Take on Tactics: Barça vs. Arsenal – Champions League Key Tactical Questions

Barcelona vs. Arsenal – here we are once again in the CL. While the club names are the same, both squads are playing in significantly different ways than they did last season. Isaiah’s overall match preview is here. I’ll be focusing on tactical issues in this post. I’m having difficulty uploading images to our server so this tactical preview won’t have any still shots or diagrams. Instead, let’s take a look at the match through some of the key tactical questions at play.

How Effectively will Arsenal Defend as a Team Through the Press?

The primary reason why Barça outplayed a talented Arsenal team so thoroughly last season was that the Gunners did not effectively defend as a unit. Arsenal, like Barça, need to press in order to regain possession quickly.

However, rather then pressing as ten men uniformly out of a block, Arsenal made defensive runs at the ball on in individual basis. As 1-2 players would look to repossess the ball in more advanced positions, the defenders behind them would not move forward in conjunction as a unit.

Many of the Arsenal defenders – the holding players in particular – seemed more concerned about Barça players getting in behind them than how their fellow defenders were playing in front of them.

Against Barça’s triangles, isolated defenders have little chance of winning back the ball. At the same time this lack of cohesion prevented Arsenal from staying compact, with large gaps opening up between Arsenal’s lines. Xavi and Busquets exploited these open gaps wonderfully.

The net result of these dynamics was a vicious cycle for Arsenal. Isolated men trying to press, loss of compactness with open space making it easier for Barça to retain the ball, inability to win repossess the ball causing them to play deeper, which made their press even less effective, and so on.

This season Arsenal has been pressing more cohesively as a unit and Wenger seems to have instilled in Arsenal a deeper sense of defending as a unit. That said, a major reason why Arsenal’s press was so ineffective against Barça was due to how large Barça made the pitch and how quickly they circulated the ball.

It is very difficult to press a team that moves the ball as quickly as Barça did against Arsenal. It’s one thing to press effectively against a Chelsea team that is tactically looking to defend deep and play on the counter, like Arsenal did earlier this season. It’s another thing to press a team such as Barça.

Teams that have pressed Barça effectively this season like FC Copenhagen and Athletic Bilbao combined intensity with physicality, particularly at the back. That is not particularly Arsenal’s style of pressing. Can Arsenal defend as an effective unit to repossess the ball enough to reduce Barça’s possession to 60% or less? How this dynamics plays out will be a major determining factor over the outcome of the match.

How Will Arsenal Choose to Defend Sergio Busquets?

Teams that commit to press Barça have to make several subsequent tactical decision, such as how high are they comfortable playing their back line given Barça’s ability to move the ball in space quickly by passing? One of the central questions that teams looking to press need to decide is how to defend Sergio Busquets.

Teams that press often try to prioritize defending Barça’s more advanced attacking players. When teams press they frequently have front line players drop back if the ball can’t be won high up the pitch so that they can pressure Barça’s advanced midfielders and also account for Messi as he drops back as a false 9. This creates a problem with what to do with Barça’s holding player.

Allocating resources to prioritize defending against the advanced midfielders and the false 9, can make it relatively easy for the holding player to find time and space on the ball. For some teams this is an acceptable trade off because they are conceding that Barça will dominate possession. The function of their press is to disrupt the smoothness of Barça’s possession, to reduce it marginally, and to turn the ball over high up the pitch so they can break at speed across a short field to score quickly (e.g. Sporting Gijon early on).

Arsenal has a different set of problems. They need to have the ball to be at their best? Given that, can they afford to allow Busquets time on the ball? If they do so, they will be giving Barça an open outlet through which they can possess the ball and given how strong Busquets is at protecting possession this may cause Arsenal significant difficulties.

At the same time, pressing Busquets aggressively means fewer players available to pressure Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. And because Busquets is so adept at playing one touch football he is simply not easy to take the ball from. How intensely Arsenal commit to pressuring Busquets (e.g. are they willing to send two players at him? Do they drop off him?) and how consistent they are in that approach will be key factors shaping the match.

How Aggressively Will Andres Iniesta Look to Attack the Goal?

Last year Ghostface did not play in either CL match against Arsenal. This season he’s been one of the world’s five best players. His impact on matches has been enormous.

Arsenal may be a more cohesive pressing squad this season – but the Barcelona midfield they will be facing this year is far better than the one they faced last season. As usual, Arsenal will need to prioritize stopping Messi in midfield. This will be a central concern for Alex Song. Because Arsenal needs to regain possession they will need to focus on pressuring Xavi. That will likely fall to Fabergas. In turn this means that Jack Wilshere will often be left to mark Iniesta. That is a very difficult task for an 18 year old whose greatest strength is his skill on the ball – not his defense.

Now, Wilshere will not be left 1 vs. 1 against Iniesta – Arsenal will try to defend as a team. But this does point out a very particular problem for Arsenal in an advanced position they will have trouble accounting for. How aggressively will Iniesta look to press this advantage?

Messi isn’t the Only False 9 in the Game. How will the CBs of Both Teams React?

Messi has been brilliant in his role as a false 9 this season, repeatedly drawing CB out of position and creating numerical advantages in midfield for Barcelona that holding players cannot account for. How Wenger instructs Djourou and Koscielny to defend Messi and how those two CB execute those tactics will be critical.

Teams that press have many moving parts to their defense. It is a real challenge to maintain some kind of basic shape as you look to close down the ball. Will the Arsenal CB step out and follow Messi as he drops back? How will they play him when he starts making his runs and perhaps even more importantly, how will Arsenal support the positioning of their CB if they do step out?

Koscielny in particular isn’t the strongest CB with respect to positioning. How he reacts to Messi vacating the traditional hole will be interesting to follow.

Messi isn’t the only false 9 in the match, however. Since returning from injury van Persie has been in outstanding form – not only in terms of goal scoring but overall play. When fit van Persie is a very multi-dimensional player and he’s having an outstanding season. He occupies a relatively free role for Arsenal and frequently drops into midfield and participates in both circulating the ball and making dangerous passes to goal.

Van Persie’s role as a false 9 is further augmented by Fabergas and Nasri. Fabergas often plays in a very advanced role almost as a shadow striker. The combination of shadow striker and false 9 is a very difficult combination to mark. At the same time, Samir Nasri plays a relatively flexible role and his further development in attack makes the space van Persie leaves open as the drops back even more dangerous.

The Barcelona defense has infrequently played against a striker like van Persie. It will be a significant challenge for them to not lose shape in the back while also not allowing van Persie to roam freely between the lines.

Fortunately, one of Barça’s great strengths is defending as a team so van Persie’s movements should be tracked across the lines by the Barça team defense. It will be a style of play however that Barça hasn’t seen much of.

Without a true “Holding Mid-Fielder” How Will Arsenal Not Make Dangerous Mistakes in Midfield?

Alex Song and Jack Wilshere are often described as “double pivots.” In some ways this is accurate, but in many ways it’s not. Song and Wilshere play as a duo, with each having the freedom to move forward with the other player providing cover. In this regard, they play in a style that is reminiscent to the partnership Bastian Scheweinsteiger and Sammy Khedira form for the German NT.

Song naturally is the more defensive player but this season he’s been given far more license to move forward. Wilshere is a more natural creative player but he has shown strong tactical discipline to stay deep when needed.

Given the dynamic way Barcelona plays and the continuous position switching Song and Wilshere will be under significant pressure to not get caught out of position due to a misunderstanding between them, particularly with Messi entering and exiting midfield rapidly.

How Will Barça Defend the Flanks, Particularly if Walcott Plays?

This season Barça’s full backs on both sides have pushed forward extraordinarily high. This provides the squad with important width. But it also leaves them somewhat exposed at the back.

Tactically one of the most important aspects of the match will be whether or not the Arsenal wingers can get behind the Barça flank defenders.

Samir Nasri has been deemed fit and before his injury he was having the best season of his career. Given how high Dani Alves plays, Nasri will present a very dangerous challenge. I expect Pique to play behind Alves on the right when the Barça CB’s split wide to defend as the FB push up. Pique’s been inconsistent this season. If Nasri is fit, Pique is going to need to have an outstanding match.

A major challenge for Barça is the loss of Puyol. The problem isn’t so much Puyol’s direct replacement – Abidal has been wonderful at CB this season. The major problem is the impact that losing Puyol has on the LB position when Abidal switches over. Maxwell is a squad player who is being forced to play more than one would want. In the process he is being exposed.

While Theo Walcott hasn’t been a regular starter so far this season, I would have to think there is a strong likelihood of him either starting or playing major minutes tomorrow. While not the best player to retain possession Walcott does two very important things for Arsenal in a match against Barcelona.

First, Walcott presses very well. Second, the match up of Walcott vs. Maxwell is one that would be difficult to pass up for Arsenal. Maxwell is prone to get caught out for pace by players of good pace.

Walcott is one of the fastest players in the world and we saw to what devastating effect he put that speed to last season against Maxwell during the CL first leg. With Abidal playing in the home leg against Arsenal last year, Walcott’s pace was significantly mitigated.

How Guardiola decides to defend against Arsenal’s wide players is probably the most important tactical decision he faces n the match.

With van Persie acting as a false 9, pace off the flanks is particularly dangerous. The striker is proficient at slotting passes through the channel between the CB-FB for wide players to run onto at pace.

If Walcott plays vs. Maxwell, it seems unlikely that he won’t be able to get behind the Barcelona defender at least a few times. Villa is a willing defender on the press but he doesn’t have great pace either to track runs. If Maxwell plays, Iniesta and Abidal will need to provide significant support along the left flank.

If he plays, Maxwell will be Barcelona’s least talented player on the pitch by a wide margin and one whose physical skill set matches up poorly with the opposition Arsenal players he will be facing.

Defensively Arsenal should overplay the middle of the pitch and leave Maxwell as Barça’s primary open outlet. In attack, getting behind Maxwell should be Arsenal’s primary tactical objective. Guardiola has been consistent in his use of Abidal at CB and Maxwell at LB this season when Puyol is not playing. It’s likely this pattern will continue to hold for this game.

The match ups along the left flank are likely to be Barça’s biggest tactical concerns.

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  1. Josep
    February 16, 2011

    A Euler post! I can’t wait to read it. just wanted to comment on the most recent post. you guys read thegoonerblog? I read amazing things there like my response to their post.

    “Arsenal have the stronger defence”
    on what grounds? Because Puyol is out? I still don’t see it, everyone talks about Arsenal’s terrible back line and goalkeeper.

    And when you talk about all the injuries you had in last years series don’t forget the injuries Barca had. I think we started with Marquez and Milito in our back line in the 4-1. Wow.

    *A world cup finalist and highest scorer in 2011 – the in-form striker of the Premiership

    We have what, 7 world cup winning STARTERS? In form striker? Hm.. Messi, Villa and Pedro have more goals than most TEAMS.

    *A world cup winner, European champ winner and PFA young player of the year

    We have several world cup winners, the team won the european championship, and PFA YPOTY? How about 2 Ballons d’or..
    *The Premier League player of the year so far and front runner for PFA player of the year

    *The fastest player in the Premier league (and Europe probably) – and the youngest England cap
    Walcott shouldn’t start though, his skills would be best utilized in the final 20-40 minutes.

    *A player Capello described as the future of England
    lol future of england
    *One of the best defensive midfielders in Europe right now
    who? no its barca who have busquets…
    *An invincible – and left back of the year in ’08-09
    glichy? wasn’t he like 18 and barely played?
    *Two of the premiership’s best and consistent young central defenders this season
    I actually have no clue who this is referring to
    *The man who won the free kick against Barca in the final
    dont remember
    *One of the best young ‘keepers in Europe
    okay seriously. lol.

    one in which the writer claimed arsenal have the stronger defense, and then the *s were someones comments, then all my responses.

    or theres this response on a previous post
    “Also i really do think that pep Guardiola will be our next coach.During his magament training he had a long stint,learning and watching from Wenger at the colony ground.I believe he has a lot of respect for Arsene and Arsenal and come the day the great man retires,he will be available to take over and carry on the legacey that he has been building.Guardiola only has a contract untill 2012 and i cant see him wanting to be there forever with their fucked up principles.”

    okay back on topic. anyone thats not JNice nervous about this? I mean i’m always nervous, but this is like pride nerves. we can’t lose to Arsenal its almost as bad as losing to EE. We need to demolish them. no excuses.

    • barca96
      February 16, 2011

      Haha. Funny post Josep.
      Btw, it was Eboue who play acted in the 2006 CL Final.

    • ooga aga
      February 16, 2011

      thanks for the great post euler

  2. February 16, 2011

    Holy crap! The Knowledge!

    I had ccompletely forgotten that we had no Iniesta against them laat year.

    This tie is going to be crazy. Lotta morbo. If we don’t bring our A game, Arsenal is capable of scoring in bunches, just like we are.

  3. EA
    February 16, 2011

    Great post Euler! Last time you did a tactical preview, we got a manita. Dare I hope? hehehehe

    Yikes! can’t concentrate on a single thing. So much talk especially from Arsenal and the greatest league in the world camp, Arsenal are better, bla bla bla bla… we are also better than last year!

  4. outerspacedout
    February 16, 2011

    @Diego: no its not a guy in front of a train and two guys in the background. Its the ‘Say Anything’ movie poster blaugranafied. Its a 1989 movie that I have a huge soft spot for even though it came out before i was born.


  5. soccermomof4
    February 16, 2011

    “even though it came out before i was born.”

    Kid, I have socks older than you!

    • Eklavya
      February 16, 2011

      He should have said, “even though it came out before I came out”. 😛

    • outerspacedout
      February 16, 2011

      Too much information that.. 😀

  6. Eklavya
    February 16, 2011

    Copy pasting …

    There are many options for our defense tonight.

    Here are the most likely lineups:




    There are problems with all of them.

    1) Milito isn’t on form
    2) Abidal playing CB, means Maxwell will have to handle Walcott
    3) Busquets as CB, means Mascherano will be in the midfield

    Here are so other possible formations (which less likely):




    Pros and cons:

    4) Mascherano hasn’t played at CB for us ever.

    5) Alves plays on the left to contain Walcott. But then we lose him on the right side. Messi plays centrally so with Maxwell will have any width?

    6) Adriano is very fast, and “theoretically” should be able to contain Walcott. But we all know his defense isn’t great so he probably won’t start.

    Personally, the one I like and is Busquets with playing CB and Mascherano playing DM. Essentially, Busi CB > Mascherano CB. Busquets plays faster than Mascherano and is also taller. We could instead use Masch in the midfield to keep out Cesc, Wishlere and co.

    Last year, we played both the matches without Iniesta – with Keita taking his place. Anyone think we could see Keita as DM?


    This lineup is unlikely…

    I think Pep is going to start the lineup with Abidal as CB and Maxwell and LB. Maxwell got roasted in the 1st leg but did great in the 2nd leg (he came on for Abidal early in the first half) using only positioning. Besides, it’s not like Walcott will only be coming towards Maxwell. If Abidal starts anywhere – which he will – we have a good cover.

    • barca96
      February 16, 2011

      Didn’t you post this in the previous post as well? Hehe

      • Eklavya
        February 16, 2011

        On top of my comment I’ve written, “copy-pasting”.

        I was hoping for some constructive replies :\

        • February 16, 2011

          This is a constructive reply.

          No Adriano. No Maxwell. Milito in. Abidal on the left. Busi at DM. If sMasch has to play it will only be at CB. Arsenal won’t get the ball so who cares what our backline is.

          • soccermomof4
            February 16, 2011

            no Mocmoc/Milito CB pairing…enough valium does not exist…..

          • Blow-Grenade
            February 16, 2011

            Ditto what Kari says. Totally agree.
            Abidal has to play left back. Busi as DM. That leaves Milito/sMasch to choose from for the center back pairing with Pique.

    • Camero
      February 16, 2011

      Busquets at DM a must. Besides the tiki-taka with xavi-iniesta-Messi, he is the best(and Keita) and filling the gaps in our press, often pressing in advance of our front three. I agree with Ramzi’s preview which says that Busquets performance will be key.

      • Eklavya
        February 16, 2011

        But playing Mascherano at CB is a lot more risky than playing Busi there. Mascherano has done well so far at DM and Busi the same at CB.

        • soccermomof4
          February 16, 2011

          Stop suggesting Busi anywhere other than at DM—I’ve thrown three laptops at the wall so far—I have kids to get through college—-I can’t keep buying laptops—what do you think, they’re disposable or something!?!?!

  7. EA
    February 16, 2011

    From Ramzi’s preview …
    I LOL at this:

    “But sometimes there is a need to hold on possession and give time for your teammates to reposition. This is one of the departments where Barcelona are still superior, especially when we keep in mind that both Busquets and Iniesta master that method as well (it seems they teach this skill in the last semester at La Masia, a course Towanem missed?).”

  8. Camero
    February 16, 2011

    Good article highlighting the problems for both teams. Simply put, I think both teams are worried about each others attacking prowess, despite what Wenger might say. I really like Ramzi’s suggestion of using Mascherano at CB; although using Maxwell is by no means naiive, I just mascherano is a surer bet. I also think this is the sort of game we got him for because he is so versatile defensively. Ask him to track Van Persie dropping deep, and pique can sweep, and with Abidal at LB, Masch can feel safer picking up roaming midfielders as well.

    Given Arsenal’s pace on the counter and wingers, I don’t think a spreading the pitch with fullbacks is a priority. Whoever plays LB, should be defensive.

  9. barca96
    February 16, 2011

    People keep on saying( Arsenal players included) that Arsenal is a stronger team compared to last season, but how about ours???
    We are a better team too!! A whole lot better!
    We have Iniesta, Villa and sMasch who would scare the shit out of the Arsenal kids 😆

    I do however think that the tie wont be decided at the Coca-Cola stadium, I mean, Emirates(can’t remember who, but somebody started it in the previous post, I think it was Lev 😆 ).

    We will get a manita or at least 4 goals in Camp Nou.

    • Eklavya
      February 16, 2011

      What’s all the hate towards Emirates? I really like that stadium, its modern, nice colors, light green pitch and good ambiance.

      • Camero
        February 16, 2011

        Yeah emirates is a great stadium super comfy seats as well.

    • Jose
      February 16, 2011

      I call it Pizza Hut Park.

      Doesn’t matter how nice it is (I’m sure it is real nice), it’s a damn football stadium with a corporate name, jajaja. It’s not even like they have an actual real name that they call it, but it’s official name is sponsored. Everyone literally calls it “the Emirates”. It’s an airline!

      • BA
        February 16, 2011

        especially when you compare it to Highbury, which was a grand old ground.

        for all the ambivalence towards Liverpool, it’d be like bulldozing Anfield and replacing it with The Carlsberg™ Center.

  10. February 16, 2011

    Eulerrrrrrr! Good stuff! It’s gonna be Alves – Pique – Milito – Abidal! Then, when Milito can be subbed for Maxwell if it goes awry (I guess you could also say the reverse is true as well…)

    T minus 4 hours to go and I’ll already shaking like a leaf.

    Hoo boy.

    • Eklavya
      February 16, 2011

      T minus 4 hours to go and I’ll already shaking like a leaf.

      Um, what?

      • outerspacedout
        February 16, 2011

        Don’t worry Kari if all else fails Bojan will save the day!

        By beginning to warm up and scaring our forwards into scoring quickly, atleast.

        • February 16, 2011

          So that’s why Pep keeps him on the bench and then has him warm up! Talk about innovative motivation for Villa.

      • Jose
        February 16, 2011

        “Um, what?”

        Maybe it’s a Canadian thing?

          • Jose
            February 16, 2011

            jajaja, I was in Ottawa last summer, talking to a lady in an elevator and actually ended a declarative sentence with “eh?”! It made my day 😛

          • blitzen
            February 16, 2011

            Was it cold enough for you? 😉

      • February 16, 2011

        It means there are 4 hours till the match and I’m nervecited (nervous + excited).

        • outerspacedout
          February 16, 2011

          Yeah I and people I know use ‘t minus number’ often too, so its not just a Canadian thing. I think they use that terminology for rocket and space shuttle launches.

  11. Eklavya
    February 16, 2011

    Today is an awesome day so, there I get a new avatar (which stays for a while, hopefully).


  12. Roz
    February 16, 2011

    The Barca-Arsenal relationship reminds me of the song One by U2. Especially “We’re one but we’re not the same”

    • February 16, 2011

      Just one more thing to add:


      Gosh, I’ve seen this on so many sites.

      • Eklavya
        February 16, 2011

        And they’re choosing Maxwell over Abidal…again.

  13. February 16, 2011

    Playing Milito against a striker like van Persie is very risky. Milito has repeatedly been dragged out of position this season at baseline.

    And unfortunately, now his pace is so limited that he cannot make adjustments that cover for mistakes in positioning. van Persie is extremely mobile and doesn’t just stand between the two CB.

    Milito is a poor fit for this match, IMO.

    Depth at CB has been an issue since the summer. Somethings worked out optimally – like Abidal’s adjustment. But then other things balanced that out – Milito’s lack of form and fitness.

    I wish Pep had been systematically working on creating other options at CB since the start of the season so that those options would have been easier to implement in matches like today.

    And those options were either to play Masch and/or Busi at CB significant minutes to enhance their experience at the position or bite the bullet and really see what Fontas was ready to do.

    If either one of Busi or Masch is to be played at CB it should be Masch. Busi’s ability to maintain possession in midfield is integral to how Barca plays.

    It’s not even that Masch is poor in the department – it’s just that Busi has become one of the best players in the world in terms of holding possession.

    Masch skill set seems like it should map well to CB at Barca.

    I seriously doubt Pep would do anything like that in a major match. However, I do wish he had been able to play Masch at CB earlier so that there would be increased options headed into games like today’s.

    • February 16, 2011

      Yeah, I’ve discussed this on a previous thread, but if there has to be a DM-turned-CB it must be Masch and not Busi. Busi’s skill set is crucial fot this game.

      The way I see it is, briefly, this: Abidal is going to be putting out fires/helping out Maxwell anyway. Why not do it at LB with Milito at CB and nullify Walcott to boot? At CB, he’ll be coming across to assist Maxwell. Maxwell, as you’ve discussed, would be the biggest “liability” if you can call him that, as his offense isn’t particularly great either.

      I guess it’s what people see as a bigger threat/who could do the most damage, Walcott vs Maxwell or van Persie vs Milito.

      • Extreme barca fan
        February 16, 2011

        My thoughts exactly Kari
        Also my biggest worry is Pique not milito, but no one seems to think the same.

      • February 16, 2011

        You can isolate players on the flanks more readily than you can players in the center.

        My concern with van Persie vs. Milito is that van Persie can create multiplier effects very readily that map all over the pitch.

        There are more ready ways one can defend the flanks in support of Maxwell.

        Just as an example – if Barca really is worried about the Arsenal RW they could play Pedro on the LW and Villa on the right. That would allow Pedro to track runs and emphasize the defensive aspect of the Barca LW.

        Having a weakness defensively in the center of the pitch creates the risk for the back line getting carved open.

        • February 16, 2011

          The truth. I had forgotten P!! was two footed.

          van Persie has more things in his arsenal (pun intended) than Walcott. It’s only of the reasons I’d never play Mascherano in this game–he’s more aggressive and could concede FKs that van Persie could take advantage of.

          Walcott could burn Maxwell, but for then on he isn’t as quick in making decisions. He’s better this season than last, and his crossing has improved, but they don’t play a tall target man ala Adebayor or Bendtner anyway.

          I had thought Milito would start because he was taken off early against Gijon (66th min. of Keita) and Maxwell played the full game but it could have been because he was poor, or the circumstances.

          • soccermomof4
            February 16, 2011

            He was taken off early because we needed an extra attacking player, he also sucked.

        • soccermomof4
          February 16, 2011

          Hmm…P!! on left…awesome cosmic backtracking powers plus gives Walcott something extra to do….

  14. Roz
    February 16, 2011

    They dont get the whole false 9 concept. Losers.

  15. psqd
    February 16, 2011

    and just to repeat/chime in…
    euler is right on in his suggestion for arsenal’s treatment of maxwell. against sporting the did just what he suggested and barca wasted alot of time and effort because of it. max was a liability on defense and in attack. they allowed him to be a constant benign outlet, he wasn’t a deadend but more a roundabout. constantly available to receive the ball in more space than anyone else had, nearly irresistible to xavi et al, but nearly every ball went right back from whence it came or backwards. it looked to me to be at once stunting the attack and distracting from, what proved later on, to be more profitable attacks on the right.

    if max plays and they learned anything from sporting, they should be able to adopt similar tactics with the added danger of exploiting the room behind max and/or his pace.

    i was personally a big fan of dropping sMasch back into CB late in the sporting game. while he hasn’t played there explicitly he has to work with them/in that spot whenever he drops so they can split. i also think that it is an attractive option given the way arsenal play with vP dropping back and cesc up high.

    with that said, obviously, i would prefer creative decisions to milito…should be interesting, but if i were a betting guy i’d put money on alves pique abidal maxwell.

  16. Josep
    February 16, 2011

    I can’t see anything other than a back line of

    if thats not your back 4 you guys have a lot of explaining to do. Maxwell being burned by Walcott was blown up last year.

    Now for all intensive purposes i’m assuming Walcoot ISN’T starting. so my lineups look like




    I’m assuming, with Walcott on for Chamakh around 60-70 and RVP moving central. Arshavin on around 5 when he gets tired for Nasri. But I can see Arsenal finishing with 30-35% possession. thats ridiculously low for their team and it’ll prove hard to score with that.

    For us, seeing as its a full on press for us to maintain possession this is THE match that will certainly test our fitness levels the most. I see Villa off as early as the 70th, for Bojangles possibly. Depending on situation, we’ll see when sMasch or Keita come on.

    Theres no way Biscuits or masch start at CB. No way Milito starts. Abidal will be on Maxwell’s side for Walcott, who has proven to be an endline guy. If Maxwell pushes him inside, onto his weaker foot, Abidal is there to close down, with Pique moving over and Biscuits as the third CB as we often do on defense.

    If Walcott beats Maxwell for pace once, as a late sub, I say take Maxwell out, move Abidal over and bring in masch, and move Biscuits to CB.


    • Josep
      February 16, 2011

      also isn’t it their GKs Champions League debut? That being said, his EPL debut vs. United he was pretty damn good..

    • February 16, 2011

      Wenger has confirmed that Walcott IS starting, though. Maxwell will have to play tight and defensive. I’m okay with that. Problem is that we lose width on the left, since he can’t get back if he rolls forward.

      I still like the notion of Adriano as LB. He’s our second-fastest defender, not that much slower than Abidal.

  17. soccermomof4
    February 16, 2011

    Less than 3 hours to go. Gosh, but I feel sick. Revised list of what I want to happen today:
    1. Messi shaves
    2. Messi gets any sort of actual hairstyle
    3. Busi at DM
    4. Everyone ready to fight with their game faces on.
    5. Messi shaves
    6. no silly lineup surprises like Messi in goal and Valdes as CF
    7. NOBODY gets hurt
    8. That Ek stop suggesting that Busi play anywhere other than DM
    9. That the few Barca fans who will be in the stands sing the anthem loudly enough for it to be heard on my TV
    10. a distinct lack of bromance between the moc moc boys

      • soccermomof4
        February 16, 2011

        All that is needed for that is for #4 to happen. Honestly, if the real Barca (not the sleepwalking zombie team of the Sporting game’s first half) shows up there cannot be a different outcome.

  18. Josep
    February 16, 2011


    your typical “look at the stats” article that says mascherano won’t start, mostly because all our dropped points come when he starts. coincidence clearly.

    he also reports that maxwell has done well filling in for Puyol.
    And that Puyol might not be fit (I don’t think he even came with the squad), and Abidal should be fit. I didn’t hear of any Abidal knocks..

  19. February 16, 2011

    A buddy of mine suggests a 3-4-3, like so:

    Adriano Pique Abidal
    Alves Busquets Xavi Iniesta
    Pedro!! Messi Villa


    The two backs have gobs of pace. Interesting.

  20. mei
    February 16, 2011

    While this is a brilliant insight into tacticts , I kinda dislike it since it looks like it focuses on how can arsenal beat us , not the other way round 😛

    • February 16, 2011


      Lol! By instinct, when I think about a match to come, I tend to think about it from the other teams point of view as much as a I can.

      I mostly do that because it helps focus on Barca itself and understanding what adjustments may need to be made.

  21. February 16, 2011

    Been thinking more about this. I would do:

    Adriano Pique Mascherano Abidal
    Busquets Xavi Iniesta
    Pedro!! Messi Villa

    Both backs have the pace to get up and back, buttressing our best attacking six.

    • Josep
      February 16, 2011

      Is Chamakh starting? I’d hate to see Masch at CB vs. Chamakh. Someone texted me saying Nasri is starting..

    • February 16, 2011

      No Alves? Sir Cross into Row Z A Lot? Baby Kxevin’s done lost his mind! 😀

      The thought of Adriano v Arshavin/Nasri doesn’t fill me with hope or excitement. Just an… ehhhhhhhh feeling.

      • blitzen
        February 16, 2011

        I would be very very surprised if Alves doesn’t start!

        • February 16, 2011

          I think that Adriano would have it drilled into his head to stay the hell home. Then Alves comes in for the second half, to keep Arsenal from getting off to a running start at home. It would also keep Nasri/Van Persie/Fabregas from exploiting the space created by Alves’ runs forward, which he can’t help. Adriano is bigger and faster, and it sounds like this ref is going to allow physical play. Adriano also isn’t shy about fouling.

          • ooga aga
            February 16, 2011

            suggesting adriano for alves just cements my theory that kxevin doesnt always believe in what he himself says. he likes to provoke and stir debate to make for an active blog. i simply can not think someone so intelligent would not have alves start this match.

    • soccermomof4
      February 16, 2011

      NO ALVES! Kxevin, I just got Ek to stop causing me to throw my laptop against the wall (constantly suggesting that we play Busi places other than DM) but this….must not hyperventilate……

      I think you are mistaken, Dearest. You may want to rethink this.

      If you are going to put Adriano in there, let it be for Maxwell. Solves pace problem (creates other problems)

    • ooga aga
      February 16, 2011

      alves will play. no way that adriano starts in his place.

  22. Tom_Johnson
    February 16, 2011

    Since the general sentiment is that ‘we’ should be afraid of Walcott’s pace and not the rest of his ‘qualities’ as a player, lets put Adriano at LB. He has enough pace in him and, as a bonus, is sturdy enough to put a bruising tackle if necessary.

    This would ensure that Abidal stays in the middle to keep an eye on van Persie.

    Another option would be to drop Busquets to CB and fill the DM position with Xavi. Not only he has experience playing position, he meets the requirements. Quick thinking and comfortable playing one touch.

    If this, I would prefer Afellay at RM. The other option is Keita at LM and Iniesta slides RM. Messi’s role would need to be adjusted to properly accommodate this maneuver.

    • Josep
      February 16, 2011

      I don’t think Walcott that much of a threat either only on counters.

      If Pep is worried I’m almost sure Keita will be in the midfield, sliding left. maybe an asymmetrical formation but then I’d have Abidal at LB in which case it would be unneccessary for that much anchor on one guy. who is fast.

    • blitzen
      February 16, 2011

      Considering how poorly Afellay did in his last match, I can’t believe you would want him to start in a game this important! He’s a good player, but he is still settling in, and I think his nerves got to him last game. How much worse would it be in a CL game? He is definitely not part of our Fully Operational Death Star yet.

      • Tom_Johnson
        February 16, 2011

        I prefer to look at his whole body of work (since he joined us). The few things that I like and believe could be beneficiary in today’s game.

        As for the Sporting Gijon game, while away, it was against a team sitting deep and fouling hard and often. Something that is unlikely to be the case today.

        I would also like to think he, with Pep’s help, had learned from that experience.

  23. February 16, 2011

    Madness. Madness. Madness.

    We need the game to start already. People are losing their minds! 😀

  24. February 16, 2011

    Hey, Milito and Marquez were our central defenders in the home leg last year!

    • soccermomof4
      February 16, 2011

      Remember the Bendtner goal?

  25. Lev
    February 16, 2011

    Whoah we’ve been Eulerized!

    a couple of quick points:

    Euler I thought about Pedro on the left and Villa on the right also to nullify Walcott, the only thing is that Villa never plays from the right. I think it is an option though, because he should be able to adapt and I think it would be a good idea not only bc of Walcott but also because it will surprise Arsenal and perhaps get them thinking more than they should.

    a lot of people are discussing Masch or Busi at CB.
    Masch apparently played horribly as a CB for Liverpool, though I must admit I have never seen him play there. Although he might have the skill set (minus the length), he does not have the experience and I don’t see why we would start that experiment in such an important game against a very talented attacking side.

    Busi does have some experience as a CB, but solely in the Liga when we play against a team that pretty much parks the bus. In those situations his defensive duties are limited to picking up the ball when it comes back to us and feeding it to the attack. Again, very different story when he has to face Fabregas – Nasri – RvP – Walcott.

    Overall I think the tactics are secondary. Maxwell was our weakest link last season also. They will and should target him, but both teams will play according to their strengths.

    The deciding factor will be specific moments and the momentum that it might bring. If we start the way we did one year ago and score early then we will destroy them, I don’t think their psyche would be strong enough to recover. On the other side if they score the first goal (early or not) it will give them the strength and belief necessary to play the game of their lives and this could be very dangerous.

    I believe that if we bring our A-game, nobody can f* with us. Arsenal might believe the same, but I am also pretty sure that they believe that if Barça brings their A-game, nobody can f* with us.

    • February 16, 2011


      Good points, particularly about playing to strength.

      On the whole, when two teams play similar tactically, the more talented team is going to win as long as they execute.

      Regarding Masch at CB – I might be wrong – but from what I remember on the occassions where he did play on the backline he was ok at CB but was really bad at RFB because he simply didn’t have the sensibility to push forward and provide width.

    • blitzen
      February 16, 2011

      Villa has started on the right with Pedro on the left at least once this season. I can’t remember which game it was, but it worked very well.

  26. Lev
    February 16, 2011

    oooooooooooooh i write a long post and when after hitting enter I read that our big bold leader is advocating dropping Alves for Adriano?!?!?! Maaaadness, brother, madness I’m telling you! lol

  27. February 16, 2011


    That is all.

  28. soccermomof4
    February 16, 2011

    Let’s stop over-emphasizing Walcott. Worry about van Persie. Put Abidal in as CB. It doesn’t matter what happens on the flanks as much as what happens in front of the goal. Abidal is where attacks go to die!

  29. soccermomof4
    February 16, 2011

    If Arsenal lurkers are reading us now they will be jumping for joy at our sense of panic.

    • blitzen
      February 16, 2011

      No one here is panicking, we are just booting about different tactics ideas.

  30. Josep
    February 16, 2011

    Baby Kxevy you have 0 faith in Alves it seems, with your suggestions that Adriano can cover for him, and that Van der Wiel can eventually.

    I do like the almost “surprise” attack notion of Alves not starting, and if Wenger’s gameplan revolved around exploiting that space he’d be screwed with Alves not there.

    But Alves is a machine. He plays 90 minutes like the first 2. He won’t tire, and he should play all 90, if asked to stay more in midfield even that would work but you can’t sit him.

    • Jim
      February 16, 2011

      Alves has to play for me. He will surely have his sensible head on tonight.

  31. February 16, 2011

    Fudge this.

    Imma go watch la manita to calm myself down.

    • soccermomof4
      February 16, 2011

      Great Idea.
      I have the Messi 4-1 Arsenal game still on my DVR. I’m gonna go watch it and imagine how much better we will be with Iniesta, Villa, Abidal, and improved Messi.

  32. February 16, 2011

    gainst sporting the did just what he suggested and barca wasted alot of time and effort because of it. max was a liability on defense and in attack. they allowed him to be a constant benign outlet, he wasn’t a deadend but more a roundabout. constantly available to receive the ball in more space than anyone else had, nearly irresistible to xavi et al, but nearly every ball went right back from whence it came or backwards. it looked to me to be at once stunting the attack and distracting from, what proved later on, to be more profitable attacks on the right.

    if max plays and they learned anything from sporting, they should be able to adopt similar tactics with the added danger of exploiting the room behind max and/or his pace.

    This comment from PSQD above is exactly on the money. I wrote up a tactical review of the Sporting Match that I couldn’t post unfortunately due to problems with the server. I’ll post it later this week.

    The main point I was making was the one PSQD stated above. Preciado essentially created an assymetric defense where he made sure Barcelona’s least talented player was it’s open outlet.

    In turn Barca naturally played how they do – pass the ball through the open outlet.

    But that made them easier to defend because Maxwell didn’t do enough with the ball.

    If I were Wenger I would do exactly the same thing. Overplay the middle and force Maxwell to beat me.

    • Jim
      February 16, 2011

      Agreed. If he plays, this has to be the night Maxwell steps up and uses the ball more offensively. I’m not worried about his positional sense – its excellent. However, I’m not sure we’re not missing the point with Walcott. If we end up in a straight race with him we lose – even abidal. We should be worrying more about making sure Cesc doesn’t get a minute on the ball tonight to hit a through ball plus Abidal, if CB, needs to be on hand to cover behind Max.

      However, the most important thing is to ensure we’re ready from the start to sling the ball about for twenty minutes to take the sting out of them.

      • Tom_Johnson
        February 16, 2011

        “the night Maxwell steps up and uses the ball more offensively”

        I wouldn’t be holding my breathe too long if I were you. Maxwell doesn’t have the required pace.

        On more than one occasion he has been given an ample room by the opposition. The room he wasn’t able to take an advantage of in a meaningful way to the game’s outcome.

        Knowing the players like Walcott and Sagna, of sinificant pace, will be tasked to cover that side of the field and baring a significant ‘breakdown’ in the defensive scheme like it happened in Milan, I predict the potential Maxwell’s contribution to be minor.

    • blitzen
      February 16, 2011

      OK, maybe one person here is panicking. 😛

  33. blitzen
    February 16, 2011

    No side left in this season’s CL has scored a higher proportion of their goals from set pieces than Barcelona: 43%

    Set pieces? Seriously? I thought that was our weakness.

      • Lev
        February 16, 2011

        on the subject of Maxwell, last season I thought him better offensively than Abidal. Whereas I don’t think that Abidal improved thhhaaat much offensively this season, Maxwell seems to have regressed. Why??

      • blitzen
        February 16, 2011

        If by this you mean “including free kicks?”, then yes I would assume so. But I just copied that from barcastuff.

        • Josep
          February 16, 2011

          indirect freekicks.

          the ones where we play the quick free kick, leading to goalzzz

  34. Extreme barca fan
    February 16, 2011

    All this speculation about the defense reminds me of the latest classico, so guys relax and trust the team, we are too good, even if we lose we can make it up in the 2nd leg.

  35. Vj
    February 16, 2011

    *Takes deep breath* *Chants In Pep We Trust* *Repeats*


  36. blitzen
    February 16, 2011

    Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes – Alves Pique Abidal Maxwell – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Pedro Messi Villa

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