1. footballfan
    April 16, 2012

    What a great read Euler! Interesting that Pep still experiments near the end of the season. I’m really excited for the upcoming weeks.

    Just a small note, I think you missed a diagram for the part System Structure.


    • April 16, 2012

      Thanks so much for the attentive read. I did forget a diagram in that section. It’s in there now.

  2. April 16, 2012

    Brilliant article. Well, well worth the Alt-Tab laden read here at work. We all saw Pep’s radical tactics against Getafe, but you have put it so wonderfully into writing and explained the neat little intricacies of Pep’s “new” plan. Thanks for the great read.

    Interested to see how much of this (and in what manner) Pep decides to employ against Chelsea and Real Madrid. Like the comment above mentions, nice to see our coach tweaking and trying different methods so late in the season.

    Though mind you, Chelsea and especially Madrid are not exactly Getafe. Would Pep really have the audacity or the confidence to try something like this against these two opponents? Very little preparation time plus the sheer importance of the games, and I see Pep sticking with one of his more “conventional” formations. Though it is nice to have the ability to be able to morph to a radical tactic as this in game. Credit to the coach and the intelligent players we have playing for us.

    • April 16, 2012

      Guardiola won’t import this system whole for either Chelsea or Madrid. But I think we could see him draw elements from it for both depending on how the mache unfold.

      Here’s an example – Chelsea will defend very narrowly in midfield, especially if Lampard is playing (which he most likely will).

      If Barcelona drive Chelsea’s block deep I think we may see Puyol almost assume the same role vs. Chelsea as he did vs. Getafe. He won’t be quite that high but he’ll look to carve out space and act as an outlet.

      Similarly if the chelsea block gets drive deep drogba will likely get isolated up top. I could see Pep defending Drogba similarly to how he defended Miku only with Pique playing the Adriano role.

      If he wanted to vs. Getafe Pep easily could have switched Puyol and Adriano’s roles. He could have played Adriano as a ball playing midfielder on the Right while having Puyol pair with Masce.

      That would have been the logical thing to do. But he didn’t. He wanted Puyol in midfield even if that meant Adriano deep.

      That’s the kind of experimentation I’m referring to.

  3. Josep
    April 16, 2012

    tl;dr plz

    • dean
      April 16, 2012

      The crux of Euler’s argument is that Messi will have a new goal celebration now that his gf’s pregnant.

  4. psqd
    April 16, 2012

    Great read once again, thanks!
    As you mentioned in the comments. I found it very interesting the role assigned to Puyol. It goes without saying that I didn’t expect the formation we got for the game. Even so, if you had removed the names from the position maps or job descriptions I’d not have been able to assign Puyol correctly. I’d have put him in either Mascherano’s or Adriano’s role. The reverse is seemingly true also. I would’ve put either of those two into a nominally midfield role before I put Puyol there.

    Puyol getting further up may first have evolved out of Getafe’s tendencies. Their right wing appearing to be a little further up than their right. Puyol and Adriano may have been given the same role and instructions and it just happened Puyol had more space. But as much as Guardiola tinkers during the game, at the very least he chose not switch Puyol and Adriano. Once again, obviously it worked surprisingly well.

    Otherwise, I think we are seeing that given the current resources width up high is proving to be the most effective bus breaker. Interestingly, though maybe not surprisingly, Pedro and Cuenca have been relied upon to provide it. Guardiola has relied on Pedro despite relatively poor form this season and despite Tello’s recent flashes. I would guess because of Pedro’s proven track record, tireless work, and tactical discipline, and because he can swap wings. The advantages over Tello largely that he is a proven commodity on the right and Guardiola’s confidence in him. Because Tello has proven he is willing to track back and work. Cuenca’s two-footedness seems to cast him as the perfect foil.

    Prediction is dangerous with Guardiola, but for the CL away leg at least I’d expect a relatively conservative line-up/structure. I’d expect to see Mascherano and Pique pairing in the center to cover Drogba, as Euler suggested. The way Chelsea have been playing that’d leave Mata to Busquets and Dani with probably Kalou on the right. The left and Ramires is the interesting choice for me. You could make an argument for either Adriano or Puyol, but my guess is Puyol. That and does Guardiola rely on Dani for width on the right or play with two wingers?

    • April 17, 2012

      Agree that part of the circumstances here were defined by how Getafe played. For example Puyol playing that high up.

      But that’s part of what makes the Barca system so robust. Because of the multi-dimensional skill sets of the players and the flexible structure Guardiola puts in place they are so well able to adapt to what the other team throws at them. They can react along several different paths.

      At the same time when it was clear how much room Puyol had the natural response was to move Puyol to LB and Adriano right – Pep didn’t do that and there’s a reason why. I’d guess it’s for the Chelsea match.

      Ramires is a key for Chelsea. Think we’ll see how much Pep is concerned about him by whether or not he plays Keita.

      • psqd
        April 17, 2012

        I agree with your statement about not swapping Puyol and Adriano. Whether the reason was; less work for Puyol, prepping either of them for Chelsea, or giving Adriano practice at restraining his forward runs, I couldn’t say. I am always terrible at reading those sorts of pep’s tea leaves.

        One of the things that I found so appealing about the approach and the execution, aside from the beautiful demonstration of flexibility you mentioned, was that, radical as it may have looked at times, it was decidedly NOT a departure from any demonstrated core tenant. I am a tad disappointed that this hasn’t been discussed more and that there has been a fixation on the creativity of the selection given the injuries and suppensions for the game. Certainly, given the full compliment of players you might have seen different players on the pitch, but how was this structure different, in ideal, than the ways in which Barca has been laid out, especially this season? I don’t believe that it was a departure, it was certainly responsive or anticipatory of the opponent, but certainly well within character.

        As we have discussed before, Guardiola seems to use a few guiding principles and innovates to achieve them with the resources he has available. Defensively, it’s high pressure, total football, and possession/tiki taka. To achieve this he uses a high line generally composed of one more defender than they have attackers, and a keeper sweeping up behind. Some of the innovation is that he is much less concerned about what have become the traditional positional bands or lines. (Some would argue that is a logical outcome of total football.) What it looks like and how it is described involves “falses” and 1/2’s. In this case the opposition was attacking with either 1 or you might say 1 1/2. Rather than being satisfied with 3 at the back he pushed it.

        Offensively, he strives to control possession via tiki taka, dominate the midfield, and find/create space for Messi. I say create space for Messi rather than position Messi between lines or position messi in space, because Messi seems to truly be given a free role and most often capable of finding the space himself. Given the number of players that were positioned in midfield and defense, 8 or 9, depending on your perspective, Pep needed anyone he could spare from defense to achieve numerical superiority in midfield and maintain the tactical width. As you pointed out, he wanted to used that width in both midfield and up front. The result was Messi finding as much or even more space than he is used to without having to come as deep as often does against parked buses.

        One of the many interesting pieces of this game was how Pedro and Cuenca operating as wingers differed from what we so often see, a winger or wide forward and Dani. The difference between constant and intermittent width on the right side of the pitch was noticeable. This game also pointed out one of the compromises that comes when Iniesta is played on the left of the front line. Finally, it has been interesting to see the midgets finishing from crosses. Does that mean that the plan B that everyone has been looking for, aka a giant to put in the middle and cross to, can be effectively achieved with midgets, true width, and appropriate crosses?

        One thing to remember about for the CL semi’s is that it is in fact one 180 minute match with 4 quarters and an extended halftime. To me, that means we should expect to see a slower switch to aggressive positioning and structure than in a single match. I expect a more conservative line-up in London than we have been seeing. Especially assuming that Pep prepares to deal with the 4-2-3-1 Chelsea has been using lately and to best effect.

        As everyone rehashes the previous meeting between the two teams many have emphasized that this is nominally the same Chelsea team, only older. What I have not seen emphasized is the toll that time has taken on Chelsea’s midfield. The most glaring oversite, for me, is the absence of Essien. That guy used to be a monster. And whatever Mikel is he certainly hasn’t filled those shoes. Lampard was never expected to, and is himself diminished in capacity. Which leaves Ramires whose work rate, much like Dani’s, allows him to essentially play two positions simultaneously. However, lost in the hype of the goal he scored with his shin this weekend, is how much he is expected to do and that his technique is, as many have said including zonal marking, definitely “not Brazilian.”

      • April 17, 2012

        Terrific comment. The point you make on continuity is exactly right.

        These seemingly odd line ups/selection by Pep really are only extensions of core principles. Even when it looks different at the level of implementation there is great continuity at the system level.

  5. dean
    April 16, 2012

    Great read Euler, really appreciated the story behind the inverted pyramid and how the game has changed down the stretch. It’s one thing to ooh an aah at messi’s handiwork, but it’s quite another to be able to revel in Pep’s genius.

  6. Peterj
    April 16, 2012

    Nice job Mr Euler

  7. mom4
    April 16, 2012

    Nice read, Euler. I think I understood some of it.

    OT—Wigan, the little team that could. Funny old game ain’t it.

  8. April 16, 2012

    Yellow cards for handball in Europe’s top-5 leagues this season: ENG 14 – GER 15 – FRA 24 – ITA 30 – ESP 133 #fcblive [via opta]

    LOL ! 133 ?! Seriously ?

    • Richzorz
      April 17, 2012


    • nzm
      April 17, 2012

      I think that Messi must also have the record for the most handball yellows this season too! 😀

  9. blitzen
    April 16, 2012

    Fantastic article on Dani Alves by Sid Lowe:


    “The most difficult thing about Barcelona is not the way they play but the way of understanding the game. Tactically, I’ve improved under Pep, learning to do the simplest thing, which sometimes is the most difficult thing. But the key is the way we pressure — and the first person to lead the pressure is our best player, Leo Messi. That’s the starting point for an entire philosophy. I never thought that a team could pressure like we do: from minute one to minute 95, pressuring the ball and in the opposition’s half. Pep’s greatest success is convincing players, even great players, to do that.”

    Credit where it’s due, Sid has been on a roll lately with some really excellent articles. Not just the ones on Barça either, I have really enjoyed his pieces on Athletic Bilbao, Zaragoza & others.

    And also, this:

    As Jorge Valdano put it: “When Dani Alves runs up the pitch, he meets himself running back down it.”


    • Nav
      April 16, 2012

      This is awesome as well:

      Talk of being “scared” leads to the 2009 semi-final that casts such a shadow over this clash. Why did Chelsea lose? Alves’s answer is direct: “fear.” “There’s no doubt that was the hardest game we’ve played,” he says. “People say Chelsea would have won but for the referee, but what can we do about that? I think that [in 2009], Chelsea didn’t reach the final because of fear. The team that has got a man more, at home, winning 1-0, should have attacked us. Chelsea lacked the courage to take a step forward. Instead, they took a step back and they paid for it. When we saw they were not attacking us, we realised they had renounced the game. They were satisfied with 1-0, they were satisfied but forgot that at 1-1 we were through. All they did was get rid of the ball. They gifted us possession — and the worst thing you can do with Barcelona is give them possession.”

  10. Messiah10
    April 16, 2012


    That was amazing. Thanks for taking the time and thought to post your observations. It helps me understand tactical formations because I’m still a fairly new convert(decade of knowledge) to football. Having this game broken down for me helps me better understand each players role during the game and Pep’s genius crafting this team into a winner. Thanks again! Questions: Do you think Pep went w/this formation b/c of previous Getafe performances he’d seen and thought it’d work best or b/c it’s what he had to work with given the players available? Are you concerned about having a man mark Drogba and a cover man for him considering Drogba’s demolition of Tottenham’s defence this past weekend? My concern is Drogba’s strength. If he ends up being isolated up front, I can see a long ball over the top to him giving Pique or Masch problems considering his physicality. I think I’m more comfortable with a 4 man backline even though that weakens are ability to break down the parked bus that is Chelski

  11. nia
    April 16, 2012

    It was interesting watching presspass today as they were discussing the upcoming CL semi’s. As usual they were attacking Barca and their ‘soft’ defence yet giving Bayern no chance against EE. I know Barca are slim at the back yet, i think we have conceded the least goals or there abouts. EE really haven’t faced any tough opposition and hopefully Bayern will show up. If we do reach the final i hope we win it coz we’ve had the tougher rout. Granted Chelsea will not be an easier rout as they have a score to settle.

  12. K_legit in Oz
    April 17, 2012

    Seen on facebook:

    Step 1 : Choose the greatest football team in the world.

    Step 2 : Post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and every-fucking-where, that they are being supported by the Federation and the Referees, and that their games are ‘fixed’.

    Step 3 : When the above mentioned team rapes oppositions as expected, with their sublime football, say I told you so.

    Step 4 : When Ref decisions, go against them say “They got their own medicine”.

    Step 5 : When Ref decisions favor them, say I told you so.

    Congratulations, you are officially a Grade-A Muppet, now.

    • nzm
      April 17, 2012

      That is the best laugh that I’ve had in a long time!

      Jose bomaye…. 😀

      Thanks for posting the link, Goo!

    • blitzen
      April 17, 2012

      That is one of the best things I have ever read.

    • April 17, 2012

      Hahahah this is hilarious!

      “You’re injured Iniesta… injured in the head.”

      Thanks for sharing.

  13. Gogah
    April 17, 2012

    Great analysis Euler.
    As i was watching the match, I too noticed a 1-2-3-4 shape many a time, but dismissed it as just another instance of Barca’s constant movement and interchanging. But clearly, as you have explained, It was no coincidence.

    My question is this: Most teams that play us, especially at home, defend really narrow and compact between the lines. Why wasn’t the inverted pyramid formation tried before? Every time i used to see us painfully trying to create intricate attacks to cut open the defense, i used to keep thinking, its obvious we need width and its obvious we need to put numbers on either sides, yet it was never done, usually barca trying to slice through the middle. Why was this so? and do u think the 1-2-3-4 or 2-3-5 as u call it is here to stay?

    • April 17, 2012

      This is a really good question. One I was thinking about quite a bit as well.

      I think the context here is important. And that context is the fact that the team will be very short handed for the rest of the season at the back.

      Necessity is the mother of all invention and that was clearly an issue here.

      But overall Guardiola is in constant experimentation. In fact they really aren’t experiments because that’s just the way he operates. Always something new.

      And now may be the time for something new because the opposition has adjusted to things like Barca fielding Messi as a false 9.

  14. y2k156
    April 17, 2012

    Fantastic article Eular. It is really interesting to see how Pep keeps on coming with new variations.

  15. Srini
    April 17, 2012

    This is a great read, Euler, as usual.

    The structure-dynamic dialectic and Guardiola’s use of it is indeed very very interesting. I suppose this structure is yet another innovation to overwhelm the “Parked Bus” by maximising the attack’s skillsets using structural discipline and positional IQ.

    Nou Camp’s width and slick surface provides Barca with the fullest opportunities to put their plan in place.

    I wonder how this kind of exalted positional setup is trained into play. It must be overwhelming for the most experienced and skilful of footballers. That the line up featured 8 canteranos and progressively fielded 10 by the end of the game perhaps was the crucial factor. Having high IQ non-canteranos like Mascherano, Alexis and Adriano of course helped.

    • April 17, 2012

      Your last point is really interesting. It’s a question of how does tacit knowledge get shared? That’s a very difficult problem. And game intelligence and insight are key to that.

      Sanchez in many ways is the most stark example of this given how fast he’s incorporated into the system.

      I remember being so struck by this from the first match he played. There was that moment vs. RM in the Super Cup when he had to bend at the knees awkwardly so that he could head a ball into open space for Messi to run onto while surrounded by defenders.

      Even then Sanchez could just see the run Messi was about to make. I wrote about that in my review. That was the moment when I really knew Sanchez would have great influence at Barca.

      Alves speaks to this in his interview with sid lowe:

      “The most difficult thing about Barcelona is not the way they play but the way of understanding the game.”

      • Srini
        April 17, 2012

        Yes, I remember reading your piece about the quick first touch by Sanchez to Messi to free him in open space. Very uncannily similar to Messi’s first time chested pass to Sanchez in the Getafe game or Messi’s chested pass to Pique (followed by Pique’s own back-heel to Messi for a goal) in the return Clasico during the Super Cup in the Nou Camp.

      • Gogah
        April 17, 2012

        just one request.
        I absolutely can’t stand in when commentators (english) and others frequently call our home the Nou Camp.
        Nobody says Trafford Old or Bridge Stamford.
        I’m guessing you’re not English.

      • April 17, 2012

        I thought of the same thing when Messi chest passed the ball to Sanchez vs Getafe

        It was like closing the circle from the pass Sanchez made to Messi to open the season.

  16. barca96
    April 17, 2012

    Kxevin please sign Euler up. Give him a column.

    Euler please send your resume to Guardian. You are in the same league or even better tjan Jonathan Wilson.

    • swamidigital
      April 17, 2012

      I would buy a book on Barca tactics by Euler. In fact I am going to download and save the various articles posted up here! I really liked your comment about re-inverting the pyramid, as I am currently reading inverting the pyramid myself, hehe.

  17. Blau-Grenade
    April 17, 2012

    Another marvelous read Euler. Thank You.

  18. nzm
    April 17, 2012

    Fantastic analysis, Euler – thanks so much for all the effort.

    It’s going to be interesting to watch how much of these tactics sneak into the 3 games over the coming week.

    Cules get ready!

  19. Messiah10
    April 17, 2012

    It’s interesting that most pundit’s aren’t giving Bayern all that much of a chance against EE. A lot of trolls(I’m 1 too. Not belittling) on BFB and other blogs are saying much of the same. I hope I’m right when I say that I really. . .really like Bayern’s chances against EE. I haven’t seen EE route any opposing team that is half decent. A lot of their games with big goal tallies is down to the opposition giving up in the final 15 minutes of the game and EE piling on. I’m not diminishing EE’s brilliance. On their day they are the 2nd best team in the world. However, given the 1st leg is away and Bayern have many weapons to unleash, I’m suprised at the odds everyone is giving Bayern to move on. Is it because it’s a 2 legged affair? Possibly. I’m more inclined to think it’s EE’s historically favored media darling because of their history in the CL. Most people don’t realize that the 5 straight European Cups were won at a time when a lot of the best players were playing in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The size of the tournament was miniscule compared with today. They won 5. They can own them. It just doesn’t impress me all that much. Especially, considering Franco stole Di Stefano.

    • swamidigital
      April 17, 2012

      I don’t think EE has been really tested by a team as talented as them, except for the losses/draws against us. They haven’t really played a great team in CL either. I think it will be interesting to see if they crumble under pressure like they did against us, because they haven’t really played teams as dangerous as themselves, except us.

  20. barca96
    April 17, 2012

    -I think Pep should go into the match just like how he prepared his team for AC Milan.

    -We need to be conservative but at least get a goal.

    -Two key players.
    Keita and Alves are the key players for me.
    Keita for his body and Alves for his crosses.

    -I have a feeling that Messi & Iniesta will be be kept quiet.

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