Xavi: Chico, you do know that the game ended two days ago, right?
Chico: Chill, Xavi. Just let me finish going wee wee and I’ll leave.
There has been a worried reaction in the culé world about Chico’s now famous man marking job on Xavi during last weekend’s Almeria game. A bronze statue replica of the comic strip above is now being built and will be installed in front of Almeria’s stadium. Hugo essentially said: “haha! I made you traded Xavi for Chico! That’s a net win for me all day long”. False, Hugo. False.
That strategy works against teams that are extremely reliant on a single player for creative inspiration. Maradona’s Napoli and Argentina being examples 1(a) and 1(b) of this and notice how it did not stop him from becoming in the eyes of many, [ARGUABLY lest I invoke outrage] the best player in history. We are not Napoli or Argentina. Either one of Iniesta, Yaya, Messi, or Zlatan has more creativity than the whole teams of Almeria or Malaga combined. So, what do we do?
The idea behind completely man marking a player all the time like Chico did to Xavi is to take him completely out of the game. The seemingly obvious trade off is that your own player will be taken out of the game as well. The often used quote in regard to man marking which I have no idea who said but have heard many times before is: “you trade off their best player for your worst player and you end up winning”. However, this is not entirely true. Make a mental note of the quote and I will come back to it. Also, there is an often overlooked fact about man marking: it is conditioned to being employed only against a primarily offensive player. For goodness’ sake, when have you seen a centerback being man marked? What’s the point? Sure, you can do like Getafe wisely did and focus pressure from your forwards on Pique when we play the ball out from the back but once the ball goes past the center of the field, the forwards does not stay with Pique. I know this seems ridiculously obvious but remember this because it is a key part of how a team like us adjusts to man marking: a primarily defensive player cannot be taken out of the game by man marking.
A true 10 on 10 scenario typically means an advantage for the offense, especially when dealing with a parked bus. A team that executes a man marking strategy would like to avoid this. A good man marking job that is not adjusted to (i.e. the man marked player keeps trying to make plays in the offensive zone) does not turn the game into a true 10 on 10. Space is still being occupied by the marked player and his shadow. The marked players’ effectiveness is drastically reduced while the field remains cramped. Meanwhile, the player that is doing the marking is lost only when the marking team goes on offense. Thus, on defense, the man marked player’s team ends up with -1 attacker whereas the defending team still has the same number of defenders. Remember the quote about trading off your worse player for their best one? Well, this is what I meant when I wrote that it is not entirely true; especially if you are parking a bus.
As such, to take advantage of man marking, the attacking team must withdraw the man marked player so as not to occupy space in the offensive zone and turn the game into a true 10 on 10 when they are on the offensive. This is why man marking is typically more effective on forwards or enganches. These offensive players on many teams are the primary source of offensive inspiration and (1) cannot effectively play another position or (2) no other player comes even close to replicating their output. If you are talking about withdrawing Maradona in mid 80’s Napoli or Argentina or say Kaka in 2007 Milan then man marking a single player is effective because they just cannot be withdrawn. However, 2008-2010 Barcelona is a whole different animal. Why? Because (1) we have creativity to spare, (2) or “defenders” like Pique and Yaya are better attackers than most attackers in the world are, and (3) Xavi is one versatile mofo. Let’s look at what we can do to exploit a team that copies Hugo and tries to man mark Xavi:
The idea is not to lose Xavi’s productivity to man marking but to turn it elsewhere. We don’t want him relegated to standing in a corner with Chico next to him. Ideally, we should just switch Xavi with Yaya and have him stay back playing defensive midfielder which he has done before in the past and done well. In other words we simply turn an attacker into a defender and vice versa. Given that the marking team is likely in this case parking the bus then suddenly they find themselves with -1 defender while the attacking team still has the same number of attackers. If the man marking continues then a true 10 on 10 scenario develops from the offensive perspective of the marked team.
Remember what I said about man marking being conditioned to marking a primarily offensive player? What we do is switch the script. Suddenly, the player assigned to do the man marking finds himself marking a primarily defensive player and the marking team finds itself under siege from the same number of players while having one less defender. Meanwhile, Xavi is not “out of the game”. Sure, he is not as influential as he usually is but he is still being productive by providing lateral cover for the CB’s or making plays from deep and he can even switch with Pique to push forward yet another extra attacker. If a team is playing with all 11 men behind the ball in a parked bus then this move turns 11 men into 10 while we retain the same number of attackers. It’s simple numbers. Just look at all the surging runs Yaya was able to make once this adjustment was made.
Look at it this way. It’s like forcing the opposing team to get a red card in exchange for having Yaya and Xavi switching positions for the rest of the game. I’ll take that all day long and so I hope will Pep, hopefully in the following manner:
[*smoothly stroking his glorious beard] “So, Chico…you think you are marking Xavi?
*screams and makes lots of crazy hand motions*
“Guess what? Now he’s marking YOU! April Fool’s motherfucker!”