I suppose I know what you’re here for: remuntada, offense is defense, ens hi deixem la pell, etc, yadda yadda. But I’m not going to do that. So now you’re here for how we, as supporters, must watch the match for the beauty, the joy, the mes que un club. Except Kxevin made his thoughts known previously on this matter, so I won’t bore you with that either.
What I will bore you with is the question (and potentially the answer to) how this match should be played out, but probably won’t be. There’s been a distinct lack of creativity coming from the coaching staff in recent weeks, especially when it came to the first Milan game and the 1-3 Copa del Rey loss. It wasn’t so much that either Milan or Madrid outplayed us, but rather that the team was set up to fail, with no real game plan other than trying to slowly pass the ball around high-pressing opponents. It’s not even that the team outplayed itself because that would suggest that the team was actually playing. It wasn’t. I’m not a big fan of “Route 1” (Also, I drove that highway through a lot of Maine once to find out what that was like: don’t do it), but I’m also not a fan of a complete lack of tactics.
The first thing is to put Adriano on the left and not not not, I repeat not, Jordi Alba. Here’s something: Alba is a fantastic player–he’s arguably the best left back in the world and is certainly in the top 5 if he isn’t the best–but he is either completely incapable of not making runs forward for 90 straight minutes or the coaches are completely incapable of telling him to stay put sometimes. Adriano, on the other hand, does exactly that. We’ll call it the Abidal Effect. When the left back stays back a bit, he cuts off passing channels that are otherwise wide open or he’s able to cover if the defense has to shift. It’s not really a question of height (Adriano is only 1 inch–2cm–taller than Alba), but rather of mentality, of natural positioning, and, I guess, of willingness to sacrifice forward-going tendencies to the good of the cause. Again, that could just be a tactical move by the coaching staff, but it opens up all sorts of problems when it’s coupled with the next paragraph…
Don’t start Cesc! He’s a very good midfielder. He has lots of strong suits, but playing in addition to Iniesta and Xavi, while good on paper, narrows the game too much. This isn’t because of Cesc, per se, but it is because of who isn’t playing because of Cesc: one of Villa, Alexis, Pedro, or Tello. Again, on paper, Iniesta on the left make some sense, especially with Alba on the field, but the actual outcome is that everyone is caught far up the field, there isn’t enough cover at the back, and the team is often sterile in possession as teams cut off supply lines instead of worrying about runners in on goal.
Thirdly: we shouldn’t play a 3-4-3. Part of what makes FCB’s attack so dynamic is that the wings shuttle in from time-to-time. Removing that and placing 3 centerbacks of questionable speed on the field does nothing to help the attack and is likely to be a defensive liability as it limits Busquets’ game. If a 3-4-3 is played, then Busquets is effectively removed from the equation and should likely sit out. That would be okay, except it would reduce the fluidity of the team in midfield with their exchanges (it would effectively flatten out the midfield). There is an argument to be made for it, of course, but when the team is at its best, it’s fluid enough to render the question of “3-4-3” or “4-3-3” or “1-8-1” meaningless. And make no mistake: it will have to be at its best against Milan in order to have even a snowball’s chance in Bangkok in April (which is when it is statistically hottest, according to Wikipedia). Set your thermostats to: aggressive.
It’s interesting that Graham Hunter highlights Xavi’s “revelation” prior to a major match, not because it’s telling or it’s a trope (it’s not), but because it’s what a lot of people have been saying for a while now, especially this site’s Tactics Guy, Euler. It’s also good to see that we’re not totally insane in our Twitter feedback loop, that a genius like Xavi actually agrees with us. But it’s also not going to be easy, by any stretch. Hunter points out, among other things, that Barcelona would be “the first team in Champions League history to overcome a two-goal first-leg deficit when they don’t have an away goal.” That’s an astonishing hill to climb at one of the highest levels in the sport.*
Whatever the actual percentages are on this (and I guess they’re historically 0%), I rate the team as having a 20% chance of going through. That, to me, is a mark of how much I believe in this team. The first leg was so abysmal that the likelihood of a positive outcome is very, very low. But I’ve seen crazier. My own sports history speaks to that: Kansas down 9 with 2:19 left on the clock against Memphis in the 2008 National Championship Game and yet Mario Chalmers was able to hit that three-pointer. I’ve watched outrageous plays in numerous sports, ridiculous wins by teams that couldn’t possibly win; this is our own hurry up offense kind of moment. But what actually works is if you relax. If you come at it easily. If you’re tense, you go home; you brick your free throws like Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts or you drop a pass or you, I don’t know, miss a wicket (I don’t know anything about cricket). Or you watch as shot after shot goes wide of the net; maybe you don’t even get any shots.
One final bit of trivia pulled from Graham Hunter’s piece: if Barcelona is eliminated by Milan, it will be their first such elimination since 2007. An unbelievable number of fans of this magnificent team of ours will hardly remember that year. It’s a long time again, in a land far away. We should appreciate that fact even as we hope that we do not have to think about it tomorrow evening. To make that happen, the crowd tomorrow must be on the team’s side. Cheering and uplifting their heroes, not brandishing rhetorical knives at refs or opponents’ bus-parking. Applauding the good play and blasting out the chants whenever they need to (or just feel like a good o le le o la la). It’s time the Camp Nou was behind the team, not against the opponents. This is a grand old stalwart of European competition we’re facing, but they’re also beatable, if only we’ll let ourselves try.
*It’s likely that this stat, pulled from that Hunter article, is about the Champions League and not the European Cup over the course of its history; I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure there were some such comebacks in past, even some by Barcelona.