Categorized | Barcelona

Take on Tactics: Barça Thwarted by Sporting’s Compact, Pressure Defending

Sporting Gijon successfully fought Barça to a 1-1 draw a week ago because they were the side that largely set the agenda for how the match would be played.  It’s often now repeated that the best way to defend against Barça is to “park the bus” – that is to defend in number, play deep and stay narrow.

This notion oversimplifies the situation.  A number of the teams this season that have presented the most difficult challenge for Barça to break down have been sides which have pressured high up the pitch with intensity, such as FC Copenhagen and Athletic Bilbao in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey (both sides playing more aggressively in the home).In fact, often against Barça, the best way to defend is to vary approaches and tactics over the course of the match.  The purpose is to become less predictable.  To force Barça to adjust the nature of the possession they are likely to dominate to uncertain conditions.  This is what Sporting  did so effectively against Barça and was a key reason for their success.  They came out and pressed up the pitch to varying degrees.

Barcelona Tactical Formation: Average Position

Barcelona Tactical Formation: Average Position

Their overall tactical approach was to press high up the pitch early to pressure Barça.  These tactics worked as the constant pressure generated a number of dangerous chances that pressured a high Barça back line that was missing Puyol’s sense of positioning and Abidal’s pace.

Sporting Gijon Tactical Formation: Average Position

Sporting Gijon Tactical Formation: Average Position

David Barral made dangerous run after dangerous run, catching out the Barça CBs Pique and Milito out on pace repeatedly generating several dangerous chances.  The goal was ultimately poor team defending involving many player, but Barral’s pace against Pique and Milito caused the final problems that led to the score.

After scoring the decisive first goal, Sporting altered part of their defensive tactics falling back much deeper, the two strikers particularly dropping back and effectively pressuring the Barça midfield.  It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of that first goal.

Other teams that have successfully pressed Barça up the pitch have been unable to capitalize on those efforts simply because they physically wore down.  Few teams outside of Barça can press for 90 minutes.  And it’s unlikely that any team can press aggressively across the pitch against a team that maintains 65%+ possession.  They will invariably wear down.

This is why it is critical for Barça to maintain composure and mitigate risk early in such matches, particularly away from home.  If Barça prevents the opposition from scoring during these early bursts of energy and intensity the Blaugrana will be able to take advantage later on.  But that depends on not allowing the opposition to score first.

That said, while Sporting varied some ways in which they defended – there were two major tactics that they continued throughout the match:  1) Staying very compact; and 2) Actively pressuring the ball out of a dynamic, modified 4-4-2 block to close down space.

Finally, one of the most important tactics Manuel Preciado utilized was to structure his defense asymmetrically.  That is, sporting did not defend the same way along the right and left flanks – and this decision was instrumental in Sporting’s success.

Staying Compact and Actively Pressing

The phrase staying compact refers to the distance a team plays between its lines – particularly the overall distance between its back line and strikers.  Staying compact is one of the principles that crosses successful defensive philosophies.  Whether focusing on pressing high up the pitch, or sitting deep and absorbing pressure staying compact is often critical.  The reason why is that it’s one of the most effective ways to make the pitch as small as possible and to choke off space.

Sporting Gijon remained both compact and active throughout the match regardless of how high up or deep they were on the pitch.  They maintained a very disciplined block in which the players understood how to interrelate to each other’s position.  They were able to do two things at once – maintain shape while also actively pressuring the ball and closing down space as a unit (this dual activity is highly dependent on staying compact and is made easier when defending deep).

Sporting - Compact Shape Up the Pitch

In the above shot Sporting in relatively high up the pitch but notice how little distance there is between between their back line and their strikers even as  one of the strikers is chasing to press.

Sporting Making the Pitch "Small" Through Pressing

Above Sporting are pressing Maxwell high up the pitch.  Technically Barça has numerical superiority in their own third (7 vs. 5) and should be able to move the ball effectively.  But Sporting have done a very effective job of making the field “small” for Maxwell with their five players in the area and three players closing down the ball (notice also Barça’s poor geometry – no triangles).  This in turn led to Barça losing the ball deep in their own third.

Sporting Staying Compact=

In the screen shot above, Sporting’s compact shape is even more pronounced and once again we see the impact this has on the match.  Staying this compact not only makes the field very small but also creates a high density of bodies in a small area “clotting” it.  In theory Barça’s 4-3-3 should have a 3 vs. 2 numerical advantage in midfield against Sporting’s 4-4-2.  This problem should be made even worse with Messi as a false 9 potentially dropping into the middle creating a 4 vs. 2 advantage.

We see how by staying compact Sporting have negated the problem and have numbers around the midfield circle equal to those Barça does even with Messi dropping into midfield.  This is part of what allowed them to not only press so effectively but to do so without wearing down physically over ninety minutes.  The distances between defenders aren’t very large because the compactness has made the field so small.  This is what I was referring to above by saying that Sporting set the agenda for the match.

Sporting Maintain Same Compact Shape Only Now Deep on the Pitch

Here Sporting is playing deep.  But again notice how similar their modified 4-4-2 block looks to the shape it had when they were playing higher up the pitch.  Even with defenders reacting to the Barcelona movement, they remain compact and well organized.  In this regard, while Sporting adjusted important aspects to how they defended after scoring, their basic shape and pressure they applied out of that shape maintained significant continuity throughout the match.

Making Trade Offs:  Maxwell as an Open Outlet

So how did the Barcelona attack respond to the way Sporting was playing?  Tactically Barcelona did the correct thing – they played the ball through their open outlet.  Unfortunately, this was likely what Preciado was hoping they would do and how he structured the Sporting defense.

It is nearly impossible for any defense to guard all of the opposition’s player while also defending space uniformly.  Trade offs are nearly always required.  For example, Barça essentially decides to leave large amounts of space behind its back line in order to press across the pitch and across all of the opposition’s players.

Sporting’s defense was structured asymmetrically and as the match went on this became more pronounced.  In essence, Preciado decided to not only defend in numbers through the middle – a tactic we’re used to seeing against Barça – but he also decided to “overdefend” Barça’s right flank.  Once again, this was a match where the presence of Dani Alves had a fundamental tactical impact on the way the match was played, with Preciado committing two men to defending on the edge against Alves (more on this later).

However, the net result of this commitment to defend in numbers through the center and right flank provided Barça with an open outlet for much of the match – Maxwell on the left flank.

Maxwell Allowed to Act as an Open Outlet on the Left Flank So Sporting Could Enhance Defense in the Middle of the Pitch and the Right Flank

Notice above how all of the Barça players are marked or even double marked while Sporting drops off  Maxwell, who is the open man the ball is going to.  Even after Maxwell received the ball to feet in this sequence, Sporting did not close him out aggressively.  Instead they overplayed the other Barça players and were willing to risk an open Maxwell doing something dangerous with the ball.  Compare this to the way Sporting double marked Dani Alves on the opposite flank:

Asymmetric Defending - Alves Double Marked On The Right Flank

The still shot above demonstrates how both the Left Wing and Left FB are defending in a coordinated two layer approach to Alves.  If he beats the first man there is still a second line of defense.  This is very differently to the way Sporting defended its other flank.  And in the above sequence Alves goes on to beat the first wing defender only to be closed out by a tackle from the LFB who Alves also managed to elude and make a dangerous run to goal.

This difference in how Sporting defended the right and left flanks was also evident on the average positions the Sporting players occupied (see diagram at the top of the post).  Sporting defenders were clustered towards the center right with Sastre relatively independent on the flank.

The difference between how Sporting guarded Barça’s right and left flank was pronounced.  Both directly and indirectly what Preciado did was to provide Barça with reasons to play the ball through Maxwell as their open outlet.

Maxwell has been a useful squad player.  Unfortunately, this season he has played a great deal due to the injuries and lack of depth at CB.  And in this match he simply didn’t provide enough of a direct threat or use the ball well enough given that he was the player with the most time and space in attack.  Give Preciado credit – he forced Barça to try to beat Sporting with their least talented player on the pitch and that wager paid off well for him.

Indeed, the a major turning point in this match was Preciado’s decision to even further augment his defense on the left flank in the second half when Pedro was substituted into the game and Barça started playing the ball through Alves more.  It was clear that during half time Guardiola saw what Sporting was doing in terms of the left vs right flanks.

Opening up the second half, Barça was more determined to play the ball through the right flank rather than accepting the open outlet they had on the left in Maxwell.  And starting around minute fifty the momentum of the match started to change.

Dani Alves adjusted his positioning and started playing slightly higher up the pitch and at times pinching in more centrally to find space and then making the intelligent delayed runs that are such a strength of his.  In turn Alves made a number of dangerous runs.  One of those runs he beat both defenders off the edge and squared a beautiful pass to Xavi that probably should have been turned into a goal.

It seemed like there was a good chance that Barça would score given the pressure they were generating.  Seeing this Preciado changed the dynamics of the match by removing De Las Cuevas and substituting in Canela, a LFB, to play on the left wing spot.

Alves was now not only being double marked, but was double marked by two natural defenders.  This substitution helped sway momentum again as Alves was unable to continue making those same dangerous runs and the extra defender also helped keep Pedro from threatening down the right.

Barça’s Attack – A Dangerous Formation Doesn’t Produce

Playing as a false 9 this season has given Messi new kinds of flexibility to respond to defenses that commit numbers to defend against his runs.  We’ve seen him drop deep to find space and do so with devastating effects either by finishing himself, playing fast 1-2’s to get the ball back to continue a run, or by making dangerous passes.

However, the drawback of Messi dropping deep is that it leaves Barça without a presence in the center.  Now in and of itself it this isn’t a problem.  Where it does create difficulties however is that without a “target” in the middle two things happen with Messi drops deep:  1)  Messi has fewer possibilities to create link up play and use fast 1-2’s, and 2) It leaves him without a threat to pass to if the CB’s step up on one of his runs.

Due to the compactness Sporting maintained and density of defenders in compressed space, Messi was forced to drop back.  This in turn required David Villa to draw in centrally.  This may seem like an odd tactical decision because it leads to Barça losing width on the left. However, it’s a tactic and formation they’ve utilized all season to devastating effect this season.

In essence, what Villa’s job becomes to act as a mechanism for link up play with Messi.  His function becomes the Barça version of the classic “target man.”  But rather than hold up play from long balls over the top, Villa’s job in this role is to play fast 1-2’s with Messi where his function is to first and foremost act as a “wall” for Messi to play off of and secondly, to adjust to the defense and make runs to goal depending on how Messi is played.  A key feature of Villa’s roll is to occupy the two central defenders so that they cannot as readily protect against Messi’s run.  This role is partly why Villa has so often seemed “static” this season.

Messi as False 9 - Villa and Xavi Looking to Act as "Walls" For Him to Pass Off

Whats’ striking about the still shot above is how both Xavi and Villa are positioned.  Messi is making a penetrating run.  However, neither is looking to make his own run to goal.  Instead both are facing back away from the Sporting goal and looking at Messi.  In essence the goal of both players is to act as a target for Messi to play passes off of.

While this strategy has worked throughout the season, this game played into Sporting’s strength.  If further allowed them to draw men off the left flank and leave Maxwell open as the man who was going to be the one with the best chance to beat them.  As Villa drifted centrally to link up with Messi, Barça lost important width Maxwell simply couldn’t be counted on to take advantage of.

Conclusions

Barça was always going to drop more points during the season.  It’s why winning so many games in a row is such an accomplishment to begin with and is unprecedented.

This match saw a number of circumstances come together to make that happen.  Injuries, a coming CL match incentivizing Guardiola to rest starters, returning from an International break, playing away against a determined, tactically strong team that defended with energy and discipline.  These are the kind of things that happen over the course of a long, exhausting season.

The match was interesting tactically.  The story of El Clasico was the following – defending Barça in numbers and narrow is a dangerous approach due to Barça’s capacity to attack off both flanks.

One of the more interesting tactical matches  Barça has played since then was against Levante who seeing what happened in El Clasico not only committed to defending the center in numbers but both edges as well.  In doing so however, Levante essentially made it nearly impossible for themselves to attack.

Preciado played it half way committing numbers to defend in the center and right flank, with a particular focus on stopping Dani Alves.  In turn he allowed the Maxwell to have time and space on the ball, particularly when Villa shifted in centrally.  In doing so he supported Sporting’s ability to attack on the counter and make dangerous runs when the opportunity offered itself.

An adjustment was needed by the players on the pitch and by Guardiola, particularly when Canela was substituted in.  Width needed to be reestablished on the left in order to take advantage of the way Sporting was defending.  This was a match were the attack and link up play between Messi and Villa would have been more effective coming from action off the left flank – not the center.

Unfortunately, this was just one of those matches that is going to happen – the usual plan of attack doesn’t work optimally and changes had limited impact or weren’t made quickly enough.  Credit to Sporting for doing what teams need to do to succeed – they set the agenda for the dynamics of the match even though they were the team who didn’t have the ball.

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65 Responses to “Take on Tactics: Barça Thwarted by Sporting’s Compact, Pressure Defending”

  1. Euler says:

    Hi BFB Community,

    I wanted to post this earlier in the week but the problems with the servers weren’t allowing us to insert images into the posts. And without the images the post didn’t make much sense. Thanks

  2. tntyau says:

    This is fantastic! You have a gift for laying out the strategic thinking in a way that it all just seems so obvious, thank you.

    It helps me articulate a question I’ve had, which is we compare Villa to Pedro, and judge how successfully he is able to emulate Pedro — but is he supposed to? When Pedro is doing that method-to-the-madness running amok thing he does so well all over the pitch, well, they both can’t be doing that at the same time, I’d think? Because the shape would just collapse in on itself. So how much tracking back is Villa really supposed to be doing, if it’s a higher priority that he constantly make the defenders think twice about pressing forward? (And get himself offside 50 times* this so far this season in the process, sheesh.)

    So how does Pep fix the left? (Assuming Abidal is needed in the center.) Adriano?

    *Courtesy this link from barcastuff: http://bit.ly/f1csNJ For giggles, compare Villa with any other attacking player you can think of, and scroll down to no. of times offside.

    • jnelson says:

      HAHA great stuff! After finding only players with 15 or less offsides, I found Trezeguet with 32 and Llorente with 33. It’s odd Llorente’s is so high, with him being more of a classic 9, and I thought Nelson Valdez would have way more than Trez, but he only has 6! All still pale in comparison to The Offside King.

  3. tntyau says:

    Oh, and because I’ve been hectored, copy-paste from the last post:

    This looks great. Why can’t this be the away kit, instead of toothpaste? Just add Unicef.

    http://tinyurl.com/4bpqylw

    Oh, right, not holy-cow-what-on-earth-hello-kitty colored. Okay then.

    I noticed for the Gijon match, they were wearing toothpaste shorts to match the shirt, instead of the dark blue shorts. Please, whoever selects the kit, don’t ever do that again… It looks like they’re wearing their pajamas.

  4. Miguel says:

    wow. you’re a surgeon, euler.

    this is why i would love to have another option up front to come off of the bench. if there would have been a tall striker up top for barca sporting wouldn’t have been able to leave maxwell unmarked. allocating resources would be that much harder to do for the opposition knowing a cross from that side of the field could lead to a goal. teams wouldn’t be able to overload one side of the pitch anymore after said imaginary striker were to come on & barca’d instantly regain width & passing lanes in this situation.

  5. K_legit says:

    Cricket World Cup is on…Gooo Men In Blue!!

  6. Jim says:

    Agreed, Euler. I’ve been looking for more offensively from Maxwell for a long time. Step one is to say to him that if he gets the ball in space he commits the defender occasionally by running at him or across him where opportunities will present themselves for 1-2s. Let’s accept losing the ball occasionally in their last third. I feel he has the technical ability to take on defenders although probably not the pace to outrun them. All he would have to do is manage it once and he seeds the doubt in the opposition’s mind.

    However, if he is to do that we need to sort out cover for him. This was exactly what happened for Arsenal’s second goal. He was caught chasing his man near the Arsenal box to close him down and two passes later Arsenal were running unattended into our box as Keita had gone to sleep. My preferred option would be for Pep to sit Maxwell and Alves down and explain to them that it’s not essential that they both go up raiding all the time and that if one does the other should hang back a little in case of emergencies, even though the first person to deal with a counter is more likely to be a midfielder or DM with the aim of slowing it down.

    • jnelson says:

      Maxwell took on defenders often last season with Ibra on the pitch. I think I noticed one instance in the Arse game where he cut inside effectively. But…the rest of the time he was locked in his backward pass stance, facing Pique, where he receives a ball and softly bats it back to defense all so slowly. This whole problem would not exist with Abidal at LB. How many times have we seen him smashing dangerous low crosses across the face of the goal or him marauding up the left flank, utilizing effective overlaps? Unfortunately, Milito sucks at the moment, and I think Pep would rather waste Maxwell’s position than chance Milito’s. I can’t wait for Captain to be back; he will definitely help versus Arsenal, but the loss of Pique puts us in same situation. It appeared that Arsenal overloaded our right flank as well, and obviously Maxwell did nothing with the left. Interesting to see what Pep does. I’m guessing he throws a DM in at CB in the return leg. It would be so easy if we just had our starting defense though…

      • messi_fan says:

        I agree with most of what you say except for the effectiveness of Abidal’s crosses. While he’s improved this season, one of my few points of frustration with Abidal is his crossing

        • Jim says:

          Agreed. Abidal is no great shakes on offence either. I’d also be happier with him back at LB where positional sense isn’t as vital. We need Pique / Puyol back asap.

  7. nzm says:

    Great insight, Euler – you nailed it.

    Maxwell is an under-utilised player on the left who has shown that he is more than capable of fast bursts, coming in on the angle and firing in crosses – even scoring goals. His cross for Messi’s header, (which just missed because of de Gea’s excellent save), against Atletico Madrid was wonderful.

    So often I see Maxwell racing up the left side from where he could distribute the ball into the center or bring it in himself, only for Iniesta to send the ball right, and slow down the play. They need to be working on making the left attack as strong as the right side – they had that with Henry. But now, all the plays come from the right with Alves – and teams now play Barca with that in mind.

    Another aspect that I’ve noticed in these “park-the-bus” games, is Barca’s hesitancy to enter the penalty box. They play around it, just like hand-ballers do, and only approach the box when they are pretty sure that they have a good opportunity to score. I’d like to see them take more risks in these situations, come into the box, force the plays and take the game to the opposition defence – with a Barca backline defence of 4 set on halfway just in case they lose the ball. They need to unsettle the opposition defence in the box where the defence needs to play cleanly or get pinged for a penalty.

    After all these games where opposing teams play so defensively, Barca has yet to work out a strategy to counter-act it – it requires a different game plan to their usual slower, pass-the-ball-until-a-gap-is-created methods, as they’re just giving the defence more time to position themselves. As with Gijon, they were able to send an advance guard of 2 players out of their defensive line to take the ball off the Barca ball carrier, and then they would retreat back into the line and hold their shape. All credit to Preciado and the team for having the discipline to make it work.

    The tactics to play defensive teams will be the making, or breaking, of Guardiola as a coach. He has to find a way to get the team to play a different style in games such as these. Either that, or Barca has to score first!

  8. messi_fan says:

    “This was a match were the attack and link up play between Messi and Villa would have been more effective coming from action off the left flank – not the center.”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. The Messi + Villa combination on the left is a very dangerous one.

    Hey, can Affelay play on the left?

  9. Roz says:

    Some interesting stats taken from a soccernet. It cleary indicates that Feb. is the best month eva!

    08/09 –
    Feb 14 – Betis 2 Barca 2
    Feb 21 – Barca 1 Espanol 2
    Feb 24 – Lyon 1 Barca 1
    Mar 1 – Atletico 4 Barca 3
    Mar 4 – Mallorca 1 Barca 1
    Mar 7 – Barca 2 Bilbao 0
    Mar 11 – Barca 5 Lyon 2

    09/10

    Feb 14 – Atletico 2 Barca 1
    Feb 20 – Barca 4 Racing 0
    Feb 23 – Stutgart 1 Barca 1
    Feb 27 – Barca 2 Malaga 1
    Mar 6 – Almeria 2 Barca 2
    Mar 14 – Barca 3 Valencia 0
    Mar 17 – Barca 4 Stutgart 0

    10/11

    Feb 12 – Sporting 1 Barca 1
    Feb 16 – Arsenal 2 Barca 1

    • Ian says:

      i just realised how SPOILED i actually am, sulking days in a row after just a single february defeat! if i ever saw those past februaries myself i might have always been depressed lol!

  10. soccermomof4 says:

    Wow Euler! Oh, how we need Abidal back on the left! Until then we could have Messi and Villa work that side a lttle more.

    @ Kari- EE play at 2:00EST today. Be otherwise occupied. Study, read a book, learn to knit, cook a gourmet meal, I don’t care what you do just DON’T WATCH THE GAME. Poor Levante are fighting for their Primera lives and they don’t need you jinxing them, Dear!

  11. Whatever says:

    Guys, I’m planning to go to the Barca – Espanyol game… And since I never went to a Barca game before, I was wondering if I should buy a ticket now, or I can buy it when I get there a couple of days before the game?

    • nzm says:

      You should buy it now, basing my advice on Barcelona continuing to lead La Liga. Like El Clasico games, the Barcelona derby will be pretty much sold out. It will be a great atmosphere – Espanyol games have a much different vibe, even to games against RM.

      • Whatever says:

        Should I buy only on FCBarcelona.com or I can buy at ticket sites (like worldsoccershop.com and such)?

      • nzm says:

        I just checked the FCB online ticket sales, and at the moment, there are 3 seats available for the Espanyol game!

        https://entrades.fcbarcelona.cat/Ticketing/gestionURL?bean=estadoCompra&accion=iniciarCompra&aforo=&idCompeticion=001&jornada=35&lang=en

        More may become available as season ticketholders release their seats, but if you want to be there, you should try to buy them through an outlet that still has some.

        • Whatever says:

          What do you think is a good budget for a normal visit to Barcelona for 4 days (including the game vs. Espanyol)? How much money should I prepare? :-)

          • nzm says:

            Barca can be an expensive city to visit. I’d book as much as I could ahead – accom, Espanyol tickets etc and then you only have things like food, drink and transportation to worry about.

            You have to go to the museum at Camp Nou if you haven’t already been, and also do the tour of the stadium. The tour won’t be available on match day, so you’ll need to do that on the day before or the day after the match. it’s worth it because you get to walk out to the pitch, see the dressing rooms, press rooms etc.

            Public transport is wonderful – use it when and where you can. Buy a T10 ticket. This gets you 10 trips via bus, metro and tram and one fare is “live” for 1hr 10mins so as far as you can go in that time will only cost you less than 2 euros. The T10 can also be used to pay for the airport train between El Prat Airport and the city.

            Buy food from supermarkets and the markets to save money. And above all, watch out for the Barcelona pickpockets. They are VERY GOOD at what they do, and will try all that they know to part you with your money. Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket or backpack – in fact, don’t carry a wallet. Keep your money in the tightest pocket – which is usually one of the front trouser pockets.

            Have fun! Barcelona is a wonderful city, but play it safe and you’ll have a great time.

    • poipoi says:

      Buy it now, probably the best liga game left in camp nou…. partidazo! You may run out of good seats, the cheapest seats or be unable to find 3 or 4 seats together if you want that.

  12. Helge says:

    I also think about going there, but in the official online ticket store, there are only 6 tickets left for the Espanyol match. That cannot be true, because in all the latest matches against them, the stadium was not even close to being full – about 86,000 and 76,000.

    This is a bit confusing, even for the Bilbao match there are only some 100 tickets left, although I am sure the attendace will be between 70k and 80k.

    So I suppose you still can buy lots of tickets in Barcelona the day before the match?

    • poipoi says:

      Dunno really exactly, but many socis with a seat don’t go to any but the huge games. They should free their seat but just won’t. Anyway 20000 is too much :)
      I wouldn’t wait if it were me.. AND better the pericos than the leones IMO.

  13. poipoi says:

    Nice.nice.read!
    I personally don’t like messi as false 9 in every single game. I liked it better when had a reference, that fast black reference not that tall swede one, if you know what I mean. Villa can play as 9 that’s a fact. Xavi and iniesta are the best passers and messi always asks for the ball to his feet not to the space. I’ve been going to the stadium and from up there sometimes the lack of a reference even hurts in my eyes… but in pep we trust. I like the 9′s, call me old fashioned. Keita is the 9 when he comes in, believe me, the only one that is inside the box when its required,messi a lot of times doesn’t even follow the play.
    With a fast reference that asks for the ball into the empty space the other team can push up their Def line all they want,xavi and iniesta have to find the last pass. And the 9 has to crave for that pass. Now with messi coming back p! and el guaje are in change of doing that because messi has never done so IMO. We start to look like messi fc, he does whatever he feels like don’t you think? I miss those plays touching the sideline of his. Besides when he comes back, which happens a lot lately, he dribbles too much in non-relevant places.

  14. psqd says:

    great post, and you were 100% on the images!

    i think we saw a few similar things in the arsenal game.
    for example villa’s average position was near the center circle with messi dead center and certainly dropping very deep at points. finally max was alone on the left with 46 of 51 passes completed and one chance created, but only 6 passes forward and 16 backward, 1 cross, and 1 unsuccessful “take on.”

    when things get tough it seems to me that messi reverts to shading to the right to work off of alves. pedro usually does a nice job of drawing people out by moving across, and villa moves more centrally. whether by design or by nature alves almost by himself makes the formation asymmetric. that even given extra room on the left, there is nowhere near the productivity and they revert to playing through the right speaks volumes.

    i hope that, when possible, in the next games there is some experimentation with both personnel and tactics to redress this. one i would be especially interested in is swapping afellay for maxwell on the left. while not a defender by nature, i’m not sure max is either, he has been willing to track back from the front and at least has more pace. probably not anything more than an interesting thought experiment, but whatever.

    thanks again for the post.

    • Jim says:

      The one area where Maxwell excels is in defence. He never lets us down there. Affelay would have much more pace but I’d need to see a lot more of him before I’d be happy starting him in defence.

      I agree with Nzm in terms of the ability Maxwell has to attack – I’m just beginning to think we’ll never see it enough. I guess tomorrow night’s game will be a good test. Pep has to have taken what we all have from the Arsenal game; namely that it’s a waste just to have a placeholder at LB when that might be the single weakest point in a massed defence. Ever the optimist, I’m looking to see a renewed Maxwell running at defenders :) What can it harm us if we lose the ball in their box?

  15. blitzen says:

    BS.com “exclusive”:

    http://www.goal.com/en/news/596/exclusive/2011/02/19/2359085/exclusive-arsenal-want-barcelonas-thiago-alcantara-as-part

    In this case “exclusive” means, “we made this up over breakfast this morning to see what kind of reaction we would get.”

    Thiago is going nowhere.

    • Jim says:

      I don’t know, Blitzen. Now, I’m not putting this forward as my preferred option but supposing Arsenal’s new valuation of Cesc is ¢55m . We are prepared to pay, say 35m. If Fabregas were genuinely unhappy staying there and if we (Rosell) can’t be seen to pay that much I could see a situation where we did sell him for a ridiculous notional fee of 20m to make up the deal. Arsenal can claim to have the new Cesc and be 35m up on the deal and Rosell gets to bring Cesc back.

      also, If we buy Cesc, there is little point in keeping Thiago to be honest as he goes way back in the pecking order and wouldn’t be happy with that. Again, not saying this would be my preferred option – I can’t make up my mind on this – just that I could see it happen.

  16. blitzen says:

    David Hall on watching El Clasico in 3D TV:

    BARCELONA v REAL MADRID
    We all know that this game turned into a 5-0 tanking, but what did 3D bring to the Barca party? The beauty of the Catalans is the intricacy in the way they play and how easy they make it look. Through the power of my added dimension, I got a sense of how quickly they move the ball around the pitch – when you catch a glimpse of how far Iniesta has to pass a ball before he deftly releases it to his team-mate, you suddenly get an enhanced appreciation of just how effing good he is and another nail in your “I could definitely make it one day” coffin.

    What was also accentuated was the lacklustre performance of Madrid. In two dimensions they no doubt looked inferior. In 3D, they looked half-dead compared to the snappy Barça movement.

    The third dimension also reaffirmed the sheer grandeur of the Camp Nou. How anyone brings themselves to try a blind pass or cheeky backheel in front of a crowd that size is beyond me. But then I’m guessing that’s why Pep hasn’t given me a bell yet.

    http://fourfourtwo.com/blogs/fourfourtwoview/archive/2011/02/14/3dtv-an-eye-opening-experience.aspx

    Fascinating. Anyone in here seen a match in 3D TV yet?

  17. Lev says:

    Euler, the most impressive thing about your post is there is nothing left to discuss – you have simply said it all, bro.

    Comparing Villa to other strikers I compared him to Higuain – I believe this is the fairest comparison because Madrid are the closest to Barça when it comes to dominating the opposition and creating chances for their attackers (to be offside). Villa has 2.27 per game, Higuain 2.25

    Taking into account that this is El Guaje’s first season with us, it kinda puts things in perspective, right?

  18. blitzen says:

    Anyone watching the Barca B game? Thiago shaved his head, LOL. :)

  19. blitzen says:

    Playing really well so far, absolutely dominating possession, passing. Just taking too long on the ball. Missed a couple of perfect opportunities by hesitating.

  20. blitzen says:

    GOL!!!!! Vazquez, from an absolutely gorgeous pass from Nolito!

    And just as I type that, Elche equalizes. *sigh*

  21. barca96 says:

    My God Euler, you are just amazing.
    You should start getting your EUFA coaching badge or at least be a commentator on the telly.

  22. blitzen says:

    That guy really wanted Nolito’s shirt! :P

    This is a great game, but the ref is card-happy. Someone is going to get sent off.

    Jnice, where are you? It’s not as fun watching a B game without you. :(

    Come on, Crawley Town, you can come back!

    Just talking to myself…

  23. Roz says:

    Chelsea lost to Everton on penalties! That made my day :D

  24. blitzen says:

    Knew it. Ilie off with a second yellow, and a yellow for Vazquez for protesting.

  25. Diego says:

    Personally, I think we should sell Jeffren to Malaga or anyone team wanting him and promote Nolito.

    Maybe Nolito is as selfish and reckless as Jeffren but seems less Injury prone and He’ll be a plan C anyway.

  26. blitzen says:

    The ref has absolutely ruined what WAS a very good game. Most of the players are now on yellows and afraid to do anything in case they get sent off.

  27. blitzen says:

    Elche scores. 2-1. Crap.

  28. blitzen says:

    Thiago terrific in this game, btw.

  29. mega_tajh says:

    If anyone just finish watching the South American U21 Final then you would know why Barca is so interested in this kid call Lucas, who is only 18.

    He just scored a hat trick in the final and looked all so commanding in doing so. He ran the show basically IMO and everything good from Brazil came from him. Certainly a one to be looked at.

  30. blitzen says:

    Well the last 5 minutes of the game were thrilling to say the least. A terrible tackle on Montoya, a red card/expulsion, some timewasting, Mino in the other team’s box for a set piece, then sprinting the length of the field back to his goal, Nolita trying to climb onto someone’s back and getting himself carded…

    A fun game, a fair if depressing result, and an awful awful ref. Just another day in the segunda.

  31. Tom_Johnson says:

    I, again, applaud the author for the effort invested. But I do not think this is the game to be drawing any meaningful conclusions from. Two key reasons:

    - the absence of multiple starters (due to various reasons)
    - the now established pattern (dip in form in February and after International friendlies)

    So essentially, ‘we’ were a tired group not completely focused on task (routine was broken) missing some key parts. One of them Busquests who is absolutely essential to breaking up the opposition’s high up pressure successfully. I find the failure to account for this, his absence, to be a significant flaw of this analysis.

    The aforementioned context was amplified by the fact that Sporting’s field is smaller than the pitch at Camp Nou.

    “Their overall tactical approach was to press high up the pitch early to pressure Barça. These tactics worked as the constant pressure generated a number of dangerous chances”

    Yet the goal came when the Sporting was sitting deep and, more importantly, after the ball was given away by our player who was not under significant pressure. A novice playing away from home in an above average hostile environment.

    The important thing to ask is how much time Sporting spend pressing ‘high up’ as opposed to ‘sitting deep’? Especially in the second half. Is that percentage meaningful and much different than what has been the average when The Team plays away from home against the lesser opposition?

    I also find ‘thwarted’ to be poor choice of word. The amount of time the ball spent in ‘our’ possession was even higher than usual and The Team had more shots on goal then the opposition. In other words, business as usual.

    More importantly, The Team had created enough high probability goal scoring opportunities to win this game. Lack of concentration due to the fitness level not being at the usual level might had to do something with it.

    To me, instead of glorifying Gijon for playing what a double team in basketball essentially is, leaving the poorest shooter open, not a novel concept suffice to say, and giving too much weight to the tactics, one would be wise to look for ways to:

    a. Better mentally prepare our players, whoever the starters are, for the early onslaught and the games after the friendlies (it goes without saying how vital is for our game plan not to allow a goal early on) and devise ways to counter it with lengthy delays early in the game (ex. hard tackling) to stem that ‘fire’.

    b. Increase offensive threat coming from the left side of the field. The LB position in particular. Maxwell is simply not an option. The lack of pace (he might be fast running a straight line but with the ball and in the game that is clearly not the case) and dribbling ability, high percentage of lateral and backward passes as well as his inferior upper body strength makes him a weak option to have.

    He does manage the risk better than Adriano but that is not enough for the team of this stature. A significant upgrade at LB is necessary. Until then, I suggest more minutes for Adriano if Abidal is not available at LB. His pace and ability to shoot with his right foot should be an acceptable trade-off.

  32. mega_tajh says:

    Well Madrid scores in the 7th min, so I’m off to play some fifa 11….

  33. Josep says:

    @Jim theres no reason to get rid of Thiago, especially to Arsenal. He’ll then become Cesc in 5 years time and we’ll go through this all again.

    • Jim says:

      Could be Josep, but in my book that’s still a maybe – we don’t know if he will ever be as good as Cesc. Anyway, I wasn’t advocating his sale, just saying I could see a set of circumstances that might bring it about.

      I suppose on a more general note I don’t share the wild optimism of some on this blog about our youth products. There is nothing in La Masia which magically turns ordinary players into world class and those are really the only type of players we should be interested in. We’ve had a real slice of luck so far in the current generation (pretty much like Man U had with their golden generation of Giggs, Scholes etc. ) and we have no divine right to do it again. I can’t even remember the last time I thought someone outside our top team had a great game. If we’re worried Thiago might be the real thing we can write in a cheaper return ticket clause.

      I suppose I’m becoming a bit cynical but I’ve seen the hype before. I remember the old Offside days and being lectured about how two youngsters were going to be world class and that they had benched Ronaldinho ( my favourite player at the time and admittedly in slow decline). They were JDS and Bojan. I said then and I say now that long term I couldn’t see what skills they had that would mean they reached the very top. That’s Bojan’s problem in a nutshell. He’s a great player – with a whole host of very good skills but without the ability to affect and change a game at the very top level. There’s no way of knowing that without putting them into the situation. At the moment I don’t see Thiago as running a game at a top level. Maybe in a few years. Cesc, however, can and has done that. It just depends on what we want. Relying on him means taking a gamble but sends a very good message to La Masia.

      • Barcathegreatestever says:

        Yes Jim, before JDS his older brother Giovanni was the next Baloon d’ Or coming. Barca fans way more knowledgeable than us can come up with a dozen more. In the off season el cantero was supposed to make Mascherano obsolete, now having him gives Barca a real chance for trophies. He is an ace up Barcas sleeve.

        Thiago reminds one more of JDS than Xavi Iniesta or Cesc. Xavi is looking tired and if the Cesc deal can be done what could a better shot in the arm?

  34. Miguel says:

    i miss the barca b game & wake up to real winning against levante. yeesh. i need some coffee.

    zaragoza atleti should be a good game.

    “Zaragoza (17th) v Atlético Madrid (11th)
    If there’s one gentleman rubbing his hands, knees and everything else that’s legal to jiggle in public, it’s Zaragoza coach, Javier Aguirre. Two years ago, the Mexican manager was fired by Atleti’s dithering duo, Enrique Cerezo and Miguel Angel Gil (who’s on €1.35m a year according to an Atlético opposition group) due to his league record of just 32 points from 21 matches. The current muggins in charge at the Vicente Calderón, Quique Sánchez Flores, has managed a measly in comparison 30 points from 23 rounds, spelling ‘danger, danger, high voltage’ for the eye-liner wearing one.
    Knowing the potty-mouthed, grumpy guts tendencies of Aguirre, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a handshake of consolation for Quique after a Zaragoza victory and a swift middle finger to his former bosses straight after.”

  35. Barcathegreatestever says:

    Love it Euler, but I think Sporting and company have adjusted to Barca making a tactical decision to play Villa up top. Earlier in the season, culminating in Real Madrids thrashing Barca has had Villa and Pedro out wide to the touch line stretching defenses wide.

    Villa up top congests the middle, causes Messi to drop all the way to to the center circle to help maintain possession. Maxwell was never designed to be responsible for being the point of attack. Take a picture with Villa out wide and you will see 2 defenders out there.

    Why have they changed? My bet is to change things up. Trust in Pep.

  36. Barcathegreatestever says:

    Interestingly Ibra played that role but with Messi wide right and Pedro/ Henry/Iniesta wide left. Now there is no attacking threat wide left. With Alves and Pedro playing more centrally there is no room at all which is just exhausting for the offense.

    This team never ceases to amaze

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