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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. December 1, 2011

    Again great review Euler, adds additional perspective over what every pundit has been saying. I wish I was posting more to justify the excellent content here week in week out but been quite busy.

    However I’ll drop one great gem in the form of this link:

    Written by one man, a behemoth in his knowledge of Spanish football.

  2. December 1, 2011

    Via barcastuff

    Barcelona could start the clasico with this 3-5-2: Valdes – Puyol Mascherano Abidal – Xavi Busquets Cesc Keita Iniesta – Messi Villa [sport]

    I don’t know about this. A team without Pique to play Ronaldo is a bit light in my opinion. Yes he showed up overweight to begin the season but Pique is still our best defender from a technical point of view.

    I’d also like to see Alexis in for either Cesc or Keita (preferably Cesc).

    I also don’t know about not playing Dani Alves.

    The alternate 3-5-2 would be one with 3 CBs, 2 wing backs (Alves and Alexis), our usual 3 mids, and Villa and Messi. I would much prefer that team, if we’re going for a 3-5-2.

    • mega_tajh
      December 1, 2011

      I highly doubt it. Pep has seen how important the width is to our game , that line up from sport just shows how everything will be played through the middle, with completely no width not even from fullbacks.

      The alternative 3-5-2 with 2 wing backs, is what I’m hoping we’ll see come D-10. What ever we see against Levante is what we’ll see against EE.

      The questions right now are,if we drop Alves for another midfielder i.e Cesc and does Keita play since Pep has started him in the majority of our big games this season.

      • mega_tajh
        December 1, 2011

        Now thinking about it but with everyone basically healthy, Pep has quite a headache in choosing a lineup. Like where do Pedro fit in now since to me he has always played well against Madrid.

  3. December 1, 2011

    reposting other thread:

    Barca utilizing a 3-5-2 was very interesting. And particularly with Sport now reporting they may use it in the Clasico this formation is going to get significant attention.

    But that’s not what’s most important about what Pep did in the Rayo match. And I hope that came across in this review.

    Any team can in theory play 3 different formations in one game. Teams frequently play two. But almost always to change shape you have to substitute players.

    And that’s the problem with trying to change shape.

    Doing so – you utilize the substitutions you can make and lose players.

    In turn, the opposition manager can then make substitutions in response that you may not be able to counter because you’ve used your substitutions already and can’t bring players back on the pitch.

    That’s part of why it’s such a major risk to change shape in games – especially if it’s a major change in shape like going from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2.

    However, if you can dynamically morph from that initial 4-3-3 into a 3-5-2 without taking any players off or needing to add players – that changes the risk-reward equation. That greatly increases your flexibility.

    What was so interesting about the Rayo match and why I wanted to focus on analyzing it in detail is that it’s signal for where Pep wants to go.

    It makes the logic of his experimentation this season more apparent.

    If he can dynamically change shape without bringing on new players and the only way the opposition can respond to that new shape is to bring players on – then he’s won a huge tactical battle. He can almost always force the issue and define the shape of the match.

    I’m not sure what we’ll see in the Clasico. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team set up in different shapes at different times like they did against Rayo.

    • mani
      December 1, 2011

      Well that is the beauty of Barca, isn’t it? Not many teams have the luxury of 11 players who were all maestro-ball-controlling midfielders in their previous lives, able to switch at will to any of the aforementioned formations Pep is trying.

      As for how we’ll set-up in the Clasico, I think it’ll also depend a lot on whether EE are playing futbol or “jujitsu on the school bus”.

      The wait is agonizing.

      • mani
        December 1, 2011

        A bit more on what I just said. I swear for one game, just one game for kicks, I’d like to see Barcelona play Valdes in Xavi’s spot (and Pique as CF for the hell of it). Valdes’ vision and making passes along the ground are uncanny for a GK. Plus it doesn’t hurt that he does everything like a BOSS.

    • just listenin
      December 1, 2011

      I had mentioned in a post some months ago I think when we were talking about slime molds and such, that I thought Pep and Barca (knowingly or not) were moving toward becoming a complex adaptive system: http://www.trojanmice.com/articles/complexadaptivesystems.htm

      If you look at the properties section in this link it has a lot in common with what seems to be going on. It is a great point Euler, and an important subtly, that the shape itself isn’t what’s so remarkable, it is the ability to adapt shape to the environment and use that morphing as an element of surprise that can confound the best plans of the opponents. It’s very interesting. It was one of the reasons I liked Sanchez so much as a signing because he was another difficult to pin down winger-striker-midfielder defending attacker thing-a-ma-bob… and they seem to thrive in our system as it was, and maybe even more where it’s going.

      I think this switching up can help with making choices difficult when teams try to recover from pressing hard in the middle third to becoming compact again in the final third if we run that gauntlet. It can become destabilizing of their defensive shape, which we need new ways of doing.

      • December 1, 2011

        I remember your point on complex adaptive systems – and I think it’s very much on the money.

        That kind of dynamic adaptation was very much on hand in the Rayo match.

        Usually we see that in terms of player skill sets and fluidity. Against Rayo it went to the level of organization.

        It was a different kind of adaptation. Still based on the “simple rules” of player skill sets, but then amplified into organization.

        It’s interesting. Multiple layers of adaptation.

        The philosophy (simple rules level 1) translating into player skill sets (creating simple rules level 2) which now are increasingly being utilized to create new forms of dyanmic organization.

        • just listenin
          December 1, 2011

          The skill sets, or maybe more appropriately versatility of skill sets, is what’s enabling it to get to this organizational level. I don’t think we could pull this off without players who can run all day like Alves, Sanchez and maybe Pedro (in form), or players that are really comfortable box to box, etc. It brings a whole different perspective to player selection if you know in advance someone is going to have to be flexing backline/midfield, cutting inside/playing wide, pushing depth and helping with compactness, etc. and I think, like you’ve said as well, that this may have something to do with the experimenting. You have to see who is and isn’t comfortable with a certain amount of situational ambiguity in their role and if it causing floundering or not if you were to undertake this approach.

          It’s brought a new perspective for instance, to the Busi/Keita debate in my mind, because the question might not be who is a better defensive midfielder?, that might be the wrong question, it might be more – who is a more versatile player? You had some comments about Busi’s need for development into a more multi-dimensional player. I think he certainly has the skills to cross the divide, it may be a psychology more than technical skill issue at this point. But, like this idea of complex adaptive systems (CAS) suggests, they are often suboptimal in some regards, they just have to be better than competition in the system – and by the way, this whole concept of CAS isn’t something you necessarily sit down and design, right?, but it an observed set of principles or concept that seem to describe these really advanced types of systems that it looks like this fits with… these things are emergent, they self organize and behave in these ways. But back to the Busi/Keita example, a less optimal but versatile DM may be a better choice than the best more narrowly defined DM. The reason I had begun thinking he was focused on Keita was for 1) he’s more physical and things have been getting physical – he doesn’t fall down clutching his face if someone burns their tongue on a hot dog at the concession stand, or 2) He’s headed off for this national team stint and Pep owed him top form after all he’s done for the club… but the versatility, multi-dimensional factor is interesting to consider, and will continue to be an issue in evaluating best XI going forward if we’re pursuing some kind of an innovative multi-formational no sub strategy. Requires special players to do that – and we have some of those!

  4. mani
    December 1, 2011

    Someone in the comments a few threads ago (can’t find it for some reason) posted something about Ronnie followed by a “P.I.P, may he Party In Peace”.

    Just wanted to say: thanks for the massive LOL. I snorted my chocolate milk all over my desk at work thank you vm. Hilarious!

  5. December 1, 2011

    Just to add to the mix:

    blitzen posted a link to a Graham Hunter post on ESPN a little while back, and I wanted to repost a couple of interesting points. The first, Pep’s supposed goal for this half of the season, and why our team looks so sluggish:

    I suspect Guardiola believed that his players were good enough and sufficiently strong-willed to deal with a bumpy autumn, while not losing touch with Real Madrid. But I also think he has had his eye on what’s to come: not just the Clasico on Dec. 10, but then the Club World Cup in Tokyo, where Barca will play its first match on Dec. 15. You cannot underestimate the damaging impact of jet leg — especially for such a far-flung venue — on athletes. This demanding schedule must have persuaded Guardiola to alter his fitness planning.

    Instead of peaking in early to mid-November, it looks like Barca intends to be firing on all cylinders for what should be (if form holds) a Club World Cup final against Neymar’s Santos on Dec. 18.

    In theory, the plan read: “Win Spanish Supercup, win the European Supercup, cope as well as possible with league demands, qualify as quickly as possible for the next round of the Champions League, stay close to Madrid, get a draw at the Bernabeu in the first Clasico, go to Tokyo and return as world champion.”


    Despite Guardiola not using the same set of defenders more than twice consecutively in the 14 league matches this season, and despite the coach picking eight different defensive lines in 14 Liga matches, Barca have a better goals for/against record now than at this stage a year ago.


  6. December 1, 2011

    Been thinking about dynamics, and ideal sides as well as player form. Were I coach, I would line up at the Bernabeu:

    Puyol Pique Abidal
    Mascherano Xavi Iniesta Busquets Fabregas
    Messi Sanchez

    Sanchez will track back like a demon. Mascherano is the link that fills the space between the midfield and back line. We’ve all seen how adroit he is at moving forward with the ball, and I just don’t see how you can have a player who is our best defender these days, not on the pitch.

    It also provides the malleability to become a classic 4-3-3 as Mascherano slides to the back line to play RB, or swaps with Puyol, who plays RB, and Fabregas slides forward. I also think on form, it’s our best lineup.

    • December 1, 2011

      This is the same debate we had on twitter, but I’ll respond ehre to see what others think.

      While i agree this is our most talented lineup, i think it is a suboptimal utilization of a few players. mainly that it would require iniesta and fabreagas to play as wing backs (clearly busq xavi and masch would be the central three), doing so will limit width as both of them want and thrive to coming into the middle of the pitch. Additionally I’m not sure either one of them has the pace or defensive ability to counteract ronaldo.

      I would much prefer
      puyol pique abidal
      alves mascherano xavi iniesta sanchez
      messi villa

      I want villas goal scoring, and I want him central to punish pepe if he chases messi. I want the maximum speed outwide and that is sanchez and alves, and I want xavi and iniesta in the middle to control that area.

      I understand that this leaves out cesc, but to me he can best be used as an impact sub that can change how dynamic and direct our play is.

    • December 1, 2011

      Hmm. Was just mentioning this on Twitter, but RM are going to try to press the heck out of us, and high up the pitch too. Players with near to perfect ball control will be needed. That means Busi is a must, as well as our usual suspects (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta). I wouldn’t start Fabregas, as while his control is good, it’s not on the level as the aforementioned players.

      Also, the formation we start with is not as important as who we play. Certain players more flexible than others, makes us harder to pin down. That’s why I wouldn’t start either Pedro or Cuenca, as I feel they’re both a bit too one-dimensional for how we want to play.

      For me, it’s a toss up between Mascherano and Pique for the central sweeper role in the 3-5-2. Mascherano is a better ball winner, though Pique can deal with the height better. I’d take Mascherano, for the reasons you listed above.

      Alves is a must. Not only for his work rate and flexibility, but also because Thong Boy will be attacking that flank, and Alves had him in his back pocket the last time we played them. Puyol can cover the space Alves leaves behind when he goes forward. (TB vs Puyol is a must in every Clasico anyway).


      Puyol – Mascherano – Abidal
      Alves – Xavi – Busi – Iniesta – Alexis*
      Messi – Villa

      How Villa does in the central left-side of the forward line will be interesting. He always does well against RM, so I’d play him.

      *Remember that Alexis’s debut with us was vs RM away. He was a beast that game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ1RnoqKZyc

      • Dani_el
        December 1, 2011

        Your line-up works for me. I can see our team doing a great game with taht 11. Pique has a nice clean exit with the ball some times, and excellent aerial skills, but he’s pretty slow compared to EE’s forwards, and Puyol HAS to play that game. If we could inyect puyol’s stamina and leaderships skills, and courage to be there in each play as if it were the last one in his career, all of this qualities in Pique or Masche, that would be great, but we do need our capitá there on the trenches.

        • Ryan
          December 1, 2011

          Pique has matched TB in full flight, so he’s not slow. He’s just not quick/have good acceleration.

    • Anonymous_69
      December 1, 2011

      I don’t think it would work. 3-5-2 without wing backs is suicidal. Without one wing back is risky enough. Without two simply would not work at all. Any 5 man midfield needs at least one winger. At least a 4-5-1 has the fullbacks ready to attack.

      You think the 3-4-3 is too narrow? This lineup is even more. Much more. Doesn’t matter how much Sanchez tracks back or how much Mascherano bulldozes forward, it won’t compensate. Doesn’t matter how much more defensive stability Masch offers, he can’t do half of what Alves can as a wing back. And for all of Iniesta’s abilities, playing him as a wing back is like playing Xavi as a 9: might be able to work based on his immense talent, but what’s the point when you have someone like Messi?

      With the players you chose, it would definitely have to be a 4-3-3. And in that case, again, you would need Alves at RB.

      The lineup I would choose:

      Xavi-Mascherano-Busquets (playing box to box)

      Iniesta and Sanchez can switch wings, depending on what’s working better. Our overall goal threat would seem to be smaller, but right now, I trust Sanchez to score just as much as Pedro. And Iniesta can provide the splitting runs between the FB and CB that Villa does. Only problem is that Iniesta would have trouble with Marcelo physically. Marcelo might be too scared to venture forward at first, but if he was to gain a bit in confidence… Iniesta would have a tough time tracking back to cover Alves. And if Iniesta receives the ball in space behind Marcelo, he wouldn’t be able to sprint down the wing the way Pedro would.

      Xavi might have a hard time, playing against two defensive midfielders on his own. But playing in front of Masch and Busquets would allow Xavi to venture forward towards Madrid’s CBs. I would be more awkward for Madrid’s DM to track him. And Busquets running into the box could be the X factor. Madrid wouldn’t see it coming. Keita might be a better box crasher, but Busquets is a much better one touch player and dribbler, and those two qualities might be the difference between a player playing badly or not against EE.

      Either that formation, or the 3-5-2 everyone seems to be loving:


      Can’t decide between Pique and Masch. Pique’s height is a need, I think. But I need to see Masch kicking Ronaldo’s ass. I think Pique would be the safer option, simply because of his height and technique. We tried a 3 man defense of Puyol-Masch-Abidal against Milan, and it wasn’t great. They didn’t have the cover of the 3-5-2, and some important players were missing, but still. Why not Masch-Pique-Abidal? Or Pique RCB, Masch CB?

  7. Kimcelona
    December 1, 2011

    All the tactics, formations and what not are reallllllly interesting and the fact that we are all guessing, picking and choosing who’s gonna play, who should play and who’s better for what system is a good testament to how unpredictable we are this season. I think thats a positive thing btw.

    Anyways, and I’m no expert at tactics and the like, I’d just like to see something looking like this:

    Masche Pique Abidal
    Dani Xavi Busquets Iniesta Alexis
    Messi Villa

    Someone mentioned ball playing midfielders/forwards being important cause of high pressure pressing and I totally agree, hence why I want Messi, Iniesta, Alexis, Xavi and Busquets in there. Villa is always a goal threat no matter how out of form some may think he is/was, Dani manning the right wing, switching between defense and attack when needed and my backline of Abi, Masche and Pique is a mixture of tall and fast with the additional comfort of being able to play the ball out of the back and having composure with the ball under pressure.
    Subs would include: Pedro to destabilize, Puyi for backline security later in the game and Keita for midfield security.

    But who knows, maybe Pep may shock us and just play the traditional 4-3-3 from last season with MVP, SIX and Abi, Dani, PK and Puyi backline..LOL!

  8. December 1, 2011

    One of Barca’s biggest advantages in the Clasico will be isolating Alexis wide on Arbeloa.

    Arbeloa is a limited athlete and mediocre defender. Alexis gave Marcelo – a much better athlete fits in the Supercup.

    With Carvalho injured – they are going to need to play Ramos at CB – which seems to be his new position as it is. So Arbeloa is going to play.

    When matched up against Villa on Barca’s left wing Arbeloa has essentially tried to use his strength to make up for the difference in technique between himself and Villa.

    He will not be able to do that nearly as easily against Sanchez. Sanchez has so much explosive pace and is so good with the ball at his feet Arbeloa is going to have to be very careful about his space behind him.

    And on top of that Alexis is extremely strong with a low center of gravity. That will make is difficult for Arbeloa to defend by trying to muscle Sanchez off the ball.

    Of all the potential matchups at play – Sanchez vs. Arbeloa is one of the most potentially lopsided. Against Villa Arbeloa’s tactics could be effective. It will be very difficult for him against Sanchez.

    I could see Arbeloa picking up fouls and cards very easily. They will need their right wing to drop back and help defensively.

    But for this to happen – you have to play Sanchez wide left.

    And I think that’s something that should be prioritized.

    On the whole, I’m of the mind now that if Barca plays a 4-3-3, Villa would be better off playing on the right. It will give him more freedom because he can depend on Alves maintaining width on the right.

    At the same time, if you play Villa on the right in a freer role, you have to consider simply playing a 3-5-2 because the differences between them will be shades of gray in many ways. And the 3-5-2 may give you better balance at the backline.

    Either way- get Sanchez in space against Arbeloa. If I were pep I would build my gameplan around that.

    • December 1, 2011

      Exactly. Sanchez is the X factor against EE. They know how to stop Messi, the quick, mobile player who is brilliant with the ball at his feet in and around the box.

      But how do you stop two of ’em?

      For me, as Euler points out, Villa is too limited, and a known quantity. Arbeloa has had, and will have success against him. It’s also going to make that wing valuable, assuming Pepe is in his usual Messi Destroyer role. If it, for me, comes down to a choice between Villa and Sanchez, I take Sanchez. Those two goals against Rayo demonstrate why.

      Yes, Villa scored a goal as well. But recall that Sanchez made space, and spanked in a Messiesque shot off the dead run, then capitalized on movement for his second. Villa tapped in a perfect Alves setup.

      I’d be reckoning that EE watched the Rayo match and screamed “Oh, hell!” Sanchez passing and running around is one thing. Sanchez scoring goals is another thing altogether.

      • Lev
        December 1, 2011

        “I could see Arbeloa picking up fouls and cards very easily” Hahaha not only could we see this we have already seen it a lot of times 🙂

        Isolating Lexus vs Arbeloa sounds awesome but actually succeeding in doing so is not so easy. Mourinho always organizes an excellent team defense.

        Villa on the right would be a good idea but I don’t think that Dani Alves will support him that much since he will have Cristiana to worry about.

        Agree with Kxevin in chosing Alexis over Villa, but I would like to counter that the problem with Villa is not necessarily that he is too limited – it is simply that within the limits of his game he does not do what he has always excelled at: score goals.

      • Kimcelona
        December 1, 2011

        I dont feel it has to be a choice. All three can (and should play, I think). No matter how much slack Villa gets for not scoring, he creates space for Messi and Alexis. Villa is still a natural born goal scorer, so it is always good to have that threat.

        What if Madrid succesfully marks out Messi adn Alexis who would be there as the goal threat? I still think Villa can give us a stirke out of nothing just like what he did in Supercopa. And what if Alexis looses his shooting boots on that day (I still dont see Alexis as a consistent goalscorer)?

  9. December 1, 2011

    Isolating Lexus vs Arbeloa sounds awesome but actually succeeding in doing so is not so easy. Mourinho always organizes an excellent team defense.

    Very true. He will organize a system to defend.

    But playing Alexis on the left vs. Arbeloa is going to make Mourinho make difficult trade offs. It is more difficult in ways to help defender on flank because he can be dragged out and isolated in space.

    The only real options are to have the winger on that side track back defensively and almost function as a defensive winger. And that’s something Mourinho very well may feel comfortable doing.

    But if he chooses that two things happen. First, he can’t use Oezil on that flank- not a great defender. This means that he definitely can’t play a trivote or he loses Oezil. Second, if it is DiMaria – then making DiMaria come deep to defend means that he won’t be able to get as involved in the attack.

    His only other alternative will be to have a midfielder or central defender help defend – but that removes a defender from the area of the pitch barca is most dangerous. I can’t see him doing that. But if he did – that would be a major tactical victory.

    If Pep does the alternative – play Villa on the left mourinho will simply allow Arbeloa to defend 1 vs. 1 against Villa and muscle him.

    • Diego
      December 1, 2011

      Don’t you think that he may use Lass as RB ?

  10. Dave
    December 1, 2011

    I think EE will go with a back 4 of Abeloa or Contrao /Ramos/Pepe/Marcelo. Midfield of Lass/Alonso/Khedira and attack with
    Dive Maria/Benz/Cristina.
    It will be their tactics that will be interesting-
    Clog the Midfield
    Press high,leave no space between the lines for Messi and Iniesta
    Break up Barca’s rhythm.

    Pepe will also follow Messi which could see him advance.
    The danger with a pressing game however is the high line it necessitates.
    Barca should try to freeze out their attack by keeping the ball and allowing Messi/Xavi/Iniesta draw fouls or establish triangles.

  11. December 1, 2011

    To go along with what Dave said above…

    Just a question: I’ve watched very little of EE this season because I just don’t have the time to scout anymore. One game I did see (the first half only) was the Valencia match. They play a passing game similar to ours (but more direct obviously).

    Anyone think they’ll adopt a similar approach similar to the one they did vs Valencia against us? (With Lass/Alonso/Khedira for the mid, with Khedira making runs from deep).

    I also wonder whether they’ll play Benzema or Higuain; seems doubtful he’d play both, as he’d have to sacrifice Di Maria against us.

    • Diego
      December 1, 2011

      To me, this is how He’ll line-up.


      but If I have to guess something wild, I’ll say He uses Lass as RB, and Coentrao in CM and drop Arbeloa.

      • mega_tajh
        December 1, 2011

        I hope he plays that Lineup…Ozil has been very poor on the wings for them in that formation and Lass has never had a good game against us. Only worry is how he use Khedira since this season he has been getting forward alot.

  12. Diego
    December 1, 2011

    How have you all been doing ? I miss you all (except Eklavya).

    I may not be participating much but I still read the comments and Euler’s fantastic posts.

    Keep faith in the team and the players.

  13. Diego
    December 1, 2011

    I don’t bother myself about predicting line-ups, It’s very very tiring and then Pep will use something else.

    You can use Alves as RB in 4-3-3
    RWB in 3-5-2
    RCB in 3-4-3
    RWF in 4-3-3
    and you can bench him.

    Same goes for every player, the Biggest Dilemma is choosing 3 of Pique,Puyol,Masch,Busq,Keita.

  14. Dani_el
    December 1, 2011

    Adriano would give Pep more options as a wingback in a 3-5-2 formation. I hope he recovers soon, but I think that even if he does, he will no regain match fitness in time for the 10th.

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