It isn’t the defense …. it’s everything ELSE, aka “Risk equals reward, and more risk”


This isn’t a Bayern preview, because Isaiah has banged one out for your enjoyment.

Something fascinating just rolled across Twitter, that deserves a post of its own. There is a Club Perarnau breakdown on why the Barca defense has seemed funky this season. Essentially, it comes to the conclusion that the more vertical style means that the press is much less effective. Pasting direct references to it from Twitter, via @zerospeak:

In the past, each Barca player averaged 80 sprints of 5-10 meters or 2-3 seconds per game in recuperating the ball. And usually in a group. The change in attacking methodology has lead to more sprints for each player & over a longer distance, rendering their press ineffectual.

In other words it ain’t the defense …. it’s everything else. Might have to join that Club Perarnau.

Many of us have been saying this all along, that the higher risk system leaves the defense in an odd, more vulnerable position, and that would be true no matter the CB that you put in there. Here’s why:

We began to see signs of a more vertical attack at the end of the Guardiola era, and it continues now, but there are complexities. More vertical means more players farther forward, which leaves more space for opponents to exploit on attack. The tradeoff is an offense that is placed closer to the opponent’s box, if the vertical system works. This means less running for Messi, fewer fouls on his runs, and so forth.

Now, more vertical also means riskier passes. We’re seeing Valdes trying the kinds of attack-starting passes that Marquez used to make. Longer balls are also coming from the midfield. Again, because of the way that opponents are playing us, tika-taka isn’t always the best solution.

But if the team isn’t careful in possession, and it is almost impossible to be as careful as before in the context of a riskier, more vertical attack, then opponents are left with acres of space in which to attack. I said last week that any CB short of Levitating Jesus was going to fall short. For good reason. Any CB would be at risk, from Thiago Silva to Javi Martinez.

Another issue with the higher risk style is that because older players are running more, are we are seeing the effects of it in the players breaking down? Not just the vets like Xavi and Puyol. Look at how tired the side was at end of the Milan tie. Xavi and Puyol are aging, yet they have to run more and more.

I see this change in style as another symptom of (no judgment here) the Messi-zation of Barça. The team wants to get the ball to its best player, as close as possible to the danger zone. That means that the player can’t be farting around pressing the ball, when he is best utilized in this vertical system, in effect standing near the danger zone, waiting for the ball. (All that bandwidth used on arguments about why Messi should and shouldn’t be pressing, and it was staring us right in the face. Color me a dumbass.)

Now it also means on counters, because players are farther forward, opponent counters have a greater chance of success, because our mid and forwards can’t catch up to it. And here’s the weird thing: Didn’t we just buy a shiny new quokka in the summer. What the hell, right?

And people wonder why the defense seems more stable with Abidal, but it’s simple, really: He fills the normally vacant space. With Alba riding the elevator up and back, same problem on right and left with space behind the FB. Abidal’s attacking prowess isn’t that of Alba’s, even as his defensive prowess is beyond Alba’s. So a player such as Song can play a DM/AM combo platter, moving farther forward in conjunction with a more conservative LB in Montoya. Those spaces are filled. Yes, Levante got a few attacks, mostly as a result of crazy, high-wire stuff that only our sprites can manage. And bango …. clean sheet.

What does this mean against Bayern? Hell if I know. But I do know that the higher-risk style is placing Busquets at risk, because it isolates him. Busquets can cause a lot more damage when an attacker has to run the gauntlet of Messi/Iniesta/Xavi/Pedro nipping at his heels, only to turn around and there’s the octopus.

Now, in the case of an example lineup, Villa is on the left, wide. Messi is in the middle. Pedro is on the right, wide. When possession is turned, those three players are effectively out of the play.

Compare that to the treble season, when Eto’o was more central, Messi was just roaming and Henry was ready to light up the jets to chase stuff down. Villa, even at his fastest, never had Henry kinds of jets and Pedro is off to the right. Our most effective midfield pressure generator, Messi, isn’t helping to generate midfield pressure. His defensive contributions were a huge part of that 4-0 Milan hiding.

Here’s something crazy: Is Neymar (if the rumors are true) a defensive purchase? Well, no. But it’s hard not to think of the value of Alba scuttling not as far forward and side to side, in effect becoming an Abidal mini-me, since he really won’t have to play left wing on the attack. Hmmm ….

Anyhow, I have to stop now, as I said I wouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes on this thing, so there you go.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Srini
    April 23, 2013

    I know this is a Barca blog.

    I know that the third goal was off a blatant foul against Jordi Alba.

    I know that the second goal was somewhat offside.

    But please.

    This was, in my opinion, the most comprehensive defeat by Barca (and not just the margin) since Pep Guardiola took over as coach and Tito went on to take reins by basically retaining the fundamentals of his system more or less, with some tinkering.

    Full kudos to Bayern, who pressed in a very clever and coordinated fashion, much like what AC Milan did. They did not press the defenders – even them selectively – as much they did the midfield. The pitch helped as well and their defense was magnificent. Added to that, was their passing from the back as well, as they played a fully efficient game.

    Barca clearly lacked a few things – a fit Messi, their trump card, a tall striker (a pie from the sky), and their zone defense of corners was bound to flop, as it relied on some high risk defending. Pique was stationed in the center to take off any threat and the entire defense was supposed to act as a zone to get offside trapping going. The trouble was when Bayern realised this, the corners were played to the farther or nearer post, and off another headed pass, the Barca goal was made super-vulnerable.

    In other words, Heynckes was not exaggerating when he emphatically said that he knew the Barca fundamentals inside out. This was a major and a comprehensive win for Bayern. I do believe that the false 9, 4-3-3 with short skilled players alone has run its course. Barca need to either go up a “dialectical leap” in their system or have to drastically correct its frayed edges.

    It is a major lesson for Tito in his difficult first season. It should not be an insurmountable problem. Some players need to be sold and some have to be quickly and ideally sorted for retaining a new kind of balance that will have to be rebuilt for the Barca system. The writing is clearly on the wall.

  2. lyd
    April 23, 2013

    We lost to a side that played better football, made less errors than us. A side that exposed our usual weakness of the aerial play and took full advantage of the difference in physicality. A side that justified their preparation with superb execution.

    Please refrain yourself from blaming Tito, the players, the system etc. We’d have lost this game 0-2/1-3 three out of five times, anyway. Even a 0-2 would be a mountain to climb against Bayern.

    We beat Bayern 4-0 once and those were clean, beautiful goals, remember?
    Did Bayern outplayed us in our own game? In terms of pressing- yes. Possession, ball circulation- No. Did Bayern show creativity in build up, that we at our best do?

    Bayern needed us to field a makeshift CB pairing, an injured Messi. They needed assistance from messed up linesmen (once again these linesmen at away CL games.. makes 2-3 glaring errors! unbelievable. What do this goal line ref do really? re block on Alba).

    Get over it Cules. Now off to the mythical San Mames….


    • Jim
      April 23, 2013

      Again, not making excuses as I’ve already praised Bayern but the ridiculous amount of water especially around the middle third of the pitch was deliberate to slow down the quick ball movement which was our best defence against the pressing done there. It gave them the vital time to get to us.The little ones were literally dragging the ball through it and passes were arriving with almost no pace on them. Just a small point.

    • KEVINO17
      April 23, 2013

      A good point.

    • lyd
      April 23, 2013

      Jim, the water pissed me off too. Dry, tall grass, flowers- we’ve seen it all.

      But look, our game at its best doesn’t bank on the center of pitch entirely. The cutting edge to our possession play was missing overall. We were playing the game to not concede from the very start. The feeling of superiority faded as the game progressed. We lost control and they eventually smelled blood and did what they came out to do.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2013

      Agreed partly. Our best game is predicated on total control of the midfield which was difficult on this pitch but you always felt the possession had no cutting edge around their box. This was largely because neither Pedro nor Alexis carry a threat on their own and there was no Villa, back to goal, to help Iniesta and Messi as they head towards the box looking for one twos or spinning off the CBs into the channels.

      This in turn, as you say, gave them a feeling that we couldn’t hurt them and they grew in confidence.

    • culegirl3
      April 23, 2013

      The good ‘ol days…

    • Enzo
      April 23, 2013

      When we had a proper 9 and Messi on the wing:-)

  3. Jim
    April 23, 2013

    Lest the idea that the midfield was overrun takes hold, pass completion % were

    Xavi 92%. Finished? Really? In that sodden, crowded midfield ?
    Busi 90%
    Iniesta. 86%. Lower than the other two but still way above any Bayern player and probably because he played most passes around their box.

    Bayern were better offensively and defensively than us and deserved to win but it would be foolish to write off this team. We do need a CB, a fit Messi and a forward who can beat his man and score 20+ per year but that is all.

    • KEVINO17
      April 23, 2013

      Absolutely agree with you – though I do have some doubts about Busquets in this team (despite received opinion). I’m not sure that he brings much to the table. He is a very neat passer and looks good defensively when the Barca press is working (because he gets to gobble up the stray balls). But there are lots of other good passers out there who are a hell of a lot quicker and offer more offensively.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2013

      My biggest beef with Busi is that he is our only other defender with height and you still couldn’t slip a newspaper under his feet when he jumps !

    • KEVINO17
      April 23, 2013

      Yep, he’s totally unathletic. He NEVER seems to get his head on the ball.

  4. TITO
    April 23, 2013

    And because nobody else mentioned or thinks it’s not a problem… what i like about Valdes leaving? We’ll probably get a GK who has the balls to come out of a goal line when there’s a cross in your box. Especially when you know how short your players are.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2013

      Need to look at the goals again but my impression at the time was that at the first goal Dante was outside the six yard box hen he headered and at he second I think it was Muller and he was well beyond the back post when he headered it back. Neither of those if correct are keeper’s balls.

    • TITO
      April 23, 2013

      Was not talking only about the goals situations but in general, throughout the game, and the years respectively. He needs to show more balls and to go out on crosses.

  5. BA
    April 23, 2013

    oh, and by the way, the guy we signed to give us “cover, experience, height and power in the defensive third”, Alex Song, was sitting on the bench busily being not good enough. what a waste of money *that* was.

    • KEVINO17
      April 23, 2013

      Actually, I’d now slot him into the holding midfield position instead of Busquets, because he passes just as well (and better offensively) and does everything else better.
      I would have toyed with the idea of bringing him on and sending him up to Centre-Forward to at least give us some muscle.

  6. Blau-Grenade
    April 23, 2013

    Fantastic article by Michael Cox.

    “Javi Martínez the key weapon as Bayern cut Barcelona down to size”


  7. TITO
    April 23, 2013

    On the ref mistakes:
    They had 2 clear calls for penalties, and that’s it.
    On our side, their 4 goals were dubious. First one was foul on Dani from Alaba, second one was offside, third one was a foul on Alba from Gomez and the fourth one came after a foul on Dani from Schweini which led to the goal with us having a player less on that side.
    We deserved to lose, but not with this margin.

  8. SteveHK
    April 23, 2013

    I am thinking about the pre-game Xavi interview where Xavi says at Barca it’s not enough just to win – they have to do it the Barca way. Right now I think the team is not good enough OFFENSIVELY to win the “barca way” against the best teams – certainly not with a half fit Messi.
    Bayern’s defense dominated the Barca offense – if that is because of the quality of Bayern’s defense rather than any failure on the part of Barca’s offense – then still Tito and the coaching staff should have known in advance how great Bayern’s defense was.)
    I think if the team/coach had put winning first, no matter if it was done the Barca way or not, they might have decided that they would be lucky to score a goal with Messi not fully fit, and played a very defensive game – play for a 0-0 or 1-0 loss, and trusted for a fitter Messi at home.
    I’m not a football tactical expert. But it seemed like maybe our coaching staff wasn’t realistic enough or humble enough to see that we weren’t going to be able to beat Bayern playing the usual Barca way, and come up with more realistic tactics.
    Or maybe Bayern is just that good!
    On the positive, I wasn’t ashamed of our team or our effort in any way. I am guessing Messi, who I believe is a very intelligent disciplined player, was playing at the pace he had to in order to prevent a re-injury.

  9. Blau-Grenade
    April 23, 2013

    The Zonal Marking analysis on the game:


    The key to Bayern triumph was Javi Martinez.

  10. Bill
    April 23, 2013

    Carnage in munich! I can’t even be mad. Can’t complain at refs. Just clap for bayern. Or issues were exposed in the worst way possible. Just a few comments about or players…

    The team has two sides now, good Barca and bad Barca. The good one moves the ball quickly, one touch passing with lots of intent to attack. Usually a minimum of 3 players crashing the box. Bad Barca is tentative with passes, too many players holding the ball with 3-5 touches, wayward passing and no one crashing the box.

    Why bench Bertra at the beginning of the season, hardly giving him a game, then play him in a game like this?

    It was wrong for the team to believe they can’t play without Messi.

    We need another goal scoring threat.

    The team is still bypassing Xavi. That and Valdes kicking the ball forward means no control. Which brings me to…

    Can’t wait for Valdes to go. I really can’t explain that keeper. That first goal was directly at him. He was falling backwards into goal, why? That started the floodgates.

    • April 23, 2013

      Bill is spot on. I have been saying this stuff for some time, and been hammered for hating Messi, which is very, very far from the truth. I love Barça, and it has become clear that over the years, the team has morphed from a possession-based side with a diverse attack, to a one-man show.

      Messidependencia began under Guardiola last season, but was meant as a stopgap, because of all the injuries and breakdowns. It became permanent, and was exposed today. It happens.

      The thing now is what to do about it? Don’t forget that Bayern was overconfident and almost gave up a big lead against Arsenal. I find it difficult to believe that our team will lay two eggs.

      For me, no blame. We just got our asses kicked today, up and down the pitch. No Valdes, no Bartra, nobody. The whole XI took it, and good.

    • Reto
      April 24, 2013

      Who do you think could be that goal scoring threat?
      I do agree with you that we desperately need one but personally I can not specificly think of a name.

      It’s the same with the central defence for me.
      Yes we have to upgrade but who could help us?

    • ilie
      April 24, 2013

      Neymar, Sakho from PSG.. and others

  11. Blau-Grenade
    April 23, 2013

    This is a game that Barcelona could have won. But with the right tactics. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Bayern were playing at a level above Barca.
    Some people seem to be in denial that any club could play better than Barca.

    Here is a copy of the comment:

    Bayern is the best team left out of the remaining. Yes, they are better than Barca at the current moment, and, in my humble opinion they are playing at a level above Barca. I am very torn between supporting either club in the semi final. I have to say that Bayern have won my heart with the kind of football they have played against Juventus and Arsenal.

    Mandzukic being suspended might be something that can give Barca some hope. And Barca should take full advantage of it in the first half. This guy can hold the ball and make plays like nobody’s business, besides scoring goals. He will win every single ball in the air unless he is fouled. Because his replacement Muller does not move very much in and around the box and it is easy to positionally defend against him in open play.

    Ribery can burn Alves, and Robben can burn Alba. Gomez/Mandzukich and Muller can more than occupy Busi and the two centre backs. That leaves Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez to orchestrate the game. Schweinsteiger is the most complete holding midfielder for me at the moment. Yes, he is a long yard ahead of Busi. His long range passing is something to behold.

    Then there is the backline of Bayern – Lahm, Dante, Van Buyten, and Alaba, and the keeper – Neuyer. This is currently probably my favorite backline among all the teams in the world.

    I do not see Barca getting past Bayern, not with the tactics they employ at the current moment, nor with the team they have at the current moment. Bayern have too many way’s to open Barca defence. Through the wings with Ribery and Robben cutting the ball in, with overhead balls to Gomez/Mandzukic/Muller.

    The thing that can make Barca stand a chance in the match against Bayern is if they play a double pivot of Song and Busi in front of Pique and Bartra. This four man wall gives some hope for winning the areal duel’s with Muller/Gomez/Mandzukic in the middle, and during the free kicks. And Alves and Alba will have to be very careful with Ribery and Robben.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing some amazing football in the Semi’s.

    Barca should consider themselves very lucky that Mandzukic and Kroos were not on the pitch. The scoreline could easily have been a manita or more. And that is what Barca should be afraid of when they come to Camp Nou.

    The right tactics seem to have not employed lead me to believe there is a problem with the club at the coaching level.

    One of the two is happening here.

    1. It seems to me either that Xavi/Messi control the dressing room, instead of Tito.

    2. And/Or, Tito has been spineless in substituting an ineffective Xavi/Messi/Pedro/Alexis and did not have a plan B against Bayern. He is too stuck up with his ideal starters and cannot think outside the box, or beyond the system. His substitutions were too little, too late. His lineup was all wrong. He should have put in two holding midfielders.

    In my book both these situations call for a change in the coaching staff.

  12. Chiu
    April 23, 2013

    What a shocking morning to wake up. I didnt watch the match, just checked the news we were beaten so hard, 4-0. Kind of humiliation, scoreline wise

    Now it’s almost impossible to come back. I just hope we play the return leg in Camp Nou with the erased memory that last night game never happened. Just put effort to win the game without thinking the aggregate. Then see what the final score would be. Again, two or three early goals in the first half would be crucial to shed tiny hope for Wembley.

    Congratulation for Bayern, what a great night for them in Allianz Arena!

    Visca Barca! La Liga almost wrapped up! Cheers 🙂

  13. K_legit in Oz
    April 23, 2013

    What a hammering! I’m quite stunned!

  14. ElJefe
    April 24, 2013

    Sure we can talk injuries, we can talk momentum, but this is really a squad that would beat us 6-8 times out of 10 with full line-ups, really the first time Barca will truly have to re-evaluate just as every other team on the planet has had to do in response to us the last chunk of a decade:

    1) We all knew our size and set piece weakness would catch up to us in the Champion’s League. Well, might as well get it all over with in one match.
    2) Perfect counter-attack squad with Ribery AND Robben. We have no answer to it other than possess 100%
    3) A true number 9 who can cut through any non-Puyol/Abidal defender liker butter. Ibra also looked very dangerous against us.
    4) A slasher in Muller who can stretch the defense across the box, yet score from anywhere.
    5) Arguably the best goaltender in the world right now
    6) Dual threat mids who rival our own in Lamm and SSteiger
    7) BIG back line

    This team was designed to beat us, and did as planned. We need a legitimate 2nd threat and a UCL sized back-line if we want to be on top in 2014. I continue to ask why Tello is not playing as he’s the only one with the eye of the tiger on the team right now. The good news (on paper), Neymar will be coming.

    I love our Cules. I feel no pain. We will respond. Let’s get to work.

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