Champions League Preview: Barça – Atlético Madrid Leg Two at the Calderón

After a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in the first leg of their Champions League (CL) tie, Barça and Atlético Madrid meet at the Calderón to determine who advances to the CL semi-finals.  As a preview for the match I did an interview with Outside of the Boot that we’re cross-posting both here at Barcelona Football Blog and at their site (http://outsideoftheboot.com/).  Outside of the Boot is a terrific general football site that covers the game broadly.  Highly recommend a visit if you don’t read it already.

 

OOB:  – Firstly, what are your thoughts on Barcelona’s Champions League campaign so far?

 Barça’s CL campaign this year has been an experiment of sorts with Tata Martino exploring how to balance the significant continuing strengths of the team while minimizing their growing vulnerabilities.  The team’s performance this year in the CL has been a clear improvement from how they played in the competition last season (particularly after the season was thrown into complete disarray by Tito Vilanova’s very sad recurrence of cancer).

Broadly the team has improved versus top competition this season, both in the CL and in the league.  And I think much of that has to do with Martino coming to understand and admit to what the team’s weaknesses are rather than trying to continue as if the team were still the same as it was back at its high point.

Perhaps key match for Barça in the CL this season was the first match versus Ajax in the group stage of the competition.  By key here I mean the most telling – I think that match marked a kind of turning point in Martino’s early thinking.  The first match vs Ajax was noteworthy as Xavi didn’t play.  Instead Martino looked to rotate his midfield.  Over the past several years Xavi has rarely been rested in any CL match so resting him was an important change.  Barça went on to win that match 4-0. But what was so striking about the game was how it was played.  The match was extremely open with Barça often looking unstable even while leading by multiple goals.

At the time Martino was still looking to implement a style of play incorporating more verticality.  But even when leading by multiple goals Barça struggled to retain match control in their usual fashion.  This has proven a major problem for this team.  Without match control Barça’s defensive limitations come to the fore.  Without control the limitations in the backline and the team’s reduced capacity to press, particularly in the midfield zone, are exposed.  In that first match vs Ajax leading by 3 goals Martino felt the need to bring on Xavi for stability.  Since then Martino has rotated players and experimented with different styles of play – but he has been extremely reticent to rest Xavi.  While Xavi is older now and suffers from chronic Achilles tendinitis, he remains fundamental with respect to control and it’s been difficult for three managers now to change the systems in ways that allow Barcelona to function without Xavi on the pitch.

This balance-control vs verticality-has been one of the major stories of Martino’s first season.  How to balance diversification of a template by adding verticality to a team whose goal prevention is extremely dependent on match control with the ball.  And that’s played out most directly in the CL.

Ultimately, Martino reduced the additional verticality he was looking to play with early on in order to augment match control, particularly in the CL and in matches versus top competition.  Without control there wasn’t enough stability to minimize the deficits in the backline and the pressing game – these were the problems that were exposed in the CL for Barca last year.

This came to the fore in the tie versus Manchester City where Martino elected to utilize four midfielders and remove a forward.  This was an acknowledgement that the team’s positional play and ability to enact control in the midfield zone was now dependent on explicit numerical superiority – a major break from its abilities in the recent past.  But acknowledging this limitation has been important to Barça’s success in the CL and versus top sides this season.  It also shows tremendous pragmatism by Martino has it wasn’t how he set out to play when he initially took over.

 

OOB: – With only two senior centre-backs in the squad, could the rest of the champions League campaign be defined by Pique’s injury?

 Pique’s injury is very problematic for Barça – both in the CL and in the league. No other player has his profile, particularly his comparative ability in the air.  In addition, just by sheer numbers the injury is very difficult.  Puyol is trying once more to rush back from injury but he hasn’t played in quite some time.  Another injury to a CB will likely mean Adriano will be forced into makeshift CB duty.  The loss of quality will be felt – Pique while perhaps not fully back to his top level of play has had a strong season overall – much improved from his form from last year.

Fortunately, the latest reports are that Pique hip fracture may not be as bad as it initially looked and that he may return within two weeks rather than four.  That helps with the league trophy race but still creates problems in this next CL match vs Atlético Madrid.

Marc Bartra came on for Pique in the first leg and played extremely well.  Barça will need a similar performance this match in order to advance.  Bartra has overall played well this season – particularly in 1 v 1 situations in space. But the areas where his game is less developed – aerially and in terms of strength- were precisely the ones that Pique provided to this Barça side.  The loss of Diego Costa’s presence will reduce the risks of using Bartra but it’s still a major challenge for a young and still inexperienced player.

 

OOB: – Atletico Madrid set up strongly as Simeone has embedded a clear tactical identity onto the club. What do Barcelona need to do to break them down at the Calderon?

 For me, Atleti execute what their template more consistently and at a higher level than perhaps any other side in Europe.  That’s not saying they are the “best” side – but in terms of pure system execution they are remarkable.  Almost machine like in the precision of their shape, pressure, and coordination across zones.

We often consider tactical dimensions of pressing and staying compact along the vertical axis of the pitch. What Simeone has done so remarkably-perhaps his most interesting innovation- is the way Atleti press horizontally and stay compact through dynamic coordination of their block and shape along the horizontal axis of the pitch.

Atleti play very narrow looking to overload the central zone of midfield.  Most sides that do this suffer from conceding space wide along the flanks.  But Atleti rarely suffer from the space they initially concede.  This is due to how dynamically they press horizontally.  Their ability to pressure from the narrow initial shape when the ball is played to either flank is extremely impressive.  It’s also a particular testament to how hard their players will work for Simeone-the strikers in particular.

Despite the movement and speed required to close down the ball wide, they still retain highly efficient shapes.  For example, when you watch them play notice how often they’re able to create defensive triangles wide. This allows them to create cover for two advanced defenders while only using three players.  The player at the deep apex of the triangle (usually the FB) is often able to provide cover for both defenders at the base of the triangle.  Just wonderful stuff.

Barça have struggled to break down due to this balance.  Atleti overload the central zones while still compressing space wide.  That’s their game.  Simeone isn’t simply overloading the middle as a reactionary defensive tactics.  He wants to overload the middle numerically to goad you into using the open zones wide where the two attacking FBs are generally stationed.  But once the ball is distributed wide his team closes down very rapidly and utilized the touchline as an “extra defender” very efficiently.  They make the pitch very small in that zone and are very effective at dispossessing the ball and starting their positional attack in turn.

I think the way to counteract this strategy is to try to break their shape in the middle by overloading that zone through diagonals runs from the FBs. Those runs should be directed at Atleti’s two deep midfielders.  Force those deeper midfielders to provide cover/support for “extra men” in midfield. At the same time, keep the two lateral forwards wide to create 1 v 1’s with the FBs. Drop them deep into the open space & then swing the ball wide to allow them to run at the FBs without the extra cover from the Atleti midfielders.  This can be augmented by having the striker draw wide as well to create 2 v 1’s.

 

OOB: – Under Tata Martino, Barcelona have adopted a more direct game at times, especially in the Champions League. Does this worry Barca fans in terms of their progress in the competition?

 Martino experimented with greater verticality and direct play earlier in the season e.g. first CL match vs Ajax.  But since then he’s adjusted and understood the vulnerabilities the team has when they lose match control.  Barça do play more directly but it’s less than earlier in the season when Martino was experimenting initially.

I think the major change Martino has made that he’s retained more consistently is in the positioning of the forward line.  Rather than having Messi drop deep to support Barca’s positional play in midfield he’s instructed him to play higher to act as a vertical outlet – either stationing himself on the shoulder of the CBs or in finding space between the lines.  Martino’s done something similar with the other forwards.  Instructed them to stay higher rather than drop to support midfield.  He’s also changed the dynamics of play and this is were the verticality remains most consistent.  Barça will break faster when Messi and Iniesta initiate play (Iniesta has augmented his role in the transition phase very effectively this season).  Both players can do so comparatively safely as both lose the ball so infrequently even at speed.

But in order to keep the forwards playing higher while still enacting match control through the ball Martino has been forced to play four midfielders and only two forwards.  This is the concession he felt he had to make.

He’s consistently used Messi and Neymar upfront along with the four midfielders in nearly all of the “big” matches Barça have played. In the first league match vs Real Madrid he used Cesc as a false 9 and Messi on the right (though that was influenced by Messi’s injury problems & fitness).

But since the CL tie with Manchester City he’s implemented a set up with Messi as the false 9, Neymar on the right and Iniesta as a hybrid LW/midfielder along with Xavi, Busquets and Cesc.  This configuration maximizes match control but also diminishes the vertical outlets Barça has available to it (and particularly places enormous burdens on Messi to create penetration and score) But it has obtained results.

With the reconfiguration of the team’s template for the Manchester City tie, a number of observers applauded this move.  Martino was purportedly re-implementing the “true” Barça model.  But it was anything but.  This Barça’s project at its best was based on a system of positional play that enacted a breathtaking level of precision in midfield.  This allowed the side to create a level of match control far exceeding its numerical presence in the midfield zone.  It allowed the team to dominate teams that were far more athletic and physical.

Much of this was based on the overwhelming impact Xavi had on matches – especially on the “biggest” matches.  In addition, Xavi along with Busquets were perhaps key players in Barca’s pressing game.  But with the chronic Achilles tendinitis Xavi has been significantly affected by since the middle of the ’11-’12 season and his aging, Barça’s positional play and pressing have diminished.

Xavi’s physical limitations aren’t the entire story of course.  Barca’s pressing game has also diminished due to Messi’s reduced work rate and the opposition altering the way it attacks Barça’s left channel.  But Xavi was the foundation of that team and system and his influence was staggering.  His positional play and pressing were the crystallization of what that side was. The influence is what allowed Barça to enact match control at that level.

Barça’s initial response to Xavi’s diminished play was to have Messi drop into midfield more and more to support the positional play.  But that was very problematic as it meant Barça had no true vertical outlet.  In turn the opposition could press out of a mid-block and “squeeze” Barça back into midfield.  These limitations were very evident and problematic in the CL last season.

Martino has tried to work between these two poles – how does he enhance goal prevention through match control while still enacting enough vertical outlets to create the penetration required for Barcelona to stretch the opposition block, open space and ultimately promote goal scoring.  This has been the central strategic issue Barça have tried to grapple with this entire season.

 

OOB: – What would your starting XI for the second leg against Atletico Madrid be?

 Barça need to score to advance after Alteti gained the advantage of the away goal in the 1-1 first leg at Camp Nou. But Barça also can’t afford to concede first away at the Calderon.  Conceding will allow Atleti to focus on retaining shape & pressing.  They will be extremely difficult to break down.

This second leg is very different due to Diego Costa and potentially Arda Turan’s absences.  Atelti are extremely dependent on Costa in the transition phase – there may be no player a team is more dependent on for a function than Atleti is on Costa in transition.  When he left the first leg of the tie Atleti’s ability to counter diminished significantly.  This will be even more amplified if Turan is unable to play.

Given this, I think Barça should take the risk of playing three forwards with Alexis on the right and Neymar returning to the left, where he’s more dangerous as a scorer.  Barça should be able tor enact enough control with three midfielders given Atleti’s diminished ability in the transition phase due to injury.  Cesc Fabregas’s recent run of poor form also plays into this decision. The rest of the line up picks itself. Pinto/ Alves/  Bartra /Mascherano /Alba/ Busquets/Xavi /Iniesta/Sanchez /Messi/Neymar.

All this said-I expect Tata to continue to elect for enhanced control and play Cesc rather than the third forward.  I think he’ll stay with the changes and the template that have worked for him, though he could rearrange the shape e.g. play Cesc as a false 9 rather than in midfield as has been rumored.

 

OOB: – We attempt to track the progress of the best young players as much as time allows under our Scout Reports and #TalentRadar feature. Which youngster coming through from Barcelona  are you most excited about?

 There’s a tremendous wealth of talent in the youth system for Barça right now, particularly at the wide forward and central attacking midfield positions. A few players have really rapidly accelerated their development this season.  Adama Traoré is a phenomenal talent.  His combination of technical skill and physical explosiveness is something to watch.  Though technically registered with Barcelona’s Juvenil A (u19) side he’s played most of the season with Barcelona’s B team in the 2nd division in Spain this year though he was only 17 at the start of the season.  He’s had a great season and has continued to improve rapidly.  He’s commanded double marking wide for much of the season.  By profile he’s been more of a wide creator in the past but it’s been a real positive to see his finishing developing this season.  Munir El Haddadi, one of the most promising players at La Masia coming into this season, has also continued his rapid ascent.  He too while registered to the Juvenil A side is now playing with the B team.  He’s the current top scorer in the UEFA u19 tournament.  Lee Seung Woo is another enormous talent.  He’s unfortunately been prohibited from playing in league competition due to prior FIFA regulatory rulings but has played in international youth tournaments for Barcelona and been brilliant.

While those three are enormously gifted, it’s a disservice in many ways to leave so many other players out.  On the B team Denis Suarez (who you’ve profiled prior while at Manchester City) has been terrific in his first season with Barcelona as has Sergi Samper.  Alejandro Grimaldo returning from an ACL injury last year remains a very gifted LFB.  All three of those players have a real chance to play for the Barcelona 1st team.  Edgar Ie a CB/RFB is a lesser known player but promising, though often injured.

The Juvenil A team is simply filled with talent-more so than even the B team-and have had an outstanding season.  Wilfred Kaptoum is a player I particularly like on that squad.

 

OOB: – Finally, if you were to make a prediction for the tie, who do you see going through? Any particular scoreline for the second leg?

This will be an extremely close match.  The two teams have played to one draw after another this season.  Either could advance.  I do think Atleti’s injuries will be particularly difficult for them to absorb if Costa and possibly Turan can’t play.  Both are so integral to their positional attack and defense.  But playing at home Atleti will be extremely difficult to score against.  It’s going to be a fascinating battle from two teams that play such different systems.  And I hope that’s what we’ll take away from this match – how wonderful the game is and how it can be played at such a high level in such divergent ways.

 

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132 Comments

  1. sandesh
    April 9, 2014

    Longtime lurker posting for the first time here. You guys do a fabulous job of having healthy and interesting discussions on Barca and thanks for that.

    On this game and the current issues, the road back to perfection actually is pretty clear as far as I go. Teams with massive squads and resources learn quickly about other teams’ strengths and adjust accordingly. When you win, and start becoming arrogant about your way and then you fall.

    For a few years, we were the best team in the world because we had best players in their prime, a coach that was ready to tinker and experiment and we had either a variety in our profile (Etoo, Toure, Henry) or massive strength in the clarity of our play (2011) to get us over the line. However, the management decided that other clubs would not move forward and decided not to take the important decisions that were essential then.

    Now, we are in a situation where others have moved farther ahead (Look at Bayern for example). If Barca want to be the best team in the world again, we need to do the following things.

    1. Bring more physicality in the team, but the right physicality. This is key, because you will see articles like “Barca need to ditch tiki-taka”. Not true at all. We need to bring variety in our game, but for that we need a squad with variety of possibilities, unlike now. As much as Dani has been a great servant to the team, we need to move him on and get a more physically able back. The same goes for Mascherano. As much as he is a good choice for a Barca style centreback, we cannot afford to have him as a substitute, which he should be given his problems defending deep and issues in the air. We need to buy two centrebacks, so we have two of them with Pique and Bartra. This also means bringing at least one physical guy who can play well in the passing game, such as Vidal.

    2. We will not win the Cl again if we play against really good defensive teams with a Messi in false 9 formation. Argentina already has provided a template for what we ought to do. Jettison the 4-3-3, and pay over the nose for a Falcao, Diego Costa, Cavani type forward who can occupy the centrebacks and also play on the wing sometimes when we need to let Messi beat Ronaldo on the goal standings. In important matches, Messi will play CAM, which is where his future belongs anyway.

    3. I am either here nor there on Tata Martino because this is not his squad. Having said that, he needs to throw an ultimatum to the board this summer, “Get me my team or I peace out” style. If he does not do that, then he needs to go.

    4. Obviously there are higher level issues such as the board’s truthiness, but I am not going to comment on that because I have seen this discussion many times and it doesn’t go anywhere.

    5. Finally, it is also true that disappointment is a big part of being any sports fan. We do not have a divine right to be following the best team in the world all the time. Think about the Atletico Madrid fans. I am happy for them at least.

    Visca Barca!

  2. April 9, 2014

    That was the worst big game Messi has ever played in his life. I’ve never seen that before. In the grand scheme of things, he should be allowed such a no-show, but that’s exactly what it was.

    I hope we don’t go overboard in wailing about our squad, it needs a forward and a defender and that’s it really (hope the ban is suspended for this summer anyway). League still very much in play and maybe the extra rest will do us some good with this aging squad.

    I’m weirdly not-that-sad about this. I think many of us saw something like this was coming, a team like Atleti is unbreakable for us right now and has been since the end of Pep’s era. Good luck to them, for us at least two of the remaining teams would be completely unpalatable as CL winners and the third would also hurt a lot.

    • KEVINO17
      April 9, 2014

      This team, more than anything, needs active mobile midfielders so that it can press high up the pitch. Barca beat AC Milan 4-0 because of the forward press – just smothered them. No point having small players who control the ball if you don’t, when you lose the ball, press like maniacs. So many of Barca’s goals come from pressing hard and catching their opponents trying to transition to attack.
      Barca will not win another CL final with Xavi in the middle of the pitch. That means it’s time for him to go. I’d say the same about Messi.

    • April 9, 2014

      The forward press was the result of a tactical changr. By pushing alves up and using villa in front of messi we compressed the pitch. The forward press was the result of the same.

      Yiu want to sell Messi? Good luck with that.

    • Nav
      April 10, 2014

      YOu want to sell Messi? Lol holy mother of over reactions

    • BA
      April 9, 2014

      if Messi is walking around doing nothing, as he was this game, the manager of the football club should have the stones to yank him and do something differently.

      Martino clearly doesn’t. for that reason alone i hope he goes in the summer.

  3. HisR0yalFlyness
    April 9, 2014

    http://www.sport.es/es/noticias/barca/martino-nos-interesaba-que-messi-participara-mucho-3246480

    “Today we didn’t want Messi to engage much in the game. We wanted him to face his marker one-on-one on the right wing. He didn’t participate much, but had a couple of clear chances. I substituted Iniesta because he seemed tired and we needed to add more forwards. We must think about what happened and move forward.” — Martino.

    I can’t believe this. If it is true then its insanity. What coach in the world tells arguably his best player not to engage in the game? What kind of fucked up strategy is that. In the CL no less!!! Is Tata out of his mind? And even if its true why would you tell the media knowing the backlash it would generate? Can’t see how that could be a viable strategy. Not what i expect to hear from a top level coach at all.

    • G6O
      April 9, 2014

      I am not sure this was the strategy, it might be a less direct way of saying Messi sucked

    • HisR0yalFlyness
      April 9, 2014

      Then say he sucked. Maybe that’s the kick in the ass he needs to stop disappearing when the team needs him.
      I can’t see how Martino would be planning for Messi being 1v1 with an attacker when he was double and triple teamed in the least game and has been in every big game this season more or less. There is not one single team that allows him that kind of freedom.

    • Peter
      April 9, 2014

      I don’t think I’ve heard Tata blame his players. He’s more likely to shoulder the blame.

    • G6O
      April 9, 2014

      Which is what he did by saying that

  4. Huckleberry
    April 9, 2014

    i hope that this loss marks the end oft the arrogant, reactive approach of Barça. instead of going full throttle right from the beginning (what Atletico did without needing a goal), they were shure they would score anyways. Take the slap in your face and start thinking! Hey Xavi, 100% acurate passes. I clap my hands!

  5. Peter
    April 9, 2014

    I couldn’t watch the game, heard some of the second part on radio. I was advised not to watch it “if you want to continue believing in God”.

    Was it really that bad?

  6. IamXavi6
    April 9, 2014

    Nothing to say but congrats to Atleti who were clearly the better side and were good value to go through.

    As above, don’t hang this in Tito. This is solely on the Board and their transfers that have finally caught up with us. We clearly didn’t learn much from the Bayern game after all.

    I hope Atleti go on and win the CL now.

    Time to focus on the league and realise we were outclassed and to accept and lose with grace…sometimes you just arn’t good enough.

  7. KEVINO17
    April 9, 2014

    Welcome to Barca, Tata. There are certain players you cannot drop (Messi, Xavi, Neymar (cost too much)); there are legacy players on the way out; and there is a style of football which can’t be touched. In many ways, Simeone has a much easier job because he doesn’t have any stars and can do whatever he likes.

  8. bedhead
    April 9, 2014

    We need a tall CB yesterday because height is killing us in the back. Barca defenders/wings are asked to contribute to offense and leave two in the back to defend. The two need to be tall / fast in order to accomplish this difficult task. Our midfield needs to attack and defend. Besides Busquets our other 3 contribute little to no defense which is why Atletico ran through our midfield. And bring back the tiki-taka and triangles! The long ball/Alves cross is over utilized and ineffective. Barca doesn’t train like that, they aren’t known for that, I have to assume its the coaching. Its not working.

    • Ryan
      April 9, 2014

      Alves’ incessant crossing was a trademark of the 2009 Champions League semifinal vs. Chelsea, so I wouldn’t say it’s something directly attributed to TAta’s coaching.

    • barca96
      April 10, 2014

      Alves did cross last time but it wasn’t such a norm. Now it’s every single match. Many have pointed it out since the start of the season.

      Alves and co. kept on crossing and me and others used to complain that it’s not really helpful when our forwards are much shorter then the opposition defenders. And it certainly doesn’t help that Alves needs 10 crosses for a perfect one.

  9. BA
    April 9, 2014

    our defense is hapless shit, and Cesc is pointless.

    we may have lost (all credit to Atleti, the better team over 2 legs), but at least *I* feel vindicated.

  10. April 9, 2014

    What was the point of using Cesc as a False-9?

    A player who should be used as a False-9 should be at least a striker or should have that quality. Look at his overall position, he was more in midfield than upfront. So Atleti defense and defensive midfielders had a an easy job and could easily press higher.

    Like I have said many times, Barca coaches should know how to adapt formation to counter opposition strategy and formation. Why this heavy fixation with false-9? Atleti played with a 4-2-3-1 formation like Real Madrid played last time and Milan played at San Siro. In a False-9 the key attribute is the striker dragging the central defender in to the midfield. Why would a central defender do that when he knew he have a double pivot in front of him?

    We should have put Sanchez in front of Messi and pigged back their defense. In that way we could have taken more control in midfield and prevent their defense from linking with midfield. Instead we were all over the park and in that scenario you won’t be able to press. There is a view here that players could press whenever they want. May be Sanchez can, then that’s not effective pressing. To press effectively as a team we need to compress the pitch(that means our formation) if you don’t do that you are simply chasing the ball. You could see this perfectly in the Osasuna match where in the beginning we were not controlling the match but once the defense pushed higher, we were all over them. I think I wrote a comment about the same and got blasted here for not enjoying the 7-0 victory and such. I saw the issue we saw last night in that match too.

    For me adding simply one more midfielder will not take control of the match. It is rather ridiculous. In that way if we deploy six man midfield, the opposition should not get hold of the ball at all? It all depends on formation of the midfield! With Cesc not even playing the proper false-9 at times. There is no point in adding one more midfielder without a striker upfront against a team which is ready to defend deep and also have a double pivot in midfield. The striker up front will definitely pin the defense back and give us the advantage in midfield.

  11. April 9, 2014

    Here we go, let’s sell Messi.

    I hope people don’t blame Tata for this one, the players simply did not show up and the Atleti players were amazing.

    • G6O
      April 9, 2014

      Selling Messi is clearly absurd right now.

      But so was the thought of selling Ronaldinho in late 2006.

      What is indisputable is that something has to change in his game. Yes, he was caged by 3-4 defenders all the time. But it’s also true he walked all game and did not press at all, which is inexcusable given the context

    • April 9, 2014

      Messi needs to force a transfer out of Barca, right now. We don’t deserve him. This guy come back from injury helps beat RM at their home to keep us alive, Kill the challenge of Manchester City over two legs to get us to QF. And still there are people who want to sell him because he struggled against a very organised team.

      It’s for his best he realised this and force a transfer. the board does not appreciate him, the fans does not and he got a manager who thinks of how to make Cesc and Neymar work rather than create space for Messi to operate.

      He always struggle against team which play a 4-2-3-1 formation That double pivot with four man defense is too much for him to breakdown without any help. But surely nobody asks any question why we don’t try to create space for him!

      No doubt that he was pretty poor. But it’s too much to talk about selling him. I think the moment he took on Faus, he has too many Catalan enemies who is baying for his blood. It’s surprising when Neymar continued to play poor, so did Cesc no one went after them.

    • KEVINO17
      April 9, 2014

      A team like Atleti can’t be beaten unless a team presses like demons and gets the cheap balls close to their goal and catches them in transition when they steal the ball and try to counter-attack. So the question is, is what Messi does for the team adequate compensation for the fact that he leaves a great big hole in the bucket? Against the best teams, I seriously have my doubts.

    • G6O
      April 10, 2014

      That’s a very accurate description of the situation – the best way to beat the bus is to recover the ball before the bus is parked. Can’t do that if your forwards do not press like crazy.

    • G6O
      April 10, 2014

      Don’t get me wrong – I do not want to sell Messi, and I am well aware of the systemic issues that caused the loss today.

      I was just pointing out that he was passive all game and did not press at all, which was inexcusable in the context of the game – it’s not as if we were down 4-0 or something, the game was still in play till the last minute. Something has to change. Against RM he played like a lion, you saw the results. Yes, he was afforded plenty of space, but he also put in a lot of effort.

      But we have seen more than one genius-level player fade earlier than he should have because people were cutting him too much slack for his lack of effort. We don’t want that to happen to him.

    • barca96
      April 10, 2014

      Cmon now. Can’t he have a handful of matches where he plays below average? He turns up for 80% of the matches.

    • barca96
      April 10, 2014

      And Tata should shoulder some of the blame. I usually prefer to critisize the players as they are the ones who are playing. But Tata chose the wrong players (Cesc) and didn’t have the balls to take Messi off. Recently Tata has been really slow with subs.

    • KEVINO17
      April 10, 2014

      Tata took Messi off he would be on the next plane back to Argentina (economy class – if lucky)

    • barca96
      April 10, 2014

      😆

      But on a serious note, in the beginning of the season Tata showed some courage but lost it during the winter break.

  12. barca96
    April 10, 2014

    Why is Tata to blame for alves crossing?

    We’ve seen it all season long, not just in this match. Previously we never crossed as much as we did. It only started this season. Long corners too. Is it a coincidence?

  13. April 10, 2014

    Let’s sell Messi? Whoa. Let’s sell him. Doesn’t press. Looks disinterested. He’s basically the problem. I get.

  14. April 10, 2014

    I have not said a word against Tata all season and have vehemently supported the guy. But I need to say one thing.

    ~~ I dont know what Tata was smoking when he decides that Iniesta (the most dangerous player capable of unbalancing the opponent after Neymar) had to come off. “Lets just put out as many strikers as we can and hope for the best” is what he might have been thinking. And that’s just desperate.

    ~~ In five games against Atletico, he hasn’t improved or altered his tactics one bit even though he expected them to play the same way and they did. What does that say about his managerial / tactical expertise? I honestly do not know.

    ~~ Against a team that presses so intensely, shouldn’t we try to counter that with some muscle and press of our own? Doesn’t this simple fact alone warrant a start for an Alexis who runs and presses like a dog?

    All season I have defended Tata. Yes, he hasn’t had the backing of the board or the players he wants and has been caught in the crossfire. But in line with the 3 points I made above, it is clear that he hasn’t had a clue on how to play Atleti for 5 straight games (just relying on his players to create something rather than give them a clear system to enact) and has simply not used the weapons he had at his disposal effectively.

    • TITO
      April 10, 2014

      We must have watched 2 different games. What did Iniesta do that was dangerous last night?
      He was one of the poorest in penetrating, constantly losing the ball, giving away it, and no pressing whatsoever.
      But again, i agree that this was Tata’s fault.
      It’s not his fault how the players perform on the pitch, but definitely is if he got the tactics wrong, the formation, the inspiration etc.
      We needed to press from the beginning, we needed to run more, to be more faster with and without the ball, accurate paces. We knew how will they play, everybody here was discussing the same thing for days, can’t believe that Tata and the coaching stuff did not know that, and we still persisted with the same game plan that had no success against them.
      Bearing in mind that their 2 best players were absent last night.

    • April 10, 2014

      Even I second that. I have never seen Iniesta this poor. Not even a single time he got past his marker. He was pathetic and I was pretty happy when he was replaced. For me we need to swap Cesc with Sanchez at half time. That would ahve helped us in going all out from start of second half.

    • KEVINO17
      April 10, 2014

      My only disagreement with you is that I think, in a game like this, Barca really should give up their possession game for the first 20 minutes and soak up the pressure. Give them the ball. Make them use it. This was a replay of us against Madrid with YouKnowWho in charge when they would come out like storm troopers and turn Barca’s desire to play out from the back into a huge liability and usually grab a few quick goals. We could have easily been down 2 – 3 after 20 minutes.
      In other words, you just can’t play out from the back in the first 20 minutes against a pumped up team that presses high and is in front of 50,000 screaming fans.
      The fact that Barca went out and actually tried that suggests to me that the players are doing their own thing rather than Tata’s thing.

    • Messiah10
      April 10, 2014

      I will also add to your post. No Valdes! So playing out from the back is virtually impossible with a one footed keeper.

  15. stefan2k
    April 10, 2014

    Iniesta was surprised when being subbed off? He shouldn’t have been, because he lost more balls in this one game than all season long. Pedro at least brought his speed, dribblings and most of all a pair of fresh legs.

    Would have been a shame if we proceeded after such a game… collective failure no more no less.

  16. ciaran
    April 10, 2014

    I know Cules are likely to overreact but selling Messi? Holy crap.

    Blaming Tata is a cop out, he hasnt been bought the players he needs so Zubi as much as anyone could be blamed, maybe even Rosell.

    I believe that tactically we need to improve and maybe evolve into a 4-2-3-1 but it’ll be hard to do it. Busquets needs help in matches like this, our defense was overrun in the first half.

    I understand some of the points that are being made but last week we deserved to beat them and didn’t, that was where the tie was lost.

    The referee was absolutely terrible last night and most people knew we would struggle when he was announced for it.

    For me, this summer will be incredibly important. It could be make or break for our era. In defining transfer windows clubs can get things amazingly wrong and end their own eras so who we buy and who we sell has never been more important. When we sold Deco and Ronaldinho most people thought that was crazy and maybe now selling the likes of Masch, Alves and others might be good or bad and this summer is going to be where Zubi earns his spurs.

    But for me it’s evolution not revolution, changes in personnel and tweeks of the system, not ditching our way of life

    • BA
      April 10, 2014

      the thing is, i think we could look great in such a system but with Mascherano there next to Busquets, only playing the position he’s spent his entire career excelling at up til now: a defensive midfielder. continuing with him as a center-back IS, as many commenters have said, arrogant and wasteful. filling in here and there against lesser teams is one thing, but to start in that position against a ferocious opponent like Simeone’s Atleti in a Champions League quarterfinal is simply mismanagement. period.

  17. April 10, 2014

    The best team won. We must accept the reality, Atleti are the better team now, more hungry,motivated with a passionate and clever coach. I dont have any idea how they manage to have at least two players approach the ball, all the time, anywhere on the pitch. So compact through out the pitch. Brilliant. I hope they win the CL.

    The whole team was poor. True Iniesta and Messi was the worst as these are the two, whom we look up to.
    I dont know if anybody else noticed this. We keep Messi on the right wing, and in the first half, almost every ball went to the left wing.
    Anybody has any stats as to how many balls were received by Messi in the final third?
    Our midfield was terrible. I dont blame it on the defence or the frontline, but the midfield. It was a shame.. Neymar got the best chance, but it was good he didnt shoot immediately. We didnt deserve a draw.

    I dont think the coach alone is to blame. But there was this news Tata didnt had lunch with the team as he was still watching Atleti videos!!! Some hours before the match, our coach was still looking for ways to break them?

    Really wondering, if Tata had seen the AC Milan match.

    • barca96
      April 10, 2014

      Ya, I noticed it too that the ball was on the left the majority of the time.

      Tata after a handful of games played against Atletico, still needed time to figure them out. Was he watching them play and figuring how to break them or was he just replaying the Diego goal 😆

  18. wind1795
    April 10, 2014

    seems familiar scenario to Chelsea’s approach, or actually more defensive than Chelsea.Would be interesting if the two meet in the semis..plz don’t curse or shout, not pouring salt on wounds.
    But that formation, at least the players are~ to RM played their rival in the cup game. Strange, that is the match where a ‘Chelsea’-minded team are beaten by >1 goal margin(Due to injury issue).

    And even more intriguing, RM started to play better when they play Modric instead of the so called’def pivot’. RM is physically better, more rigid central defense than Barca when facing these kind of opponents. Again, that RM-Ath match is controversial where certain red cards can be given out but..

    If you look at the close game (4-3) in Bernabau(correct me if spelling is wrong, not ‘spelling champ’). Both teams style are closer since RM change their manager. Their supporters would be happy about that..
    Hope you understand what that means..

    However, one glaring issue which may be -ve but +ve at the same time.
    That is ~ to Man Utd in recent years whenever one of Giggs or Scholes is present(or both). These players are less prone to be targeted. And the reason is quite obvious..Plz don’t chuckle..

    Now, you should understand why Guardiola make certain subs in his late managerial career with Barca.
    He hasn’t always carry Barc to win in his last season, but when you’re trailing why don’t be more aggressive esp. in the last 20-30 mins,be more risky. Taking off 1 def..instead of an AM. The risks are large for certain..the 2CBs need extremely well coordination to keep the offside trap->pitch is squeeced-> the pressing will be more efficient
    players are tiring so but new legs will complement that. The backline is already high but in those dire circumstance just no choice..
    It’s would be mad if you can succeed with this throughout the whole match but in certain periods it may work.

    This kicks back the midfield issue. The positioning of the forwards while not perfect but not ‘disastrously crap’. Just a question, who keeps and use the ball a lot, really a lot in the MF compared to others. It is both +ve/-ve concurrently. But when you compared to iniesta, who is more tightly marked and the space..

    Contiunally stretch the line/space/layers whichever discription you want to use, but timing and acceleration is the key(esp. in latter stages of the game).

    in those stages, chose goal(-creating chances)/’absolute control’?
    (they can try rotate that ‘MF’ playmaker more)../or else what’s the pt of ‘totFtball’?

    They can bring Rafina back, but the question is sbdy’s mind x= other,..see the Thiago case? not cursing, but question remains..
    They have quite some AMs in the ladder, (very) young,still developing
    Xavi is becoming a legendary player.., but that deeper position, who else can play consistently at a high level. You may suggest ans very quickly, but that position alongside CB is really thin.

    This brought back the memories happening in AC Milan,Man Utd
    it’s obvious..~ status, ~ management.Everything has a cause and precedents shows like a mirror. poor transitioning without proper reinforcement. And the problem will be larger for an attacking team more than a counter-attacking them coz they sit back and waiting for chances to lurk. But if players are trained mainly in attacking first, reinforcements have to be on-time or the ‘debt’ will be paided.

    The scenario is complex though particularly related to transfers.
    Because if one checks the regCenter(considering all youth academies, just want to know how many ‘offenders’ of the ‘rule’ out there and how many young prospects’ dreams or possible careers will be destroyed(because of their nationality and in a sector ‘which constitutes a staggering portion of the economy?!!). And if either one/ both has occurred, full reports should be presented and ~court, not convicted X= offenses unless proven guility..Not sure and will not make any inconclusive judgements..

    But they can take a gamble on that german MF, problematic injury history and out for a long,long time.
    You may think of certain players with ~ problems.
    Hargreaves(his club history you can chk if you don’t know,assuming you know ..), Man Utd relied him too much and that is a telling factor of his injury record. You would notice the difference in their pressing and def if you have time with&w/ot him(but that is another issue)

    If handling well with proper rotation and the rest belongs to the medical&fitness team, a gamble can be taken on such player esp in an inflated world(but more imptly, that current Intl. german plays well and would suit the system(if given some time coz). And the playing time will not be a serious issue like that Thiago one.

    A team does not function well if the any positon does not, esp mid(thrash obvious..) but incisive cutting into space momentarily opened only is extrmly impt and stamina..
    Barca may have won by giving Messi a rest vs Betis(at least some mins)
    But the shooting accuracy really needs huge improvement..~the Passing height accuracy.
    They do have the ball a lot and play a lot of time on the other other half, but have less dangerous chances(e.g. sq-zone)/on-target accuracy.
    [not just transition def but (zonal/[not necess]//blocks)transit Attk]+ ultizing the space asap(thr running&ball translocate], not always the space created btw CB & SB coz the opponent counters that successfully sometimes, and run,..chipped balls may be ok to by pass overcrowding

    they want to win all remaining league games?
    else no league chmp, right..
    They haven’t won Ath by >=1 goal in a single match this season.
    IF that’s the case, then they can kiss + wave to the league trophy.
    And the tone from some ppl will change to [they never win RM-> Ath once]

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