A short something about defense, aka “No … really?”


So. When this season started, people were saying that we were going to be able to learn a lot about this club after the first batch of Liga matches, which contained some traditionally difficult opponents.

At the end of that stretch, we are perfect, with a piece of silver to boot. I shouldn’t be surprised that some have shifted from that already-forgotten tidbit to “our defense is terrible, we’re all going to die with every last set piece.”

If you have access to matches from seasons past, it’s worth going back to have a look, then to now. The biggest differences are Abidal, and our playing style, then to now. Abidal fixed almost everything in back. He made Pique and Puyol better than they were, he helped Valdes, he was a human eraser.

But there was also more possession, with the “possession as defense” worldview. So those “boring” lateral and back passes were the team defending by simply keeping the ball. Compare that to the slashing, aggressive passing style of today, Messi, Neymar and Iniesta taking risks, etc. Huge difference.

Look at the above video (I’d do it with the sound off … trust me) for a perfect illustration of defending with possession. When you have the ball all the time, you aren’t going to concede goals. Simple.

Moving to the here and now, it’s also worth noting that no matter WHAT CB you put back there, when your two fullbacks are up the pitch, there are going to be problems. The difference when we were conceding less wasn’t any sort of proper CB, but rather a proper defensive LB. Note that we began having counter complexities when Abidal started venturing forward, doing something that culers would cry out for him to do, time and again, citing it as a weakness in his game.

Now we have an LB who goes forward, and look. Should there be balance? Yep. But even if Jordi Alba were to stay at home, he would still be outmuscled by a physical opponent, and all but useless on set pieces. He just isn’t a proper defender, and never will be. He was first signed, scurried about, banged in goals and people hailed the signing. But he was always going to be a defensive liability. It’s the risk you take with small, skilled players.

In essence, Barça’s back line is two wingers and a pair of DMs. The elegant, total football sides began the evolution that finds its fullest voice in today’s team, which might be considered to be a fully evolved variant that needs some fine-tuning to reach maximum effectiveness.

Further, I think that we also need to have some perspective on the totality of the way this current club plays, and how that will affect the defense and the way that it plays. It isn’t offense or defense, it’s 11 players and their movements, affecting outcomes when we or the opponent has the ball.

In American football, people can say “Man, the defense is carrying the club.” As a Chicago Bears fan, I am very used to saying that. But in proper football, defense and offense are one, and interrelated.

Note one of the number of occasions against Sevilla where Messi gave up the ball, resulting in a dangerous counter. How the team reacts is crucial to the success or failure of that counter. When a turnover happens, the team is set up to attack. So the defenders are pushed up, Valdes is usually somewhere on the outer edge of his box.

Then possession changes, and everyone then has to scramble back to fix the problem, usually resulting in some sort of confusion as everyone runs to the ball, rather than picking out a man and ensuring that a particular player can’t cause any damage. And usually, somebody gets in somebody else’s way and it looks a right smart mess. Then Valdes makes a spectacular save, or we concede and he throws up his hands in exasperation, even though he shouldn’t be at all surprised, because if it’s that obvious to me, it sure as hell has to be obvious to him.

But that’s counters. For set pieces, Barça is always going to be out-physicaled in the air. Sorry. Folks should just get used to that. Some set piece goals are going to be conceded. Sevilla had 9 set pieces, and scored 1 goal. I’ll take that. It doesn’t matter what you do for Mascherano, or Alba, or Alves. They are, relative to average defender height, short. They can jump out of the gym, but will still be the height that they are. You American basketball fans always see the short player (like Spud Webb) who can dunk, and people ooh and aah. But that physical wonder still can’t stop a power forward from scoring. It’s a simple case of physics.

Going a bit deeper, what’s the job of a defense? To help its club win a football match. Sometimes, the offense carries more of the burden, sometimes the defense does.

No goals vs Levante, 1 over two legs against Atleti, none against Malaga, two each against Valencia and Sevilla, but the team still won. Some days offense, some days defense. The keeper, by the by, is part of that defense, rather than some separate entity. Valdes has been very good this season, even as he has had a few lapses, as well. Again, it happens. But still, this team has a so-far perfect record, complete with silver.

I know that people won’t stop harping on the defense, because that is the meme of the moment, that we have a poor defense that is just waiting to get gutted by a good team. But without balance and perspective, it’s an incomplete contention.

Prediction: When Puyol returns, people are going to say “Yay, Capita is back!” And if the team keeps playing as it is, with Alba and Alves scampering about hither and yon, it isn’t going to matter. We are going to continue conceding counter goals. As for set pieces, as I said above, get used to it.

Here’s something else to think about: Our defense has been roiled of late, with injuries, illnesses and coaching changes. It played one way under Guardiola, was learning a new way when Guardiola left. Tito Vilanova took over and began the process of instilling a riskier, more vertical playing style. This of course meant putting the defense at much greater risk. Then he began his cancer battle, injuries took over and everything was a mess. Then Vilanova stepped down and now, the club has a new coach with a new system.

Which means what? That this team is going to get better as its coach instills the playing style and rhythms that he wants to see. But right now, things are kind of a mess, and the players are getting it done by dint of virtuosity. Just as it took teams in other years some time to settle in and find their way, this team deserves the same patience. Just because many of the same players are on this side that were on the Treble-winning side doesn’t mean that the same result is supposed to happen, or that there is any sense at all of continuity. Different. Every year, every match is different. The players are different, the way they are being asked to play is different. So pull up a chair, watch, be patient and understanding. It’s going to be a fun ride.

By Kxevin

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. Agree with most of this, but it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition. We can still play total football AND improve set piece defending, and from what I’ve seen this year, set pieces are really my main area of concern. Look at how Abi was able to minimize the natural weaknesses of our playing style without sacrificing it. For you economics students out there, it’s about thinking at the margins.

    I think Masch has improved a lot at CB (he’s learning to stay on his feet more and his positioning is better), and Pique showed a bit of past form yesterday. Of course there will be a price to be paid for being…vertically challenged. But on the second Sevilla goal, whatever set piece defensive system we were using simply broke down. This is bound to happen from time to time, but we must make marginal improvements, or the big boys will make a meal of us. Results are important, but I also want to see us play to our potential. You also can’t have it both ways – we’re awesome now because of our early season record, but a 0-7 aggregate hiding from BM isn’t really indicative of a systematic problem?

    And then there’s the issue of depth. Who wants to take bets on how many games our lionhearted Capita will play before another injury (or our super-sub fullback for that matter)? Breaks my heart, but if I was betting my retirement money…you see my point. Also, defenders get cards – part of the job. One predictable injury + one card suspension + one CL elimination game = unhappy cules.

    Generally, I’m VERY optimistic for the season and I’ve been loving it so far. That kid from Brazil is the bizness, Cesc has figured out how too be awesome in his own special way (or the coaches have), Busi continues to show that if any player is worth 100 million Euros, it’s him (and the flea, but we all knew that). Still, in an understandable effort to reign in some pessimism, we shouldn’t lose sight of how we can get better, or question the loyalty/motivation/intelligence/mental capacity of our Cule brothers and sisters who point out the negatives.

    Now let’s debate Alba vs. Adriano!

    1. I think things will improve dramatically. Look at the two Sevilla goals. On the first, the real mess began when the Sevilla attacker outran two of our defenders at midfield. It still should have been covered, but Busquets tried the sliding challenge that failed, leaving Pique and his wide-legged stance to deal with an attacker. He got bamboozled, and nobody marked the man (and eventual goal scorer) coming in late.

      That’s easily fixed by man-marking instead of ball-watching on counters. I also don’t know that the Sevilla goal is conceded in the first half, when legs aren’t as heavy.

      On the set piece goal, just an unmarked man. Both cases of poor tactics, rather than a poor defense.

      I, too, am optimistic but also uncertain. Most years, I can figure out pretty well what the team is going to do. This team has me flummoxed. Could either win noting, or a treble. Thankfully, I love roller coasters.

    2. Yes, yes, and regarding roller coasters – yes! The ability to improve and great football intelligence has made a Mascherano believer out of me. It’s the lack of depth that has me most worried. I know they’re not good enough to be outright starters, but having Vertonghen or Sakho (or both) on the bench would have definitely given me more reason for late-season optimism. I just wish I could make an informed judgement about Bartra one way or the other. I saw him start live last year vs. Mallorca when I went to Camp Nou, and it was still hard to come away with a verdict.

    3. I think in the interests of fairness I should point out that Masch shouldn’t have been beaten for pace and pushed over so easily as well. That was probably the point at which it became dangerous. Busi should also have closed the guy down much earlier.

  2. Good piece, Kxevin. I agree almost completely with your analysis, especially the risk/ reward of a more vertical style and I have a feeling Tata will be on the case before long. I’m actually not sure if either of our FBs add much in attack on a regular basis.

    Minor quibbles – Alba, imo, is nowhere near as bad as you suggest apart from in the height stakes and Abidal , at LB, nowhere near as vital. Anyway,….

    I do think we will notice a huge difference if/ when Puyol returns because even apart from his power in the air he is an all round great defender especially when it comes to positioning and will take over the marshalling of the line, something Pique doesn’t seem particularly ready for. I have a feeling the discipline of the back line will also improve as nobody wants to be on the end of a tongue lashing from him but I guess we’ll need to see.

    1. Organization will definitely improve with the Puyol return, something neither Pique nor Valdes seem particularly willing to do, leaving Mascherano the task, but he is too busy putting out fires.

      I don’t think I say that Alba is bad. Just that he is what he is: a winger playing left back, and a short one at that. There isn’t that much you can expect from him.

    2. Combine that incredible speed with more tactical defensive intelligence, and he could improve as a defender. Unless he wears platform cleats, his height will always be a liability. Could his speed help to offset that? If anything though, his defense has regressed over the last year.

  3. I dont know if Im alone on this but barcelona has never been a defending team.Our defence has always been masked by playing possession based football,especially in recent years.Its just noticeble now because we were and one of thn best teams in the world.Another thing is Tata has to be given time to learn the team so that he can see who would best suit our system.People keep saying any good defender will do,it doesnt mean if you are a good player you will be good in every system

    1. This^^^.

      I don’t ever remember Barcelona having a CB partnership that we could have called the best in the world. The best lineup we have had was the recent Alves-Pique-Puyol-Abi. But before that, Barca was an attacking side for as far as i can remember whose defense was not the defenders but the possession based tactical system. Pep I thought initially tried bringing in a bunch of defenders to resolve the defect (Caceras, Alves, Chiggy). The thing to note is we let go of Caceras and Chiggy even though they are excellent defenders just because they don’t fit into out system. Only Alves did. But when Pep perfected the tactical system, it resulted in the defense looking really strong.

      So you can resolve it two ways. Either fine tune our tactical template which will result in our defense looking better than what most Cules think is horrible OR get a defender who fits in perfectly (rare and costly option). People are just throwing names without thinking if he will fit or not. Else we might again have a Caceras/Chiggy in our hands (Personally I felt Chiggy must have been given more chances, but that is another discussion altogether..)

    2. Pique Puyol during the world cup ? Best cb pair, That’s what I remember reading. One unorthodox cb with ball playing ability & other the tarzan man who scares the bejesus out of every moving thing.

  4. The 1st video shown made me think, “wow, I forgot how much our midfielders moved with so much energy and precision to maintain possession in the first few years of the dynasty. However, I think the problem now is that they aren’t really forced to do that as much b/c the pressure isn’t as intense or high up the pitch. Therefore, we move the ball slowly up the field to where the opposing defense is walled up and pass it around from side to side until someone makes a diagnol run or we pass it directly into traffic. We have so many men committed forward to break the bus that when a poor pass results in a quick counter we are left scrambling to get back.

  5. “When you have the ball all the time, you aren’t going to concede goals. Simple.”

    unfortunately, we will never reach 100% possession. the other team WILL eventually have the ball, and if when they do they are able to cut easily through our defense, that is a fatal flaw that needs to be corrected somehow.

    we had a majority of possession against Bayern, over 2 legs, and how did we fare there?

    let’s be honest: we won the match against Sevilla by luck. and the primary reason why it was so close is because our defense was first caught flat-footed on the counter, then failed to adequately (or even competently) mark on a corner. these aren’t inherent weaknesses in our system or our style of play, there was nothing inevitable about them; they are simply from players not doing basic defensive work properly.

    we’ve conceded 4 goals in 4 games in La Liga thus far this season. that is not an appropriate ratio for a team with title hopes, but that stat alone is not the whole of the problem. we can nearly all see the disjointed way in which our defense is playing; not covering gaps, not looking confident when out of possession, scrambling to adjust in our own box. that some people DON’T see these things tells me either they are blinded by ideology or not very good at watching football.

    “Going a bit deeper, what’s the job of a defense? To help its club win a football match.”

    no, the job of a defense is to prevent the opposition from scoring goals, or it is nothing. all the other things a defense has to do in the modern game; starting attacks from deep, offering support up the wings, recycling possession, are secondary to that primary objective. if a defense isn’t preventing the opposition from scoring goals, it’s not doing it’s job.

    in our best defensive season in recent memory, 10/11, we conceded a mere 21 goals in 38 League games. the season before, 24. those are fantastic records. last season, when many of us were complaining about our defense, we allowed 40. that’s a massive increase. the stats tell the record of a less effective defense, regardless of the outcome of the games.

    yes, if Leo Messi is going to score 2 goals every game, that will help us win matches. but the offensive side of our game DOES NOT make the defensive side vanish, and when Messi is sidelined or the offense isn’t clicking, the defense still needs to be there. and right now, it is looking like it’s just not good enough to shoulder that burden.

    1. If you want me to say, in the face of your vehemence, our defense is flawed and a mess, that isn’t going to happen. I understand your points, but won’t go on at length refuting them. A record-setting Liga points total does that. We have won 3-2 and 1-0. Both are 3 points. In every game of this so-far perfect season, the defensehs performed its role well enough to help the team win. Job done.

  6. Kxevin, Thanks for posting the Spud vid. I used to have a VCR tape of that dunk contest and all of the others as well. “Nique was on of my favorite players as a kid and I was mesmerized when Spud stepped up and pulled off the dunks he did. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t jump that high. BTW. ‘Nique got ripped off in the Chicago All-Star game Dunk Contest. Homer judges.

  7. The big liability was Dani. Apart from his goal, he was spectacularly lousy, coughing the ball up all the time.

  8. Dani is doing his best to copy paste the Dani from the beginning of the last season when we all wanted Montoya to take his place.

    Will we still let goals from set pieces? You bet we’ll do.
    Will Messi still lose the ball trying to pass through 3-4 players in a dangerous area which results with a counterattack? You bet he’ll do?
    Will Busi and Pique still be ones of the most slowest players around? You bet they will.
    Will our defenders get taller in time? 🙂 You bet they wont.

    Do we still want perfection from our team? You bet we do.

  9. Yeah, Dani did look vulnerable. On left adriano, ini, ney clicked together every which way.
    But dani messed up some simplest passes and left messi looking stranded on right. He looked in too much hurry to run headlong into the crowd.
    Also Thanks kx. Great read.

  10. It’d be worth a visit to Barcastuff to look at what Abidal himself says about things. Doesn’t sound like he has a huge issue with the club and he confirms that despite Guardiola wanting him at Bayern the board wouldn’t have it on medical reasons. He also confirms that he will take up their offer of a job.

    1. As you might have seen I RTd a bunch of those, as well as the stunner that Alves volunteered to be a liver transplant donor. Fuuuu ….

      Really?! Whoa.

      As I said on Twitter, Monaco could afford to take the risk, because it wouldn’t really hurt them if he didn’t work out. But being a big club makes you conservative. I get that, even as I still think we should have given him a shot.

  11. Most things wrong with our defense cannot be fixed with the players we have. Or would entail a drastic downgrade in our offensive output as a countermeasure. The most solvable thing they can work on is fixing the panic that sets in immediately when the other team wins the ball. You notice all the little individual errors that occur when trying to stop a counterattack, like Dani sauntering back instead of dashing to cover a man, or Pique diving and missing and taking himself out of the play moments after the normally unflappable Busquets had done the same thing.

    Height, defensive ethic, aerial ability and speed aside, Abidal’s most important facet for me was his calmness when defending. You’d never catch him throwing himself like an ass all over the place. One can only hope that when Puyol comes back (and hopefully avoids being injured for key matches!), that the defense will get its act together and organize itself. Because as things stand, no amount of tactical tweaking sans wholesale personnel changes is going to fix the other deficiencies already mentioned and discussed at length.

    1. Yes. Panic is brutal. You could see it in that first Sevilla goal, particularly in the Busquets “Oh, crap!” lunge/slide miss.

      Abidal actually looked mortal for Monaco vs L’Orient, like all the other internationals. Organization will be key. The one significant flaw I can point to with Valdes is his seeming lack of interest in organizing his defense in front of him. Hopefully it’s a role that Mascherano will assume as he gets more comfortable at the center of defense.

  12. I beg to differ. I agree that panic seems to set in but that’s largely down to two things : lack of numbers and a real inability to read the game on the part of some players .

    It’s almost like we need an old fashioned sweeper. The notion of covering for each other seems have been lost in Puyol’s absence. We have FBs who keep their width rather than moving into the centre to cover, we have Busi, who I think is wonderful but loses his marbles inside the box and we don’t at present seem to have two CBs who look at the game the same way.

    All these things are sortable with the players we have for any coach who knows his stuff. However, how many good defensive coaches we are likely to have at Barca ? It’s like Brazilians looking for someone to offer to play in goal.

    1. True. And I know you don’t rate him, but Abidal performed a lot of those traditional sweeper duties, as well as organizing the defense when Puyol was absent.

      Pace is the biggest factor behind the seeming panic. Players are out of position because they are pushed up, AND they’re slow. I don’t think it’s that Busquets loses it, I just don’t think he really knows what to do in there, which seems weird but I imagine the penalty paranoia is also working at him some.

      So it’s less numbers and more that chasing the play panic. Marking a man helps, but that pace business …. no repair for that. Pique, Puyol, Busquets will all get done for pace. Mascherano isn’t a speed demon, either. Alba is the quickest player in back, Adriano the fastest (first 10 steps vs length of the field).

      Either way, I have no doubt that Martino will solve it.

    2. Just to be clear, I did rate Abidal, probably more so at CB funnily enough given his travails with the NT there, but for a while there was an Abidal can do no wrong feeling in the posts which I was trying to balance. He was a good Barca quality defender with exceptional pace but not world class imo. I actually think he’d be the perfect foil for Pique at CB still assuming he was fit enough but that boat has sailed.

  13. I wonder if Puyol is healthy in the big part of the season whether we might not be better served with a back four of Alves Pique Masch Puyi. Solves the following issues:

    1. The overattacking FBs issue. Puyol does not go forward as much as Alba and at his age/pace, can’t afford to do so anyway.

    2. The set piece issue (to an extent) b/c Puyol is taller than Alba.

    3. More tactical flexibility. With the ball we can become a 3-3-4, especially if we’re down a goal, with Alves pushing up like he did in the Dec ’11 Clasico and Puyol Masch Pique being the 3 CBs. With Alba we don’t have that.

    4. More leadership. I do feel Pique especially benefits from having Puyi yelling at him. He’s too chill otherwise.

    Of course this is all predicated on Puyol being fully fit at the same time as Masch and Pique in March/April which hasn’t happened since the three came together if I recall correctly.

  14. Good piece from you Kxevin, And the other commentators said everything there is to say, I’m not sure what more can i add.

    “Our defense is our possession”
    This simple statement isn’t emphasized enough unfortunately, The goals we conceded against valencia and sevilla, Happened when we gave up our possession, We lost control of the ball, Allowed ourselves to be repeatedly bombarded by waves of attack until they scored, With valencia we slacked off after the 3rd goal, With sevilla the team ran our of gas and our pressuring dropped, But the common denominator, Is we gave up our possession of the ball.

    Are there tactical problems in the way we defend?…Yes
    Are there positional awareness issues?…Yes
    Can they be fixed?…Double Yes!
    But fixing those will decrease our conceding of goals ONLY to a certain extent, We don’t have established true CBs, Or physical Full backs like most teams in the world have, The back-line of a team like chelsea can get constantly bombarded by attacks and still maintain a clean sheet, Our back-line doesn’t have this kind of capability, And will NEVER have, Because our style requires certain types of players at the back, So it’s about working with what we have.

    This may sound peculiar, But i’m not worried about our defense, Only the injuries, And as the stamina and physical condition of our players improve, And can maintain the pressure for 90 minutes, We’ll stop talking about the defense all together……Alright, Alright, maybe every now and then when someone muscles out alba and we concede a goal.

  15. The personnel is more or less the same bar the back four. In the yr we won the double, we had Alves, Puyi, Pique, Masche and Abi. If we take Abi and Puyi out, we still have 3 of the 4 that started at Wembley. I guess Abi was that much of a difference maker. The fact that we played a near perfect match v Man U with the same people we have now, just seems weird that the team now panics when attacked.

    To me, it seemed like Alba has regressed a wee bit from when he signed. Other teams now target his side. Alves is still Alves though he needs to be more conservative with going forward as he doesn’t contribute as much in attack and he’s not as fast as before. The midfielders look like they forgot how to defend. They seem a lot more disorganised. Xavi is often left alone trying to snub fires and once they pass him and Busi, it depends who the finisher is whether it’s a goal or not.

    Whether we buy a defender or not, the problems we have now will still exist the way this team plays. I think more tactical noun and organisation is needed. TBH, they also need to smarten up. There is no need for a team who are 2-0 up in the 80th min to keep pressing forward and leave them exposed. Try to keep the ball, i hear we are the best at rondos. Keep one FB at the back with the CB while the other goes up. Something has to change or else we’ll keep shipping goals in. I don’t think Puyi will make that much of a difference either. Then again, I’m an armchair coach, never played the game but, i see that something has to change.

    1. What happened at wembely, Is that the whole team applied constant pressure to Manchster united players through out the 90 minutes, Something that we’ve been struggling to do in the early parts of this season, Pique, Mascherano, And dani weren’t better defenders back then.

      Our team is equipped and best suited at stopping the attack before they happen, Not when the opposition players are 10 yards away from valdes, A cold hard fact we should accept, And this won’t change as long as we have the type of players we already have at the back that our possession based football demands.

      So let’s work with what we have, Work with what we have.

    2. That was point exactly. Like i said, even if we were to by a CB, we’ll still have the same problems unless the team gets more organised, start pressing longer(when fit) and stop taking unnecessary risks at times. Although another CB will give us the depth we’ll need.

    3. i wonder if we wouldn’t be better served playing a 3-4-3, with a double pivot; or at least 3 at the back in some fashion. Masche/Pique/Puyol with Alba and Dani as wing-backs in a 3-5-2 would also seem to solidify our defense, provided we’re prepared to sacrifice an attacker (probably Alexis); but the natural inclinations and scoring prowess of both Dani and Alba might make up for a good deal of that. it puts a heavy burden on our already creaky rotation, but for difficult games i’m just not sure a standard back 4, with our current defenders, is going to cut it. Sevilla are a good team but hardly world-beaters, and we were falling all over ourselves at times when they were in our final 3rd.

  16. OT:I see Mattias Sammer has a head start this year on the Balon D’or. Even faster than the CR7 camp.

    “Instead, we are too relaxed and just watch — we’ve won five titles in the last 15 months, Franck Ribery’s been named Best Player in Europe and he’ll probably also win the Ballon d’Or.

  17. Tata: “There are times where to be more vertical & others to keep possession. With the score 2-0 it was an occasion for the latter.”

    If the coach knows this, why isn’t the team putting it into practise.

    1. It is the responsibility of the coach to let the players know to change the approach while the game is ongoing. My assumption is that this is, at least partially, self-criticism.

  18. Just a deviation from the current discussion but does anyone know why was there taunting going on during the end by Montoya and other folks on the bench…

    1. It looked more like a retaliation. I guess the Sevilla bench started it when they equalized and then the Barca bench had a go as a payback. That is my take on the event, I’m not sure if it’s true.

    2. That’s what Montoya is claiming (via @2montoya):

      @2MONTOYA 14 Sep
      Grande equipo, partido muy sufrido contra un buen equipo como es el sevilla!3puntos importantísimos!Con respecto al gesto que habeis visto..

      ..solo repetia el gesto que M’Bia nos ha hecho al banquillo cuando nos empataron! Que no se mal interpreten cosas.

  19. via Barcastuff

    Abidal: “My relation with Alves is more than a friendship. He’s a great person. He offered me to donate his liver.” [catalunya radio]

    Unbelievable. I didn’t know Alves and Abidal were that close. And you gotta respect Alves for not going around bragging and telling the whole world that he offered his kidney when it happened. What an honorable guy. Mad respect for him!

  20. Hi guys,
    I am new to writing my thoughts here but I am a long standing Barca fan and Have been reading your wonderful blog for years.
    Let me add to this discussion something.
    First of all I mostly agree with the piece which was posted in the replies by BA.
    Defence should defence and not allow to concede goals. That is it.
    But we have to admit one interesting thing also that nobody had not mentioned lately yet.
    First of all despite all our new coaches promises and players words that we need to restore our suffocating pressure up the field when we lost the ball it did not much happen really compared to last year.
    I personally was very impressed when all of them went flying in the first game against Levante this year. But it considerably faded in all further matches so far. Yes of course the opponents were different – it is obvious. But apart of Athletico who actually suffocated us (just as we were supposed to do with them!) I did not notice any special pressure from other teams we played so far. And look – Messi again is mostly walking, Iniesta is a shadow, Xavi does not have any new ideas. Again of course I do not want to say that EVERYBODY does not pressure – most of the team of course trying to do it. But result is not good so far.
    And there is a very good reason for this now. After so many years of dominance with this high possession game and non relenting pressure to return the ball WE JUST TAUGHT the best Eauropean teams the lessons of fitness, speed and perseverance. Bayern, Dortmund, Athletico, other teams – they are not the same they were before. Look – all European football (best teams of course) has learned these harsh lessons of Barcelons classes. By the way we should be proud of this – I remember football of 10 years ago – it was dramatically slowly and without so much skill of keeping ball on high speeds or passing skills. I believe now this is has become now regular coaching stuff in any decent team. It is amazing by itself.
    The most striking example is Bundesliga of now days. For some reasons – Pep among them and Bayern, Dortmund fly this past year – I resumed watching Bundesliga this season. And it is revelation – believe me.
    All – all!!! – teams are flying on the field for the whole match, constant pressure everywhere, speed of bodies moving, ball moving, and most of all THOUGHTFUL ball moving with high speed. I remember Bundesliga of previous years – I used to compare it with Premier League where the football is still like chicken without heads going on high speeds all around the pitch, and German teams were chicken with heads but walking and picking food constantly. Not now – by the way this is the reason Bayern is not so good this year so far in their league – nobody fears them. It is the same as nobody fears Barcelona any more in Spain.
    Look at the German football closely now – it is on the rise for sure.
    Returning to ourselves – yes of course we can improve a lot in our game and we will do it for sure – I agree with Kxevin in this. But it is a new era for sure and Barcelona is not dominant in it – especially it will be visible in the Champions League in spring – whatever we will do in winter transfer window (this is a good another discussion by the way).
    Speed of game carrying by powerful, high, talented and skilful teams in German for example, and their PRESSURE FITNESS is simply better now. And I am really not sure at all that we are ready to match this level with our players. It is not pessimism – do not get me wrongly – but Pique is not going to be better than he is now dramatically and he is slow, loses positions and concentration, and not so good in head playing. And our midfiels higher up the field is getting older and slower.
    Again by the way – Neymar so far is exceeding my expectations. But look he is going to be a star and he HAS TO PROVE a lot. So this is at least natural that he tries his best on the field. He has a lot of talent and he is smart. But a lot of our heavy weight stars really lost a lot of motivation – including Messi (I really believe that he wants to win with Argentina though). A lot of them!!! It is again natural and maybe they will shine again at their past levels and may be not. But not this year for sure!!!
    Moreover our young players that close to first team or inside it already were made by coaches and coaching techniques from the years past – not the last years. Ans I doubt that Barcelona youth coaches caught (sorry for my poor language – English is not my natural) this new wave of more speedy and powerful game yet. It will take years now to Barcelona to have their new talents groomed to for example German youth talents.
    Again it it completely understandable.
    So from my point of view we cooles have to prepare to be suffering – by Barcelona standards of course. The good thing though – there are no signs in this team of complete leaders fall out as it was in the end of Ronaldinho era. Work ethique is good and Barcelona is capable of winning titles of course. But it is not for sure and not so many as in the recent years.
    Thank you

    1. Welcome! Where are you from?

      I start to watch Bundesliga too, most recent one Dortmund vs Hamburg. Their passing is amazing. They too can find each other while blindfolded. We do it too but short passing. Dortmund on the other hand can do it with many distances, short, medium and long passes. They’re a dangerous side. I hope Kagawa and Goetze will eventually go back to Dortmund. And Reus is still amazing!

    2. Dont worry, your english is fine.

      To pick on just one thing, though…you say “But a lot of our heavy weight stars really lost a lot of motivation – including Messi (I really believe that he wants to win with Argentina though). A lot of them!!! It is again natural and maybe they will shine again at their past levels and may be not. But not this year for sure!!!”

      i would dare you to say this to the players’ faces. i dont know what evidence you can have to say this. trust me, these players win and DO feel like they still have things to prove. have no doubt.

    3. I am sorry but I do not believe that i will ever have chance to tell them something in the face:-)
      And I do not believe that it would be appropriate.
      But motivation is a serious thing and can not last forever and I am probably not 100% right but I still think that generally I am right.
      But whatever – I would be happy to be wrong – believe me!!! I spilled a lot of tears being Barca fan for more than 20 years now.
      Thank you!

    4. I agree a lot with you. We taught the other teams the advantages of high pressing and everybody is doing it now. It is a matter of pride that the whole Europe set us as an example on many fronts.

      However, I would like to add to it that, our high pressing is one of the reasons for our present tiredness. I (am 40) do a high intensity interval training, only once in a week these days, running – 4×4 for 20 minutes, with hand stand push ups in between, and this is bloody tough. Until an year back, I was able to do this twice in a week. Nowadays, once in a week is good enough. This burns all the fat and I can eat anything, still remain lean. Football is one sport, which is like a 80 -90 minutes of HIIT. Add extra pressing to it, and it is a terribly intensive work out for the body. I am not surprised at all that we are not able to press like before. With or without rotation, I dont think the players can do high pressing for 3/4 continuous seasons. Look at our Pedro, our machine worker. Most of the time, his finishing suffers, because he lacks that last bit of energy to perfect his shot, by the time he gets a chance. I can fully understand why Messi, Iniesta all cant press like before. Neymar would be fine doing everything this season. But in the next couple of seasons, we will see him also trying to conserve energy for his best.

      Even this Bayern and Dortmund players, we need to see how they perform in the next 2/3 years. I am sure they too will be tired.

      I cant agree though, that our players are not motivated enough.

    5. Yes of course,
      I am 53 and I was flying 10-15 km almost each day. Now I have to make 15 minutes stretches before and more than 30 minutes after just to keep my muscles from being hurt too much.
      But in young body tiredness from physical extertion – especially on professional level passes quicker. The most important tiredness for them is psychological – training and between training regimes and demand to keep yourself ready for matches and so on.
      To be ready to fight on highest level is to be motivated.
      It is not my mentoring – it is ABC of professional sport. To lose motivation does not mean to lose desire to win, it basically means to lose desire to do MORE than yesterday to win.
      Of course I agree that in 2-3 years a lot of now flying teams will lose motivation or tire other way. Bayern so far looks like little bit deflated already.
      What these players did is actually UNIMAGINABLE considering their domestic, european and international achievements.
      But I still stay that this year is not their year. May be they will shine again as before – may be not.
      Barca is bigger anyway!!!

  21. – I wanted to comment on this after watching a handful of matches during the off season, both old (08-11 and last season). I noticed something really interesting. So I paid more attention to it while attending the friendly match in Malaysia.

    Previously, the back four were all aligned in a line. For the past season or 2, they’re all over the place. The full backs are much higher up the field. And then you have the 2 CB’s who are not always in one line.

    In the friendly match vs Malaysia, for the goal against, I knew we were in trouble when Alves decided to go into attack when there was no need for him to. Alba was already high up the pitch and then they lost possession and the counter attack happened that led to the goal. At least Alba made it back but was always behind.

    I am sure of defensive plays because I never paid attention to it in real life because I always played in midfield or up front but I reckon it is important to stay in a line in order to not leave any space/holes.

    I hope the back four will stay aligned from now on to form a wall instead of being all over the plays where they are not in sync with each other. I remember there was a gif of the back four moving backwards in sync a long time ago but it is in my old laptop. I hope Tata will look into it.

  22. For the first time in 5-10 times I logged into this post did the video popped up. I was wondering what video you guys were talking about. I couldn’t see it on my laptop (Chrome) and mobile (Opera).
    Now I’m on the laptop.

  23. After watching old matches and listening to post match analysis, almost every pundit have said we have a poor defence since 2008/09 season. CL finale v Man U in Rome, every pundit was saying we have a poor defence. 15 trophies later we still have a poor defence. Barca won 5-0 v ATM few seasons ago with Alves, Mache, Busi, Abi and Puyi and Pique on the bench. We won a clasico with Milito in the back four and kept a clean sheet at that. If anything, our defence has never been the stongest at any one point that i can remember. I think the difference is for the most part, the front 6 have stayed pretty much the same and with all the miles they’ve clocked up, are not able to keep running and pressing as intensely as before. I think the only one with enough legs to keep running is Pedro and now Alexis.

  24. I can appreciate that Barca needs a special type of defender with a special profile/ability, the sad thing about reality is that while keeping with our style of play, we definitely needs to evolve and part of evolution for me is looking more at traditional defender, you know the type can actually defend.

    Why do i say that?
    First) I believe it is a miscalculation/oversight that once the pressing resumes on a more regular basis then the majority of our defensive vulnerabilities will be resolved, this is based on the realization that both Xavi and Iniesta are 2-3 years older. We can all agree that for the pressing to be effective, the front six have to put in serious shifts every game and unfortunately (whether we like it or not) this will not be possible until we change/replace some of the personnel with more athleticism.
    Second) The core members of the team applied pressing relentlessly for the first three seasons with Guardiola and if you study/follow/read anything about high pressing as a tactic, you’ll then realize that it’s not a sustainable system. Some of these players were clocking 60+ games a season and add to that the fact that the Spanish NT applied the same pressing tactics, you begin to realize the mileage impact on the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, Alves and Busquets.
    By the fourth season with Guardiola, the signs of fatigue were starting to be evident and Pep knew and recognized this as well.
    From what I’ve read from the book “The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World” by Graham Hunter and interviews with both Pep and Cruyff, Pep believed that everyday at the Camp Nou was one day less and not one day more, in essence, the system and tactics employed were so demanding that they were never going to last. Why? Because the system of intense pressing is not sustainable long term.
    Just for a bit of evidence, just look at Athletic under Bielsa and Newell Old Boys under Tata, at the business end of the respective campaigns, both teams were knacks and both failed in cup finals due to exhaustion. It could be argued that Athletic’s demise was due to the “Mad” man Biesla by taking the pressing to the extreme but even that is an indication of the impact of employing such a system.

    We should be grateful/ appreciative and feel blessed to have witnessed some of the glorious years of this wonderful team. Be that as it may though, I personally believe (though i’m not an expert) that the team needs to evolve to meet the current challenges.

    Just my 2 cents…

    1. I think I just wrote something on these lines, above. I still remember one of the WC teams for Argentina,which arrived as the favourites under Bielsa, but didnt had any energy left and got out in the first round (98 or 2002, dont remember well). With Bilbao too, his players couldnt manage it for the second year. My friend who followed Argentine and Brazil leagues tells me that Tata’s team will worn out by end of season.

      With or without any kind of rotation, Pressing is not a long sustainable tactic. May be it should be done for the important games only.

    2. That’s all true. However, I think Tata knows it too.

      And if you have noticed, we have not really been pressing hard in all our games so far. We did it in the Gamper cup game, against Levante at times, and that was it really. The other games we did not press hard most of the time. Part of the reason is that the players are not yet physically fit enough to do it, another part is that teams have been playing us on the counter by taking the ball out of there own half so quickly that there is almost no chance of closing down on the ball, but I still think we will be seeing a more balanced approach to it during the course of the seasons, i.e. we will press hard in some games and conserve our energy in others.

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