Take on Tactics: Barcelona 4 – Malaga 1, The First Half-Season Ends with the Opposition Continuing to Chase Shadows

Barça has completed its first round through La Liga and done so with a record midseason point total.  The Blaugrana’s 4-1 victory over Malaga demonstrated a number of the key aspects to how the Barça system has evolved and why they have become so difficult to play this season.  Let’s take a look at some of the specifics

Guardiola started his favored 11, deploying them in the formation and style that has become Barça’s usual mode of play:  a free flowing 4-3-3 with Messi acting as a false 9 and the two full backs moving high up the pitch almost as wing backs.

Barcelona: Tactical Formation

Manuel Pellegrini generally favors a dynamic 4-2-2-2/ 4-4-2 formation.  On Sunday, he deployed an asymmetric 4-4-2/ 4-4-1-1.

Malaga: Tactical Formation - Assymetric 4-4-1-1, With Duda Tracking Alves (Average Positions Shown)

Duda, Baptista and Apono would drop back or move forward depending on where the ball was being played.  The asymmetry in the formation was largely due to the role that Duda played on the left wing for Malaga.  Duda’s responsibility was primarily as a defensive winger charged with tracking Dani Alves’ runs forward.

Due to this role Malaga’s left flank was often shaped and operated differently than it’s right flank. (This reengineering on Pellegrini’s part is yet another example of Alves’ tactical impact on matches.  On a team with Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Villa the player who had a specific defender assigned to marking him was he Barcelona right full back.)

Malaga played a relatively high defensive line and generally tried to stay compact while not sitting uniformly deep.  At the same time however they didn’t press aggressively as a unit.  This may have been due to concerns for getting caught over-committed higher up the pitch and leaving the back exposed.

Malaga High Defensive Line and Compact Shape Without Pressure on the Ball

In the image above, notice how compact Malaga are – there isn’t much space between their two strikers and their defensive line.  Usually this kind of defensive compactness is a critical aspect to strong defensive play.

But if a defense is going to be this compact and play the backline this high, then it has to pressure the ball aggressively otherwise it is at risk for attackers and the ball getting into the space behind the backs.  Giving the opposition passers time and space on the ball with a line this high at the back is a significant risk.

Pellegrini has only recently taken over at Malaga and they’ve brought in a number of new players.  As such, he may have drilled Malaga on staying properly compact but the team still hasn’t been able to absorb and put into practice the pressing aspect of his philosophy.  Alternatively the team or Pellegrini may not have felt comfortable pressing a team that retains possession like Barça.

In the image above also, notice the asymmetry in the formation I described prior with Duda (green-blue line) at the top pinching outwards to track Alves (orange line) even though Xavi has the ball on the left.

The rest of the Malaga formation has shifted leftwards but Duda lingers in a wider position, outside wider of even where the left fullback is playing.  This asymmetry helps track Alves but at the same time opens up spaces inside of the Malaga defense.   Barça successfully exploited this space to help score their first goal.

Here is another example – one that exemplifies why it’s so hard to defend Barça.

Busquets Open as an Oulet, Malaga Crowds Middle But Does Not Pressure Ball

The Malaga backline is playing very high and their defense is very compact.  Staying compact allows Malaga to defend in numbers in the center of the pitch against Xavi (blue line), Iniesta (yellow line), and Messi (red line).

But this comes at the cost of giving Busquets (purple line) time and space on the ball.  No one is pressing him.  When teams don’t pressure Barça, Busquets often has a great deal of time and space on the ball and against Malaga he was able to make himself available as an outlet to not only maintain possession but to also maintain the continuity of the build up of play.  This allows the team to continue circulating the ball rapidly despite congestion in the center as Busquets can can pivot the ball unimpeded.

A few other things of importance in the image above that I wanted to point out that are important aspects to how Barça has played this season.  Notice how Wellington (purple line on Malaga) has stepped up from the backline towards the middle of the pitch leaving an enormous hole in the Malaga backline.  This is good example of how Messi drags defensive lines out of shape through his role as a false 9.  Wellington is trying to anticipate that the pass will go to Messi from Busquets.  But that additional defender in the center comes at the cost of lost shape at the back.  Villa (green line) intelligently is starting a diagonal run to exploit this space. (This is also an example of how Busquets needs to develop his game – if he’s given space on the ball he could do great damage if he looked to play more incisive passes from deep from time to time. He has a lane open to him that cuts down the pitch that Pedro or Alves could make diagonal runs into with support from Villa).

Finally, Barça has also effectively countered Pellegrini’s attempt to play Duda (green-blue line) as a defensive wing to track Alves (orange line) through position switching.  Pedro (white line) has dropped deep and Alves has pushed forward and stays wide.  This forces Duda to pick up Pedro and leaves Alves open in space.  The left full back can only keep track of Alves to a certain degree as he has to stay pinched in to make up for the space that Wellington has left as he tries to track Messi dropping deep as a false 9.

This dynamic – a defense that tried to stay compact and push relatively high up the pitch without aggressive pressing – had a significant impact on shaping the match.  (This is similar to what happened in El Clásico.)

By now it’s almost assumed that Barça will dominate possession.  However, some defenses have found some success by doing two things.  First, by trying to reduce Barça’s possession as much as possible (e.g. to under 70%).  And more importantly, by disrupting the quality of Barça’s possession by interrupting Barça’s ability to build play through continuous patterns of passing (e.g. Athletic Bilbao at San Mames or even Levante in their own third).

Malaga’s defensive approach not only facilitated Barça’s ability to dominate the quantity of possession but to also maintain high quality possession.  There simply wasn’t enough pressure on the player with the ball to force Barça into mistakes.

At the same time, because of the relatively high line the Malaga defenders often seemed unsure of themselves and tended to collapse backwards when under even initial pressure from Barça’s attack.  They played a high line, but their priority often was to defend the space behind them.  This put Malaga at high risk for losing shape at their back line even when they tried to defend in numbers due to movement.  Barça took advantage of this over and over by directing the action of play and then exploiting space that opened up away from the ball.

The next play highlighted provides a very clear example of this dynamic.

Messi Drops into Space Opened Up by Break in Malaga Team Defense

Above, Barça have regained possession in their own half and Iniesta has the ball.  Notice how disjointed the Malaga defense is.  The defense is high up the pitch but a large gap has developed between the front six Malaga players and their back four.

The Malaga backline is so concerned about being  high up the pitch that they immediately start to retreat once Barça regains possession – even though the ball is deep in the Barça third.  Under minimal pressure, Malaga has conceded its compact shape as a team.

In turn, Messi (red line) has intelligently dropped back into this large gap in space.  Critically, the defenders up the pitch have collapsed around Xavi (blue line) but are not pressuring the ball.  This allows Iniesta (yellow line) to make a direct pass to a wide-open Messi.

Messi Receives Ball in Open Space as the Malaga Back Line Moves Deep

Here Messi has received a simple ball to feet from Iniesta, who sends the pass through the open space that develops when the defenders collapsed around Xavi.  Giving Iniesta this kind of space to make a pass makes it very likely that Iniesta will deliver a perfect connection.  Pedro (white line) seeing Messi in open space is already anticipating the pass from Iniesta to Messi and has already started his run down field.

In the image below we see the immediate result.  Given space and time on the ball Messi has threaded a perfect diagonal through ball to Pedro on the break at speed.

Malaga Back Line Turns to Defend Space Behind Them Rather than Pressure Messi

What’s so telling about this play isn’t where the ball is.  Notice the positioning of the Malaga back four.  None of them is facing Messi any longer.  The moment Messi received the ball to foot the Malaga back four stopped back peddling, stopped facing the play and turned around and started sprinting towards their own goal rather than trying to pressure the ball which is one of the major reasons for playing a high back line in the first place (note – though in the image above Messi has released the ball, the Malaga defenders had already turned towards goal prior to the Messi releasing the ball).

The backline is so concerned about getting beat by one of Messi’s mazy runs they move back into space rather than trying to stop the ball.  They are trying to create as much space in front of them as possible to create a cushion to defend against Messi.  At the same time, four of their players are still high up the pitch.  Malaga is no longer defending in a team efficient manner.  Their defense is functionally broken in two.

And here is where Messi has become so lethal this season.  The entire back line is sprinting to defend the space behind them to avoid getting beat by Messi on the dribble.  But seeing the space in front of him Messi puts into practice the principle that the ball can move faster than the player.  He only takes a few dribbles and quickly releases the precise diagonal pass that threads through the channel between the center back and the full back directly to Pedro.

Notice where Pedro and Villa are positioned above.  Both are wide of full backs. Malaga have numerical advantage 6 vs. 3 overall and 4 vs. 3 at the back.  But Villa and Pedro have made the pitch so functionally large that those four defenders can’t control space anymore.

Critically, by simultaneously having Messi drop deep and keeping the wingers very wide, Barça have made the Malaga center backs almost irrelevant.  They are marking no one nor were they controlling space to cut off the angle for the diagonal through ball.  They are redundant defenders chasing shadows.  This is one of the single most important tactical development in Barça’s entire approach this season.  The team’s capacity to turn the center backs – usually the heart of any defense – into bystanders.

The play above didn’t result in a goal, but it did create a dangerous opportunity and illustrates the problems Barça created for Malaga in this match and across this season for most teams.

In no way is this analysis intended to find fault with Pellegrini or Malaga, per se.  But watching them try to defend in this fashion during the play above was eye opening.  Rather than trying to directly defend Messi, the Malaga defense is attempting to defend the space behind them. Despite that highly conservative approach and the numerical advantage, Barça still turns the situation into a dangerous chance.  There is no ideal solution on how to defend.  It’s a matter of how a team decides to make trade offs and what risks it’s willing to accept.

In moments like these one sees the impact that the Barça machine has on defenses.  And in particular, one sees the impact that El Clásico had on the opposition.  One of the dominant stories of the Clásico was Barça getting behind Madrid’s backline over and over and simply dismantling Madrid.  The Malaga back line defenders were clearly aware of Barça’s ability to exploit space between them and goal.  Over and over, despite starting in higher positions, the Malaga backline’s tendency was to fall back to defend the space behind them, even in their own half.

This type of dynamic not only operated in transition, but also when Barça was dominating possession in the Malaga third.

Messi as a False 9 Forces Malaga Back Line to Lose Shape, Villa and Pedro Make Pitch Wide

The image above captures much of Barça season in a single picture.  It encompasses key aspects to the tactical evolution of the team and system this season compared to last.

Messi (red line) has dropped back to receive the ball and then runs at the defense.  This forces the center back Demichelis (purple line) to commit to either falling back or stepping up to stop the run.  Demichelis chooses to step up.  When a center back does this the back line loses shape and he must win the ball.  But that’s no easy task when it’s Messi who has the ball.  Above loss of shape at the back is made even worse because as Demichelis stops up the rest of the Malaga defense falls back towards goal from their relatively high initial positions.  In turn, Malaga loses significant shape in the back while also keeping both Villa (green line) and Pedro (white line) onside.  The collapsing defense around Messi also leaves Iniesta (yellow line) open as an outlet.

The loss of shape in the Malaga backline opens up the kind of passing angles Messi has exploited again and again to such devastating effect this season.  Messi can thread a diagonal between the two center back s due to the space that develops when Demichelis steps up or he can pass around Demichelis and the right full back to Villa in space.  Demichelis stepping up leaves the right full back especially vulnerable to the space behind him and outside of him.  The right back  cannot count on his center back being behind him to defend should he get beat by Villa because the center back has stepped up.

Finally, notice above how narrow the Malaga defense is.  Seven players form almost Christmas tree type formation in the center of the pitch with Duda pinching into the center as the eighth defender.

This is one of the most interesting tactical aspects of the Barça attack this season.  In the past staying narrow was critical for many defenses against Barça. This was due to the fact that Barça played the ball through the middle so much and didn’t utilize width effectively.  This was a particular problem for the team last season.

This season that’s entirely different and that’s evident above.  Despite Messi’s run in the middle both Villa and Pedro retain tactical discipline and remain in wide positions.  Villa in particular is not even remotely close to being defended but he does not edge towards the middle.  Instead the wingers make the pitch as large as possible negating the defense’s narrow formation.

This patience is what has allowed Villa and Pedro to find space in the opposition third so often.   It’s this width and tactical discipline that allows Messi’s precision passes into space through the channel between center backs and full backs to turn into goals as the wingers run into that open space where the ball is going.  It allows Barça to play from the middle to the flanks and utilize width dynamically rather than to stagnate in the middle.

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  1. Soto
    January 18, 2011

    Wow, Euler. Brilliant post on tactics.

    You mentioned that last year the team brought the ball in through the middle more than they are doing this year. But I remember that in the triplete year Barca seemed to primarily bring the ball in from the wings, particularly the right wing. Was this difference due to a tactical shift between ’08-’09 to ’09-’10? Or merely due to the fact that Messi moved to the center when Eto’o left and the flow of the ball just followed Messi? (Yeah, I know that last year Ibrahimovic was ostensibly the man in the center, but Messi still moved more central last year, despite Ibrahimovic’s presence.)

    I am wondering if this year’s team is more tactically sophisticated than the triplete team.

  2. mei
    January 18, 2011

    Call me crazy but im practically drooling over your tactical insights euler , both in comment section and as stand alone posts like this one that provide deeper analysis.

    • barcapanda
      January 18, 2011

      If you’re crazy, then I’m crazy, too, ’cause I’m also drooling over this article! Excellent work, Euler.

  3. Huckleberry
    January 18, 2011

    I wonder if (and how) this tactical scheme works without Messi in a crucial game. The substitutes for Messi so far were not really convincing. Iniesta came closest but is still miles away. Afellay perhaps?
    Or would Pep change the scheme? Perhaps to a style more like Spanish NT with Xavi in front of two holding midfielder an with Villa as a “true” 9? (resulting in a 1:0 in overtime…)

    • outerspacedout
      January 18, 2011

      We were still very good in 2008/09 when Messi didn’t play the false nine role if I remember right. I think we would play the same as then, with Villa moving to the centre a la Eto’o and the likes of Pedro, Afellay, Bojan etc playing on the wings, with the usual midfield of Busquets/Mascherano-Xavi-Iniesta. Afellay or Iniesta or anybody else in the team really can’t play the false nine well imo. Iniesta doesn’t provide the goalscoring and finishing though he can do the drifting floating dribbling stuff fine, and Villa can do the goalscoring but lacks the floating drifting dribbling elegant thing, and Afellay seems too direct a player for it to be his style.

  4. Huckleberry
    January 18, 2011

    I wonder if (and how) this tactical scheme works without Messi in a crucial game. The substitutes for Messi so far were not really convincing. Iniesta came closest but is still miles away. Afellay perhaps?
    Or would Pep change the scheme? Perhaps to a style more like Spanish NT with Xavi in front of two holding midfielders an with Villa as a “true” 9? (resulting in a 1:0 in overtime…)

  5. OSBAG
    January 18, 2011

    The magnificence of this post only make me wish it could come more often. It helps people like me who cant read tactics understand and appreciate the brilliance of our team and Pep. It seems Messi played a similar behind-two-strikers role in south africa

    P.S match squad for tomorrw realeased sadly thiago left out for what reason i dont know.

    • Ezequiel
      January 18, 2011

      Messi has been more of a classic #10 for Argentina during the WC.

      Argentina had a couple of problems during the WC:
      1) The fullbacks didnt offer any attacking threat, they rarely appeared in the final third of the pitch. Compare Alves’ and Abidal’s movement to that of Jonas and Heinze.
      2) No cohesion in the midfield. Maxi and di Maria stayed wide and rarely stepped into the center. ARG basically had Mascherano and Veron against 3 players (as the most sides were playing so kind of 4-2-3-1). To even the numerical disadvantage out, Messi had to drop very deep and play the engache.
      3) The lack of another passing midfielder. Mascherano is primarly a ball-winner, Veron is past his prime, Maxi and di Maria are more of a I-try-to-run-with-the-ball-at-my-feet type. So the front line was often cut off supply unless Messi dropped deep and proceed to do something with the ball
      4) The unwillingness to track back. Neither Messi, nor Higuain, nor di Maria, Veron or Maxi are known for great defensive qualitites. So whenever an opponent attacked in numbers (=Germany), it was the back four + Mascherano against 7 or 8 players

      Could Maradona have done better? He certainly could.

      One option for him would be playing fast counter-attacks similar to EE. Play a flat back four, two holders with passing ability in front of it (Mascherano + Cambiasso/Banega) and four players up front interchangigng positions with Messi playing some kind of Özil/CR role

      Another option is a 4-3-3 with the midflied trio of Mascherano, Cambiasso/Banega, Veron/Pastore as well as at least one attacking fullback. Instead, Maradona opted for the diamond-shaped 4-4-2 and once he faced a good 4-2-3-1 team, he paid the price…

      • Louis
        January 18, 2011

        From what I remember Messi played a very deep false 9 for most of the WC, because that was the only way the midfield could get him the ball frequently.

        • Ezequiel
          January 18, 2011

          The deep false 9 was so deep that Messi often had to collect the passes in his own half and distribute them across the whole pitch. His role actually reminded me more of Riquelme.

          • Louis
            January 18, 2011

            Oh, sorry. When I read ‘#10’ I saw ‘#9’. I guess we were talking about the same thing.

  6. January 18, 2011

    Thiago might have been left out because of a little knock. Who knows?

    And happy 40th birthday to our coach, who seems wise beyond his years….

    As does Euler, with another masterclass. And the beauty of this approach is that while Messi helps, he isn’t essential. If a player has been schooled in the system, he understands the passes and runs to make.

    Think about how many killer passes are simple, direct balls. R10 had the curls, and the shimmies and the no-looks. Today, we have the direct, diagonal through ball.

    Properly implemented, Guardiola has created the undefenseable offense, as crazy as it sounds.

    • Ezequiel
      January 18, 2011

      right now Messi is definitely essential to this system.

      While any other homegrown player has the knowledge to make the run, they certainly can’t match Messi’s ability to drag 3-4 opponent players out of shape just by showing up somewhere in the middle, thus creating space for Villa and Pedro to run into.

  7. Blow-Grenade
    January 18, 2011

    That’s an awesome article!!!

  8. January 18, 2011

    The Afellay Effect: Guardiola said in today’s presser that as a direct result of the play of Afellay, Thiago will return to the B side for the rest of the season, so that he can get the playing time that he needs “at his age.”

    • blitzen
      January 18, 2011

      I was just about to post this! And I think this a very good thing. Thiago needs playing time to develop his obvious talent, Afellay needs playing time to get comfortable with the team. Thiago knows he will be promoted next season, so he has nothing to prove and can give all his attention to the B team. They need him right now, as JDS seems to have lost some confidence. This will keep him grounded and stop him from getting frustrated with lack of playing time.

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2011

        And I would like to note that when I suggested a few weeks ago that Thiago might go back to play with the B team for a while, I was pooh-poohed. Told you so! 😛

        • Jnice
          January 18, 2011

          Right you were, Blitzen.

          I still have a feeling Mazinho isn’t happy about this. After reading one of his interviews, I got the sense that he felt Thiago should be promoted right now.

      • Ezequiel
        January 18, 2011

        It’s not only JDS’ confidence that is the problem. Riverola moved to Vitesse, Sergi Robero is out for 5 weeks and the B squad is short of midfielders right now.

        Add the injuries of Romeu and Vazquez to that and you get the reason behind Thiago’s move to the B team.

    • Helge
      January 18, 2011

      But that still means that Thiago will be promoted and that Thiago will not waste any thoughts for moving away from us, right?

      If that’s the case, then I’m fine with it. Afellay is already more experienced than Thiago, so it’s a natural decision to build more on him for the rest of this season. If both of them stayed in the A team neither of them would get enough playing time.
      Also, Afellay is more versatile with regards to the positions he can play in: He can be used as a midfielder, a winger or even an attacking winger, whereas Thiago is a mainly a central midfielder.

      Next season, we’ll have a matured Thiago, an integrated Afellay, the best pairing in midfield of all time Xaviniesta and two world-class defensive mids Busi and Mascherano! And we’ll have paid only ~30m for having two top class midfields available! This golden era might really live on for half a decade 🙂

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2011

        Yes, the club has already confirmed that Thiago will be promoted at the end of the season, so no worries about losing him to another club.

      • OSBAG
        January 18, 2011

        All this points to the incredulous fact that we do not need cesc. Come on u guys seem to be forgetting keitee

  9. K_legit
    January 18, 2011

    I remember saying to a Cule friend of mine about a couple of years ago right before the second season of Guardiola at Barça started that the new way of play with Barça would be centered around getting the opposition fullbacks out of position ie making the wingers (at that time Henry, Pedro, etc) stay wide and keeping them there, let the defense stay compact but exploit that space behind the fullback as he is in two mids whether to stay compact or track the winger.

    But that pass..the one behind the fullback into space..requires absurd talent and poise on the ball and no natural no. 9 has that ability..except Messi and like I said in the liveblog, I believe we are seeing the evolution of perhaps the most complete forward ever in the history of this game.

    We are seeing Ronaldo at the EE attempt to play (and fail) as a central striker..I believe Messi has forever silenced those who said that he wasn’t as ‘complete’ as Ronaldo

    I was reading some of the older posts and I came upon a piece on ‘Ball pressure’ by Hector which covered how pressurizing the opponent relentlessly is an essential aspect of our play in recent times and perhaps that was one of the best tactical pieces I have read in a long time. I wonder why Hector stopped posting..Discussions between him and Euler would have been a throwback to the Bohr-Einstein debates..

    • soccermomof4
      January 18, 2011

      Euler, you are awesome! I woke up today, saw that you had posted a tactical review, and knew I was gonna get some football education. THANKS!

      Complete player thing, some people are still arguing in CR’s favor— goal.com does a comparison between TB and Messi. The criteria includes some areas that don’t really seem to be proving themselves as significant and that CR comes out ahead in:

      physicality (our whole team proves (at least within our system) that physicality is trumphed by skill))

      headers (I concede this one to TB)

      Leadership (goal.com states about Messi, “There are motivators and leaders in other areas of the pitch. He collects the ball and does what he does best – nothing more.”) I tend to disagree. He may not direct, but he inspires.

      Pace: CR is faster, no doubt, but socccer is not a 100 m dash. Messi is quicker and with the ball at his feet I believe he is faster.

      PK/ FK- We don’t get the calls that they’ve been getting. Nor do I want us to get the calls they are getting (I would be one embarrased fan if we had a DiMaria on our team “earning” these opportunities).

      THEY IGNORE TOTALLY things like movement off the ball, defensive contributions, work rate. How often do you see CR coming back to do what Ray Ray calls “the donkey work”?

      It’s not forever silenced YET. This report was written just about a week ago. I read it and was fuming with cule indignation:

      • Helge
        January 18, 2011

        Yeah, I also read that BS article^^

        I was laughing at their rating of physicality, it reads almost like a bodybuilder competition. Actually, I think Messi has stronger physicality, because he is so hard to be stopped, even if he gets fouled he often stands up, just remember the scene in the CL final against ManUtd where he was taken down by 3 ManUtd players, but he stood up way faster than them and was actually through and about to have a great goal scoring opportunity, but the ref blew the whistle. That is pure physicality in football!

        Agree on the aspects of the game that they totally ignored. At least, they list balls recovered and bolls lost in their weekly head-to-head, but they don’t update it to the season statistics…

      • Louis
        January 18, 2011

        Even funnier are their ratings for passing and shooting.

        Shooting: They even mention ‘clinical shooting’ in Messi’s explanation yet totally disregard the actual numbers. They received the same score (9) despite the fact that:

        Messi has a higher percentage of Goals per shot (25.7% to 17.6%), much better accuracy — SOT to TS — (54.3% to 39.2%), and Goals per SOT (47.3% to 44.9%)

        Passing: Messi only wins passing by a half point despite completing 13% more of his passes attempted and having double the assists

  10. Jnice
    January 18, 2011

    Still, Thiago couldn’t be part of the squad against Betis? I mean we won 5-0 in the first leg. Let him play a little.

    I’m disappointed.

    • blitzen
      January 18, 2011

      I forgot to wish you a Happy Birthday! Hope you had a good one!

      And today’s is Pep’s 40th. 😀

      • Jnice
        January 18, 2011

        Thank you very much, Blitzen. 🙂

    • outerspacedout
      January 18, 2011

      Happy birthday Jnice. How old are you turning?

      • Jnice
        January 18, 2011

        Thanks a lot, I turned 23 yesterday.

    • Extreme barca fan
      January 18, 2011

      Agree, its a cup game and we have a huge 1st leg lead, i fear pep will field our best 11 again.

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2011

        The point is, we have other players who need playing time, too. Like Afellay and Keita. Thiago will gets lots of games with the B team now.

        • Jnice
          January 18, 2011

          But Thiago couldn’t at least make the subs bench? All this La Masia talk, but we have one B player in the squad after a 5-0 first leg win? I’m not saying these players have to start, but they could at least be the subs for Keita, Afellay, etc.

          • blitzen
            January 18, 2011

            I get what you are saying, but you have to remember that the club has to balance the priorities of all its teams. The B team has had a pretty good first half of the season, but they could be better. It is important that their players are focused on their own priorities and train together as a team to improve.

      • Jnice
        January 18, 2011

        I don’t think it will be our best 11, but I just don’t see why after the 5-0, Thiago couldn’t get some minutes. Especially when Bartra got called up. Makes no sense to me.

  11. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    So we could see a line-up for the Betis game something like:

    Adriano Bartra Milito Maxwell
    Afellay Mascherano Keita
    Pedro Bojan Jeffren

    Maybe Messi instead of Pedro….

  12. OSBAG
    January 18, 2011

    Just got a dvd of all barca’s la liga goals of 08/09 and i but cant wonder why we sold eto’o selling costed us about 60 million.
    Alves hairs style then was terrific and why did henry kiss his wrist in goal celebration? Still on it but ve already had a dozen whoa

    • January 18, 2011

      Surely you can’t look at the way that this team plays and still wonder why we sold Eto’o. Feet of stone, clunky first touch, useless as a wing attacker, etc, etc. The dude pumped in goals like crazy, and was the ultimate striker for that era of the club. Much love and respect for everything that he did.

      But we need a different kind of “9” now. Villa is much closer to what we need our “9” to be, even when Messi is being a false “9.” Dangerous runs from left or right, solid first touch, good with the ball at his feet, smart passer.

      –IIRC, the Henry wrist kiss was because of a tattoo related to his daughter that was on his wrist.

      I have been watching matches from that season recently myself, just because I was curious. I think this club is better, even though it’s still improving.

      • soccermomof4
        January 18, 2011

        Wow, that was some nice praise for Villa! Who are you and what have you done to the real Kxevin? ;-D

      • Luke
        January 18, 2011

        Oh god, not the Eto’o thing again! Run for the hills! Seriously though, there were a few reasons and most of them had to do with Pep not having Eto’o fit in the system easily. Also, they butt heads on things.

        • January 18, 2011

          I sure hope not, Luke. I didn’t even think of that as I laid out my thoughts, because I just can’t think of either/or any longer. I just deal with what we have. Eto’o is fresh in my mind only because I was watching some matches from that era and remembering what a beast he was, along with his flaws. Then, watching this club against Malaga brought into clarity how amazing this group is right now.

      • OSBAG
        January 18, 2011

        Thanks for the Henry thing i was really wondering. I see you ve a point with eto and i noticed messi had already started his dribble-in-from-right thing. Loved his dribble and goal against deportivo first leg.

  13. soccermomof4
    January 18, 2011

    Happy Birthday, Jnice!

    I hope we see a lot of Ibi tomorrow. I’m sad to see Thiago not on the squad list but I was starting to wonder if he would suffer by practicing with the big guys but not getting reps. I think it’s better for him to be getting tons of playing time with the Bs. We have our more fringe 1st teamers that definately need/deserve time.

    Pep might come out with a stronger squad than is needed/expected because of the records that are at stake. Like it or not record breaking seems to be important to our brass. What is it, something like 27 consecutive games w/out a loss? At any rate, it might be good for Affellay to be out there with one of the Xaviniesta for some time just to get used to playing with them a little more in a game situation.

    • January 18, 2011

      Guardiola says that the club is going there to win, not simply not lose by a sufficient margin. I predict:

      Adriano Pique Milito Maxwell
      Mascherano Iniesta Afellay
      Pedro Messi Krkic

      I say Messi, since he doesn’t seem to EVER not want to play, though this flu thing might argue against his presence, in which case we’d see a front line of Pedro!!/Krkic/Jeffren, or perhaps Afellay on the left wing and a midfield of Mascherano/Iniesta/Keita.

      • soccermomof4
        January 18, 2011

        The complete squad for the Copa: Valdés, Pinto, Adriano, Milito, Piqué, Bartra, Maxwell, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Sergio, Iniesta, Xavi, Afellay, Jeffren, Bojan, Messi, Villa and Pedro.

        Apparently our beloved Captain Caveman had some pain in his knee. He is left out as a precaution.

        If Messi is in the squad, no doubt we will see him for some time. Kid just wants to have fun.

  14. Helge
    January 18, 2011

    You brilliantly dissectioned the tactical play of our beloved club, thanks a lot Euler. I really admire your ability to describe complex tactical matters with simple words and clear, telling pictures. Keep it going 🙂

    We’ve really improved a lot on finding a way to break a parked bus. Given that there is no team this season than can park the bus as good as Inter did last year, I almost demand the CL title this season^^
    Even against last year’s Mourinho-Inter, this side – with Messi having become the 2nd most-deadly passer of the ball and with Villa adding lots more width than Ibra ever did – would prevail on any normal day!

    • January 18, 2011

      Don’t forget that Ibrahimovic is playing out nice and wide for Milan this season, particularly when Pato is also in the side. (Hell of a golazo from distance out wide, too.) Players do what they are told by coaches. Villa also had a tendency to pinch in too much, and not provide sufficient width when the season first started, so he and Messi were always getting in each other’s way.

      Systems change, players adapt and teams become better. No need to villify a player who helped our club win silver last year. Yes, he’s a giant, flaming jackass times 12. No doubt. Yet Ibrahimovic was very dangerous cutting in from the left, early in the season. He nabbed goals and assists that way, including a couple of killers for Messi. Attitude shouldn’t diminish accomplishment. It didn’t for Ronaldinho, it shouldn’t for anybody else, I say.

      • outerspacedout
        January 18, 2011

        Helge wasn’t really dissing Ibrahimovic there was she though? All that was said was that Villa provides much more width than Ibra ever did, which is true, and that with Messi’s improvement and the added width provided by Villa we would have more likely beat last year’s Inter as in been more likely to win than last year, which is also true.

        • January 18, 2011

          I’d accept that it wasn’t a diss. I just don’t think the statement that Villa provides more width than Ibrahimovic ever did is true in fact. I would say “provides more consistent width than Ibrahimovic ever did,” as Villa has more tactical discipline than Ibrahimovic did, who tended to want to be where the ball was, which made him pinch in toward the center. But Villa had to get over that as well, just as the club had to get over its tendency to be center and right-focused, something that only rarely let us use Henry to his fullest potential.

          • Camero
            January 18, 2011

            What you say about Ibra and Villa’s start is true but I still have a bad impression of Ibra’s wide play last season. He would often go left and deep pick up the ball, but I thought he lost the ball far too often and often slowed down the play when receiving. Villa is also a bit like that on his bad days, but is far more fluid.

          • Helge
            January 18, 2011

            Ok, I agree that the “ever did” is misplaced there.
            But averaged over all the matches, I think that Villa does provide more width than Ibra did. And Villa seems to finally become a better adapted player and understand our game and what Pep asks of him, he’s on the right track imo (I still blame him for missing so many 1-on-1 though). Maybe Pep even told Ibra to concentrate more on the center of attack, maybe it was Pep’s mistake that Ibra’s performances seemed to downgrade in the 2nd half of the season. Kind a the reverse development that you’d expect. Ibra had his strength in keeping and controlling the ball in the center of the attack with his back to the goal and defenders, or making some crazy backheel assists while being surrounded by 4 defenders. Perhaps Pep wanted to build on that particular strength of BANGS.
            I just wanted to stress out that this analysis from Euler shows that width is essential and a better instrument to break the bus than playing through the middle. In so far, I think that Villa is a more suitable player for us than Ibra was. But that’s not Ibra’s fault.

        • Vj
          January 18, 2011

          Helge is a she? Oh! I keep confusing her nick with Herge and picture her as Tintin 🙂

          • Eklavya
            January 18, 2011

            Whoa waaaaait a sec there…whaaaaaat?

          • MoSSi
            January 18, 2011

            Isn’t Helge a typical german name for women?

        • K_legit
          January 18, 2011

          I think outerspacedout mistakenly pressed ‘s’ again after typing ‘was’..hence, the sex-change for Helge..


          does outerspacedout know something about Helge that we don’t?

          Stay tuned

          • Helge
            January 18, 2011

            NO NO NO !!!

            Helga would be a typical, but very old-fashioned name for women.
            Helge is actually a Scandinavian name, there are some exceptions but it’s usually a male name. And I’m a he.

          • soccermomof4
            January 18, 2011

            Dang, there are so few of us girls here.

          • Vj
            January 18, 2011

            Whoa! straight from the horses mouth then..

          • ooga aga
            January 19, 2011

            wow…i didnt know helge was a horse…

  15. January 18, 2011

    You mentioned that last year the team brought the ball in through the middle more than they are doing this year. But I remember that in the triplete year Barca seemed to primarily bring the ball in from the wings, particularly the right wing. Was this difference due to a tactical shift between ’08-’09 to ’09-’10? Or merely due to the fact that Messi moved to the center when Eto’o left and the flow of the ball just followed Messi?


    This is a very good point. The squad last year took a step back tactically in some ways due to their lack of width. That was a striking difference between the two clubs.

    And that was one of the main reasons why Inter could have such success by staying narrow to clot the middle.

    One of the interesting things this season has been to watch teams continue to try to defend off the Inter template from the CL last season.

    But it’s no longer working.

    Henry’s ineffectiveness and Ibrahimovic’s style have been discussed extensively. But another reason why Barca lost width last year was the reason you point out – the evolution of Messi’s game.

    Messi always played a kind of free role. But that role became even more free last season. In the treble season Alves-to-Messi made the team very active on the right flank. Messi would cut into the center but stayed more on the right.

    Keeping Messi on the right however was potentially problematic moving forward into the future. The opposition can use the touchline as part of their defense when an attacker is on the flank, especially when the defense is using two holding players. Look at how Inter defended Arjen Robbin last season in the CL final. They essentially double marked him the entire match and took him out of the game. Robbin allowed himself to be neutralized because he became so predictable. Get ball, make run, cut into the middle on strong foot.

    Giving Messi more freedom was important to adjust to how defenses were changing to play him. But that meant that Barca often had a one man right flank and far too many players in the center. And as you said – the ball is going to follow Messi.

    Part of what’s been so terrific about Pedro’s season so far is that he is balancing very well the need for tactical discipline and width while still doing his crazy P! thing. That’s not easy. And it wasn’t something he was particularly good at last season.

    Perhaps P! saw what a dramatic problem lack of width was for Spain at the World Cup? Silva, Iniesta at the wing, Villa and Torres really all tended to drift centrally where Xavi, Busi and Alonso already were. P!’s job in the WC was very specific and clear – stay wide and attack off the flank.

    In some ways, Pedro is better tactically on the right now than Messi was last season. The team loses so much if it expects Messi to stay wide of play on the right flank just to maintain discipline.

    • January 18, 2011

      It’s also important to note, as I allude to above, that the club has rediscovered the left side of the attack. When Ibrahimovic arrived, and would drift into that Henry position, like Henry, he would get starved of the ball. As Euler says, where Messi goes, so goes the ball. The complexity with that is that Messi is at the right or the center. And so goeth our offense.

      This season, and not just because of Villa, the entire width of the pitch is used. Xavi is passing to Abidal on overlapping runs as much as he’s passing to Alves, and Villa is fulfilling the full fruition of that role, now that he’s getting the ball so that he, too, doesn’t start pinching in like Ibrahimovic did, in an effort to get it.

      Note that Henry would retain tactical discipline and stay on the left, which meant that he often wasn’t part of the offense. The club and its attack have grown immensely in the past couple of seasons, and as we’ve discussed before, a legitimate scoring threat on the left is essential. As with Henry, it keeps defenses honest if they honor that threat, or puts them in danger when they don’t.

      I’d love to look at passing heat maps then and now, to see if I’m not crazy about that full-width speculation.

      Something else worth noting is that Afellay, with his pace, passing and ability to bomb toward the end line and float in a cross, is very Henryesque.

      • January 18, 2011

        It’s also important to note, as I allude to above, that the club has rediscovered the left side of the attack.

        Agreed. That’s absolutely the case. I just didn’t discuss it too much other than a brief mention because it was such a huge, clear problem and we’ve discussed it extensively in this space. I just took that problem as a given in follow up to Soto’s point about the right.

        The left flank was probably the biggest issue for the club last season. And as you point out the problem was more extensive than just the left winger position.

        Part of why the left flank deteriorated last season was due to Iniesta being injured so much. That’s not to say the injuries prevented him from playing on the wing. Rather, it’s due to the fact that Iniesta tends to play to the left in midfield. He’s a big part of how the ball is circulated on the left flank and how the left winger receives the ball.

        Pep has changed the way the full backs play this season. They act more like wing backs – and to me it seems clear that Pep did this to counter act the opposition playing narrow and to resupport Barca establishing the flanks. For Alves this was a natural fit. Abidal is starting to get more comfortable with moving forward as well (he a more cautious defender).

        Last season the left flank may have wound up with some combination of Maxwell, Keita, Henry, and Pedro (who was still growing to understand the game) all playing together. This season it’s been consistently Villa, Iniesta and Abidal.

        That’s a world of difference, particularly with how the ball can be circulated on the left flank.

        • blitzen
          January 18, 2011

          Villa consistently plays on the left for the national team, although the formation is different, so it has been pretty easy for him to slot in there for Barcelona as well.

        • Camero
          January 18, 2011

          Euler, since its so important that our wingers be very good on the ball, hug the line and come deep, do you think pep has considered using more winger/mid players rather than striker/winger(i.e. Villa) type players. I really hope Pep sees Affelay on the wing because he has that rare combination of midfielder with phenomenal pace, and he is direct. Could offer a different option on the wing, spreading the play even more

        • Soto
          January 19, 2011

          Euler, you point out another important difference from the Triplete season. During the Triplete season it was mainly Alves that was playing as a fully offensive wing back. This year Abidal has definitely stepped up in that role (and Maxwell has tried to as well). I have really enjoyed this, because Kevin is right in saying that the left side of play suffered last year. Once Henry started fading, it was like we forgo about the left.

          I had not thought about Pedro!’s role on the right in the way you describe it. I have always been luke warm on Pedro!, but you make a good point about his contribution.

      • OSBAG
        January 18, 2011

        I have noticed alot this season iniesta getting the ball in midfield and immediately throwing it forward for villa on the left. The improvement of maxwell and abidal’s game has also impacted in our left side attacking also

    • K_legit
      January 18, 2011

      lol I love totallygoats and their Peanut boy Bojan series..

      • OSBAG
        January 18, 2011

        Funny pic.
        i didnt see much fun in the peanut story

  16. K_legit
    January 18, 2011

    Afellay as a wing forward (a-la Pedro) or Afellay as an attacking midfielder (a-la Iniesta)?
    Maybe more time is required to judge but Afellay looked very lively in that attacking mid role

    • blitzen
      January 18, 2011

      His bio says he can play as a centre forward as well, so Pep might try that option sometime. You never know!

  17. tutomate
    January 18, 2011

    Such a great post, and all the tactical and insightful comments make the day at work go by so much faster.

  18. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    A longer quote on the Thiago, from the official site:

    Guardiola explained why he will be training with the reserves. “We wanted to have a very close look closely at how capable he is of playing for us, and we now know he is. But there are more of us now that Afellay is here, and Thiago is too young to be sitting on the bench. I want him to play games … He is a very special player, unique in many ways … Whenever he has played for us he has given us something different”.

    • Jnice
      January 18, 2011

      That quote makes me feel better about the situation.

    • vicsoc
      January 18, 2011

      Let’s not forget that the B team also has a dearth of midfielders at the moment, with Marti Riverola going on loan, several players getting injured (including Vazquez) and with some players not performing up to their expected levels (at least the levels the fans expect).

      Thiago has passed his “test”. The best thing for him now is to get as many minutes as possible before he steps up for good next season.

      • Jnice
        January 18, 2011

        I hope Thiago’s return to the B team doesn’t mean Rafa’s return to Juvenil A. It would be nice to see them in the midfield together.

        I wonder if JDS will be used in Romeu’s role now that Thiago’s back because Illie isn’t a natural defensive mid and it shows on the pitch. Not that JDS is either, but I think he would do better there than Illie.

  19. BA
    January 18, 2011

    the Thiago thing is a good long-term decision, even if it means we see less of him this season.

    also: for Pep’s 40th birthday, if you’re a fan of Barcelona on Facebook, you can leave him a birthday message and “Like” the post announcing it. so far, 11000 well-wishing comments and 27000 Likes. contribute if you can!

  20. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    True or False hilarity with Leo Messi!

    Remember last week when goal.com invited people to send in true or false questions for Leo to answer as part of an Adidas promotion? Well, here are the 5 ones they picked:

    Goal.com: True or false – Is it true that you wish to come to the English Premier League sometime in your career? (Mike in England, Dorset)

    Messi: (hesitates) Erm, well it’s possible that I said so at some point…erm, no, false.

    Goal.com: True or False – Was your family strongly considering moving to Australia when you were younger? (Alex from Sydney)

    Messi: False

    Goal.com: True or False – You would rather quit football than join Real Madrid? (Ivane Makharadze)

    Messi: That’s never going to happen but yes, I would retire from football

    Goal.com: True or False – Did you consider playing for the Spanish National Team instead of The Argentine National Team? (Mikhail in Trinidad)

    Messi: False

    Goal.com: True or false?Do you really dedicate all your goals to your Grandmother by raising your hands to the sky after goals? (Selin Akdegirmen from Turkey)

    Messi: Yes, that’s the truth

    Awwww!!! He’d quit football before he would play for Real Madrid. And see, he doesn’t want to play in the EPL because he knows he wouldn’t make it. 😛

    • Helge
      January 18, 2011

      haha, props to Ivane Makharadze, I wish I’d have asked this question and won a signed football… 😀

  21. Eklavya
    January 18, 2011

    Euler has a PhD in football tactics which is right up there, along with ZonalMarking and Ramzi!

  22. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    Since we were talking about Eto’o, he had this to say today:

    “In my last year I will go to Mallorca, the team that gave me the opportunity to grow,” he said.

    “In the world of football they gave me the chance to grow and become a man and that is something priceless. That’s why I hope my last smile on a football field will be with Mallorca.

    “Then I will come back here to coach Inter.”

    Eto’o as a coach? What do you all think?

  23. Kari
    January 18, 2011

    😀 😀 😀 x Yaya on the post and Messi’s “rather retire than go to EE” response.

    🙁 🙁 🙁 on Thiago not getting called up for the Betis match

    🙂 🙂 on the Pep’s explanation on why Thiago’s gone to the B-team

    😐 on the random Australia question posed to Messi

    😛 on the Helge gender confusion

    😀 😀 😀 on the possibility of Afellay starting the game

    🙁 on me remembering he still doesn’t know enough Spanish to start

    😀 😀 on me remembering Jnice saying most of our players don’t talk to each other anyway and Txigwillalwaysbenastytome (that’s Txigrinsky) starting matches even without knowing a lot of Spanish

    In the end, I should probably put this words:

    Euler, this is amazing. Simply amazing. The amount of work and time this must have taken…. Wow. We’re so lucky to have such a collection of amazing writers (who could all be pro) on this blog. Thanks for taking time out of your busy lives to bring us Barca-styled joy! Keep up the good work!

    And not to mention the comments as well. Oooooohhhhh!

  24. January 18, 2011

    Euler, since its so important that our wingers be very good on the ball, hug the line and come deep, do you think pep has considered using more winger/mid players rather than striker/winger(i.e. Villa) type players


    One of the things that I think has become more and more clear is what kind of player Pep wants out on the flanks.

    Titi, Villa, Messi, Pedro – he doesn’t want traditional winger/mid types out on the flanks. He wants players who will attack off the flanks while also maintaining positional discipline to ensure width.

    And I think that’s exactly the right way to put together the system.

    Part of the problem with the more traditional winger that hugs the line is that that player/ role has evolved to create an end product that’s simply not useful for Barca – the aerial cross into the box.

    Barca simply doesn’t have the height to take advantage of this nor is the team at it’s strongest when the ball leaves the ground.

    Pep has been very focused and clear minded and in turn visionary with how he wants the flanks to interact with the middle of the pitch.

    I actually think this will help Afellay succeed on the wing. Afellay is not going to be a traditional winger. He’s going to be an attacking player whose greatest strengths off the flanks will be his touch, passing and shot from distance. What Barca don’t need from him is a series of crosses into the box. (This is something Adriano is still trying to figure out. Barca do not have Kanoute playing for them.)

    This is also why if Bojan is going to have a successful career at Barca he’s going to have to do it off the flanks. That’s where he fits inside of Pep’s system. He should be the player to take over from Villa on the left in 2-3 years.

    If Bojan can’t do that they may need to spend another 30-40M for an attacking player.

    But that player won’t be someone like Jesus Navas. It’ll be someone like Kun Aguero (or hopefully a taller version of Kun!)

    • Ezequiel
      January 18, 2011

      What Adriano really needs to figure out is that he also has a decent right foot. Everytime he receives the ball in an advanced position, he turns around and goes for the long ball all across the pitch with his left foot.

      He could be much more effective if he kept his momentum in the final third and used his right foot more often.

  25. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    From Cruyff’s column:

    Barca has had two coaches in recent years, Rijkaard and Guardiola. In that same time frame (seven seasons) Madrid has had 10.

    Is it really that many???

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2011

        That is quite the list! I had completely forgotten about Luxemburgo and the guy who replaced him. And in all that time all RM have won are two Liga titles and 2 Supercopas. They should never have gotten rid of del Bosque. Or Pellegrini, for that matter! How do they expect to build any kind of cohesive team if they change managers every year? I know, it is the nature of owners to expect instant results, but not everyone can deliver a treble in their first year on the job!

        • Helge
          January 18, 2011

          Not everyone? Com’on, noone will ever do except of Pep!!! *praying that Mou won’t make me eat my words in 5 months*

  26. blitzen
    January 18, 2011

    Speaking of coaches (and I was):

    Sporting Gijon is interested in signing Barcelona B coach Luis Enrique during or at the end of this season.

    Noooo, Lucho! Don’t go! Do you think he would?

    • Jnice
      January 18, 2011

      If Sporting stay up, I think so. He’s Asturian and feels for the team.

      He got Barça B promoted and he will keep them in Segunda this year. Nothing more you can do with the squad.

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2011

        Nothing more you can do with the squad.

        In a cynical and heartless world, I suppose that’s true. But the B team isn’t just about results, it’s about developing talent for the first team and instilling Barca qualities in our young players. That’s an ongoing mandate. And he has such an excellent working relationship with Guardiola it would be a shame to lose that.

        I won’t be surprised if he does go to Sporting Gijon, though, I know how much that team means to him. I am kind of hoping that Preciado can turn his season around and keep the team up. He is very entertaining!

        • Jnice
          January 18, 2011

          Yeah it’s about developing talent, but he strikes me as very ambitious and I think he would stay longer if the B team could move up further.

  27. Ryan
    January 18, 2011

    Well, look at that: Rossi and Altidore are starting as Villareal’s front 2. Even if Rossi chose Italy, it’s cool to see two Americans playing for such a good team! (Altidore has nothing on Rossi in terms of skill, unfortunately. 😛 )

    • Ryan
      January 18, 2011

      Big mistake by Caceres that leads to a goal btw, to make the first post somewhat related to Barca…

      • Ryan
        January 18, 2011

        And by Caceres I meant Villareal’s RB, whoops. So I guess no relation at all to FCB!

      • Helge
        January 18, 2011

        hehe, I was wondering… actually Caceres is having quite a good match.

        And I want Sevilla to qualify because I think they can hurt Madrid more likely. Villarreal has too many injury prohblems and the Sevillistas hate the Madridistas almost as much as we do, they’ll give them a real fight! Note that Sevilla lost with lots of bad luck (or in other words, due to a big mistake by Palop, yes the same Palop who always turns into a mountain giant in goal when facing us) 1-0 @ Bernabeu.

        • Ryan
          January 18, 2011

          Good point! Villareal seem hungry in this game, but Sevilla probably has the better chance of upsetting the EE.

  28. jordi™
    January 18, 2011

    No more Thiago for the Season? >=|

    Nah itll be good for him to play every week and now the b team’s midfield wont be so dire.We’ll also get injuries so i doubt this will be the last of him till may.Then again knowing pep, he will probably play maxwell in midfield if that happens 😀

      • Helge
        January 18, 2011

        Talking about Pinto… Mascherano, Milito and Pinto are Messi’s best friends off the pitch (according to an interview with France Football).

  29. Tom_Johnson
    January 18, 2011

    The amount of time and effort the author put into this article has to be recognized. However, I am not sure I understand the purpose of the said analysis.

    Is it to explain to the less educated reader where the “false 9” operates? Or is it to show how poorly prepared Malaga was for the match thus explaining, if there were any doubts, why they occupy such a low position in the standings.

    Consequently, I do not think the game against Malaga is a good example to be drawing any meaningful conclusions from. Not only they had allowed so many goals up to this point in the season, they have a bunch of newcomers. The roster itself is filled with players of good but not exceptional quality.

    Now compare that to what we had faced against Inter last year. A group of world-class defenders (healthy and in great physical shape) and a Top 3 goalkeeper all playing in the same system for almost 3 years.

    Another big difference was how far from the touchline the back 4 was/is playing. When we had faced Inter last year, they were sitting just outside of the box for the most part. In contrast Malaga, and madrid earlier this season, were much higher up the pitch.

    The big question looms how much of what the Malaga players were doing on the field was game planning by Pelegrini and how much were they just being undisciplined and out of position.

    I mean look at the screengrab No. 2.

    First of all, what is that black player, Owusu-Abeyie, doing there? He is jogging there casually, who is he guarding? I doubt he got “left behind” due to the furious passing by Pique. Even if he did, his teammates need to react and adjust. Everybody slides to their right so he gets the chance to sprint back into formation and pick up the closest player (in this case Iniesta) while the man standing by Iniesta pushes up to presure the man with the ball. This is just sloppy on Malaga’s part.That is the reason why Busquets has so much time on the ball to begin with.

    And as for playing it to Villa, that will have to be one hell of a pass. A pass that has both power and spin and it has to be done “from the knee” in order not to alert the defenders with body language. Not to mention that Villa has to time it just right (something he has been struggling with so far), gain the step on the RB and have the goalie stay in the box. It might look easy on the picture. I assure you it is very different on the pitch. Pressure or not.

    Then Wellington stepping up. Yes, he is probably getting ready to act as a safety if Messi receives the ball and try to turn. While I do question the wisdom having CB push up that high only to double team Messi that far from goal, more important is what Baptista is doing. Once again, a player seems to be caught looking and out of position. Why is he so far away from Xavi? If he was closer he could have been the one to help out with Messi and Wellington would be the one to pick up Xavi if Xavi moves forward. Communication and commitment is essential here.

    Later on we had an opportunity to see how disjointed Malaga looked. The team’s lines too far away from each other. Once again, it just shows how poor Malaga was. “Our” passing and movement had little to do with it.

    I would encourage the author to go and study what Pellegrini did a year ago at Camp Nou and then present us a report. On that ocassion, the players were both high up the pitch and pressuring the man on the ball. Great intensity, great communication and lines close to each other. It has to be said, “we” had struggled.

    “It’s this width and tactical discipline that allows Messi’s precision passes into space through the channel between center backs and full backs to turn into goals as the wingers run into that open space where the ball is going”

    What is crictical here is to acknowledge where the defense is standing at. Are they right outside of the box (like inter was last year, chelsea and manutd previously) or are they high up (let’s say villa’s second goal against madrid and against malaga) and/or backpedalling. This team is experiencing problems when the teams are sitting way back.

    Then, it is not just about how wide the wingers are. It is more about how much room is left between defenders backs and the touchline (the goalie’s movement radius needs to be accounted for as well). Width helps little in this case. Even if they have to, the smart defense will just converge. They will clog the passing lanes in the middle and leave “us” the room at the flanks to work with. They can live with that. They are playing percentages. It is less likely “we” are going to score when the ball is on the flank then if it is in the middle. Especially when they don’t have a tall player in the box to account for.

    If the winger tries to cut inside instead of crossing, they’ll just double (or triple) team him by forming a diagonal line with that “idle” CB and a DM. A line that is forcing the ball and player away from the goal and to the middle. Special thanks to Benitez. As CB goes to the side, the other DM drops further back and weak side CB shifts to compensate for it. It’s a team effort unlike what we saw from Malaga the other day.

    In general, I am of an opinion that this team needs to focus less on tactics and more on adding weapons to our arsenal. Improve long-range shooting from our midfielders and pull defenders out of the shell (in the middle section of the pitch) by forcing them to honour that shot.

    Or, the option I have been praying for sometime now, try the 3-4-3 with both a tall striker to connect on the crosses and Messi as a “false 9”.

    • January 19, 2011

      But if you look at the fundamentals of the piece, those are the same no matter the opponent: width and movement, and Messi as the false 9, destabilize defenses. It was as true with That Other Spanish Team as it was with Malaga, and has made us effectively unplayable this season.

      Yes, you can kill yourself for a 0-0 draw over two legs and hope for a shootout, but you need to have a defense of size, physicality and extraordinary stamina. Look at Copenhagen, for example, who drew us at their house, and celebrated as if they’d won the Champions League. Why? Because that match, for better finishing, could easily have been 4-1. At current form, it probably would have been.

      We agree on long shooting. I don’t think that the Alves/Iniesta play was improvised. I think that it’s another method of bus breaking that keeps our midgets from having to tilt at windmills. Quick ball movement makes the keeper move, then have at it. Afellay will be of value there, as well, with his excellent long-range shot. And one reason I think Alves’ injury is coming at a good time is that we get to see Adriano and his very good shot from distance, in a series of winnable matches during the run-up to the Arsenal CL tie.

      As for Inter, I don’t know that that’s a fully illustrative match. There again, for finishing that wasn’t insufferably sloppy from Krkic, we advance to the Champions League final (I won’t mention the blown handball call, because those things happen, but that was another goal scored). This, despite what Inter and Mourinho brought to the table. And that team wasn’t anywhere near as good as this one is now. Inter were also defending a lead in the two-legged tie, and could sacrifice all ambition to keep us from scoring. It still was a bit of Krkic sharpness away from not working.

      I think that the weapons we have are the weapons that we have, and tactics are going to be the answer to using those to the fullest. Adding a tall striker would have a number of complexities, not least of which that a striker of the quality necessary to not languish on the bench would be expensive, particularly for a club that seems hell bent on blowing money on another Catalan midget.

      Llorente would be perfect, but he’s gone to EE, and would have been more expensive than we were willing to spend.

      • Tom_Johnson
        January 19, 2011

        “But if you look at the fundamentals of the piece, those are the same no matter the opponent: width and movement, and Messi as the false 9, destabilize defenses.”

        Absolutely. There is no denying it.

        But what I have tried to point out is that those will yield different results depending on what type of defense the opposition is playing. Are they:

        a. High up the pitch AND pressuring man with the ball (like madrid did so well in the first half at Camp Nou last year)

        b. Sitting just outside of the box and essentially playing for the draw (inter and Bilbao in the most recent first leg match of Copa del Rey)

        The first option is more risky but the team is most likely to score too. Note that madrid had decent scoring opportunities in that first half. Malaga, however, “choose” to do the worst thing possible. Sit high up and not pressure the man with the ball. Without that pressure, the odds of them recovering the ball in Barca’s half (which is the spark and essential to chances of scoring) go down.

        That is why I had said that the match wasn’t really a good one to be drawing any meaningful conclusions and appealed to the contributor to invest time and effort to study the said first half against Pellegrini last year and present us a report.

        Your whole passage about the inter two-legged tie sums it up why it was so difficult to accept not progressing. After all the events leading up to the tie, “we” were still very close to advancing. Instead, the team was eliminated and the press was singing praises to that clown.

        Krkic missed another great opportunity a year ago against Chelsea at Camp Nou. A header late in the game from about 6yds out. If he scored, it would made a hell of a lot difference.

        As for the tall striker, I don’t think we would need to splash big money. He would be a role player (limited minutes) with a specific task of trying to connect to the cross. So “we” would need him for his height and “hunch” and not for his ball handling skills. This should drive the price down significantly since that is often the skill strikers lack hence the required premium in price.

        Look for a older mature player with decent health. The limited minutes should ensure he stays healthy. Someone with a proven scoring record. Someone who would be willing to take a pay cut and limited minutes in exchange for the opportunity to win a trophy and be able to tell stories to the grandkids how it was to play next side to Messi. A modest man with good work ethic with experience playing in La Liga.

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