Match Review – Milan 2 – Barcelona 3: Outcome and Process

Seasons are so long, can involve so many different competitions and matches that it is difficult to consider a single playing cycle as an integrated whole.  As with any large project it is difficult to “see” the end of the season, or at least to envision the entirety of the pathway that needs to be navigated in order to arrive at success.

Not the Same Here without Tito (courtesty FC Barcelona)

Instead teams need to be able to set near term goals that can be ticked off, markers that continue to build towards the more distant goals that will define ultimate success.  With each marker checked off a club can feel reassured that it is in fact on the right path.  As the writer E.L. Doctorow once said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

For any side that has set for itself the goal of winning the Champions League trophy, one of the key markers that arises in the first half of the season is winning the group stage of the tournament.  Coming out on top of the one’s respective group not only assures continuation in the competition but also makes the subsequent pathway simpler.  It is both a marker of one’s level of play and an intermediate “success” that provides benefits later on as the tournament proceeds.

The match against AC Milan presented Barcelona with the opportunity to achieve this early season milestone.  Functionally speaking, with Milan failing to take full points in their last round match against Bate, a draw was all Barça needed for success.  A draw would have left Barcelona with a commanding lead with only one match left against Bate at home.  However, a win away at the San Siro would seal the top spot in the group for the Blaugrana. In addition it would give Barça additional flexibility as it would turn the second leg against Bate into an exhibition match.  Given Barcelona’s difficult schedule this winter, being able to rest in the final group stage match would not be a small matter.

Given what was at stake, Barcelona’s 3-2 victory was an unqualified success.  It achieved a much needed early season goal.  Barcelona have now won Group H.  Additionally, the team earned the opportunity rest rather than needing to expend more energy against Bate in December.  This will allow them to better prepare for La Liga and the Club World Cup.

 

Courtesy FC Barcelona

These intermediate accomplishments enhance the team’s probability of achieving their ultimate goal of winning the Champions League.  The outcome optimizes the position the team finds itself at this stage of the season.  That Barça was able to accomplish against one of the premier clubs in Europe and do so away at one of the most difficult grounds to play on as a visitor only heightens the scope of the accomplishment.  That they did so without Iniesta and Pique only further speaks to the capabilities of the squad and the level of achievement its established as an expectation.

 

Courtesy FC Barcelona

However, football is a game of outcome and process.  Of the result and performance.  Often we think of the manner the game is played as a matter of aesthetics or romance, of how beauty or entertainment a contest produces.  Those are secondary issues however in the thick of the season.  Instead, how a performance is engineered carries weight because a team’s process is what’s repeatable and can generalize over a long season.  Results are always prone to circumstance and random chance.  But over the long run the quality of performance is what generalizes.

 

While the result was an unqualified success, the quality of Barcelona’s performance was more mixed.  There were certain positives such as the team’s ability to create numerous scoring opportunities against a side known for its defensive prowess.  But the match raised important questions as well, particularly with Barcelona’s own defense.

 

What makes these questions noteworthy is that many center around the major tactical innovation that Guardiola has focused on introducing this season: the 3-4-3 formation.  Given this, the match provides additional evidence for whether and how Barcelona may be able to depend on this tactical innovation in order to achieve its ultimate goals of winning La Liga and the Champions League.  For these reasons, the Barcelona formation and defense will be the focus of this match review (the team attacked well and scored three goals – but the defense and formation were the most noteworthy parts the match).

 

Context

 

How Barcelona played against Milan was heavily influenced by suspension and injury.  Dani Alves was unavailable due to accumulated yellow cards.  Adriano was unavailable due to injury.  This meant that the two Barcelona players who have been entrusted to regularly play at RB would not be playing.  In turn, every option Guardiola was left to chose from wasn’t optimal.

Guardiola had three main options given the absence of Alves and Adriano.  First, he could have changed formations and utilized a 3-4-3.  This would negate the need to play a formal RB. Second, he could deputize a CB to play at RB.  Finally he could have called up a B team player to play RB and maintained the base 4-3-3 system.  Each of these options had its advantages and disadvantages.  It’s worth reviewing these pluses and minuses briefly to gain insight into how Guardiola may have been thinking about the match.

 

Courtesty FC Barcelona

Playing a 3-4-3 would remove the need for a formal RB.  It could in theory allow Barcelona to further dominate midfield and enhance its attacking thrust.  However, Barça has looked shaky defensively at times while playing the 3-4-3 due to limitations in how the formation spaces the pitch.  Given that the team only needed a tie and were playing away these were significant risks.

Playing a CB (Puyol or Mascherano) at RB would have provided solidity at the back. However, it likely would have diminished Barça’s ability to maintain possession and the potency in attack.  In the first leg, Milan defended very narrow and Barcelona’s lack of width hurt them.  Playing a CB at RB would diminish Barcelona’s ball play on the flank.

Playing a youth team player would allow Barcelona to play their base 4-3-3 system.  However, given lack of experience, the opponent and playing at the San Siro, it would have been very difficult to ask a B team player to assume that role.

 

Line Up

Guardiola only heightened the uncertainty in how the team would play with the announcement of his line up choosing to start: Valdes – Puyol- Mascherano- Abidal- Busquets- Keita- Xavi- Thiago – Cesc- Messi- Villa.

How this series of players would line up was unclear as they didn’t easily fit into either a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formation.  What was most striking about this choice of starters was the the number of players who are primarily accustomed to playing in the center of the pitch – whether in midfield or at center back.  It’s possible to argue that Barcelona fielded a team that had only one natural flank player – Abidal, and even he has spent increasing minutes playing at CB.

Massimo Allegri fielded:  Abbiati – Abate- Nesta- Silva- Zambrotta – Aquilani- VanBommel- Seedorf – Boateng- Ibrahimovic- Robinho.  Of note was the absence of Pato, a player who troubled Barça in the first leg with his pace.  Pato only recently came back from a knock, playing his first twenty minutes in several weeks this past weekend in Serie A.  Left back has been an issue for Milan this season and Allegri chose the experience of Zambrotta at that position.  He elected to field Aquilani and Van Bommel over Nocerino and Ambrosini in midfield.  Boateng played up front on the wing.

 

Barça Formation

Once the match began, it became quickly clear how Barelona would be playing.  Ultimately, Guardiola arranged his line up in a 3-4-3 and this set the parameters for the match dynamics on the Barcelona side.  While Barça has utilized a 3-4-3 type formation several times this season, they implemented the system differently against Milan.  Each of these alterations would have a significant impact on how the match played out.

Overall Average Positioning (courtesty UEFA)

Puyol started at the right center back position with Mascherano playing centrally as the sweeper.  Guardiola likely picked Puyol to play on the right due to his experience playing on the flank and the difficulties Mascherano had as the right center back in the 3-4-3 against Valencia.

Rather than playing as a sweeper as he has in the past in the 3-4-3, Busquets played in midfield as the holding player.  This complicated Barcelona’s spacing in the middle of the pitch due to Barcelona playing three other formal midfielders with two players functioning as “false 9’s” (more on Busquets’s role later).

Cesc Fabregas started as the nominal central forward rather than at the tip of the midfield “diamond.”  In and of itself the distinction between playing in a free role as the most advanced midfielder compared to a false 9 may be small.  However, the biggest impact playing Fabregas at the false 9 has on Barcelona is that is requires Messi to start off on the right flank.

At this point in his career development, Messi has in many ways outgrown playing on the flank.  It diminishes many of the ways in which he can influence a match through his creative play.  As such, he is less apt to stay wide then he even was during the 08/09 season.  And as expected, Messi pulled off the right flank early in the match.  This had a major impact on Barcelona’s spacing and balance because Alves was not playing behind Messi to man the right flank.

 

Match Dynamics

The match was markedly different from the first leg at Camp Nou.  It was extremely open with both sides looking to attack and generate opportunities.

What was perhaps most striking about the way the match opened was how high the Milan backline was playing.  Milan looked to defend aggressively up the pitch and played their defensive four accordingly.  While this helped them win the ball it also left them very vulnerable defensively.  Outside of Thiago Silva, the Milan backline lacks pace.

Playing high exposes this limitation.  This weakness was further accentuated due to inconsistent by several of Milan’s more advanced players.  Without coordinated pressure across the outfield players up high, the Milan backline was repeatedly left playing high and forced to react to Barcelona breaking through the upper regions of the pitch and attacking decisively.

While Milan had their problems defensively, Barça had their own.  We’ll examine Barça’s defensive issues in detail later on, but on the whole, Barcelona did not space the pitch effectively.  Too many of their players clustered towards the middle, leaving significant regions of the pitch vacant.     This was particularly true of the right flank which often had no Barcelona players stationed on it until Puyol.  These open regions gave Milan large areas to play the ball quickly into for the advanced attackers to run onto.

Barcelona played with so much fluency upfront with position switching between the advanced attackers that it made them very difficult to defend. But that fluency almost came at the cost of defensive solidity.

There was so much movement and interplay that when Barcelona lost the ball they weren’t necessarily spaced to defend and press.  In addition, while Thiago spent the most time on the right Xavi and Cesc also switched there.  As such, it was unclear at times which player was to mark Milan attackers on the right and do so at which times.  Alternatively, on the left flank Villa always stayed wide to defend and Keita was naturally shaded over to that side.

Often these spaces left the Barcelona backline with too much space to cover.  It became difficult for the defenders to both control space and mark an attacker.  Even more importantly, these open regions diminished Barcelona’s main defensive strategy – pressing.  Often, there weren’t enough players in an area to “hunt in packs” and pressure the ball once it was lost.  In turn, this particularly caused Barça’s transition defense to suffer.

It was interesting that in a match where Barcelona played so many skilled players in midfield that they only had 60% possession.  Away at the San Siro one wouldn’t expect them to have 70% possession but given all of the midfield talent 60% was surprising.  A key feature for why Barça didn’t have closer to 65% possession was that their pressing wasn’t nearly as effective as it usually is.  They didn’t repossess the ball as fast as they usually do.

There were two reasons why Barcelona lost defensive balance and in turn opened up the match for Milan’s attacks.  First, the players collapsed into the middle too much.  We’ve discussed Barcelona’s lack of width extensively here.  Often we focus on the impact of lost width on the attack.  But losing width can also have very negative impacts on how a team can defend and we saw that against Milan.  Second, the 3-4-3 is a formation that lends itself to becoming narrow at baseline and potentially leaving areas of the flanks open.

 

The 3-4-3

At this point it’s worth considering a few points related to tactics and formations.  Tactical formations are neutral.  There are no “bad” formations or “optimal” ones.  All formation involve trade offs that match up differently depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.  What matters first is how a formation is interpreted and implemented by the players a managers has available to use.  For example, in this last series of Champions League matches it was interesting to see how different Barcelona’s 3-4-3 was compared to Napoli’s 3-4-3, which was structured around defending deep and counter attacking – the exact opposite for how Barcelona plays.

Barcelona’s implementation of the 3-4-3 this season has been highly influenced by the number of players accustomed to playing in the middle of the pitch that are fielded in the formation.  Guardiola has used the formation as a way to utilize the greatest source of depth and talent on the team – central midfielders.   The match against Milan was a good example of how he has tried to utilize the formation to make up for weaknesses on the team by redeploying talent.  If Alves or Adriano were available, Guardiola would have been less likely to use the 3-4-3.  He attempted to make up for the limitations of depth by altering formations and experimenting.

That said, implementing this formation with the central midfield focused players Barça is proving to have both strong advantages and strong disadvantages.  It’s producing extremes in how the team is able to function.   We’ve now seen this in the matches against Valencia, Sevilla and now against Milan.  Under what circumstances the trade offs of playing the 3-4-3 produces net benefits for the team is one of the major strategic questions Guardiola will need to assess this season.

 

Tactical Analysis

Barcelona opened the match brightly with Messi on the right, Fabregas in the middle and Thiago playing at the tip of the midfield diamond.  Below is the opening positional diagram for both teams during the first fifteen minutes:

Average Position During the First 15 Minutes of Match (courtesy UEFA)

Thiago was particularly effective early on playing in the most advanced midfield position making effective forward runs.

One of the chief strengths of Barça’s 3-4-3 however is the fluency it allows between the front six players.  And soon after Barça’s positioning changed radically:

Barcelona Changes Formation Average Positioning Minutes 15-30 and 30-45 (courtesy UEFA)

The two diagrams above show the average positioning from minutes 15-30 and 30-45 in the first half.  After the opening of the match, Messi moved to a central position, functionally switching with Thiago who moved towards the right.  Fabregas moved from the central striker position left while Keita moved deeper to a central position.  Xavi pinched in from the right more towards the center.

Now average positional diagrams for Barcelona can be misleading because there is so much position switching and fluency.  For example, Fabregas frequently moved to the right when Thiago made forward runs.

However, what is important to notice is that over the course of the first half the Barcelona formation on average became much more narrow.  And it particularly became more narrow off the right flank.  Once Messi moves off the right the only Barcelona player on that flank in front of Puyol was Thiago – and Thiago himself was pinched in towards the middle and not playing very wide.  Compare Thiago’s average position on the right to how wide Villa was on the left.

This narrowing enhanced one of the inherent weaknesses in the 3-4-3.  In that formation there is often empty space on the flanks between nominal winger and the lateral center back.  There is no natural player in the 3-4-3 to track forward runs by the opposition full back for example.  On Barça’s right flank this problem was further heightened by the fact that Messi pulled off the flank and Thiago playing towards the middle.  This meant that Puyol was functionally manning the right flank by himself.  It was this open space on the right flank that Milan quickly came to focus their attack around as they attempted to exploit this weakness over and over (more on this later).

What’s also important to notice from the diagrams above is how clustered Keita and Busquets became and how deep Xavi played.  Because of the number of players in advanced central positions (Messi, Fabregas, Thiago) Xavi was forced to play deeper – more towards the space that Busquets occupies.  Something similar happened with Keita.  Because these players were playing each other’s space functions became somewhat redundant.  In a way Busquets’s role in offense was absorbed by Xavi and his role in defense was absorbed by Keita.  This was an example of the sub-optimal spacing the of the pitch. It wasn’t really Busquets fault – it’s just that Xavi and Keita wound up playing in his space reducing his influence.

Finally, if you look at the Milan positional diagrams for their front line all three players appear clustered together.  This is misleading – in fact what the Milan frontline was constantly trying to do was to move and switch positions.  And the reason they were in part trying to do this was that the Barcelona back three had a large amount of space to cover and no extra defender.  They were particularly trying to isolate attackers 1 vs. 1 against Puyol in wide positions.  This was especially dangerous because the Barcelona backline was 3 vs. 3 against the Milan front line.

Mascherano really couldn’t provide extensive cover for Puyol or Abidal because he had his own attacker to mark.  This is one of the weaknesses of the 3-4-3 against a 4-3-3.  There is no spare defender.  And if an attacking player makes a forward run it’s possible for the defense to be quickly over run 3 vs. 4.  This is what happened in Milan’s first goal.

 

The Right Flank and Transition Defense

The dynamics of the match in the first half changed after the first twenty minutes.  The key tactical change was made by Milan.  After seeing how Barcelona’s set up evolved and narrowed in shape, Milan intelligently identified and focused on attacking the space that opened on the right in front of Puyol.

Their chief attacking tactic was to play balls quickly in that open space for players to run onto.  Seedorf was critical to this evolution as he started to move wider right and into more advanced positions.  Essentially Seedorf looked to station himself wide and behind Thiago and well in front of Puyol.  Similarly, Boateng and Ibrahimovic both looked to move right and drop back to receive the ball in space.  The sequences below demonstrate this strategy and Barcelona’s weakness in this area.

The shot below shows how much open space Milan had on the Barcelona right flank:

Barcelona Formation Narrow Allowing the Milan Full Back to Move Free Into Space

At this age, Zambrotta isn’t a particularly adventurous full back.  But notice how he’s intelligently moved forward up field directly into open space, wide and in front of the Barcelona midfield.

A few second later Aquilani receives the ball and quickly switches play from the left side to the right.

Aquilani Switches Play to Exploit Open Space on Barcelona's Right Flank

This was one of the chief ways Milan looked to damage Barcelona – switch flanks quickly to play the ball into open space on the right for an attacker to run onto while the Barça defense was pinched in too far centrally.  Notice in the image above how Thiago is positioned to try to keep watch of Zambrotta.

The effects of this simple switch of play produced dramatic effects:

Seedorf Runs Onto Ball in Open Space

Seedorf has intelligently moved into completely open space on the right flank.  Thiago is essentially left alone on t he right flank forced to mark both Zambrotta and Seedorf.  Thiago attempts to play it half way and winds up in an in between defensive position marking neither attacker fully.  Thiago probably should have tracked Seedorf but this is not an easy position to be placed in as a defender as he’s been isolated 2 vs. 1.  This is a good example of an individual player being caught by a systems level deficiency.

Why is Seedorf so open and Thiago forced to mark two players?  The reverse angle shows the key:

Seedorf's Run Forward Overloads Barcelona's Three Man Backline 4 vs. 3

Milan has very effectively exploited the weaknesses of a three man backline.  Notice above how all three Barça defenders are marking attackers 1 vs. 1 – as they should be.  What Milan has done however is to shift their entire frontline left.  In turn the Barça backline had to shift left.  As there are only three defenders there is no extra CB to provide cover.  By shifting left, Milan further increases the open space on Barça’s right flank.  Because this space is lateral the DM can’t readily cover it.

Seedorf then runs into this space.  What he’s effectively done is to overload the Barça defense.  Milan have a 4 vs. 3 advantage along the front.

What starts out as Aquilani possessing the ball in a seemingly safe position quickly translates into Milan’s first goal due to this open space on Barça’s right flank:

Puyol Forced to Leave Ibrahimovic to Close Down the Player Wide with the Ball
Ibrahimovic's Run Splits the Gap Developing Between Puyol and Mascherano Seedorf Plays Simple Pass Wide of Puyol
With No Extra Defender at the Back Mascherano Is Late to Come off his Mark and Cover Ibrahimovic Who Scores

In the images above, Puyol is forced to leave his attacker – Ibrahimovic – in order to pressure the man with the ball, Seedorf.  Puyol is isolated 2 vs. 1.  In addition, Mascherano the CB cannot provide cover because he himself has to continue marking his attacker who is also in a dangerous position.  Ibrahimovic splits the gap with his run and a very simple pass outside of Puyol puts the Milan striker in position to score.

In the above sequence it is easy to blame Thiago.  And it’s true – he probably should have run back faster.  But even if he did the situation was a very difficult one to read and respond to.  This was a very good example of a goal that primarily scored for tactical reasons as one system efficiently exploited a weakness in spacing by its opposition.  This was a systems failure much more than the fault of any individual Barcelona defender.

Milan utilized these kinds of tactics over and over in the first half destabilizing the Barça defense on several occasions.  A real problem Barça had was transition defending as shown by the following sequence.

Below Van Bommel has the ball in midfield towards the right.

Van Bommel with Ball in Space Barcelona Lacking Numbers to Press Effectively

What’s noteworthy in the image above is how ill equipped Barça is to press the ball.  Essentially Thiago is 1 vs. 1 with Van Bommel.  And not only does Thiago have to close down the ball he also has to be careful to defend the large amount of space behind him on the flank.  There is no right wing to track back and help him press in a pack of defenders.

And fundamentally, above, Barça has become too narrow.  Robinho takes advantage of this by dropping back into this open space:

Robinho Moves Wide of Barca Defenders on Right Flank Breaking Containment

Through a simple pass and movement to a wide position Milan has broken containment producing another dangerous situation:

Poor Transition Defense Leaves Barcelona 2 vs. 3 as Milan Breaks at Speed

Above Puyol is again put in a poor position due to the lack of defensive cover wide in front of him.  Puyol has to decide whether to stop the ball or continue to mark his runner.  Milan have generated a 3 vs. 2 and both Mascherano and Puyol know they have no extra cover defender behind them. A simple pass and run have overloaded the Barcelona back line.

 

Second Half Adjustments

During the second half, Guardiola made a series of adjustments that solidified the Barcelona defense.  First, at half time he changed Busquets positioning, moving the holding player deeper on the pitch.   Essentially what Pep did was to move Busquets back so that he would not longer be stationed as much in the space Keita and Xavi were playing in.  This reduced the redundancy in Busquet’s role.  He functionally played as a stopper for much of the second half. Busquets’s changing role is shown by the positional diagrams below:

Evolution of the Barca Formation Minutes 45-60 and 60-75 (courtesty of UEFA)

Notice the increased gap in space that’s developed between Busquets and Xavi.  They are spaced more efficiently, particularly given where Keita was playing.  In possession Busquets would move forward in front of the back three.  But when Barça lost the ball he dropped deeper acting as a sweeper.  This allowed Mascherano to function more in a free cover role.

As the half proceeded Busquets continued to move deeper eventually ending the game stationed as a traditional center half.  An important effect of Busquets’s positioning was that it allowed Puyol and Abidal to have to defend less space behind and wide of them. While Milan did score in the second half that goal was primarily due to the sheer individual effort of Boateng. Overall the backline stabilized with Busquets deeper.

Guardiola then implemented changes that moved Barcelona further away from from a 3-4-3 back towards their base 4-3-3 to protect the lead.  The team’s shape changed significantly with the substitution of Sanchez for Villa.  Initially Sanchez played along the left flank in Villa’s prior position but then he quickly changed sides moving to the right wing.

Sanchez’s introduction markedly changed how Barcelona was able to space the right flank.  Sanchez provided Barcelona width both in attack and in defense on the right flank.  His pace and tracking back wide provided cover for Puyol.  With the substitution of Pedro for Fabregas, Guardiola had moved migrated his squad back to a 4-3-3, as Busquets formally moved back to play as a CB.  Compare Barcelona’s positioning as a team to end the match to how their narrow shape in the first half.

Final Formation: Barcelona Returns to a 4-3-3

 

Evaluation

Guardiola:  Continued to push the team to play in new ways. However, playing a 3-4-3 with players he utilized created significant defensive deficiencies and issues spacing the pitch.  While I didn’t focus on it in my review, Barça would have benefited from additional width in attack as well.

Team:  Won an important match that ensures their position at the top of the group and did so against a top side away from home.  Terrific result.  However, this is still a team in the process of defining what it will be and how it will play.  Having the team healthy again will be a big step forward.  Interesting that despite playing a 3-4-3 they “only” completed 450 passes. Generated multiple scoring opportunities and were it not for strong goal keeping could have scored 2-3 more goals.

Valdes:  Not his best game.  Got beat near post on that second goal which should not happen.  VV appeared to guess on the shot as Boateng took it.  Perhaps could have done better on the first goal as Ibrahimovic didn’t connect on the ball solidly. 

Mascherano:  Very good match under very difficult circumstances.  Often matched against a striker 0.25m taller than he, Mascherano more than held his own again showing that the notion of his height being a problem for him at CB as overstated.  Didn’t clear the ball well on Milan’s second goal but otherwise was very good.

Abidal:  Solid game.  His side was less focused on by the Milan attack but overall did fine.  Could have closed down Boateng more strongly on the second goal and allowed a cross to pass by the goal mouth in the first half rather than clearing.  On the whole played well.

Puyol:  Given the circumstances, Puyol had a very good game.  Hasn’t played many minutes. Limited defensive support in front of him and repeatedly forced into last minute interventions when he was isolated by the Milan attack wide on the right flank.  Usual warrior performance.

Busquets:  Played a confusing match in the first half where he wasn’t able to contribute much due to crowding in the midfield region where he plays.  Helped the backline in the second half but he’s still not a natural CB.  This showed on the second Milan goal.  Interesting that Guardiola did not substitute Pique as he moved the squad towards a 4-3-3 in the second half

Xavi:  Controlled the midfield well when Barça had possession.  Led the team with 73 passes completed and a 90% completion rate.  Moving to the right of the midfield circle in the 4 man “diamond” midfield takes him out of the position where he’s at his most dangerous. Wonderfully calm finish for the third goal.  Man of the match.

Keita:  Excellent match. Beautifully timed inside our run and cross to set up the first goal.  Multiple important interventions defensively.  Given the lack of effective pressing in more advanced positions his defensive cover and mobility were critical in breaking up Milan’s attempts to break at speed into open space.

Thiago:  Continues to show both how talented he is and how he is able to translate that talent onto the pitch.  Yes his positioning and defensive cover could have been better – but to focus on that fails to take into account how young he is.  He was put in a very difficult defensive position for uch of the match.  Neither Xavi nor Iniesta played this well at a comparable age.  Gave the Milan backline multiple problems with his runs with the ball and passing.

Fabregas:  Played well but had a relatively quiet match.  Came close to scoring a goal were it not for a wonderful Abiate save. False 9 is not his best position in the Barcelona system.

Villa:  Another confusing match.  Villa did an excellent job maintaining tactical discipline staying wide left.  Excellent work rate. His defense on the flank was part of why the left side of the pitch was more secure than the right.  Unfortunately, he’s struggling to incorporate himself into the attack from that wide position. Has lost a step in terms of pace from his peak.  And he is now pressing to score goals.  Put two quality shots on goal but badly mishit a few balls on clear goal scoring chances.  Should have squared a cross to an open Fabregas for an easy tap in, but instead went for goal only to be thwarted by a quality save.

Messi:  Grew into the game and his influence expanded as the match wore on.  His runs crated progressive difficulty for the Milan defense.  And this despite being closely marked not only by Thiago Silva, arguably the best defender in the world, but by multiple defenders.  His assist to Xavi for the goal was sublime – a run and pass only one player in the world can likely execute.

Sanchez:  Had a strong, positive impact on the match once he entered.  Defended very well and helped stabilize the right flank.  Was repeatedly fouled when attacking with the ball by a Milan defense that was clearly remembering the havoc Sanchez wrought on them last season in Serie A.

Pedro:  Good to see him back.  Tremendous work rate and commitment to defending.  Limited opportunities in attack.

Dos Santos:  Incomplete.  Good to see him signing a new contract with the team.

 

Conclusion

Barcelona advance and can mark off an important in-season goal.  The process of their play however shows that this is still a squad in evolution.

Since taking over, Guardiola has focused on making sure the squad is as defensively sound as it is potent in attack.  This has been perhaps the central hall mark separating Barcelona from other attack minded teams of the recent past that have struggled to translate their skill with the ball into effective football.  At the same time, Guardiola has continuously sought to push his team to expand how they can play, introducing the new 3-4-3 formation this season.

At the current moment those two goals – defensive solidity and tactical innovation – are somewhat in conflict as the new system of play is creating certain weaknesses in how Barça defends as a team.  How Guardiola resolves this conflict will likely have a major impact on how Barcelona is able to accomplish its ultimate goals.

 

 

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41 Comments

  1. K_legit in Oz
    November 24, 2011

    I heard somewhere that all the words one speaks before the word ‘but’ or ‘however’ are meaningless

    • K_legit in Oz
      November 24, 2011

      that got truncated

      “I heard somewhere that all the words one speaks before the word ‘but’ or ‘however’ are meaningless”..and Pep needs to realise that they are significant defensive frailities in the 3-4-3 he is adopting.
      Attacking wise is a different matter…the way Messi, Cesc and Xavi attack as a unit is a treat..
      i sincerely felt that we’d score every time one of them made a slalom run forward!

    • November 24, 2011

      I think it depends. For example, against Machester City a 3-4-3 might work very well defensively.

      On the whole though against sides playing a 4-3-3/ 4-2-3-1 it has significant limitations.

      Milan’s first goal demonstrated that. A simple shift of the Milan line to the Barca left and a forward run into space by Seedorf overloaded the Barca backline while amplifying that 4 vs. 3 advantage by forcing those 3 defenders to have to defend the entire width of the pitch. Too much to feasibly do.

    • K_legit in Oz
      November 24, 2011

      I think a major attribute that the 3-4-3 has over a standard 4-4-2 is that you can essentially have more numbers in each position and how teams change the 4-4-2 is that they stretch the 2 forwards wide, kinda like what Villareal tried to do…

      I don’t understand why it would work against Man City to be honest. They essentially have a similar formation to Milan’s..Just by replacing Seedorf for Silva, Ibra for Dzeko and Pato for Aguero, I reckon they can play like Milan did and overload the back 3, only this time I guess the forward line would shift right and overload our left flank..Is that not how they would do it?

      Also, this match shows how essential Alves is to this formation (3-4-3) or otherwise. his energy in covering that flank is irreplaceable almost

    • November 24, 2011

      City plays a somewhat odd formation. Kind of a hybrid. Their two holding players generally play deep. Otherwise they often form what can function as a 4-2-2-2. Three at the back could work against their front two.

      The key would be for the midfielders to track Silva and Millner’s runs. But those two tend to spend significant time in midfield as it is rather than further upfield.

    • November 24, 2011

      It seems to me that the problems with the 3-4-3 have stemmed from player choice. A true winger with a great work rate (tracking back) has to be in place or the CB is left too exposed. With Adriano or Alexis playing on the wing, most of the defensive vulnerabilities are mitigated. It’s also worth noting that when Alves plays as the CB in the 3-4-3 his speed is invaluable. He gets a lot of stick for his defense, but it is all misguided, he’s an incredible defender.

  2. blitzen
    November 24, 2011

    Reading the comments in my tweeter timeline, you would think the team played like the Keystone Kops last night. Watching the game with the benefit of knowing the scoreline in advance, it didn’t look nearly that dire to me. Admittedly, there were some defensive issues, and no, I’m not going to get into tactics—it seems like we don’t discuss anything else around here anymore—but overall the team played well considering the 3-man backline and the way Milan were pressing relentlessly. It was great fun to watch. And now for some blitzen awards, the musical edition. Because I can.

    My Blue Heaven Award: I wasn’t sure at first if I liked Valdes’ blue and red kit, but I soon realized how very good he looks in it. At any rate it helped to distract me from those awful minty green kits the rest of the boys had to wear. I never did like those.

    Army Of Me Award: Thiago! What a monster he was last night! He was confident, alert, effective in both attack & defense, and utterly fearless. Some boys his age might be intimidated by a historic club like Milan. Not our Thiago.

    The Bitter Taste Of You* Award: Ibra was literally spewing bile near the end of the first half. Much as I would like to think he was choking on his recent comments regarding Pep &The Schoolboys, it probably had more to do with this post-match statement from the Ninjasaurus: We were tired in the second half because in the first we ran a lot. Barcelona make you run a lot. 😛

    Hit Me Baby One More Time Award: Poor Keita. Not only did he take a hard shot to the goolies, he was also on the receiving end of a very ill-conceived ninja kick to the head from Ibra. And he’s not even one of Ibra’s teammates anymore! Ouchie!

    Thank You For The Music Award: Messi, who has received plenty of criticism around here (including from myself) for being a bit selfish lately on the pitch. Well, not last night. Not only did he provide that fantastic pass to Xavi for the goal assist, he even let Thiago take a free kick! I hope we see more of that, Thiago is one of the best free-kickers we have right now, certainly miles better than Dani Alves. Remember that gorgeous free kick he scored from in the U21 final last summer?

    Jazz Hands Award: Puyol attempts to communicate with the ref through the medium of interpretive dance. He was either explaining that the defender couldn’t avoid the ball contacting his shoulder or inviting the ref to Jump! (For His Love).

    Like The Desert Needs The Rain Award: Did anyone else think that Pep seems a bit unsettled without Tito by his side? I have always thought that Tito keeps Pep grounded and is the glue that keeps him from fraying into a bundle of nerves. Get well soon, Tito, and hurry back!

    Clarence Seedorf Award For Being Clarence Seedorf: Clarence Seedorf. Yes, he gets his own award. This man has done more for the good name of Dutch football than all your De Jongs, Heitingas, and Van Pummels (with his nasty scissor tackle on Xavi) combined. Pure class. I will be sad when he retires.

    *Just let me say one thing
    I’ve had enough
    You’re selfish and sorry
    You’ll never learn how to love
    As your world disassembles
    Better keep your head up

    Your name, your face
    Is all you have left now
    Betrayed, disgraced
    You’ve been erased

    So long, so long
    I have erased you
    So long, so long
    I’ve wanted to waste you
    So long, so long
    I have erased you
    I have escaped the bitter taste of you

    (Bitter Taste, by Three Days Grace)

    • Blau-Grenade
      November 24, 2011

      Best Blitzen’s in a long time!!! Keep ’em comin’.

    • Xingxian
      November 25, 2011

      /CHEER FOR THE BLITZEN AWARDS

  3. Jim
    November 24, 2011

    Great review, Euler. I would actually absolve the team (largely) for any responsibility for the nervous night we all had. I thought the work rate was tremendous.

    However, I am worried that Pep watched the same game we did and didn’t do anything to alter it until about half way through the second half ( imo). I’m also concerned that he didn’t even identify it as Thiago’s job to provide support for Puyol if he found himself isolated. You can’t play three at the back and not have a strategy for covering the FBs. The leisurely way Thiago trotted back at the first goal seemed to imply to me that he wasn’t concerned that he had been caught out. I’m not really buying the marking the Milan FB idea as he was no danger to us.

    I am glad that your analysis makes clear that Puyol was not to blame for being isolated. I also thought he had a great game ( apart from actually being skinned at that one point) and is well on the way back. You could see the formation was annoying the hell out of him throughout the game. As a great reader of the game he was probably thinking the same as us but did his best to carry it out.

    I do worry especially that we are only a few weeks from the Clasico and we have no idea what our defence will be. I see no merit in experimenting with the 3-4-3 unless he is toying with employing it there ( my nerves won’t stand it). Pique and Puyol need as much time together as they can get after injuries.

    Finally, I have a feeling Cesc will be sitting out the first half of the classico, not through any fault of his own. Last night showed us that Xavi needs Iniesta in the midfield with him. RM will come at us even more than Milan and only those two ( plus Busi and Messi) can keep the ball in those situations. My only question left for lineup for that game is who partners Messi up front. Villa does look short of confidence and I haven’t really been impressed with the last couple of times I’ve seen Sanchez. I’m starting to think that the videos I watched of him zipping past or tricking his way past defenders were bogus ! The game may also be too big for Cuenca who has gone missing at times already and Pedro is well short of match practice.

    4-4-2 with Villa and Messi playing centrally up front for the Bernebeu anyone ?

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      November 24, 2011

      I do worry especially that we are only a few weeks from the Clasico and we have no idea what our defence will be. I see no merit in experimenting with the 3-4-3 unless he is toying with employing it there ( my nerves won’t stand it). Pique and Puyol need as much time together as they can get after injuries.

      my thoughts exactly.

      and thank you, Euler, for your dedication to Barcelona and this blog.
      I’ll read your review later today.

    • November 24, 2011

      I am worried that Pep watched the same game we did and didn’t do anything to alter it until about half way through the second half ( imo).

      This is usually his approach though. I think he believes so much in the ability of his players to fix problems he tends to not want to implement changes off plan or early.

      But just by Busquets change in positioning to start the second half – it was clear he saw the problems.

      I haven’t really been impressed with the last couple of times I’ve seen Sanchez.

      I thought he played very well in the time he got vs. Milan. He did exactly the tracking back and defensive work to support Puyol that you wanted Thiago to do (it’s a more explicit role of the winger in that set up which is why Villa did that work on the left when he was in).

      He’s played very little with the team. Think he needs more time. I watched him play a lot last season. He was one of the world’s 10 best players.

      I have a feeling Cesc will be sitting out the first half of the classico, not through any fault of his own.

      RM will look to utilize their pace and athleticism to press Barca in their own half as they try to build play from the back.

      To address that close ball control becomes a premium skill set. Cesc has good close control – but not great. And it’s not on the level of either Xavi or Iniesta.
      I’m also concerned that he didn’t even identify it as Thiago’s job to provide support for Puyol if he found himself isolated.

      The thing is – it’s not necessarily Thiago’s “job” in this set up to defend in the way you are describing. A limitation with a 3-4-3 when it faces systems that attacks wide is that there aren’t natural defenders to pick up and track flank attackers.

      It’s an adjustment that needs to be made in the system more than it is a decision that Thiago himself has to make.

      Both Xavi and Cesc did the same thing defensively when they switched out to the right. Puyol was still isolated. It’s a system issue more than an individual issue.

    • Neel
      November 25, 2011

      “I am worried that Pep watched the same game we did and didn’t do anything to alter it until about half way through the second half ( imo).”

      Hard as it is to stand, IMHO it has something to do with this. Pep has always stood by his players and he always makes sure not to discourage any player. No matter, what the situation, what occasion, there is always a larger picture…that of maintaining the team fabric and individual players mental strength. It is for these reasons that Pep does not jump on to make obvious substitutions. There are many players who have been disaster to begin with in different positions but persistence with them have helped in the long run.

  4. Jafri
    November 24, 2011

    Not to oversimplify things, but can’t Barcelona function as a 3-4-3/4-3-3 hybrid? Wouldn’t it theoretically be possible for Busi to drop back and act as a CB while Barcelona defends, and push up to DM when they attack?

  5. barca96
    November 25, 2011

    I missed the first 40mins of the match so I don’t really know how they played but for the rest of the match, I thought they were careless with the ball.

    1) We didn’t control the ball over a long period of time
    2) Because of them losing the ball quite often, it also leaves our 3 man defence in great danger.
    3) Pressure. For the past few weeks, they haven’t been pressuring much.

    We only played Milan. Can you imagine playing like that vs. Madrid at the Bernabeu? Madrid is faster, keep the ball better and are more aggressive.
    I really can’t imagine. They will surely score a few on us, definitely.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      November 25, 2011

      I was going to reply your comment few hours ago, but I still had a a lot work to do.
      this one really surprised me : we only played Milan

      maybe you didn’t mean to be arrogant or disrespecting Milan, but it sounds like that. and I think you are also underestimating our achievement.

      surely EE is a better team than Milan, but not that far, imo.

      It was San Siro, against AC Milan, a great opponent, the serie A champion, with their quality players and coach. they were so motivated to beat Barça and they were playing with full team.

      before Barça, Milan conceded only 4 goals this season in whole competition. and Barça scored 3 in 90+ minutes.

    • November 25, 2011

      Yep, that was a world class team we beat in one of the sacred temples of European football. Also their world class players, especially Ibra, were highly motivated to win. Not something to be sniffed at.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      November 25, 2011

      I mean, *4 goals at San Siro*

  6. Gogah
    November 25, 2011

    Like i’ve always said, if there is one thing that is becoming markedly better with each pep stays here in charge, it is the defense. this is easily reflected through the numbers. there is no reason to panic just because of a few games. We are creating chances no doubt, but are somewhat casual in finishing. we are actually letting in fewer goals but also scoring fewer and thats where the crisis lies.

    I always enjoy your tactical analyses, but there is one thing i just can’t understand. you talk of villa maintaining tactical discipline always hugging the touchline. you also talk of pep’s tactical innovations, specially in the 3-4-3 which is characterized by constant switching of positions from the attackers in the front 5.
    Then why for the love of god does villa always stay on the left. why doesnt he interchange positions along the right and center. i just feel his skill sets are of no use in the extreme left. he is so predictable and has, frankly run out of moves and imagination. He is born to play in the center or center-right. we have seen alexis play in the left (udinese), we have seen pedro play in the left and they all do as well if not better than villa. yet it always has to be ‘the kid’ on the left. i’d be grateful if you can throw some light on this issue. what is pep thinking? as much as i love our villa and as much as i hate showboating young overhyped brazilians, i now see the value in the club bringing Neymar for our left front. It just makes us more dangerous, doesn’t it?

    As for our defense i’m not that worried. i always feel we bring our best game against madrid. And i refuse to look at madrid all the time. It will always tend to make us look unsure.

    • barca96
      November 25, 2011

      Speaking about the wonderkid Neymar, I decided to watch Lille play in the CL. I was impressed with Eden Hazard in the 20mins that I’ve seen him play more than I was after watching over 200mins of Neymar.

      Eden Hazard is quality! That kid means business, no showboating, no step over. Atm, I rate Munaian & Hazard as the best wingers/attackers the highest for the left/right spot.

    • Gogah
      November 25, 2011

      then lets get hazardous 😀

  7. November 25, 2011

    Well, I haven’t seen the match yet, but I did see highlights via EuroSport. I wouldn’t say that we “only” played Milan. We beat one of the world’s top sides in a match they really wanted to win, in their house. Don’t underestimate the quality of that accomplishment.

    Seems like there was our usual allotment of spurned chances and fluffed lines, to boot. We still have no idea how good this club is. It is still coming together as a unit, and is usually at its best for Clasica and knockouts. We will have to see about this season.

    • Humphrey Bogart
      November 25, 2011

      I agree with Kxvin on this: to expect a manita against Milan is disrespecting the opponent. They are no pub team, but one of the biggest teams in the world, CL title wise even bigger than we. They may have lost some of their glamour but with Allegri they have a very good team again and they really wanted to win this game. I can not remeber the last time I have seen somebody like Ibra or Robinho so hard, and with Nesta and T.Silva they have some of the best defenders in the world.

      We had our difficulties, but at the end we also got the win, that is the most important thing, no 2:2, but a win after a hard fought match, an important morale boost, that is

    • blitzen
      November 25, 2011

      our usual allotment of spurned chances

      Heh heh! Yeah, there were quite a few. Cesc, Messi, Villa all had groaners, and Puyol and Sanchez performed some kind of comedy routine to miss one together. I meant to give that an award, shoot.

      The worst miss of the night, though was Robinho skying the ball over a completely open net from short range. Lucky for us, embarrassing for him!

  8. Humphrey Bogart
    November 25, 2011

    On an other note: NexT Gen and Juvenil team, what a team they are. Dongou, Samper and Grimaldo are outstanding. Unfortunatly now the scouts will come even more, in particular from a certain London club, to poach them. We must do all we can to cling to them

  9. K_legit in Oz
    November 25, 2011

    Defensive frailties aside, our attacking in that game was pretty awesome…Whenever Messi or Cesc started making a forward run the spaces were very apparent and had it not been for an inhuman performance from Abiatti the score could well have been 2-7 instead of 2-3

    • Gogah
      November 25, 2011

      I really don’t want to spoil the positivity.
      but that’s another common misconception isn’t it?
      how often has it turned out that the opposition GK is the motm.
      Sure our attack is awesome. but offlate we have been banging way too many shots straight at the keeper. These shots make for some great stats and even makes the keeper look like some formidable beast. but the reality is the lack of sharpness in the attacking third.
      no disrespect of course to abiatti or the sevilla keeper.

    • K_legit in Oz
      November 25, 2011

      True..against Varas this was absolutely true but Abiatti’s saves against Villa and Cesc (from point blank range) were pretty impressive

  10. Blau-Grenade
    November 25, 2011

    People, I was on vacation and have missed this match. Can somebody point me to a website where I can find the download links to this match? Tried Rojadirecta.me but could not find the match page. Thanks.

    • aaron88
      November 25, 2011

      You can always go to video.uefa.com and pay $1.99 to watch an UCL or UEFA cup game. The stream is generally of decent quality. Not HD certainly. It starts with the players in the tunnel, so you watch Maldini coming and greeting several Barca players. It was fun to watch their respective joy and admiration for each other.

      As long as you don’t mind handing over your money to UEFA.

  11. blitzen
    November 25, 2011

    If you are looking for gift ideas for that Football fan in your life, consider getting them a subscription to FourFourTwo magazine. It is fantastic value for the money–chock full of brilliant articles on every aspect of the game you can imagine. The level of writing is top quality.

    No, I have no affiliation with the magazine, I am just really enjoying my subscription. Working in the publishing industry, I always like to give a boost to deserving publications and writers.

    Which reminds me, I’m sure most of you are already to buy Graham Hunter’s forthcoming book on FCB. You can preorder it from Backpage Press’s own website:

    http://www.backpagepress.co.uk/books.htm

  12. adopted cule
    November 25, 2011

    It didn’t look like a 3-4-3 to me out there and the diagrams support that view. Looked a lot more like a very muddied 3-5-2 with strange personnel decisions. The lack of possession was the most disturbing aspect of the game for me. Yes, 60% is a good number against Milan, but Barcelona weren’t playing their usual game out there and I don’t think that can all be put down to Milan’s effort. The possession game seems to suffer greatly when Keita is on the field, particularly when he and Villa are paired together on the left. I don’t think Keita had a bad game at all, but leaving him off the starting line up and replacing him with Sanchez from the start would have cleared up every single one of the issues Euler brings up: Busquets would not have been redundant. Cesc could have played at the tip of the diamond where he is most effective. Thiago could have provided the width out right in midfield to cover in front of an out of position, though capable, Puyol. Two forwards would have provided width up front while Messi could be free to be Messi.

    I don’t believe that either the possibilities or the limitations of the 3-4-3 were on display in this game and Barcelona certainly didn’t play the personnel that have the best chance of utilizing the 3-4-3 most effectively, even if they had played true to the formation.

    That being said, it was still a 2-3 win at the San Siro, with two goals allowed that VV certainly could have done better with. We had a good majority of possession and created many more good chances than Milan, a quality side, did. Every side left in this competition would take a win at Milan, and we did it playing far from our best either tactically or with regard to our usual possession style. Our quality shone through on the day.

    • November 25, 2011

      It didn’t look like a 3-4-3 to me out there and the diagrams support that view. Looked a lot more like a very muddied 3-5-2 with strange personnel decisions.

      You raise a good point. As always, due to its fluidity the system is difficult to characterize. At some level so descriptive nomenclature is “accurate” because the system is so dynamic. It’s a convention.

      That said, the system is best described as a 3-4-3 (for the sake of being able to talk about it, the convention is useful). I don’t think a 3-5-2 is as useful or accurate a description. Here’s why. In the usual understanding of a 3-5-2 there are wing backs who play very wide and move up and down the pitch. So often in defense the team is playing a 5-3-2, for example.

      At no time did Barcelona have wing backs functioning in this role. As I pointed out in the post – in fact the entire right flank in front of Puyol was exposed because the right sided midfielder (whether Thiago, Xavi or Cesc – whoever happened to be there) was tucked in towards the middle.

      A 3-5-2 would have been more effective vs. Milan. But that doesn’t allow Pep to get all of the players on the field he wants to. He’s trying to figure out how to get more middle oriented players on the pitch – hard to do with wing backs.

      It was an unorthodox formation – especially with Keita, Busquets and Xavi’s positioning. But the 3-4-3 is the best description of it and from comments made after the match that seemed to confirm some of these issues.

    • adopted cule
      November 25, 2011

      I didn’t mean to imply that 3-4-3 wasn’t the intended formation or the best way to describe it, but rather that in the actual game, it all broke down and became confused. Cesc as the false nine and Messi on the right, along with the nebulousness that the personnel in the midfield created meant that Barcelona didn’t play a very effective 3-4-3 for all the reasons you pointed out. I was just trying to say that this clearly isn’t the best example of how Barcelona can implement the 3-4-3.

  13. aaron88
    November 25, 2011

    Euler,

    As a long-time reader and rare commentator, I wanted to express my continued amazement and thanks for your writing. You have an unbelievable sense of tactics what they mean for the team.

    As I watched the 1st half, my mind was flying around trying to understand Barca’s formation. Yes. 3-4-3. …. But wait, where’s Thiago playing. Why is he on the 18-yard box ahead of Messi…Where is Xavi…..

    To my eyes, the structure seemed so free-form and hard to understand. I figured there was one, but I couldn’t see it very well. Your review of course, fleshed it out.

    In my professional life as a jazz musician, people always think that musicians get up on stage and play whatever, whenever. Just “feeling it.” In reality, there is generally a strict script/sketch with big thoughts about where things should go (and much advance preparation). From the script, we elaborate, improvise, and hopefully make memorable music. It is not possible without.

    Thank you again for illuminating Guardiola’s design. Still, I am in awe of the way midfield works.

    BTW, I really missed watching Alves in the team.

  14. November 25, 2011

    Then why for the love of god does villa always stay on the left. why doesnt he interchange positions along the right and center. i just feel his skill sets are of no use in the extreme left. he is so predictable and has, frankly run out of moves and imagination.

    Gogah,

    This is a very good question. The short answer – Villa stays out there because he is a team player and wants to function within the larger concept of what the team is trying to accomplish.

    The balance that Pep is always trying to balance is fluidity vs. organization. Fluidity heightens the attack and the ability of the team to press.

    However, there is a limit to how fluid a team becomes before it turns disorganized.

    Barca weren’t disorganized vs. Milan. However, there was so much fluidity between the midfield 4 and Cesc and Messi that it left the team with poor spacing of the pitch.

    Many of the Barca players, if not most, are most comfortable playing in the middle. Without some simple rules and players willing to fill tactical roles Barca would end up with 6 players clustering in the middle of the pitch and no one on the flanks.

    So Villa is caught between being able to express himself and being required to fulfill his role – which is tactically crucial.

    Sanchez is going to experience the same thing – last season in Serie A he was one of the world’s best player. But he played his best in the middle between the lines – the exact place messi and cesc like to move in.

    So Sanchez is going to have to stay wide to open up the pitch for the interior players.

    Villa is encountering two additional difficulties coming in from the left. He is asked to play wider on the left at Barca than at Spain. When a player is that wide, it really helps to have explosive acceleration to join play in the middle dynamically. That’s not a strength of Villa’s. In fact I think he’s lost some pace from a few years ago. Just a step or so – but he’s less able to get behind defenders.

    The second issue is that Barca is so often defended deep and narrow to create numbers in the middle that when he does move inward he has to fend off multiple defenders. The issues are similar for Spain, but club level defenses are more organized and better than most NT defensive systems now.

    You can see the evolution of what Pep wants. It’s very interesting – I’ll try to write about it in a post. Basically he wants the two wide flank attackers to function as players who provide “structure” to the system to allow the players in the middle to play more fluidly.

    The wide players have to sacrifice for those on the interior to make the team more than the sum of its parts.

  15. blitzen
    November 25, 2011

    Very interesting quotes from former FCB staffer Marc Ingla on the time when they considered hiring Mourinho as first-team coach:

    ”We had a meeting with him [Mourinho] and his representative in a bank in Lisbon but we never seriously wanted to negotiate with him,” Ingla told AS. ”Jorge Mendes [Mourinho’s agent] was very insistent he wanted to see us.”

    He said: ”(Pep) was Txiki’s first choice and because Mourinho told me he was not going to change his attitude towards the media we were not entirely convinced with Mourinho at the time.”

    http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/988071/jose-mourinho-%27wanted-pep-guardiola-as-assistant%27-at-barcelona?cc=5901

  16. Ardian
    November 25, 2011

    Euler, let me congratulate you on the review. We’ve been missing these kind of reviews. I’m glad you are back.

    Going back to the match, do you think Pep is experimenting with the 3-4-3 to get ready for Madrid or he used 3-4-3 due to the absentees. But as far as i see it ain’t working for some reasons. Don’t you think it is better to return to our normal 433, try to improve our system and get ready for el Clasico in a better way.

    On another note, I sense A.Sanchez is going to be a big player this season. His work rate on the flank is extraordinary. He helps us defensively so much. But that was in a 3-4-3 system. What’s the better choice in a 433? Do you think he could play well in that right flank. Having a good understanding with Alves is crucial. One last question: how do you think will line up against Madrid ( injury free, ofc? how do you rate our chances? 🙂 I guess Pep likes this underdog role.

    Keep it up my friend.

  17. barca96
    November 25, 2011

    surely EE is a better team than Milan, but not that far, imo

    The gap between the 2 world’s best (us & EE) and the 3rd is quite a distance imo. We all know that Seria A is not as strong as they were in the past few seasons.
    Last season, Milan lost to my below average Ajax! And later on to Spurs who were knocked out silly by EE.

    Many people didn’t take Milan seriously but why is it only when we have trouble beating them at Camp Nou only people take them seriously. I still find them an average side.

    to expect a manita against Milan is disrespecting the opponent

    Nobody mentioned about manitas. I at least never did.

    These are the points that I raised earlier;
    1) We couldn’t control the ball over a long period of time
    2) Because of them losing the ball quite often, it also leaves our 3 man defence in great danger.
    3) Pressure. For the past few weeks, they haven’t been pressuring much = more time on the ball for the opponents.

    CL title wise even bigger than we

    C’mon. Just because they have a bigger history doesn’t mean that we should be able to dominate the match vs. them. Their history is history, what matters is now.

    I’m sorry if I came off as arrogant but I really have a doubt that they can cruise anymore especially on away games against above average teams.
    Hunger is one thing but the carelessness while in possession is really worrying. Of course I’m not talking about Mallorca or Osasunas but I’m talking about Valencia & Milan.

  18. Helge
    November 25, 2011

    Where exactly do you get these pictures from?

    I don’t like the new UEFA match center, the old version had more details, for instance distance covered by the whole team (I can’t find this stat anymore…).

Comments are closed.