Take on Tactics: Champions League Clásicos – Review and Preview

A cagey affair.  That phrase is often used in conjunction with Champion’s League Football, particularly when describing the first leg of the tie. The general thought is that in European competition the football becomes more cautions, more deliberate.
That the game needs to become more planned and controlled in order for a side to attain success.

In the first leg of the Barcelona – Madrid Champion’s League tie tactics were at the forefront.  But not in the way we are accustomed to thinking of them.  Tactical nous is most often associated with defensively oriented football, on issues such maintaining shape, holding lines, and marking.  In fact, the term tactics itself is frequently used as a synonym for defense.  Football based on attack and possession is often considered a function of “style.”

Messi Delivers Magic and There's Nothing to do But Watch

Such distinctions are of course gross over simplifications and rarely hold out on the pitch.  This was sharply illustrated in the last Clásico.  Jose Mourinho is widely considered to be the quintessential tactically oriented manager in the contemporary game.  And prior to this series of four Clásico’s Mourinho’s tactical acumen was considered to be a significant advantage for Madrid by many observers.

However, in the first leg of the Champion’s League tie it was Pep Guardiola who introduced the tactical adjustments and innovations that set the parameters for the match, defining the dynamics for how play unfolded.  How these dynamics come to fruition in the second leg will have significant influence over who will advance to the Champions League finals.


Tactical Parameters

Five overarching factors set the context for the last Clásico from the Barcelona perspective:

1) Barcelona was required to play a makeshift backline without a true left full back.  In addition Carles Puyol would be required to play an integral role at the back despite lack of form and fitness and a recent injury suffered in the Copa Del Rey finals.

2) Barcelona played a very narrow formation in the Copa Del Rey final.  This lack of width made the pitch very small, especially in the middle.  In turn, this made the Madrid press more effective than it otherwise would have been.

3)  Since the first Clásico, Real Madrid had adopted a defensively oriented approach that focused significantly on maintaining shape, clotting the space between the lines and playing on the counter attack.

4)  In the Copa Del Rey final, Messi was forced to drop extremely deep into midfield to support possession and collect the ball.  Because Madrid had stationed so many defenders in the middle of the pitch when Messi dropped deep he was not dragging Madrid out of shape – they simply passed Messi onto other lines of defense in the center.

5) The match was the first leg of the Champions League tie and was being played away at the Bernabéu

Several other factors were in play such as the absence of Andres Iniesta.  However, those five factors were critical tactically.

Restructuring the Backline While Enhancing Width

This season Guardiola has significantly changed the way the full backs function in the Barcelona system.  Rather than acting as traditional full back – even ones that make bombing runs forward – Guardiola has redefined the position in the Barça system into more of a hybrid wing back/full back.  This was done in order to expand Barcelona’s width in the advanced portions of the pitch as teams defended deep.  Lack of width was a significant problem in last season’s Barça team.

The single biggest adjustment in tactics Guardiola made for the first Champion’s League Clásico was to alter how the full backs played.  Rather than stationing themselves high up the pitch as he had been doing all season, Guardiola repositioned the full backs and had them play much deeper often staying close to the midline.

Given how high up the pitch the Barça full backs have been playing all season, this was a radical realignment in formation and was central to how Barça functioned in the last Clásico.  This difference is well illustrated by the average positional diagram below:

Barca Formation - Average Position (Courtesy of UEFA - Note Pedro Rodriguez not Diagramed Above)

In no match this season has the Barça backline played according to this formation.  The two full backs are only slightly advanced of the two center backs and are roughly playing along the same line as Busquet’s, the holding player.  Dani Alves’ positioning in particular is striking given how advanced he has played this entire year.

At first glance it may seem that this restructuring of the backline formation was due to a more conservative defensive orientation.  A way of mitigating risk from the Madrid counter given the makeshift nature of Barça defense and its potential vulnerabilities.

While this was likely part of Guardiola’s thinking, the major reason for  adjusting the formation in this way was to allow Barcelona to regain numerical superiority across the middle zone of the pitch and to reestablish width in the center – the region where Madrid had clustered it’s defense.

The still shot below illustrates this principle well:

A few points to note in the picture above that will be expanded on below.  First, both full backs are staying just deep of the midline and level with the holding player Busquets.  Second, they are playing very wide – both are wide of their markers.  Third (and most important), is geometry.  This arrangement of the full backs allows Barça to form four intricate triangles across the entire breadth of the middle of the pitch.

Note the four triangles in the shot: 1)  Alves-Busquets-Mascherano; 2) Puyol, Busquets and Pique (notice how symmetric these first two triangles are – the efficiency of spacing the pitch is remarkable)  3) Alves-Busquets-Messi; 4) Puyol- Busquets-Xavi.

Normally the Barça full backs would make runs forward in order to build play.  In the still shot above, both are maintaining their positions just deep of the midline.  Rarely has Dani Alves positioned himself level with the Barça holding player.  Here Alves, Busquets and Puyol are roughly playing along the same line.

The Barça formation is highly dynamic and as such difficult to characterize. But for much of this match Barça functionally played a 2-3-3-2/4-3-1-2 formation.

The key to those formations is where the full backs are stationed.  Notice how both Puyol and Alves are spread on the pitch towards each touchline and are wide of their markers.  Guardiola had the full backs remain deep in order to provide width in the region of the pitch where Madrid had focused their defense.  This width is well demonstrated in the overhead still shot below as well:

Barca Formation - Full Backs Are Wide Available As Outlets to Retain Possession Away from Madrid's Defenders Clustered in the Center


In the still shot above Madrid has a 5 vs. 3 numerical advantage in the midfield circle.  However, the key here are the full backs – the Barça midfielders always had an available outlet wide through the full backs.  This nullified the numerical advantage in the circle Madrid had.

In the prior two Clásicos Madrid played in a solid block with three holding players and varied the way they pressed.  Their goal was to clot the middle of the pitch.

In those matches, when the Barça full backs went up field, maintaining possession largely fell to the central midfielders and the two full backs.  That created a major problem however – Barça could not generate numerical superiority in midfield through those four players unless they dropped very deep into their own half.  Madrid simply had too many defenders in that region.  This is why Messi was continuously dropping deep in the Copa final – to provide an additional player in midfield.

At the same time, Madrid could defend those players four to five Barcelona players easily because they were all clustered around the midfield circle.  This facilitated Mardid’s ability to stay compact, defend narrowly and make the pitch small.

By positioning the full backs higher up the Guardiola achieved several key objectives.  The array of triangles gave Barça a way to not only maintain possession but to do so in a composed fashion.

One of Barça’s major problems in the Copa was lack of patience – in face of the Madrid pressure they often one touched the ball in a rushed fashion.  This was largely due to their lack of players wide in that critical region of the pitch.  With the full backs wide and level with the holding player Barça was able to form triangles and make the pitch much larger in the middle.  This allowed for more composed possession.

Keeping the full backs deep also thwarted one of the key tactics Mourinho had implemented.  Both Madrid wingers were playing largely defensive roles.  When the Barça full backs made runs forward the Madrid wingers would track their runs.  This was particularly true of Angle Di Maria who primary function was to mark Alves wherever he was.

The wingers tracking the full back runs in turn created defensive congestion in advanced portions of the pitch.  So when Messi tried to work off the right flank not only was Marcelo and a holding player in that space so was Di Maria.  In the first still shot in this post notice how high up the pitch Di Maria is defending – this opened up space for Villa to operate on the right flank 1 vs. 1 on Marcelo (more on this below).


The Barça Wingers Stay Wide

One of the issues with playing a formations of the 2-3-3-2/4-3-1-2 type is that they can become very narrow in advanced positions on the field.  The only width comes from the full backs.  This is one of the major tactical limitations of the “Christmas Tree” formation.

Guardiola’s next major tactical adjustment was to further augment the width on the pitch by having the two advanced wingers – Villa and Pedro – stay very wide in advanced positions.  The following screen shot shows this well:

Villa Hugs the Touchline Creating a 1 vs 1 With the Defense

There are five Madrid defenders forming a wall around the midfield circle.  The focus here is to stop Xavi and Messi.  In addition to the full backs staying wide around midfield to act as outlets, notice David Villa’s position up the pitch.  Rather than drifting centrally to link up play with Messi as he often does, Villa is hugging the touchline.

Normally, Villa positioning himself in that space would be problematic because he has no support on the flank.  This is the trade off Guardiola had to make to keep the full backs closer to the midfielders.

However, because Di Maria is assigned to mark Alves and the holding players are all prioritizing the middle of the pitch Villa is left 1 vs. 1 against Marcelo. Villa was able to make himself dangerous coming off the edges when he could get the ball in these situations.

Additionally, staying wide while the Madrid defenders stayed central allowed the Barça wingers to act as outlets up the pitch – once again facilitating possession. Finally what this width did was to provide Messi with more space to operate.

Ultimately it was this use of width that led to Barça’s first goal.  While a great deal has been made out of Pepe’s sending off – and it undoubtedly had a significant impact on the match – the fact remains that both Barça goals were scored in regions of the pitch where Madrid had significant numerical advantage.  Afellay stayed wide on that goal while Alves stayed deep.  The holding players as they had all game stayed centrally.  This left Afellay 1 vs. 1 against Marcelo off the edge and once Afellay got a step on Marcello the goal unfolded.


Madrid Look to Play on the Counter while Playing at Home

In the prior two Clásico’s Madrid prioritized maintaining defensive shape and clotting the middle through the trivote formation.  The trade off they had to make was to reduce the dimensions of their own attack.  In particular, with Pepe and Diarra in midfield, Madrid couldn’t retain possession or build creative play.

Additionally, it was relatively easy for the Barça press to regain the ball as none of the three Madrid midfielders were particularly adept at maintaining possession through close control or by quickly circulating the ball (even Alonso needs time and space on the ball to deliver his long passes).  As such Madrid’s offensive thrust has largely focused on the counter and set plays.

In the Champion’s League, it is incumbent on the team that plays the first leg at home to obtain a desired result.  This is particularly true when both teams have significant advantage in their own stadiums.

Ultimately, the tactical changes that Guardiola implemented were designed to support one primary end – thwart Madrid’s ability to score on the counter.  By keeping his full backs deeper and his wingers wide Guardiola made the pitch very large.  This greatly diminished Madrid’s ability to pressure the ball.  In turn, Barça could not only maintain possession, but maintain composed possession, dictate tempo and reduce the risk of making costly turnovers or conceding set pieces.

At the same time through this controlled possession, Barça was able to probe the Madrid defense and look to see where openings might lay.  If none could be found they could be confident of retaining possession and restarting the attack from a different direction.

In a sense, the prior Clásico was a stark example of the principle that the best way to defend is to keep the ball.  Barça’s method of retaining the ball patiently across the middle created a kind of attack that was extreme in it’s control and cautious probing for vulnerabilities.  So much so that it left Madrid with nothing viable to counter.   Madrid’s passing chart from the game shows how much they were reduced to trying to play balls longs and doing so with poor rates of success (blue represents completed passes, red incomplete):

Madrid Passing Chart (From the TotalFootball App)

Barça’s use of the ball to defend, probe the defense and attack in a controlled fashion is demonstrated by it’s passing chart

Barcelona Passing Chart (From the TotalFootball App)

Outside of the sheer number of passes Barça has accurately completed, what is most remarkable about the diagram above is the density of passes completed around the midfield circle and from there out to wide positions.

This type of pass oriented play was dismissed by many as simply “knocking the ball around the back.”  But this approach to the game is exactly the kind of  pragmatic, tactical nous that attack oriented managers are frequently criticized for not demonstrating.  It’s not that Barça is not attacking – it’s that Guardiola has them attacking in a different manner and doing so by using the ball differently to control the game.

The fact is, Barça were vulnerable this game, especially at the back line given that they were not playing at home.  And what Guardiola did brilliantly was to minimize all of those vulnerabilities through use of the ball.

Commenter’s who argue that Barça just “kicked the ball around” are largely missing these points.  This was not a Barça team at full strength and they were playing at the Bernabéu .  Despite that Barça dictated the tempo and rhythm of the game.  That is an enormous tactical accomplishment, the kind that defensively oriented managers are routinely praised for as signs of their tactical sophistication.

In order for Madrid to regain possession Guardiola was forcing them to have to extend themselves.  To do so meant that they would either have to play as a block higher up the pitch or lose their compact shape.  Either way would have forced them into a shape that they did not want to play.  In turn their entire offensive approach on the counter attack crumbled.  Dictating play in this fashion is the essence of tactics.  And Guariola did this brilliantly in the first leg.

Mourinho Lack of Adjustments

I want to get onto detailing what Barça needs to do to win the second leg. But briefly a few words on Madrid’s tactics.  Mourinho managed a puzzling game.  In a Champion’s League tie every minute at home is critical as it represents your team’s best chance to score.  Mourinho made no significant adjustments the entire first half and simply let Barça dictate play at the Bernabéu .

Carles Puyol who has hardly played this season, was manning a position he has limited experience at  and was coming off another recent injury.  Madrid has one of the world’s top pace attackers in C. Ronaldo.  Rather than test Puyol Mourinho allowed time to simply dwindle away with Ronaldo playing out of position.

Similarly, Mascherano has limited experience playing at CB.  A pacy striker who can make intelligent runs to try to split Mascherano and Pique by dragging them out of position would have been a powerful weapon to use.  Higuain and Benzema are exactly those kinds of players.  For most of the game Madrid played without a true striker who could test the Barça CB pairing.  And when Mourinho put one in it was a target man who wound up playing isolated up top by himself.  When Adebayor did knock balls down there was no one around him to collect.

Finally, the most startling aspect of the last match tactically was Mourinho’s complete lack of adjustments after he went down to 10 men.  A 0-0 result would have been a very positive one for Madrid at that point.  But Mourinho did nothing to bolster his team’s capacity to defend.  Adebayor is a poor defender and at that point in the game was contributing little.  Alonso is not a particularly good defender either.  Nor is C. Ronaldo.

Mourinho still had Granero on the bench and he was a natural choice to bolster the space between the lines.   If Diarra and Alonso were as tired after that match as Mourinho was stating this week not bolstering midfield defense was an even worse move.  Additionally, he could have put on another center back but elected not to.

In the end while the sending off changed the game, Barça still scored both its goals when Madrid had significant numerical advantage.  On both goals the Madrid defenders far outnumbered the Barça attackers (this was not only the case with Messi’s second goal – it was also with the first).  Sending off or not, it is inexcusable to concede when you have numbers in defense.

Keys to the Second Leg at Camp Nou

At this point in time, both sides have shown their major cards.  Madrid find themselves in exactly the position they didn’t want to be in – needing to score multiple goals at Camp Nou.

While Madrid will need to attack far more effectively than they did the first match, they still have a major problem in that they cannot concede either.  Even one Barça goal likely finishes the tie.

For the second leg, Barça needs to blend the approaches they’ve used against Madrid all season.  They must maintain width.  In the two matches Barcelona has utilized width they’ve controlled play.  Madrid will likely press higher up the pitch.  Using width will make the field larger and harder to play.  If Madrid again tries to congest the middle, this may require the full backs to play deep but the tradeoff will be worth it.

Patience in possession will also be important.  In the Copa finals Barça rushed their possession rather than systematically probing weaknesses in the defense.   Barça need to utilize the ball to force Madrid to come out and lose their shape.

Given that Madrid need to attack more, it is likely that space will open up between their lines, especially with Pepe not playing.  This is the area of the pitch Messi exploited to brilliant effect in the first Clásico of the season.  By keeping attackers wide Barça opens up space for Messi to play through in the middle of the pitch between the lines.  If coupled with dynamic movement this will be Barça’s most promising rout to scoring.  But this is another key for Barcelona – off the ball movement is critical. And Barca’s off the ball movement even in the first leg was not as strong as it needed to be.

The challenge tomorrow will once again be along the backline.  In possession the Barça left back won’t likely offer much support on the left flank.  For this reason in particular, Iniesta (or Keita) must look to generate play wide on the left and support the left winger.

In defense, Barça needs to press very aggressively high up the pitch when they lose to ball to slow Madrid’s ability to counter.  This will be critical to protecting the back line against Madrid’s pace. Though Madrid need to score they cannot afford to concede.  Given this they very well may look to play on the counter for stretches of the game tomorrow.

It’s almost over.  Thank goodness.

Visca Barça!





    1. LMAO… you’re the first to comment in this thread, and that’s your comment? oh, outer… I love you, glad to have you back… 😆

  1. Great read, Euler. I have wondered why it seemed like a lot of our weaknesses didn’t look to be exposed. Well, tomorrow it’s over. This series of four Clasicos has been less nervous-exciting and more nervous-exhausting than I expected. :\

  2. where is Bassam? are you still here, Bassam?

    how dare you put MADR*D word without censor in our blog!
    *shaking my head* 😛

    That Jnice man, he hits you where it hurts 😉 Evil i say, EVIL!

    LOL… when he hits you where it hurts, he’s not in Jnice mode, he was entering Jmean mode…you must understand that…

    believe me, you will love him when you met “Jnice”, not “Jmean”… 😀

    I’m gonna read this long and intelligent post when I get home, Euler…
    I promise I’ll read it… I’m going home now…

  3. I’m poor at tactics and I dont even know whether this is a relevant question but we know that Madrid has very good pacey counter but why could’nt they utilise it when the backline of Barca was poor?.Mascherano isnt a CB and Puyol is not match fit as the post suggests.Madrid had enough speed with Ronaldo and he could have dragged Puyol out of his place and scored.

    1. They didn’t see enough of the ball to achieve anything, Ozil made 2 passes only, After the red card, Mourinho did nothing and Ade and Cristiano were left without supply and Di Maria was non existent in the 2nd half.

      We had 72% of possession and the width provided in this match prevented it from coming another Copa Final.

  4. excellent excellent piece euler! You should send this to all those journalist’s bowing in front of mourinho all the time..!

    Let’s hope our boys can keep their cool today!

    Visca Barca!

  5. Euler do you think r.madrid will attack from the very begining or will they start ultra defensive again in the first half hoping to score by a set piece or from a bad back pass and then push forward in the final 30 minutes when we will be most tired?

    1. I don’t know. I think RM would acknowledge that, as much as an early goal from them would hurt Barca, the opposite would be doubly true. As a result, I think they will be more cautious in the first half. Not as they were in the first leg, but a more balanced counterattack-enabling side.

      I think their goal will be to go into the half 0-1, and then see where they go from there.

      What I’m hoping for is that they can’t score 2 without Barca getting in at least one.

  6. Great piece, Euler.

    What would be your starting XI for this match? I did think Pep would use Iniesta on the wing and Keita in the middle, but seeing as we’ll need plenty of width, that might not be the best option.

  7. Excellent piece.

    Btw folks, i know lot of you like to read good football stuff. And i have found gem of a magazine just started by Jonathan Wilson called The Blizzard. link: http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/.

    I just downloaded their issue zero after paying few pounds and it is absolute beast. It comes at 188 pages of solid analysis into all sorts of things. I have already decided to subsscribe as finally there is some serious and nice football magazine. Check it out!

  8. Good read. Love the charts. Pep is still such a tactically underrated manager. He deserves more credit.

    On another note:

    barcastuff: Most goals in the knock-out stages of the Champions League: Raul 18 – Shevchenko 18 – Messi 17

    Each time I see stuff like that, and I realize just how awesome Messi is, I just get speechless. Catching up with the legends at 23. Geez.

  9. Barcelona wins and Messi scores -> Barca is Messi

    Barcelona wins without Messi -> Messi Sucks

    Guardiola defeats Mourinho 5-0 -> He’s just a lucky coach

    Mourinho wins 1-0 in Extra time -> He’s a tactical Genius

    Busquets dives in the middle of the pitch -> Filing an official complaint to UEFA

    Di Maria dives 983579537 times to win Fouls, Penalties, and get players sent off -> Barcelona are doing unsporting behaviour.

    Messi is the best player in the world -> Pfffft, TB is much better

    Xaviniesta are the world’s best midfielders -> Nothing compared to Milner and Downing

    Spain won the WC -> Only because of Casillas, Ramos and Alonso.

    That’s why I stopped visiting football sites and only come here.

  10. Euler, thank you. This was fascinating. I had noticed that Alves was much further back in the first leg, but hadn’t realised the full significance until I read this. I assumed Puyol was holding back largely in order to ‘conserve’ because he isn’t fully match-fit.

  11. Yer, Dani’s position was still a bit of a weird one. Because from what I saw, Puyol played as that third CB who would come flying in behind our main center backs if anything went passed, much like what Abidal was famous for at LB. Its interesting to see how alike both Puyol and Abidal are as defenders. Both can manage each others ‘preferred’ positions very well. Kudos to Pep who realized this.

    Following that, comes the question, what was Dani’s role at his position defensively? Because in the first half he had a handful of defending to do and I can’t say he struggled, but he definetly didn’t look up to his standard.

    It seems Mourinho focused on usuing Di-maria on the left flank to torment Dani’s lack of defensive, instead of the right side against Puyol. But I guess it became a double advantage to Pep because Puyol didn’t have to do any sort of defending down our left flank which then allowed Puyol to come in and help protect the centre of defence. I guess Mourinho thought Alves was a weaker target and he could expose that right side of ours, Ironically though, Puyol is usually strong at defending Aerial balls and I don’t see how any sort of cross from Di Maria can be effective (It worked in the copa though).

    I guess eventhough Alves didn’t perform well in the first half, the conservative approach Pep assigned Alves worked.

  12. Interesting analysis, Euler.

    One of Barça’s major problems in the Copa was lack of patience – in face of the Madrid pressure they often one touched the ball in a rushed fashion. This was largely due to their lack of players wide in that critical region of the pitch. With the full backs wide and level with the holding player Barça was able to form triangles and make the pitch much larger in the middle. This allowed for more composed possession.

    Do you think that it was mainly due to the adjustments of Pep, i.e. positioning of the full-backs, using of width and triangles etc. that Barça could maintain possession and control of the game so easily?
    I will give a statistic about distance covered by each team in the 1st leg CL CLasico:
    Real Madrid about 65km, Barça about 70km.

    The average is between 105km and 115km. So Real Madrid did ,not even try to pressure us. Consequently, we made the game slow and also ran about 40km(!) less than usually. That’s the way how I see it.
    I think if Real tried harder, as they did in the Copa, the game would have been different. In the 1st leg, we never faced any pressure, and I don’t think that’s only down to the four triangles. Pep’s adjustments were essential, but certainly helped by the extreme passiveness of Real Madrid.
    I don’t want to take anything away from Pep, your analysis suggests that Pep outfoxed Mourinho and he practically did so. Maybe Mourinho even told his players to not move or build up any pressure on Barça, if that’s the case, then Pep certainly owned him. But then, Mourinho also did a very big, avoidable mistake. It’s natural to sit deep for his teams, but I doubt that any of his teams has ever run so few kilometres before!

    I feel that the fourth and last Clásico will once again be very different from the tactical approach than the others.

    1. Well I’m no tactician but, If madrid had to apply more pressure, they would on average have to push further up the pitch, since we ourselves were more conservative, if thats the case, it would be much easier for Villa and Pedro to just dart a run from either side, and Xavi or Pique to bomb one through, since madrid’s defensive line would leave a nice gap for them to run onto before reaching Casillas.

      Mourinho would have to scrap his whole defensive line approach. Otherwise if he just let the midfield wall push up, it would leave a nice gap between the defense and midfield for Messi and Xavi/Iniesta to play with.

      Pep’s little tweaks were very smart. Because it forced Mourinho to make a decision, whether to stick with his ineffective yet safe defensive approach, or scrap his whole pre-game match plan and go for a more assertive approach and maybe snatch a result. Obviously Mourinho didn’t change his game plan (unlike the first classico at the Camp Nou) and stuck with his Ol’faithful tactics, but in the end he wasted his home leg advantage.

    2. WOW I didn’t know that the teams run so little…that about 6,5 km per player..Dani and Xavi run aproximately around 10-11km per game!

      Thanks Helge! very interesting ! do you by any chance have the individual km as well?!

  13. Euler >> 99% of sports writers who get paid to do this type of analysis.

    1. Absolutely, hats off to Euler. I had no idea that Alves and Puyol staying back was a deliberate tactic from Pep until I saw this blog.

  14. The ‘home leg advantage’ is purely psychological, right? The way I was looking at it was that when you’re away, goals count for more. As such, away matches would have the ‘advantage,’ so to speak.

    1. Mostly psychological, yes, which is hard to measure, but statistics in practically every team sport show a significant advantage in home team results. This of course may be in part due to a self-fulfilling prophecy – away teams being scared and less confident and more defensive, because of being an away team (and in turn the home team being more confident and offensive – because of the notion that home teams have an advantage).

      Ryan Boyko, a research assistant in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, studied 5,000 English Premier League games from 1992 to 2006, to discern any officiating bias and the influence of home crowds. The data was published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggested that for every additional 10,000 people attending, home team advantage increased by 0.1 goals. Additionally, his study proved what many football fans already suspect, that home teams are likely to be awarded more penalty kicks, but crucially, this is more likely with inexperienced referees. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_field_advantage)

    2. Haha, the Nou Camp is likely to see 0.2 goals more than the Bernabue and 0.5 goals more than Stamford Bridge lol.

      That said I don’t think it’s just psychological. Football is a game where the tiniest changes and things have effects, and players being used to having played on that particular pitch for much of their careers, physical aspects of the pitch like smoothness, height or slickness of the pitch affecting those tiny things like the exact weight of a pass and since you mostly train/practice in your own stadium those things coming off better in those exact conditions as opposed to any other, and so on would create a tiny advantage for one, I would think.

      Add to that the psychological aspect of motivation of thousands of fans cheering you on, or of stepping out onto the Camp Nou and being surrounded by a wall of people, as many people as a small city (maybe even more than the entire population of their hometowns for many players- the town of Villareal has a population of 52000, for example, and the capital city of my admittedly small country has 100k people) where every single one of those hundred thousand people hates you.

    3. hmm true, but it doesn’t mean its not an effective advantage, because in general everyone regards the team who have the second leg at home have the advantage because if lets say things go terribly wrong in the first leg, atleast in the second leg they don’t have to play in a hostile environment and mentally they are in a better state.

      Mourinho obviously wanted to keep a clean sheet at the Bernabau. He made a conservative and negative approach which in turn makes things harder for Barca to break. Which in turn drastically reduced any chances of Barcelona scoring. But what if one incident in the game goes wrong and Barcelona score at the Bernabau, Then Mourinho’s approach just crumbles to pieces like we saw last week.

      So my opinion is eventhough Mourinho tried to level things out by nullifying barcelona, It doesn’t guarantee success, Its just an approach that relies on pure luck. If somehow things don’t go well, then its pretty much game over because playing negative can more likely never turn over a deficit.

      Thus why the home leg is crucial.

      the funny thing is, Mourinho’s approach does not work to Madrid’s strengths, it works to stop Barcelona within a time frame, but thats it, nothing else.

    4. It’s also worth noting that home field advantage varies by stadium. Arsenal at Highbury had a big HFA because of the compressed space of the pitch and their ability to use it well. I think that we also have a big advantage at home because of how we maintain the pitch (in a way that facilitates our passing game), and its width. If we use the wide spaces, the holes created are too big to be filled. HFA, dependent on the club, can be huge.

    5. Thanks for the interesting responses, folks! I wasn’t trying to write off any psychological advantage that exists (though I see from the responses that there may be more to it than psychological advantage).

  15. From LLL:

    LLL suspects that Barcelona lost Saturday’s game after Real Madrid’s defeat just to annoy their Capital City rivals even further by making them regret their own slip-up against Zaragoza even more.


    1. All 4 CL semifinalists lost their league games last weekend – Schalke, Man U, Madrid and Barca. 🙂

  16. For the second morning in a row I have awakened to genius. First SoMa, now Euler. Excellent, excellent work. It all makes sense now, even to a tactical addle-brain like me.

  17. Brilliant analysis, as always, Euler!!!

    I’m sending this to all my friends who do not give credit to Guardiola’s tactical nous and who have the gall to tell me that our only strategy in the last Clasico was to have their players sent off.

    1. I keep getting, “Internet Explorer cannaot display the webpage.”
      I did that yesterday as well but I got on it briefly last night.

    2. I never go there anyhow, but will check on Firefox and Chrome.

      Nope. Nothing on either one. Guess you’ll have to make do with us today. 😀

    3. I go there for the news posts mostly. They translate the front pages and cartoons from EMD and Sport, and the odd Crackovia skit.

    4. Their Facebook feed just sent a message saying that they were receiving Denial of Service attacks. Their servers are being hacked.

  18. WOw Euler.
    That’s a zonalmarking kinda post.

    I will read it after the match is done and dusted unfortunately. Need to put my baby sis and bro to bed.

    Good luck guys and gals for later!
    Hopefully we will all be celebrating 6 hours later!

  19. barcastuff:
    Karanka (assistant coach Madrid): “After the decision not to suspend players who showed a lack of fair-play, the game is secondary

    This is …. actually very very sad. Very immature and not befitting any adult much less the representative of a hitherto respected European institution.

    Let’s be classy on the field. Let’s have so much “ooooh purdi” going on that it will be all that people remember. On the other hand, if I see the customary kisses and hugs in the tunnel I’m gonna barf (and I say this even as a fan on La Furia Roja).

  20. This is absolutely brilliant, Euler. And I’m not just saying this because it’s on BFB, but this absolutely puts Zonal Marking’s review to shame (and I love ZM’s work).

    Spot on, absolutely spot on.

    People seem to dismiss Pep very quickly. See many tactical sites and it’s “Pep starts with the expected lineup”, “the real question is how EE will defend without the ball”.

    Uh, no.

    The “real question” is how Barca will attack given all their injuries and the tactical adjustments Pep will have to make bearing in mind they come in as the losing team. Stop falling over Mourinho — he’s shown his tactics two times previous. Starting with 7 defenders with Pepe in the midfield. The focus is on stopping us and hitting on the counter using Thong Boy and Dive Maria’s pace.

    Pep was brilliant. Why should we attack when we know our backline is susceptible to pace? You can’t counter attack if the one with the ball isn’t attacking. A nice metaphor is a matador and the bull. We dangle the red cape and it’s up to the bull to charge forward.

    EE sat back waiting for us to come to them, thinking we didn’t learn from the Copa loss. We didn’t fall into that trap. We kept our calm, maintained possession while still probing.

    You know something is wrong when I feel sorry for TB getting caught in our triangle. Watch the video and see how he is the only one trying to press and get the ball back. How our players are allowed time and space on the ball — even though pressuring them would be dangerous for us. sMasch is a new CB and Puyol is in an unfamiliar position lacking match fitness. It’s not unreasonable to think they could pressure us into making a turnover and/or a rash challenge. Instead they sit back, not moving from the halfway line.

    That Thong Boy saw that and Mourinho didn’t says something. In fact, Thong Boy might not have even realized it and was just trying to win, being competitive and not wanting us to dangle the ball in front of them like a carrot in front of a rabbit.

    The lack of changes from Mourinho were astonishing — even to my untrained eye. It’s obvious our back line was on its last legs and our attacking thrust in the midfield was missing with Iniesta’s untimely injury. He presses on with this formation as if he’s found the “winning” formula, but Pep saw the problems and adjusted. Mourinho saw what he could exploit and didn’t. He has Kaka’, Benzema, Higuain, Granero, etc. on the bench

    Commentators speculated that he was playing for a 0-0 at home; indeed, Mourinho confirms this after the game saying they were going for 0-0 at HT and then going to stage two in bringing in Kaka’ in the second half and then trying to go for the win. AT HOME.

    Think about how daft that is for a second.

    Why don’t you go for the win from the beginning? As Euler said, every minute in the CL matters, even more so when you are the home team. Why do you think away goal matter? Because it’s difficult to score away from home. For EE to score, they’d have to play more attacking football rather than the sole focus being to stop us. The whole reason they play the way they do against us is because they can’t match us offensively (see: 5-0). Therefore, it’s more likely they WON’T score in Camp Nou than in the Bernabeu where they have the home field advantage and support in the crowds (referees are more partial to the home side).

    Honestly, Mourinho is overrated as a tactical manager. People (read: journos) fall over themselves at his “controversial” nature and the siege mentality he always instills in his squads. While he is very good at that — at being a media man and a man manager — tactically speaking he is overrated. What he does is no different from what Rubin or Athletic Bilbao have done.

    It’s much easier to destroy than it is to construct an attacking game IMO. People talk about the “tactical discipline” and “maintaining shape” which is fine for defensive minded football — Italian teams are the master. However, it is much harder trying to attack a team and find ways through than it is to construct that defensive shape. But anyway, that’s just me.

    That EE are going so low as to try and keep up this off-field hubbub shows how desperate they are to keep people for analyzing how badly they got this wrong.

    Ending off this rant, the way we played was brilliant — tactically. Keita in particular has an outstanding match. With Iniesta missing, Seydou had to have a strong game and he delivered. Afellay as well. The way Ibi owned Marcelo completely makes me think that he should start today — but I guess his pace coming on after the hour mark would make him a great sub as well.

    I’m really looking forward to the game today and seeing how we come out this time.

    Thanks for this, Euler.

    1. Has anyone called out Sid Lowe on his mistake?

      Because it is a grave mistake. He attributed Pep’s comment in response to Pedro’s acting to the allegation re Busi. The mistake makes a world of difference. His mistake gave him the opportunity to make an “interpretation” of what Pep said. There is no need for any kind of interpretation if he only listened carefully and checked (double-checked in fact, since he’s a journalist) as to what Pep’s comments were referring to.

      Will anyone tell him this? He’s so influential that his mistake has added more weapons to those against us, made neutrals turn against us and even our own supporters to hate Busi. Without evidence, I should add.

      What is open to interpretation here is what Busi was saying in the video.

      What is not open is what Pep said because in fact, it was in reference to specific questions.

    2. For some reason , people are bowing down to sid lowe.
      Im really expecting especially kxevin , that is fond of him , to make some kind of comment against this kind of stupidity that this “impartial” journalist has gone into this time.

    3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/may/02/real-madrid-accuse-uefa-barcelona-racism

      LOOK! Sid Lowe just came out with an article on Guardian about this. He’s wrong, right? Spanish speaking people here – please back me up on this. Confirm with me again the sequence of what Pep said so that I can write Sid if no one else is going to do this.

      I totally object to his “interpretation” of what Pep said. There is nothing to interpret. He made a mistake pure and simple in connecting Pep’s comment to Busquets when it was in answer to Pedro.

    1. When you rest 9 starters against Valencia and still be able to bag 6 goals, i would say the depth is being used well. Plus, depth is not only in strikers. This is why even with 2 defenders out and a central midfielder out tomorrow, we still have enough men to put out there. In the end, regardless of depth, both teams will play their best formation over and over again in a clasico.

    2. Let me clarify: I meant as depth on the bench during big games — like game changers, players Mourinho will actually use when times are tough. He’ll use Adebayor because he brought him in (as a winter transfer and last week’s game), but I would have thought Higuain would have been the obvious choice with his pace (Good thing he didn’t come in). 0-1 is still doable, so replace Di Maria or someone, with another defender.

      But yes, you’re right — in general it’s a huge advantage, particularly in La Liga. We wouldn’t be p*ssing and moaning on this blog if it wasn’t. 😀

    3. But an attacking triumvirate costing 110mil Euros between them providing a lethal game when playing a match after the league was pretty much over and the CL was the one thing left to fight for, by and large, isn’t using depth well.

      ‘That team’ has played their usual games in almost all their games of note if I recall correctly, except for meaningless games where the subs were given a chance or against Barca where a different approach was taken. They haven’t utilized their depth to anywhere near an optimal level really looking at the fact that those bench players are not poor enough to cause enough a drop in performance for most matches over a season to be risked.

    4. What we were saying wasn’t that they don’t have a quality squad, or that it is an advantage being able to call upon such quality replacements, but generally they use their depth very very little when you look at the quality and amount of depth they have.

    5. Oh, and I just want this clasico series to be over. I don’t know how you’re holding up at the Offside, but I’m at my wits end. I remember saying I’d be fascinated to see how Spain handles 4 clasicos in 18 days — how naive was I? This keeps getting uglier and uglier. There is no boundaries anymore and I’m just exhausted.


  21. Osvaldo to Tottenham? Apparently Harry Redknapp was at the Espanyol game this weekend and is interested in signing him for Spurs.

  22. Humphrey Bogart says:
    May 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm
    And just like that it is a 360 degree u-turn

    Vj says:
    May 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm
    You know its not a U-turn if you turn by 360 degrees right?

    this might be the best two comments of all time on the board.

    1. Not even close. See the gem below that by Jose?

      Vj says:

      What Josep(Jose said it) said – It’ll melt your face off!

      Jose says:
      How can you confuse me with Josep? I would be ashamed to write the comments he posts… One day, I would like Josep to write his comments properly. Me? Please don’t call me arrogant, but I made that comment and I think I’m a special one.

  23. OptaJoe : 1 – Barcelona have scored just one goal in total in their last five Champions League semi-final appearances at Camp Nou. Muted.


    1. I’m tired. The hypocrisy, the double standards, the allegations. I’m just tired of it all. I can’t even muster the strength to be outraged.

      Can’t wait until it’s over.

    2. Was asking earlier if anyone bothered to correct Sid Lowe of his mistake in attributing Pep’s response to a Pedro question to that of Busi.

      Now, it’s too late. He just wrote an article in Guardian.

      UGH. I am up in arms for this. I don’t know if he just wants more stories and more people to read him and make people think he’s bringing up something really important. IT IS if proven right. But he wrote conjecturally. He “thought” what Pep said is a confirmation. It is so wrong. Not only is it NOT a confirmation of anything, it is a response to a completely different question not related to Busi.

      He put an two unconnected things together so he can support his own theory. He wanted to hear that. He was looking for that, in fact. Argh.

    3. Same here…dear Kari same here.. 🙁
      I’m just trying to focus on us progressing to the final and all the joy that would brink to gather some strength…
      For the first time ever I actually conteplated taking some pills to sleep through the match..but then I said what the heck I’m the fighter type.. 🙂

      Visca Barca!

  24. from Paul Hayward (The Guardian) twitter :

    Rumble of thunder here at Camp Nou. All the early Barcelona street chants are about Mourinho – and they’re not love songs.


  25. FYI, everyone, I did Tweet about the Sid Lowe piece. I felt that his Guardian piece (link above) lacked balance, and made it sound as though EE was right, and we were harboring a racist. Was it intentional? Don’t think so. He’s a good journalist. But the simple inclusion of the quotes that indicated that Guardiola was aware of the severity of the offense and would indeed do something about it if it was found to be true, were omitted.

    To include them would have given the piece better balance. As it is, it’s 80% them saying Busquets is a racist, and 20% Guardiola saying “Well, players make mistakes, and it’s up to UEFA to punish them, blahblahblah,” which wasn’t all that was said.

    1. Kevin, I saw your tweets with Sid.

      Here’s the thing though – at that time, we haven’t yet figured out that when Pep said ““We are not proud when they make mistakes, but I know these players….etc”.” – it was in reference to Pedro grabbing his face!

      What Pep said in answer to what he would do if Busi was found guilty was “If proven guilty, we would take appropriate measures, but the players are honest.”

      So Sid made a very big mistake in saying that Pep technically confirmed the allegation re Busi because he admitted that players make mistakes. But that was in reference to Pedro! Not Busi.

      I tweeted him myself just now and told him to please double-check the interview. We know he wasn’t there. He probably just watched it on TV himself. Whatever. And for him not to even mention that there was widespread racial taunting of Alves in that game is complete bollocks. He’s lost his integrity on this one. He’s just looking for a big story. And a player like Busquets be damned. It’s such a grave allegation that I don’t like it being bandied around without real proof. His proof is his interpretation of what Pep said. And he’s even wrong about it.

    2. Kevin and Ramzi – I’m copying Kari’s comment in another post:

      I got this from a friend who watched the press conference:

      “Pep was talking about the Pedro incident with regards to the quote “We are not proud when they make mistakes, but I know these players….etc”. He was asked by a lady who asked him what he thought about Pedro! grabbing his face. She outright called it pathetic and Pep said they weren’t proud but it’s in the past and he knows his players.”

      Apparently, it’s being mixed up with the Busi quote where he was asked what Barca would do if Busi was found guilty:

      “If proven guilty, we would take appropriate measures, but the players are honest.”

      This has been confirmed by several other posters here as we asked that they listen and review the Pep interview closely.

      IN SUM – Either Sid made a very big mistake in putting two unconnected things together to make up a really big story or he intentionally did this to come up with a story.

      I feel that in his mind, he wanted something like this. And in his haste to find proof – even if it were only his own interpretation of Pep’s words – he made the mistake of connecting the wrong answer to a question.

  26. My cousin who lives in Barcelona is telling me there is a MAJOR storm on its way. Looks like the pitch will be WET!

    1. Oh no. If they end up having to postpone the game I will literally spontaneously combust from frustration.

      On the other hand, Wet!Xavi is off-the-charts hot. So there’s that to look forward to.

    2. Pathetic fallacy, anyone? The weather is really trying to make this into a Shakespearean play with today’s match being the final showdown. It makes Ramzi’s post that much more epic.

    3. at least with this storm, we don’t need to worry about watering the pitch… 🙄

  27. with this chaos in media, I don’t know if Busquets can maintain his focus and concentration on the field…

    he really needs to explain himself after this…
    if he did not say ‘mono’, then what did he say? he needs to clarify it…

    1. We have been over this. He could have said momo , which is quite different. Or even moumou. or mooooooooooooo for all I care right now , because anything definite will come out of him speaking up to the media AFTER the game.

    2. yes, he just needs to clarify it, AFTER the game…

      with Sid Lowe published a false article about Pep ‘admitting’ his racism, now more people think he’s indeed a racist…

      a clarification is a must, imo…

    3. I really don’t want to derail this thread with the discussion of alleged comments, so I just wanted to say that SoccerMom has added to the discussion that was occurring on the original post re: this issue.

    4. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound like you were bringing it up! I just thought her point was valid and didn’t want to copy-paste, so I thought it would be more appropriate to refer to it instead. 🙂

  28. @BarcaTheOffside :

    We hear that Mourinho, who is suspended for this match, has decided to stay in his hotel and watch the match from there.

    While a UEFA representative was to make sure that Mourinho didn’t communicate with the RM staff in the stadium, from the hotel he can do it.

    fair play? 😆

    1. Well he changed nothing in his game when he was booted to the stands and saw his team get defeated. Im sure watching it from the restaurant bar will make it easier for him 😛

    2. Maybe he can try that world famous new drink, the manita. I hear it’s good! 😀

  29. @barcastuff :
    “Fire with Fire” of the Scissors Sisters was playing at Barcelona’s team bus when arriving #fcblive [via @edupolo]

    I’m not a fan of this song (I love Viva La Vida too much), but the title of the song is very much suit the atmosphere, no?
    Fire with Fire…

    1. no, he’s not…

      Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes
      Alves Mascherano Pique Puyol
      Xavi Busquets Iniesta
      Pedro Messi Villa

  30. Official lineup, via barcastuff

    Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes – Alves Mascherano Pique Puyol – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Pedro Messi Villa #fcblive

  31. EE line up:

    Casillas; Arbeloa, Carvalho, Albiol, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Lass, Di María, Özil, Cristiano; Higuaín.

    any thoughts?

    1. Poor Benzema. He gives an interview with UEFA claiming they can win and defending the team and he doesn’t even get to start.

      On recent form I’m wondering what the hall Higuain is doing there. I’m still afraid of him though.

    2. I thought we’re going to see Kaka in the line up…

      maybe Kaka, Benzema, Adebayor will be their supersubs…

  32. HUGE thunderstorm rattling over Barcelona at the moment. The grass is nice and wet! 🙂

    1. LOL. Barcastuff just tweeted a pic of them watering the pitch. Guess it wasn’t necessary.

  33. second try

    EE XI: Casillas, Arbeloa, Carvalho, Albiol, Marcelo, Lass, Xabi Alonso, Di María, Kaká, Cristiano and Higuaín.

    this line up is looks offensive…

    1. That lineup is a guaranteed win for Barca, Lots of midfield space. I have seen all three Iniesta, Xavi, and Messi drag Lass out of position, to fill that midfield space to bring in lots of goals.
      I don’t know what impact the rain will have on our play, but I assume the Barca players know what to do when the pitch is wet.
      At least the match is going to be an attacking affair, and not the attack vs. defence we saw in Madrid.

  34. DAMMIT, Rac1 is hinting at maybe the game being cancelled, it is apparently raining buckets, and the lights in the stadium have gone out……….

    o jeeees

    1. Casillas and Valdes already onfield warming up with their trainers and back-up goalkeepers.

    2. And it’s not raining that hard, right now, but a lot of lightning and thunder still around, although slowly moving out to sea.

    3. Alex – in Barcelona watching it on TV in our apartment, but not at Camp Nou. My nerves couldn’t take being there tonight!

  35. VISCA BARCA!!!!!

    I love you, team!

    Let’s go show them what we’re made of. Show the world the beautiful football we are capable of.

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