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.