with a valid outlet.  In the last still shot, Guarin is outnumbered 4 vs 1 against the pack of defenders clsoing him down with a solid wall of three defenders directly in front of him.  For a team that defends via pressure up field, it was interesting to watch Porto not understand how dangerous three waves of pressure against one outnumbered player can be.

After a first half of frustrating attacks, Barça scored a goal through it’s defending and the brilliance of Messi.  Do not discount the difficulty of Messi’s finish there in transition. Helton came out strongly and closed down quickly.  Most attackers miss that shot.  But Messi is not like most.

 

It’s Not a Make Shift Back Line Anymore

“Make shift” is a description we hear often when discussing the Barça back line.  But at some point when something happens frequently enough it’s not really make shift.  It’s just the way things are.  This is the Barcelona back line and how it will be structured for much of the season.

The first dimension to “make shift” that needs to be erased is the notion that Mascherano is some temporary patch back there.  The back line yesterday was inconsistent in it play and had a lot of moving pieces.  Mascherano was once again the bedrock of protection.  Time and time again he made critical interventions against Porto, often cleaning up the mistakes of other defenders.  A major strategy of Porto’s was to try to play the ball up top to Kleber quickly.  Despite Kleber being much taller, Mascherano neutralized and frustrated the Porto striker.

Mascherano was also good helping Xavi build out play from the back.  In the context of the Barça system, as a holding midfielder for Barça Mascherano’s ball skills are adequate.  Moved back to CB, they are strong.  It is very clear that Mascherano may be entrusted to pick up the mantle from Puyol to anchor the line.

Adriano was a force once again.  Matched up against the strength, pace and skill of Hulk, Porto’s greatest threat, Adriano was terrific.  While not tall, Adriano has outstanding pace and deceptive strength himself.  He repeatedly outpaced and held off Hulk on challenges.  His positioning is improving.  He generated several strong chances in attack.  He has the skill set to become a world class left back.

On the other side, Alves was also solid defensively.  His pace and positioning completely neutralized the much stronger Cristian Rodriguez on the wing.  Alves didn’t get forward as mush as usual, though he did create a few very dangerous opportunities that fizzled due to poor crossing.

Abidal – had a very inconsistent game with several clumsy mistakes, particularly in possession.  He still looks to be in preseason form and it’s important to remember he hasn’t played very much football over the past six months.  His pace however did prove vital on several interventions, the miscommunication between Valdes and Mascherano as the prime example.

Given Barcelona’s team composition, it’s very possible that we will see Mascherano and Busquets paired at center back again (at least until Pep believes Fontas is ready to play in critical fixtures).  Yesterday Busquets played well at CB.  As Porto tired they struggled to get forward and test the Mascherano and Busquets pairing.  In turn, Busquets ball skills were a plus and his limited pace not an issue on the counter.

 

The Nets

Not Valdes’ best game.  He got caught out too far from goal on a few occasions and should have communicated better on that misplay with Mascherano that almost led to Porto equalizing.  His shot stopping however was again fantastic.  His finger tip saves on shots from Moutinho to open the game and Guarin in the second half were outstanding.  Few keepers have the athleticism to deflect those shots.

 

Barça New Dimensions: World Class Talent on the Bench

When you are playing against a very high line that is pressuring effectively there are a number of way to structure the attack.   Balls through the channels for wide player to run onto.  Beating players off the dribble to get behind the line.  You can play balls over the top.  Exploiting great pace to get behind defenders.  Delayed runs from deep can be particularly devastating.

The unifying goal is to exploit all of the space that is open behind the line.

For much of the match, Barcelona’s attack was limited to the creativity of Messi and Iniesta to either play channel passes or beat defenders off the dribble.  And given how deep they were positioned in midfield it was unlikely that either would be able to dribble past the last line.  As described prior, the midfielders behind Iniesta and Messi were generally too deep to make delayed runs and the wide players greatest strengths are not dribbling.

Fortunately, this season, Barcelona could turn to players who had precisely the skill sets needed to unlock the defense.

Sanchez has great pace and dribbling ability.  He has exactly the kind of skill set Barça needed to counter how Porto was playing.  He played a very composed game yesterday however.  It’s impressive to see a player so used to dominating the ball making sure to adapt to his new system of play.  Sanchez is almost going out of his way to quickly pass the ball back to teammates.  But the talent and potential impact are very evident.  He will grow into the system.  Finally, entering up 1-0, Sanchez’s work rate and defending were just phenomenal.  He really has a chance to be a special player in both attack and defense.  He made several outstanding tackles and defensive plays and worked very hard to prioritize defending over maximizing how forward he could get.

Watching this game was strange.  For almost the entire second half I sat there thinking that Barcelona should get Fabregas onto the pitch because his delayed runs towards goal from deep positions would be ideal to counteract the Porto high line.  What was so strange about the experience as a cule was the notion that Barcelona has a midfielder with this skill set.  It just hasn’t been part of their squad for quite some time.

 

Key Adjustments After the Red Card

Often after a red card, the team with the numerical advantage tries to press on continuing to play the same system they were playing when the game was level.  But the game changes when a player is sent off and to maximize the advantage you need to adjust depending on how the opposition counters (Zonal Marking has commented on this point insightfully on many occasions).  Guardiola did that wonderfully yesterday.

When Sanchez initially came into the game he was positioned on the left wing.  When Fabregas entered for Pedro, Iniesta moved to left wing, Sanchez to the right and Cesc centrally.  But that only lasted for a few minutes.  Once Rolando picked up his second booking Guardiola brilliantly changed shape in response.

By the time of the card, Pereira had already used his three substitutes and couldn’t bring on another defender.  He adjusted to the loss of Rolando by moving the holding midfielder Fernando back to CB.

By moving his holding player to CB, Pereira was forced to concede space in the center of midfield.  If Guardiola had maintained his existing shape he wouldn’t have been able to exploit that open space in the middle fully.  Instead, he moved Iniesta from left wing back to central midfield.  Barcelona was playing a highly fluid shape, but they were almost organized as a 4-2-2-2, with Keita and Xavi deep in midfield, Fabregas and Iniesta in advanced mid-field and Messi and Sanchez up top.  Sanchez then moved back to the left so that Messi could stay on his preferred right side in the two man formation.

Guardiola’s focus was to overload the area of the pitch that had been vacated by Porto’s holding player moving back.  And given the multi-skilled players he had all over the pitch, he had no trouble doing so.  Moving Iniesta back to midfield into space was decisive.

In terms of the Barça system – this moment in the match was a tactical landmark of sorts.  It is one of the few times Barça have ever played anything but their highly fluid 4-3-3 under Guardiola.  And what makes it really significant, is that it may not only be an aberration.  It may be a picture of things to come given the flexibility the team now possesses.

 

The Culmination of Play

Barcelona needed very particular keys to unlock Porto.  In years past, Guardiola didn’t have these keys on his ring.  He does now.  And they proved decisive. Let’s take a look at how Barcelona scored it’s second goal.

 

Three Barca Players Closing Down Two Porto Attackers; Sanchez Supports Deep Defense

Above, the play starts with Porto in possession.  Moutinho has played the ball to Hulk who plays the ball back to Moutinho.  The key factor that springs the play is the Barça press.  Three players rapidly come to close down the two Porto attackers.  With Keita close behind him, Moutinho tries to play the ball back to Hulk quickly in tight space.  Sanchez intercepts the ball and plays a deft touch back to Keita. Keita executes a very nice turn to protect the ball from Moutinho and once he does circulates the ball to Fabregas who is completely alone in space alongside Iniesta.

 

Keita Circulates Ball Quickly to Fabregas Who is Open in Space

Once Keita has played the ball to Fabregas Porto has been effectively sliced open.  Look at how much space there is now in the middle of the pitch.  It is a completely different shape than the compact, pressure oriented block Porto used to compress the middle of the pitch at the start of the game.  Part of this is Porto wearing down from fatigue.  But the open space is primarily due to Porto losing their CB due to tactical fouling and needing to move their holding player back.  That said, Guaridiola’s tactical change to move Iniesta back to the middle in the 4-2-2-2 like formation was pivotal.  It was that change which allowed Barca to exploit this new open space so efficiently.

When Fabregas receives the ball to foot from Keita, he understands the free space around him.  He doesn’t try to dribble despite being open.  He quickly plays the ball to an even more wide open Iniesta to speed up the tempo of the attack.

Iniesta Receives the Ball in the Space Vacated By the Porto Holding Player; Sanchez Starts Diagonal Run; Fabregas Works to Follow the Play

Iniesta has moved directly into the space where the Porto holding midfielder would have been.  He has utilized the most vulnerable area on the entire pitch to position himself to launch an attack.  Barcelona aren’t known as a counter attacking team – but that’s mostly due to how much possession they have.  They are deadly on fast transitions.  In the shot above notice an additional key detail.  Once Iniesta receives the ball Sanchez immediately changes direction.  He was initially running in a vertical line.  Once Iniesta receives the ball in proximity to Messi, Sanchez angles inwards and starts to make a directed diagonal run.  This is again, wonderful vision and positional awareness by Sanchez.  He senses that the end play will be run through Messi and he needs to link up.  Finally, Fabregas doesn’t give up on the play.  He starts his own run vertically down the pitch to trail the play.  Iniesta breaks at speed and plays the ball to Messi.

Messi Left 1 vs. 1: Sanchez Occupies Two Defenders and Fabregas Times Run from Deep

The image above is one of those moments Barcelona produces of impending disaster for the opposition.  You can just see the result before the play unfolds.  Even in real time you could see what was coming as Messi plays the ball and Fabregas streaks into the play.  Iniesta has directed the ball to Messi who again has been stationed on center-right of the pitch with the change in shape after the sending off.  This of course positions Messi to play off his left foot.

What’s critical to this play however that can go unseen is Sanchez’s run and positioning.  He is critically occupying both central defenders.  Just think about that.  Sanchez helped start this play deep in Barça’s own half.  He then has the intelligence to read the play and start his diagonal run.  Finally, he has the tremendous pace to cover the ground needed to join the attack.  Sanchez had to run much farther than any other player to join this attack because he is starting wide and has to cover space diagonally.  But he has the speed to do so  (Compare this image to the one I showed earlier where it was only Messi and Pedro surrounded by defenders).

With Sanchez occupying the two central defenders and pushing them back, Iniesta also drifts centrally on his run, occupying Moutinho the trailing midfield defender as well as taking the attention of the right center back who now has to worry about Iniesta as well as Sanchez.

The key result of Sanchez and Iniesta making these runs is that they produce an end state no defense ever wants close to the box:  Messi left alone in space 1 vs. 1 against the defender.  This is the key to the play – Messi with space isolated against one defender.  Messi cannot be played 1 vs. 1.  But Barça has forced Porto into this situation.  And once Messi is 1 vs. 1 he just has so many options on how to hurt the opposition.

Next Messi intelligently holds up the ball (despite not being a target man Messi holds up play wonderfully with his ball skills).  And the reason why he holds up play is because he has the vision to know that Fabregas was coming, that Cesc was making that run from deep, probably just like he used to when they were both 13.  The kind of run that Barcelona midfielders don’t often make.

Messi Holds Up Play as Fabregas Continues Making Run from Deep Through Open Chanel Between RB and CBs

Fabregas’s run was superb.  Iniesta winds up in an offside position.  But Fabregas’s perfectly times his arrival and splits the open gap in space between the right back and the rest of the defense.  Messi’s cross is just beautiful, the kind of pass that completely separates him from other high goal scoring attackers. Perfectly weighted and timed wonderfully for Cesc’s late run (Messi doesn’t even consider passing to Iniesta in his offside position).

Messi Lofts a Perfect Cross Into the Pathway of Fabregas' Perfectly Timed Run

And Fabregas then puts a remarkable touch on the ball with his chest to control and finishes with an exquisite volley finish.  Few strikers in the world have the touch and finesse to finish the way Fabregas did.

Finally after putting the ball in the net to score his first meaningful goal in the shirt, a goal that seals a trophy, a goal he’s probably been dreaming about for a long time, Fabregas just stops his celebration.  Initially running to the corner towards the Barça supporters, he just stops.  And turns around and points to Messi for the pass and jumps into Leo’s arm and celebrates with his teammates all around him.

The End:  A Note on Tactics and History

With Busquets, Fabregas and Sanchez on the field, Barcelona may have played one of the most tactically interesting formations football has seen since Cruyff’s Ajax teams.

With those three substitutes Guardiola made it was very possible to describe Barcelona as fielding a team composed of 9 multi-dimensioned outfield players who are all functionally types of midfielders in their all around play and skill sets.  Nine outfield players who are highly interchangeable and play “positions” largely as a function of where they are standing on the pitch rather than roles they are bound to.  The squad that ended the game was one of the most stark examples of universalism of play we’ve seen for decades.

And on a night where Guardiola surpassed Cruyff in trophies it was a wonderful to end the game fielding a team that is in many ways the culmination of Cruyff’s vision and doing so because it happened to be the most effective way of seeing the club through to another trophy.

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115 Comments

  1. August 27, 2011

    All I can do is bow down. Thanks, Euler.

    • Jim
      August 27, 2011

      A good read and insightful as ever, Euler. Well done.

  2. Nik
    August 27, 2011

    Beautifully done Euler. Hats off to you.

  3. blitzen
    August 27, 2011

    I love this phrase:

    The image above is one of those moments Barcelona produces of impending disaster for the opposition.

    😀

    You’re converting me, slowly but surely. I’m reading your tactical analyses much more thoroughly than I used to!

  4. SoccerMom
    August 27, 2011

    I am considering awarding class credit for Euler’s BFB analyses on my syllabus this semester.

  5. August 27, 2011

    Firstly: this is just amazing. It’s like tactics crack or some kind of variant. Just nothing like it. And I add in Zonal Marking reviews, which are fantastic, but not as detailed as these reviews. (Helps that, unlike ZM, they focus more on Barcelona than the opposition). Agree on everything (even tempted to watch the match again, just to pick up on some of this stuff. I noticed some live, like Xavi dropping deep, Pedro and Villa’s subpar games, Adriano’s beastly performance etc., but not in such detail)

    Secondly: Alexis is just amazing. Really. I looked back at the polls we did earlier in the summer, and only 36 people wanted just Sanchez (can look here for the results: http://polldaddy.com/poll/5136035/?view=results). I don’t blame them since some haven’t really seen him play outside of the Chile NT, but it’s still interesting to look back and see.

    I can’t wait for him to really get comfortable (he’s still a bit tentative, and as Euler says, really conscious of the system we play and trying to adhere to it). He’s going to be really special!

    Thirdly: completely agree re: limitations of Villa and Pedro! One of the reasons Messi is such a monster is not only does he not really have many limitations (he can even score with his right foot), he’s also very flexible and adapts to his teammates to play to their skills. It’s really remarkable.

    When you have so many talented players who read the game well and have the ability to change their game to suit the changes all on one team… well, it will get very ugly for the rest of the world.

    So many people are talking about Sanchez and Cesc being players we don’t really need and are luxury signings, but this really illustrates why Pep wanted both of them so badly and why Rossi wouldn’t fit as well as Alexis.

    Really, really excited for the season. For the first time since maybe the Treble winning season, we don’t have a fixed starting XI. But even then, I don’t think it was to this extent.

    Villarreal game will be interesting re: our backline. Wonder what formation we’ll use… Alves is suspended and Pique/Puyol/Adriano are all injured.

    Looks to me like: Bartra/JDS – Mascherano – Busi – Abidal, but with Rossi and Nilmar being so quick… Shame about Pique’s injury. Would have liked to have him mark Rossi.

  6. August 27, 2011

    If there is a person outside of FC Barcelona who can understand and explain how FC Barcelona play better than Euler, I do not know them. Thanks, Euler!

  7. August 27, 2011

    Hi everyone,

    I had some trouble posting this write up. Computer glitch. Anyway, part of my post didn’t get saved when it got published. It was in the section with the Fabregas goal. There was another image that needed to be in the sequence. Just added that part.

    It’s around the image captioned:

    Iniesta Receives the Ball in the Space Vacated By the Porto Holding Player; Sanchez Starts Diagonal Run; Fabregas Works to Follow the Play

    And thanks for the thoughts.

  8. August 27, 2011

    Why is my comment longer than all of the others put together?! Pick your jaws off the ground, wipe off some drool, and talk people! 😀

    • blitzen
      August 27, 2011

      My comment is now longer than yours. 😛

    • August 27, 2011

      Oh yeah?! Oh yeah?! …Yeah, you’re probably right. 😛

      But everyone lurves blitzen awards. Myself included.

  9. Miguel
    August 27, 2011

    Oooo. That was perty.

  10. blitzen
    August 27, 2011

    This was both a sad and joyful day for me. Went to a funeral for a lovely and important man, and it was beautiful. Now here are some blitzen awards for all of you lovely people:

    MOTMOTM Award: I feel bad because I so often pick Iniesta, but…Iniesta. The man is poetry in the flesh, and the things he did even on that feeble excuse for a pitch are jawdropping. What on earth is he going to be like 5 years from now?

    It’s Always the Quiet Ones Award: Much as I always enjoy it when Iniesta gets a bit shirty, I was surprised when he booted that ball into the stands and was properly yellow-carded for it. I suspect the state of the pitch was incredibly frustrating for him. And speaking of which….

    Campo De La Patata Award: That was not a pitch, it was a potato field, complete with clods of earth and bare patches. The effect on on our passing game was obvious from the first minute, and I was terrified that one of our players (XAVI) would sustain an injury. There were many misplaced passes and bad giveaways due to unexpected bounces and I give our team tons of credit for looking as good as they did.

    How Do You Like Him Now? Award: Cesc Fabregas, for shunting haters to the sidelines while he slides seamlessly into the team and racks up the silverware. 3 games, 3 trophies. OK, only two of them are “official”, but that’s still pretty impressive considering he contributed in a meaningful way in each of those games.

    They Might Be Giants Award: Was it just me, or were those Porto players enormous? Is this the tallest team Barça has ever played? I kept wondering what on earth they must be feeding them, since most of the Portugeuse men in my neighbourhood are little guys. Then I realized that most of the team weren’t actually from Portugal, and it made more sense.

    Who, Me? Award: Keita, for his epic “I didn’t do it” face after the foul that got him carded. Anyone has a pic of that? I need it.

    Red Is The Colour Of Love Award: The entire Porto team. Even though they ended up with two red carded players sent off, they were not a dirty team. They played excellent football, pressed strongly, used their size and strength to their advantage, but aside from the nasty foul that got Guarin sent off, there was no excessive aggression. Even Guarin himself knew he deserved the card and walked off with no argument. It was (should I say it?)…it was…(I’m gonna say it)…it was a victory for football!

    Get Thee To A Barbery Award For Egregious Hair Crimes: Villa, who found his hair gel again and decided twice as much is nicer, and Cesc, who appears to be housing a nest of squirrels on top of his head.

    Wave Your Flag Award: Cesc again, for inadvertently wearing the flag of the Catalan independence movement and causing a bit of a fuss. He claims he thought it was just a regular senyera, and I have no reason to doubt that. He apologized on twitter to anyone who was offended.

    I Could Watch This Gif For Hours Award: El Jefecito Mascherano. Just look at this: http://alaa.zamalek.tv/vip/masc.gif Smooth as silk. Impeccable. And Sabella is taking the ARG captaincy off him? Shameful. And on a related note….

    Dani Alves Memorial Award For Aquatic Excellence: Mascherano, for a blatant dive that was unworthy of him. Bad Masch.

    • August 27, 2011

      Keita face has to be .gif’d ASAP.

      Porto were a victory for football. Shame the pitch was so crap. They gon’ tear it up in CL, though they’ve got killer trips to Ukraine and Russia.

      David Villa hair went back to Napoli after the game FWIW. And Cesc’s hair is like that because that’s where he’s keeping all his medals. 😉

      And yes, Cesc has won a lot of people over. The first sign of weakness from him though and… muhahahahaha. 😀

    • Miguel
      August 27, 2011

      But Keita’s always rockin’ the ‘Keita face.’ It got stuck like that.

    • August 27, 2011

      They Might Be Giants Award: Was it just me, or were those Porto players enormous? Is this the tallest team Barça has ever played? I kept wondering what on earth they must be feeding them, since most of the Portugeuse men in my neighbourhood are little guys. Then I realized that most of the team weren’t actually from Portugal, and it made more sense.

      Yeah, this really surprised me when I heard it from the announcers. Apparently, from the starting 11 only Moutinho was born in mainland Portugal!

    • mom4
      August 27, 2011

      Euler review and Blitzen awards on the same night! Happy, happy, joy, joy!
      Now back to listening to the torrential rain and wind that is hurricane Irene and watching a marathon of Dr. Who (yes, I’m a geek).

    • August 27, 2011

      Hopefully, you’ll be a safe geek!

      Seriously, take care everyone!

    • mom4
      August 27, 2011

      I’m far enough west not to worry too much. I have my flashlights ready if the power goes out. Hope everyone in coastal areas stays safe.

    • mom4
      August 27, 2011

      And Blitzen, sorry for your loss.

    • blitzen
      August 28, 2011

      Thanks, mom4. It’s a loss for my whole country, actually. 🙁

    • blitzen
      August 28, 2011

      That’s the one! 😆

    • Barcathegreatestever
      August 28, 2011

      Who me award is classic, someone ought to paste cookie crumbs all over his face.

  11. Ryan
    August 27, 2011

    Great analysis, Euler! It seems as ZM gets shorter and focuses on single, interesting events in a particular match, you have further expanded yours to be more thorough. It’s a great way to finish off a game, after the passion and flurry of match day are long gone.

    And for everyone on the east coast, stay safe and pray that we have power on Monday in order to watch the game!

  12. andrecito
    August 27, 2011

    “They Might Be Giants Award: Was it just me, or were those Porto players enormous?”

    hahaha..i kept thinking this every time guarin and hulk stood over a dead ball, getting ready to take a free kick..i thought they looked like a couple of high-end night club security assassins….

    • August 27, 2011

      …like a couple of high-end night club security assassins…

      😆

    • mom4
      August 27, 2011

      Yeah, like a bunch of rugby players.

  13. andrecito
    August 27, 2011

    lately i’ve been getting super-excited every time adriano receives the ball in the oppositions third…that final burst of speed, calmness, vision and perfectly weighted passes..like butter..

  14. August 27, 2011

    Porto’s attackers are very deceptive. They are all very broad and powerfully built. But they aren’t that tall.

    Hulk is 1.80 meters – looking at him he seems much taller. Rodriguez is only 1.75 meters. And Kleber while the tallest is 1.87 meters – he’s not a giant either.

    What Porto seems to be doing is trying to find powerful attackers who while far from midgets do not have high centers of gravity. This is partly what makes Hulk so good. His agility and balance for a player that broad and muscular is really something else. He’s almost built like a larger version of Alexis Sanchez.

    Overall they are very sturdy and tall even in midfield. Guarin is a huge physical presence. And on top of that he is very skilled on the ball. Impressive player outside of that rash streak.

    It’s still very early but I have concerns over how Kleber is going to possibly fit in. From the games I’ve seen of them this season, he’s not very fluid and will have a lot of work.

    It will be fascinating to see how Juan Iturbe develops at Porto.

    • SoccerMom
      August 28, 2011

      i.e., it’s not that Porto’s attackers are so tall … it’s that Barça’s players are ‘pequenines’.

  15. Srini
    August 27, 2011

    Thanks Euler. Great review as always.

    News goes that adriano is out for the villareal game. And alves is suspended for accumulating 5 cards at the end of last season.

    Possibly fontas and dos santos will fill up both as a testament and test to barca’s defensive versatality. As early as the first game of the season it is known that the greatest challenge to barca’s excellence is the test of their endurance.

  16. can_we_go_Xalvies
    August 27, 2011

    Thanks for the tactical review Euler, really good to read.

    Its interesting to read how Pedro and Villa struggled against Porto’s backline and the reasons why its not particularly their fault, its just the trade offs of Pep’s tweaking, but if Afellay was fit for this game would he have been a viable option coming off the bench? would we consider Afellay as a dribbling winger?

    This team is looking more and more like a finished puzzle, Im so excited.

    • Anonymous_69
      August 27, 2011

      Afellay is very fast and a pretty good dribbler. His speed would have been great.

  17. Sheena
    August 27, 2011

    Fantastic review, Euler. Thanks for that.

  18. Puppet
    August 27, 2011

    I did notice throughout the game that Xavi was constantly coming back as an outlet for Valdes, but I guess I lacked the tactical insight to see that as a big change in his usual role. Thanks for putting that in the broader context, Euler!

    Also, VV’s save on Guarin was incredibly similar to Van der Saar’s save on Xavi in the Champions League final: both shots looked to be just curving in and both required acrobatic, full-stretch saves. Even more proof to the world that Valdes is one of the best keepers in the game.

  19. August 28, 2011

    Maybe What I am going to say is nonsense. But I felt that we were pretty lucky to win this match. You may go gaga over how keita worked as a holding midfielder, but I am getting convinced that it is an exercise which pep should stop at the earliest. this also questions the logic of selling Romeu to Chelsea. He could have been a good back up better than Keita. We were lucky that porto didn’t had the quality to finish of their moves and we were pretty lucky with the goal. Pep Guardiola once said that he is more comfortable when the ball is in opposition half and that’s the truth with Barca. In the first half especially the opening minutes we couldn’t get out of our third. Keita wasn’t giving any cover to our defense.

    Whenever our defense gets pressured their first outlet is normally the DM. Busquets does a good job there. The funny part with Keita he gives the ball back to the defense immediately and that means they are back on the pressure immediately. that’s why we saw the back four and the keeper clearing the ball into the crowds more than usual. Xavi dropping as a DM? I don’t think it was done as a deliberate ploy but done once we realised that our play is getting stagnant in the defense.And it was only when Xavi dropped deep we started to create some moves.

    I think this is the new tactic which Guardiola has found in this season. Two season ago he did something similar promoting Busquets ahead of Toure. That worked for most of the part because atleast he was a holding midfield player. But it did backfire spectacularly at the San siro taking away a much cherished dream from all the Cules- winning the CL at the Bernebeu. And because of that we are hearing a bastard shouting that he is the one who stops Barca. I think he is determined to continue this experiment this season. We saw against Real Madrid the issue with this tactic. They over-run us at the Bernebeu. The truth that night was that had Real been not so hasty in front of goal, we wouldn’t have escaped from there with a 2-2 draw.

    If you look at the last six seasons you can see when we have been playing well. We always play well when we have a proper functioning DM in the midfield. The Rijkaard team had Edmilson the Toure, Guardiola in the first season had a Toure as immense as it can get, then in the last season Busquets has emerged himself. The better way to analyse Keita’s impact on our style will be to see how much of our possesion was above the half line. If Guardiola is interetested in emerging Keita as a holding midfielder then it would be better to change the formation to 4-2-3-1 formation. He did try this one extensively in his second season. That would give Keita some cover and will not take much away from our wings. With Xavi dropping from midfield in a 4-3-3 formation the whole team is getting drawn backwards.

    • Sheena
      August 28, 2011

      Regarding Romeu to Chelsea:

      I think that a major part of that sale was out of loyalty towards Keita. There is definitely a bonus in having Romeu get regular playing time and being able to develop as a player, and I do believe that the club will exercise the buy out clause in a few years.

      But if he had stayed, it would have meant Keita hardly getting to play as the DM position would have been filled. Last season, he was content to come off the bench to stabilize things late in the game, but with the arrival of Fabregas, him getting any playing time at all would require several members of our starting XI to be unavailable.

      Pep has said numerous times how much he values having a player like Keita on the team, and in order to keep him content, I think the Romeu sale had to be done.

    • August 28, 2011

      I do agree with that. But putting him as a holding midfielder is a huge injustice to the player. Atleast he should switch back to 4-2-3-1 when using Keita as DM.

  20. August 28, 2011

    Just wanted to say how totally awesome these reviews are, the attention to detail and the amount of effort that goes into it…thanks for taking the time, Euler. It’s a pleasure reading your reviews.

  21. Blau-Grenade
    August 28, 2011

    Thanks Euler. Lovely piece of analysis as always.

  22. Eklavya
    August 28, 2011

    Brilliant.

  23. Nik
    August 28, 2011

    In regards to the doubts of Keita playing in the DM position, recall that there was much consternation among cules last season when another player was being played out of position by Pep during preseason. I am of course referring to Abi, who most definitely did not impress upon first being slotted into the CB role. But Pep believed in him, and that faith paid off.

    Obviously, it’s not a perfect comparison. Abi and Keita are different players, and time may show that Abi was more suited to play CB for us than Keita was to play DM.

    However, in Pep I trust, and in Keita Pep trusts. So, I will too.

    • blitzen
      August 28, 2011

      ^ I heartily endorse this comment.

  24. Vj
    August 28, 2011

    Euler es un Crack!

  25. mei
    August 28, 2011

    Euler , what a review.

    As far as keita is concerned , people , weve seen the play before :

    We tend to be concerned and voice those concerns when something does not seem right – like busquets displacing Toure at DM and making some costly mistakes early on , Abidal on CD even Messi as a false nine.
    Guardiola knows his players , and nows what it takes to play in the position HE! played in the past.

  26. Blaugranes
    August 28, 2011

    Very good analysis, Euler.

    I was thinking, may be Sanchez started his diagonal run because he thought Iniesta was going to provide him with a through pass that would run through the space between the two defenders in front of him. Instead Iniesta passed the ball to Messi. Sanchez kept running to link up with Messi.

    Fabregas’s run was excellent. In the previous years, Barcelona often lacked enough players inside the box, specially during counter attack. Keita made delayed runs in some matches. But Fabregas is a much better finisher than Keita, which would be very effective for us.

  27. y2k156
    August 28, 2011

    Excellent piece Euler. You are setting new standards. I have to say that your analysis is as good as any on the net.

    Porto did make it difficult for us. Messi was as usual the difference. Sometimes it feels as if he has made excellence so routine that people do not give him enough credit. He has been the difference maker in all of our matches this season, which is quite absurd even for him. Pep has been instrumental in making sure that Messi has team around who can bring the best out of him and that is such an asset. There are too many so called top level managers who are simply not capable of doing this.

    I think this is first season when we will not have a first 11 under pep but a first 15 who will be used based on opposition. I can think of only VV, Pique, Alves, Iniesta and Messi being sure starters in important matches, if they are fit. For opposition, this is really scary as we will also come at them with differentiated tactics and not just skills.

    About Keita, I do not think he will be as good DM as Smasch or Busi. He has been key player and i believe he will be good in that role, esp in 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 formation.

    At the same time, Villareal will be difficult match. They always give s trouble and with three of our best defenders out, i have to say that it is worrying. At the same time, they always give us a game so looking forward to it.

    • Jim
      August 28, 2011

      Did you mean to leave Xavi out of your list ? If so, I can’t agree. If fit, he’d be second name on mine.

    • y2k156
      August 28, 2011

      I do think that in some matches, Xavi might be on bench. Not the most important matches of course but e.g in CL Q final, i can see him being given a rest so that he does not play two matches in succession.

    • Jim
      August 28, 2011

      Ah, I see. Agreed that he will sit out some matches where he is fit to keep him fresh.

  28. irie_jamaican
    August 28, 2011

    Excellent job, again! Thanks Professor Euler.

  29. Humphrey Bogart
    August 28, 2011

    Professor Euler with regards to our depleated backline which back 4 would you like to see and why?

  30. Leckan1
    August 28, 2011

    You’re the greatest Euler. Hope to see many more comprehensive match-reviews like this from you in the future.

  31. mega_tajh
    August 28, 2011

    I do recall Keita started his playing career as a DM at Lens in France. I believe with more time as DM in our system he would get used to it.

  32. Barcathegreatestever
    August 28, 2011

    Fantastic review Euler, Bravo! especially the discussion of the post red card adjustments. Thankyou.
    I also thought Keita had one of his best matches for Barca. Very happy for him cause for a while he seemed pretty lost and just not very good.
    I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on a couple points if you would. One, forwards are consistently downgraded for not scoring. Actually they can even score and get downgraded for not scoring enough. I think it is perhaps the hardest position out there. Also, space created in the middle is not just a function of midfield movement and threatening positiong and runs made by Pedro and Villa is not just exhausting but vital for the work of the mids. Something I don’t think you have mentioned.
    Second when the outside backs play advanced positions, even a little it allows the defending team to get really compact in the middle, both in front of their own goal line and when pressing Barca in their own half. I thought Madrid did it very well with three defensive backs in the Copa. Effectively it puts the ball on the feet of the centerback and I’ve been very uncomfortable seeing Pique and Abidal dribbling and being responsible for getting the ball worked up safely. Masch may be the blueprint for the centerback of the future. Sometimes I feel they are switching the outside back roles all game. Anyway when Alves and Adriano play to support possession in the back there is way more room in the middle and Messi and Xavi don’t have to drop all the way to the 18 to see the ball.

  33. Barcaleya
    August 28, 2011

    Thank you again for this wonderful analysis, Euler!

  34. Barcathegreatestever
    August 28, 2011

    If you look at the Xavi dropping deep picture you can see how there is no passing lane at all to Alves and Adriano would get instant pressure if played. Meanwhile Porto is able to put serious pressure on the back line forcing the mids deeper and deeper to maintain possession. After the Copa Barca opened the backs really square and I thought they immediately looked more comfortable through the CL final.

  35. August 28, 2011

    Remember all of those silly (but completely expected) cries from England about whether the “young spanish keeper” was good enough to mind the nets for United?

    I think that absurd concern is going to be forgotten quickly (at least for a while)

    De Gea stops a PK from Van Persie to protect a 1-0 lead.

    • Barka
      August 28, 2011

      Walcott shot through De Gea’s legs to make it 1-3 for Arsenal.

    • August 28, 2011

      I know. Odd mistake from De Gea.

      I did say at least for a little while. I guess that little while was only 15 minutes. =(

      But on the whole it just seems so silly to make these grave pronouncements about De Gea’s talent and future based on two games.

      Like all young players he’s going to have to continue to learn and get better. It’s silly to buy a player that age and expect differently.

      People in England are making it out as if De Gea’s hasn’t ever played in big games before because from there point of view if it doesn’t happen in the EPL it doesn’t exist. They have no idea how big an Atleti vs. Real Madrid match is.

    • Barka
      August 28, 2011

      Did people make a big ruckus over De Gea’s error in that Man City match?? I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the Brit press so I’m not sure. BUt yeah I agree with you, De Gea’s talent is undeaniable.

      Still I think he’s been a bit shaky these past few matches. It probably has a lot to do with the diffference in playing styles between England and Spain. I remembered Pepe Reina also made silly mistakes at the beginning of his Liverpool career too, like in that match against Everton when Liverpool lost 3-0 and he was responsible for all 3 (I think) goals. De Gea can definitely improve a lot but it’s going to take quite some time and he mustn’t make any silly errors in big matches in the UCL for example.

    • Barka
      August 28, 2011

      *undeniable, damn it!

    • August 28, 2011

      Huge enormous ruckus over de gea’s first few games. Huge. Talks about whether or not United should bench him. If he was a mistake purchase because he didn’t have the mental make up to play at Old Trafford.

      They’ve just put him under a microscope and criticize any slight issue just looking for reasons why he’s not good enough for the best team in the EPL.

    • nzm
      August 28, 2011

      Neuer’s getting the same reception at Bayern. The fans hate him. Trial by fire.

  36. August 28, 2011

    with regards to our depleated backline which back 4 would you like to see and why?

    Yes – this is looking to be a big problem.

    Villareal’s system is complicated and that’s really what you have to base your choice of substitutes on for the line.

    The key issue here is the positioning and runs of Villareal’s two man striker formation. Rossi and Nilmar (and Ruben) play very unorthodox in advanced position.

    I wrote about this in my tactical preview of Villareal last season for reference:

    http://www.barcelonafootballblog.com/4941/tactical-preview-barcelona-villareal/

    Their two up top do not simply stay in the middle to occupy the center backs like traditional strikers do. Instead, they repeatedly split wide to each corner.

    This is really important for the match on monday because they can isolate themselves against the full backs.

    It’s going to be a major responsibility to ask a youth team player to man RB just based on experience.

    The barca RB will be isolated against Rossi who is going to look to cut in from the right onto his left foot.

    Unfortunately, Montoya played yesterday for the B team as it is and played 90 minutes. It’s going to be an even bigger question to ask Bartra to play RB.

    I have to think about this more (may try to do a post about it if I have time). But I think what I would do is play Masch and Fontas in the middle with Abidal in the right.

    At right back I would play Alexis Sanchez or Pedro. Most likely Pedro as he would be more familiar with how the Villareal system and how the strikers play.

    • blitzen
      August 28, 2011

      Puyol took part in full training today, so he may possibly get some minutes! Not as a starter, I don’t think.

    • August 28, 2011

      Good to see the captain coming back. They really need him – doesn’t even have to be as a starter – just as depth even.

      It would be a lot to ask Puyol to try to play after the injury and lay off to play against the movement of Villareal’s front two in his first game back.

      But he is Puyol!

      I think they need someone who is both mobile and can get forward. Getting forward for at least one FB is unfortunately one of the keys to beating villareal.

      And I really hope these rumors about Bartra possibly going to the Spurs on a sale/ buy back deal are completely false.

      The team cannot afford to continue to deplete its depth in defense unless they buy another defender. Hopefully it’s just nothing but it was reportedly in the Sunday Times.

    • blitzen
      August 28, 2011

      Doubt very much Bartra will be going anywhere. He knows he is in Pep’s plans this year and will likely get promoted next season. Can’t imagine he would want to trade that for Tottenham.

    • Humphrey Bogart
      August 28, 2011

      At least not if there is a danger to get spanked like they did today,

      and thanks for the link to the Mou interview,

      he is such a hypocrite but even worse is that the media is falling over itself to l** his a****

      Of course a nice guy like Pep does not deliver this kind of headlines

  37. August 28, 2011

    Arsenal are just getting completely embarrassed now. 4-1. And the match may be more one sided than the score.

    Arsenal don’t even have a professional team out on the pitch. It’s a bunch of kids running around.

    Oops. Make that 5-1 now.

    What has Wenger done? None of this was necessary. But he just wouldn’t accept reality. He wouldn’t just move on.

    And he just won’t reinvest when they desperately need it.

    Three days left in the transfer window.

    • Humphrey Bogart
      August 28, 2011

      The problem is he may also destroy the self confidence of his young players who are forced to endure this kind of humiliation due to his denial and/or the boards way of doing thigs

      Suppose RvP is the next to leave, maybe followed by Wilshire

    • August 28, 2011

      Destroying the confidence of the young players is a huge issue.

      This is not development for them. It’s pure embarrassment. They are just being humiliated out on the pitch.

  38. jordi™
    August 28, 2011

    Arsenal getting humped. The Manchester teams scored 11 goals today.Of course the EPL is super competitive and those big scores never happen.

  39. August 28, 2011

    Ok. 6-1.

    I can’t even keep up my typing with United’s scoring.

    This isn’t a match. It’s a mockery. Arsenal aren’t even competitive.

    Also – after this Arsenal United game is over look for the cascade of focus on Arsenal’s back line.

    Now Arsenal’s back line is poor they are playing kids.

    But the problem at Arsenal isn’t even the back line as much as it is the team defending.

    Wenger really did his side a disservice today. He insisted on playing the same system they usually does.

    They’ve been playing a high back line – but there’s no organization or pressure up higher on their press.

    This is leaving their back line completely exposed.

    They are playing Jenkinson and Trarore at full backs – and so much of United’s attack is oriented around play through their wingers down the flank.

    There had to be more pressure and defensive help from the Arsenal wingers.

    On another note – the United defense has not looked good. Arsenal has had a number of easy chances they haven’t converted.

    RVP just scores. 6-2. Crazy match.

  40. Humphrey Bogart
    August 28, 2011

    Will be interesting to see if Wenger can survive a humiliation like that, the last team that got spanked like that were Rovers and they nearly did go down, and West Ham and they did go down

  41. August 28, 2011

    7-2.

    Rooney with the hat trick off a penalty kick.

    Would not be surprised if this ended 10-2.

    Arsenal has not fielded an even semi-respectable team today.

    Complete failure of leadership by Wenger. He knew exactly how difficult the start to their season was.

    And he just wouldn’t buy any players. Complete failure from their board as well.

  42. Eklavya
    August 28, 2011

    This is ridiculous.

  43. mega_tajh
    August 28, 2011

    So ManCity beats Spurs 5-1 and ManU beat(ing) 7-2. There goes the worlds best league huh.

    • Humphrey Bogart
      August 28, 2011

      No wonder, that SAF wants A.W. to stay on the helm for Arsenal, with him as coach they can bag 6 points at the start of every sesason,

      Arsenal are to M.U. what Patetico are to the EE

  44. Barka
    August 28, 2011

    8-2 hehe.

  45. Xingxian
    August 28, 2011

    Euler, wonderful review as always.
    Also, 8-2

  46. Eklavya
    August 28, 2011

    What a joke Arsenal. 8-2.

  47. jordi™
    August 28, 2011

    8-2 O.o

    Was about to say the 4th official was heartless with 3 additional minutes.

  48. jordi™
    August 28, 2011

    Its honestly unfair to expose young players like that, and at old trafford no less.

  49. August 28, 2011

    United Embarrasses a comical Arsenal line up 8-2 and it’s evidence of how special United is rather than how lop sided and uneven the EPL is.

    Remarkable logic.

    8-2 anywhere else would just be evidence for how poor the league is.

    United are a terrific team. But this match was much more about that collapse of Arsenal as they didn’t even field a professional team.

    • Ryan
      August 28, 2011

      Remember the 8-0 match vs. Almeria? The British announcer spent the entire 90 minutes bemoaning the lack of competition and fighting spirit in la Liga. I imagine it would have been quite different had it been United-Arsenal he was watching.

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