“¡Corred, cabrones, corred!” (Run, you bastards, run!) a.k.a Ball Pressure Part I

Pep-Guardiola 2

That’s a great quote. It’s also slightly contradictory in a sense which you will see in a little bit. Who said it is pretty obvious given the photo.

This last June, persons outside of the Barcelona staff got their best glimpse yet at Guardiola the coach. The setting was the arid-but-beautiful island of Lazarote, in the Canary Islands. The occasion was an annual coaching clinic organized by legendary ex-Barcelona handball player and coach, Valero Rivera. Our man Pep stole the show with a charismatic presentation that was officially titled “Pressuring the Ball”. However, the title given by Sport to their recap of it was in my opinion much more fitting. Thus, I stole it: “¡Corred, cabrones, corred!”. The Spanish language coverage of this presentation provided numerous quotes from Pep that combine to form an accurate picture from the man himself of how he approaches and views ball pressure from a coaching and management standpoint. Consider those quotes from his presentation (which hardly got any English language coverage) as the inspiration for this post.

That’s where I want to start. This week will be all about Ibra and his debut, and an Ibra post is certainly in the works. But this, the first of a two-parter on the intricacies of ball pressure, will give us an idea of what awaits, and will be expected of our BAS (Big Ass Swede) as well as insight into one of the tenets of our style. Something that at first glance seems like a simple thing (e.g. “just all go after the guy with the ball”) but in reality is much more complicated from the tactical and intangible or motivational aspects.

Pep spreading the gospel at Lazarotre
Pep spreading the gospel at Lazarote


Pep is a gazillion times more eloquent and concise than me so I’ll let his quotes explain this part in only a few sentences. (*note: all of his quotes shown here are from Sport.

“In the world of football, there is only one secret. Do I have the ball or do I not have the ball? Barcelona chooses to have the ball. Consequently, implicit in this choice is that the other team must not have the ball. Thus, when we lose the ball, then we have to recover it because we need the ball.”

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is that…or maybe not. Let’s look at why Barca “needs” the ball and has to recover it, besides the obvious “OMG we love possession.” They all stem from the same theme: We love offense and love not conceding even more.

1)      If you pressure an opponent near his own area, chances are good that they may very well lose it in a compromising position near their goal, making it easier for you to score. We love scoring.

2)      The more we have the ball, the more chances we will create and the less chances an opponent will create. Thus, we want the ball back ASAP.

3)      Our system usually leaves at most 3 players back when we have the ball near the opponents’ goal (because we love offense). This means we have to counter potential counterattacks (hah!).

4)      We want our players to be creative and fearless on offense.

5)      A less-tired player is a more effective player (you’ll see soon).


Now we get to the fun part.

Ball pressuring is right up there with the most important tenets of our footballing philosophy. I remember Johan Cruyff writing on his blog that the three fundamentals of Barca are possession, movement, and ball pressure.

However, it is not as simple as “everybody go immediately get the ball after you lose it”. It is much more complicated than that. If all our players simply chase after the ball like dogs after a piece of steak, eventually the opponent will find big wide open spaces and make us pay. Our offensive system which frequently leaves only three men in the back is too risky for this. However, before we go into the details of how the pressure itself is applied, we have to cover the one thing has to take place before the ball is even lost, for the pressure to be applied effectively– lest we be made to pay for our audacity. That thing is:

High Lines and Tightening Up (the importance of Centerbacks in pressuring)

The center back (CB) position at Barca is the most underrated position on our team in terms of importance. It’s right up there with the 4 (e.g. Xavi, Guardiola, etc.), and the triangles.  For our whole system to work, it is imperative that the CB’s push the whole team forward and set up their line at around the centerline. This is called a high defensive line. A lot of teams consider this suicide, but we consider it necessary and even up the ante by frequently playing only 3 men there.The idea is to tighten the distance between our lines, and compress the game into the opponent’s half. Why? I’ll let the Johan himself take it away.

“Pass, pass, pass is useless if you don’t finish the play. Pass, pass, pass is downright dangerous if you do it with big distances between lines. If you do it like that, your defenders look worse than they are and your goalkeeper becomes the protagonist. The way to avoid this is to stretch the field. It is vital that your CB’s drag the whole team forward. If you can only play on half a field, the opponent’s, the distances that he must cover to get to Valdés will be out of this world. “

His logic is simple. On one hand we want to reduce turnovers, and a long pass has a much higher chance of being picked off than a short one because of the time the ball is in movement. If we reduce the space between the lines, the opponent will have less time to read passes and pick them off. On the other hand if we are to suffer a counterattack, we make that counterattack have to cover as much ground as possible, giving our guys time to pressure and recover the ball or get back and organize. How many times have we seen a counterattack stifled by backtracking forwards or fullbacks (this is where Abidal is at his best)? It’s about spacing. We want to compress the field vertically but at the same time stretch it horizontally (this is why our fullbacks and wingers are so important). The idea is to open up spaces near the opponent’s goal while minimizing the spaces that the opponent may use against us if we lose the ball. If you religiously read the highlights of Guardiola press conferences, this is something he frequently cites as something we did wrong to explain bad games. It is very important for our system to be effective both in the offensive and defensive sense, and worth paying attention to when watching the games.

Why is this vital to pressuring the ball? The less space the opponent has to pass and launch a proper counter, then the more effective our pressure will be in causing turnovers. Also, by compressing the field vertically, we have more Barca players near the ball, making it easier to overwhelm and dispossess opponents in their own half, or giving us more time to recover in case they get out. Ball pressure is all about the space and options the opponent has. Reduce those two things and ball pressure becomes more effective. If the opponent has no readily available options, and has Xavi and Messi pressuring them from two sides at once, the the odds that he holds the ball too long or makes a foolish pass increase. Let’s look at diagrams. Note the yellow circles which denote the significant pockets of space left by our formation.

Defensive Line Too Low (Too much space between lines)

Defensive Line Too LowHigh Defensive Line (Nice Compressed Lines)

High Defensive Line

Our players shift all the time, but for our purposes these diagrams will do. Notice the difference in where spaces appear once the defensive line moves up. The ones that appear on offense are the ones in which we see the forwards making their runs into or Alves and Messi overlapping and playing each other into space. Our goal is simple: to keep a compact midfield, keep the field spread with two players that function as “extremos” on the wings (Alves and Henry in this case), and not give up space that makes us vulnerable to counterattack. Check out the difference. With the defensive line not high enough, Henry and Alves have to be ready to run themselves ragged up and down while Yaya has to cover acres of space between the CB’s and the attack. Sure, we open up space near the opposing goal but we also open up acres into which attackers may be played into. This makes it much easier for opponents to escape our ball pressure thus drastically decreasing its effectiveness With the high defensive line, we:

1)      Cut the distance of our passes making it less likely that they will be intercepted.

2)      Make the midfield more compact, increasing passing efficiency, and having more players near the ball in case it is lost.

3)      Reduce the space into which opposing players may be played into during a counterattack thus reducing our risk and making our midfield and attackers’ ball pressure more effective.

This approach, however, is not without inherent risks. One quick thinking midfielder with good accuracy can quickly flip a long ball over the defense after a lucky takeaway, and if the defenders are asleep a good fast striker can break onside and have a one on one with Valdés. Its vital to have good communications among the defensive line to keep the opposing striker offside. The other risk is that the nature of our version of the 4-3-3 leaves a gap on the wings, especially with Alves bombing forward and Messi cutting inside. That gap means that at least a few times a game, one of our two lateral defenders will get tested on one on ones. Our defender doesn’t have to necessarily win as much as slow the attacker down because we are playing so far away from our own goal, we have more time to recover from a mistake even if the attacker quickly gets away from the first man.

Risks of the High Line

Now, let’s see this in action. The following video is just a taste of the awesomeness that is Paradigma Guardiola which is run by Guardiola devotee Matías Manna. Go over there and give him some love, because he deserves it. The following is sequences from an average game for us (Mallorca in the first leg). Just skip to 3:14 for this one and watch that segment. It demonstrates both the virtues and the risks of the high line. Look at how the high line buys us time to slow down counterattacks, or break them up with back-tracking forwards and midfielders, while the defensive line gets re-organized. Conversely, look how close we are to having one of the attackers break loose and how Marquez gets tested one on one near the wing. Although, even if the attacker did break loose, he so far from Valdés that we would have a chance of catching him and his support.

My main goal with these posts is to explain and discuss Barca tactics in a clear, concise manner such that everybody can understand them and appreciate them. All of us are here to learn so have at it with the comments. Also, I want to point out things that may at first glance seem unimportant but are in reality vital to the beautiful football we enjoy from Barcelona therefore increasing our appreciation of the players, the staff, and the philosphy. I hope this post was a good start because there is much still to come. In the next post, I’ll discuss how the actual pressuring takes place as well as the seemingly intangible benefits of its correct application.

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Written by:

A diehard culé since the Rivaldo/Figo Judas days, I am also a rabid Argentina and Boca Juniors fan despite definitely not being Argentine. Read more articles by me by clicking on the name-link.


  1. August 17, 2009

    Hector in the house with The Knowledge. Now….who did he Hector? Congratulations, Ciaran. You’ve been Hectored, by Hector! No greater honor can a cule in this space have, sir. 😀

  2. August 17, 2009

    *laughs while enveloped in a sinister, power-mad ecstasy*

    THE POWER! 😀

    Congrats, Ciaran 🙂 .

  3. Achraf
    August 17, 2009

    Lovely lovely article truly inspirational stuff about ball pressure.

    But the video you say skip to minute 3:14 there are tons of videos on that blog you provide which one is it

  4. August 17, 2009

    Thanks, Achraf!
    The youtube link after the paragraph.

    Hopefully I can edit and embed it but I’m having some wordpress issues with that right now.

  5. Hilal
    August 17, 2009

    Dood, that was one amazing post. My understanding of the way we play just got better, can’t wait to keep an eye out for these things in the next few games. Keep up the amazing work!

  6. Achraf
    August 17, 2009

    OH didn’t see the link did u just put it up.

    Anyways congrats I really enjoyed it and I can say that I myself enjoy tactical discussion I will be eagerly awaiting ur next post. So part two of this one is up next right?

    Keep it up Hector

  7. Achraf
    August 17, 2009

    You know after you get a better and better grasp of barca’s tactics you can fully comprehend why we aren’t buying so many new players becasue them fitting into the “system” is extremely important this is why our cantera shine at barcelona but may not elssewhere cuz they have been trained all their life to embrace concepts such as these. This makes me wonder Imbrahimovic must seriously up his workrate during games after watching some videos from the blog hector provided it is needless to say Eto’o does outstanding work in his part of the ball pressure.

  8. gv
    August 17, 2009

    great post there hector. can’t wait for the part 2. truly deserving to become a writer here. 🙂

  9. August 17, 2009

    Its a great place and Matías puts up a lot of work with his videos and analysis. Don’t cheat though. I’ll reference more of his videos later on 😉 . To me the two positions at Barca that are the hardest to find players for are CB and the 4 (the Xavi/Guardiola tempo setter, playmaker position in midfield). People tend to forget about the CB’s but its so hard to find them for our system. That’s why getting Pique was such a huge coup.

    Puyol, Pique, and Rafa were all at some point in there careers played as defensive or central midfielders and done it well. Some (Puyol and Piqué) even played as strikers in their youth team days. Few CB’s are comfortable with the ball at their feet so far away from their own area. Not to mention the responsibility of building up the attack and occasionally venturing as far as the opposing box. It takes a special kind of player and the youth team schools rarely produce it nowadays. That’s why Fontas and Muniesa are members of a rare breed. That instinct and fearlessness with the ball is not natural for all CB’s and many coaches discourage it. Our CB is in a sense a throwback from the 70’s.

  10. yogi
    August 17, 2009

    Great post Hector. It gives us great insight and think that next I watch Barca, it will be that much better.Looking forward to much more from you.

  11. August 17, 2009

    I just updated the post with new and improved linkage and embedded youtubage (technical difficulties before, sorry about that).

  12. ballbeav
    August 17, 2009

    dude, you write much more like that and i fear you will not have much more to say. i’ll be happy if you prove me wrong. great article.

  13. ballbeav
    August 17, 2009

    yeah well i dont think pep will give ibra an inch to be camping out on the field. dude’ll score three goals and if he starts standing around you know pep will get up in his shit. cant wait.

  14. Carles P
    August 17, 2009

    Great article Hector. I look forward to reading more about our beautiful footy!

  15. Ciaran
    August 17, 2009

    We tend to play with two sweepers. Deep-lying playmakers who have the ability to switch flanks and read throughballs.

    I think that the best defensive systems tend to have two different styles of central defenders. A Puyol and a Pique. A Vidic and a Ferdinand. A Cannavaro and a Nesta.
    One defender willing to put their face in the way of a shot, tackling hard, winning the aerial battles and not being afraid of a physical battle.
    The other defender being better at reading the game and determining lines, bringing the ball out from the back and building attacks.

    We deployed two of the second types rather successfully for periods of last season, with Pique and Marquez playing centrally. Puyol played at left back for many of those matches so it is not exactly the same thing.

    The problem with our Martin Caceres last season was not that he is not talented but rather the type of defending he was used to.
    At Recre he was used as a central defender, usually in his own box, waiting for an attack.
    As Hector pointed out, our lines are 30 yards further forward meaning that your most important attributes are ones most attributed with a defensive midfielder (interceptions & playing space not opposition).

    The only thing about this that may be a problem is that he is now on loan with another team that defends deep, in Juventus, albeit at a higher quality.
    He may not improve.

    Hopefully Henrique will get used to training with a very high line and within a month or two will be accustomed to our defensive style

  16. Ramzi
    August 17, 2009

    Amazing, Hector.

    I will make further comments tomorrow. Its 23:16 here, bed time for this old guy.

  17. Arvind
    August 17, 2009

    Good one, Hector.
    Thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to Part II

  18. August 17, 2009

    Sweet dreams, Ramzi. I can’t wait for your feedback and your own articles at Pep’s Place. 😀

  19. yayotwo
    August 17, 2009

    Great article. I cannot wait for part II.
    I just wondered what you guys thoughts are on the pace of our defenders. Theres half a pitch behind Pique, and if he lunges and gets beat, there is no recovering for him, eg. against bilbao.
    No doubt Pique and Marguez have great reading of counters, but it seems to me Pacey defenders would be more suited to this type of defending.

  20. Eduard
    August 17, 2009

    forget the entirety of the video with the exception of the last 10 seconds when The Yaya sais “paradigna this motha fers”

  21. Eduard
    August 17, 2009

    i think because of that issue, among others, that our players have to be superior in technique, speed, and versatility. Players like that cost money. Money 99.9% of clubs cant afford which is why the only team near how we play is Alkmar, in Holland(and they’re still way different)

  22. Maximus
    August 17, 2009

    Two things:

    1. The video isn’t showing up for me.

    2. Valdes as a sweeper (maybe in pt 2).

    I’ve found that alot of times when a long ball is played valdes can run a few meters out of his box and clear it before the opposing striker becomes an issue.

    2 and a half – Doesn’t having Pique kinda make this more difficult at times? He seems slower than Marquez. Altho in practice he works out better because Toure, Abidal and Alves are still doing the covering and he is alot better when we don’t have possession and need to defend crosses.

  23. Anna
    August 17, 2009

    I’m a newbie to the footballing world, so for me that was a great eye opener of a post to tactics. Clear, concise, and informative. Can’t wait to read more. Awesome job Hector!

  24. August 17, 2009

    That’s a great point, yayotwo and Maximus!

    A lot of this is coming in Part II so at the risk of jumping the gun…

    – Positional sense and intelligence is more important in our CB’s than pure outright athleticism.
    – Playing with the compressed field helps this in three principal ways:
    1) We have more players around the ball to harass the opponent that steals it, this buys time for our guys. Sure, we pressure but if we sense that the opponent has retained the ball, we do what I would call a fighting retreat, the defensive line backtracking while keeping the offside trap in place and the rest of the players moving with them with the exception of the 9 (see Part II for this).
    2) Our defenders have more time to anticipate the opposing play and position themselves accordingly. With all the space they have to cover, all the athleticism in the world wont help unless they are positioned. Smart defenders like Pique and Puyol thrive when they have time.
    3) If we combine the harassing from our forwards and our fullbacks and midfielders tracking back, Pique has to know better than lounge and instead push the guy towards the defending support. Its about being smart.

    Sorry if I seem like I’m rambling (its because I probably am 😀 ) but a lot of this will be clearer with part II.

    Either way, you hit the nail on the head as to why Abidal is so important to us. He’s our best anti-counter attack weapon in that he has world class speed in the open field but also has the positional sense and football IQ to anticipate well. Any time we can find a defender that quick that also has the technical attributes needed to become a Barca CB, its like striking gold. It rarely happens. For instance, Cáceres is an athletic freak but he did not succeed because he did not have the technical ability or positional sense.

  25. Soto
    August 17, 2009

    Well, between Hector’s analyses and reading “Inverting the Pyramid” I may soon have some paltry knowledge of football tactics. Finally.

    This is a well written analysis, Hector. A great bar that you have set for yourself. I look forward to more.

    There’s enough here that I’ll need more time to ponder everything you have explained. But an immediate question comes to mind: With a new player like Maxwell, will we see the left side moving forward at times, with Alves hanging back to be part of our last line of three? Or is it more dependent on the striker’s style (Messi vs Henry)? Some times I wish that our right hand side attacks were tried on the left. Not that I don’t love what Henry already does, but variety seems to be a good thing.

    (Some feedback: I still can see the embedded video. So thanks for the link in the comments.)

  26. August 17, 2009

    Victory! I think the embedding issue has been solved.

    That’s a great question, Soto. I gotta hit the road right now but I’ll hit you back in a bit. Maybe one of our other guys can discuss this in the meantime

    PS If you read Inverting the Pyramid, you’ll probably know more than me. Its on my reading list right now 😉 .

  27. August 17, 2009

    Great post, very informative. Reminds me of Roberticus on the Guardian blogs.

  28. Mike
    August 17, 2009

    good article Hector. I’ve heard a lot of people try to break this concept down, but they fail bad. You did great tho….im lookin forward to more things like this

  29. Keano
    August 17, 2009

    Fantastic article Hector.Usually jus read here and peps place,just concerned as to why Guardiola would agree to these conferences as he effectively explains and by extension lifts the lid on barca tactics to other coaches and teams.Look at real they lack a genuine football football philosphy and are critised for being rough on the eye,whats stopping them copying these tactics.Take arsenal, stealing youngsters no longer is enough now barca style! United have tried to do 4 3 3 also albeit not the same result.Why Guardiola why?

  30. Maximus
    August 17, 2009

    When I saw “sid” I immediately thought Sid Lowe, lol.

    Yeah the vid is up, I’ll hold my tongue…erm…keyboard? Til pt. 2 goes up.

  31. SC
    August 17, 2009

    Great post, Hector! Interested in what Soto asked, with how someone like Maxwell may reinforce this strategy. Also- out of the upcoming crop of canteranos, who do you see as the most versatile in this formation? Muniesa? Fontas? JDS? Just curious for your perspective.
    also- LMAO at the yaya’s goal at the end. it’s so f’ing sick! Eduard, money that that’s EXACTLY what he said. the last defender practically threw himself out of his way. can’t blame him. no one has tried to stop the yaya and lived to tell about it.

  32. Kxevin
    August 17, 2009

    Keano, I think that our tactics are pretty evident. Arsenal, for example, is using them this season. The tactics have been there for the longest.

    But to implement them, something that I am sure Hector will get into with part II of The Knowledge (hey! A name for the series!), you need a certain type of player. For a team to start using our stuff, it would almost have to revamp its personnel. Arsenal is the closest to having the kinds of players needed (quick, comfortable with the ball at their feet, versatile positionally, etc.), so Wenger can play with an adaptation of that style more easily than say, a more hard-core Prem side.

    And don’t forget that having the tactics, and having the personnel to successfully implement them is another thing altogether. Anybody can do what we do, but when you have Messi, Henry, Xavi and Iniesta doing it, the result is, shall we say, just a little bit different. 😀

  33. Kxevin
    August 17, 2009

    I’m not Hector, SC, but my glancing blow at the Maxwell question is as easy as pie. We’ve already seen it in the times he’s been on the pitch, and has been able to slot into the role of left winger (as Keita slides over for cover) and attacking mid. In his role as wing attacker he set up a goal in pre-season.

    So you suddenly have a left back who can function like Abidal, Iniesta and Henry. Yet because he’s a defender, he can also stop attacks, make tackles and apply ball pressure. Maxwell may turn out to be a better signing than any of us realize.

  34. August 17, 2009

    Hey dudes, I’m back.

    @Soto- The diagrams I used are a little oversimplified in that our players switch all the time. I just wanted to get the point about spacing and keeping the lines together across without confusing anyone. Abidal does bomb forward. Not nearly as much as Alves nor as effectively, but does so depending on the opponent’s formation. Granted, Abidal having exactly ZERO career goals tells you something about his offensive proficiency but he can support Henry and is good for a decent cross or two. I still get on him for his offense but his defense usually makes up for it. We cant have everything, right? 😀

    The key is that another player takes his place, that’s one of our little salutes to old school Michels Total Football. We have to pick and choose. You will rarely, if ever, see Yaya and Abidal up at the same time. Why? Because its Yaya that usually slots into the backline when Abidal advances. That’s part of the reason he was able to adapt to playing CB so quickly with all the injuries last season: he had essentially played it before.

    Other examples are: Pique and Yaya switching in the D-Mid role now that teams are more aware of Yaya’s importance, or a CB advancing and Xavi temporarily taking his place. A lot of switching goes around. The key is that ideally we’ll either have three in the back line or two and one other player really close by. The possible combos are many. The things to consider are:

    1) Keep a three man back line (or two men and a libero than can join in quickly).
    2) Keep the width of the field. If one of the two fullbacks does not advance then either that side’s forward has to stay near the touchline to keep the field spread or a midfielder (like Iniesta) has to give him support if he is to cut inside. Its all about tradeoffs.

    Regarding Maxwell, that’s exactly why he is such an interesting player and a lot of us considered him more of a tactical option than a back-up or sub when he signed. Its not that he is better or worse than Abidal, he’s just different. Abidal is still crucial because of his defensive prowess in the open field. With Maxwell, possible options are many, and I am sure that Henry will be glad to see some more support every now and then. When we do play him, expect the d-mid to stay much closer to the CB’s to offer support and Xavi to do a lot more running than usual.

    Keano- I wouldn’t worry about it 😀 . The other coaches aren’t stupid. They watch the same games we do. Guardiola’s actual quotes in the press conference focus more on the management and intangibles anyways (you’ll see more of them in Part II). The explanation in this article is honestly derived from a compilation of my own experience, Cruijff quotes, Guardiola press conferences, different analyses, and lots of Barca games. If I can see it, so can they. Guardiola himself would say that its the players that make him. Teams know who we are and they know what they do but they still can’t stop it. You can play an almost perfect game or two like Chelsea did but sometimes you just can’t stop genius. As a bit of a purist, I have no problem with other teams trying to play like us. It would make football that much more entertaining and fun. We’re still the best as at what we do. Every team that has opened it up against us has been put to the sword. I don’t think Pep has a problem with teams playing more like RM and Man U last year and trying to attack us 😉 .

  35. August 17, 2009

    …AND I just saw Kevin answered Keano better than me in about half as many words. That’s why he is the journalist and I am the amateur 😉

  36. August 17, 2009


    I love Muniesa and Fontas. I see Muniesa as more of a Puyol type of pacy, agressive CB that, like Ciaran so eloquently argued a while back, would be ideal to complement the taller, slightly more ponderous but positionally smart Piqué. He is still young but has the potential to be world class. A 17 year old CB who is comfortable with the ball, has good passing range, an aggressive streak, and is a vocal leader? Yes, please. I’ll take that with the salad. He’s still a few years away though IMHO. He’ll make the rookie mistakes.

    Fontas is an ex-DM who seems obscenely confident with the ball for someone his age and, even though I honestly didn’t know much about him before the preseason, was just plain old fashioned solid. He’s a big kid but fast too. I knew about JDS before but Fontas just came out of nowhere. Another CB with Barca DNA. Its a rare breed so expect him to stick around and be given a chance.

  37. Eduard
    August 17, 2009

    I keep reading you guys referencing the inverted pyramid article. Is there a way, you can 1.set up a link on that or 2.set up a view favorites section where new(esq) readers can stay in the loop by having Hector’s Strategy articles or others that are MUST read for cules.

  38. Cesc Pistol
    August 17, 2009

    Excellent article Hector! I mean that very sincerely, as I started reading this article I was hoping that you would focus on the way our defense functions in contribution to our attack as well but as I read further it was the very first thing you pointed out!!

    It may seem as if I’m bragging but reading this article was like having my mind read. Specifically when I was reading the quote from Cruyff (You address God by first name?! 😛 ) I was thinking that is exactly why Abidal and his speed works so well against counters and why a pacey defender like Puyol is vital. And lo and behold, you mentioned Abidal a few lines later. It’s a weird sensation to read what you were thinking just moments ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Another excellent thing is that you put complicated matters in very simple words, a sign of a good writer. Probably something I fail in doing. Top notch work.

    Now moving on to some other issues:
    1. I understand you chose to discuss more the positioning and in general the line held by the defense and in doing so your work can be called complete however maybe it’s just me but I feel that it must be naturally combined with the work of both Yaya and Valdes.

    Specially Valdes as he is perhaps the goalkeeper most suited to our game because of our line. Even people not biased against VV fail to appreciate that. He is excellent coming off his line and acts very well as Sweeper-Keeper. Plus the fact that due to our tactics and our fast defenders it is almost vital for an opposing attacker to be at his full speed and hence much more momentum than he can control for making a well placed shot, this combined with VV moving very quickly and with good speed out of his line he meets the attacker far sooner than the attacker expects too. This and VV’s excellent reflexes which IMO make him the best keeper in 1on1 situations, are brutally effective against counter attacks. Specially those from the wings as there is even less space afforded to the attacker and he must spend more time cutting inside. Another helpful aspect is that since the attackers will be countering at full speed they will have even less support which makes our 3 man backline viable enough to stop most of them.

    2. I hope that is something you discuss this aspect further in part two along with how the positioning is affected when the ball is in specific places -wing or center- and how our back line adjust to it.
    I’ll not even touch this for now, as you may be planning to do it in your next post…

    Plus it’s far too early in the day (7 am!) to spend much time on comp, so I’ll be posting more comments later in the day. Nice way to start the morning, thanks!

  39. Cesc Pistol
    August 17, 2009

    Just started to read the comments now…so many things to address! 😀

  40. August 17, 2009

    Have at it, CP! Always great to get some good feedback and insights. Thanks for the kind words.

    I should just copy past your little paragraph on Valdés for Part II. Guess it was time for my mind to be read.

    Yaya’s role will be addressed in Part II. I do have a real job so covering everything at once is a little tough and I want to keep it in simple language that people can read without having their head explode. Put it this way: Part I is “before the ball is even lost” while Part 2 is “after the ball is lost”.

  41. Cesc Pistol
    August 17, 2009

    Before I move on to addressing the comments and other things, I forgot to mention that I hope everyone keeps in mind that the diagrams Hector made are oversimplified and exaggerated to make his point crystal clear and should not be too deeply investigated.
    (ex: having all 10 field players beyond the center line is like tactical suicide. 😛 )

  42. ballbeav
    August 17, 2009

    you guys notice we have 6 players among those nominated for “best player of the CL” at their respective positions?

    keeper: valdes, van de kamps, cech,

    defense: pique vidic terry

    mid: xavi iniesta gerrard

    striker: eto’o messi ronaldo

    i bet we sweep all four or at least three. biggest note here is pique getting the nod. the torch is being passed from puyol to pique.

  43. Kxevin
    August 17, 2009

    Oh, sure….when I defend Valdes as not the best keeper in the world, but the best keeper for Barca, people call me a jackass. But when CP does it, he’s a sage. I see how this works now (sniff, sniff!). 😀

    And yes, I’m taking full credit for being ahead of my time. 😀 People are only now, in the full comprehension of our system, beginning to appreciate Valdes and Abidal for the essential linchpins that they are.

    There are great keepers out there, to be sure. But I believe that for us, because he plays like a sweeper who can use his hands, Valdes is the keeper for us. No, he isn’t the best keeper on set pieces, the kind of thing at which a more traditional keeper excels. But that’s okay. If it gets that far, something went awry.

    Is it Wednesday yet?

  44. Kxevin
    August 17, 2009

    And who the hell IS that in the banner above?

  45. Maximus
    August 17, 2009

    I continue to wonder about the banner as well kxevin, yeah I’m coming around to valdes more and more but he should stop trying to catch balls in the air and just punch them, its more dangerous but (testing html tags) seeing him try to catch in a crowd makes my bowels move.

    Pique keeps the ordinary crosses out and on set pieces Ibra should provide additional protection.

    Btw is it just me or does this squad have more height than 2006/07/

    Keita > Deco (I know he wasn’t a direct replacement but he came in when deco left)
    Ibra > Eto (I’m only talking height here…)
    Busi > Yaya (The boy is the future for that position…)

    We can now have Abidal, Toure, Busi, Henry, Ibra and Pique to defend set pieces if Toure plays CM instead of Xavi (as has been suggested for the gamper).

  46. Mher
    August 17, 2009

    Maximus, you say great things but for your own safety never type Busi>The Yaya in your life. Im saying it for you man, The Yaya demands respect or hell banish you from the Milkyway with his eyes.

  47. Anna
    August 18, 2009

    I third or fourth or fifth (whatever number we’ve reached) the question of who is in the banner.

  48. Anna
    August 18, 2009

    Can I get a link for Pep’s Place? I can’t seem to find it…

  49. Jnice
    August 18, 2009

    Mher, that is great advice. People need to watch how they are talking about The Yaya, even if they don’t mean any harm.

  50. Ramzi
    August 18, 2009

    Not much to comment about this issue, as Hector covered it in details.

    Yet, there are some upgrades needed on the system to overcome some of the risks we cant afford living with. Its the story of total Football, when it wins its perfection, when it lose its too romantic to be executed.

    In our case, Barcelona, some slight modifications can make a huge difference. For instance, pulling one midfielder to play a holding midfielder role beside Yaya (Xavi for example) when we lose the ball while Iniesta,Messi, Alves, Ibra and henry keep pressing but with more trapping distribution (Tempting the opponent to move the ball to their fullback and squeeze them there?) will keep the quality of the pressing method but overcome the consequences if the initial attempt to win back the ball fails. If the opponent plays only one roaming forward then moving one of the defensive trio to play as a DM beside Yaya is another option as well.

    The most dangerous touch the opponent makes is the second touch after winning the ball and doing the clearance. Usually the cleared ball goes behind our pressing machine in an area only monitored by Yaya, an opponent receiving the ball there can lob a pass behind our defence exactly where the roaming forward want it, and you are almost in a One-on-one threat. Even if you foul the guy meters away of Valdes box you are still the last defender. Not all teams can excute this kind of quality counters but its this kind of teams that we need to worry most about and to upgrade our system to contain. Because if a weeked opponent score we can score back easier than how it would have been if Robbin scored in el-classico at Camp nou, or drogba scored one of the zillions he got, or Ronaldo scored that first attempt for Man Utd.

    Beside, creating a second static line of two between defence line and pressing machine avoid forcing the pressing machine members from doing lot of deep transitions after the first Pressing attempt fails. We suffered a lot from the calories we burned during the season and for a fitness-demanding style like ours its important to save as many calories as possible if the job could be done with less effort and no risk.

  51. ElShowDeJason
    August 18, 2009

    Hector, Kxevin.

    Can you revoke Isaiah’s publishing powers until he gives us an answer to who the hell the guy in the banner is?

    by the way Isaiah, did you manage to catch Venture Bros.? good luck on that eye exam. 🙂

  52. August 18, 2009

    Hi, i have a question completely irrelevant to the post. Wonder if anyone can shed some light on it…

    Is there a reason why barcelona are choosing to overlook players like sneider and robben to solve our slight lack of depth in midfield and on the left flank respectively?

    I understand if we open that gate, there’s no knowing what kind of money Real might throw at our players next year. Still think Sneider is a class act and equally mobile as xavi and iniesta and would fit in very nicely in Barcelona’s plan. Robben too is a world beater and if he can get his act together, he’ll be deadly on the left flank.

    is it solely politics that keeps us away from really good players at madrid even though they don’t see the talent in them?

  53. OhYes
    August 18, 2009

    Robben’s no good. He’s too selfish. He’d be a black hole on the left flank, sucking in balls and losing them. He’d do some nice things, sure, but overall he just wont fit into the team.

    Sneijder..not sure about him.

  54. Helge
    August 18, 2009

    Wow, a GREAT and very insightful article, Hector. Your first contribution gets a 9 out of 10 from me (people always need to have space for improvement to keep up motivation, that’s why I don’t give a 10 yet).

    As far as I am concerned, you have succeeded in explaining complicated tactical aspects with simple words AND helpful diagrams. Have you ever worked as a coach for a local football team?

    There’s just one thing about the high defensive line which is a real danger to me: As long as our defensive line is completely in the opponent’s half, the offside rule does not apply, right? So wouldn’t it be an option for the opponent to have 9 players defending and one counter-forward waiting up front? Even if the field is compressed there’s always a possibility of an intercepted pass…
    But maybe your diagram’s just a little bit exaggerated, because a too high defensive line would be devil-may-care.

  55. eklavya
    August 18, 2009

    Maximus: Yaya is taller than Busquets.

  56. August 18, 2009

    It is a very insightful article although one must question whether the tactics can be used again for another season.

    We all know that we were saved on more than one occasion by Valdes ( remember Drenthe one-on-one with Valdes in the first game, Drogba was one-on-one on atleast 3 occasions over the two legs). I wouldn’t say it was luck but brilliant saves by Valdes. It’s comforting to note that the system has assisted in the coming back from goals down though. The fullbacks are crucial here because only alves can handle the workload that he bears in his role.

  57. August 18, 2009

    Helge- Exactly. Its a verey oversimplified diagram whose goal it is to get the point across about the spaces in a clear way. In reality, players are shifting all over the place and even though the defensive line is near the center, they’ll be in our side of the field for the very reason you mentioned. We usually have the three man line or a sort of libero in front of the two CB’s who can quickly integrate themselves back into the line in case of a turnover.

    Ramzi- Your first paragraph is covered in the second part. I wont spoil it but it does involve what you propose (pushing the opponent to the side, pressing and trapping the FB’s against the touchline, with some overloading included as well). Regarding your worse case scenario (which I agree with 100% BTW), if you look at the video, its close to exactly what happens at 3:24.

    I also think we are susceptible to cross field passes due to our tendency to slightly overload a side when trapping (again, Part II) but few teams have players of the quality to execute that consistently well. I do agree that a midfielder slotting next to Yaya would add much more solidity to our structure. The problem is that if we are in the process of breaking a bus, there’s a good chance our two other mids will be farther away from Yaya either crashing the box or around its edge, playmaking.Will they have time to get back?

    I gotta keep working on this second part though, it’ll make some of the worries here clear up a bit. Remember, keeping the lines “tight” is a requisite to set up the pressure but not the pressure itself.

    I’m glad you folks liked it though.

  58. August 18, 2009

    Zlatan may actually be able to help with this. Will Guardiola use him how I’m thinking is another question though (teaser for next week) 😉

  59. Jnice
    August 18, 2009

    Thiago and Gai trained with the first team today along with the other youths who have been with the first team.

  60. Kxevin
    August 18, 2009

    The Yaya is not only taller than Busquets, but significantly better than Busquets.

    Of course, in my worldview they play different positions. Busquets will have to eat his Wheaties if he wants to be a true DM when he grows up. 😀

  61. eklavya
    August 18, 2009

    Pedro is naturally left-footed but can strike the ball equally well with his right.
    I thought It was the inverse.
    So now we know that he can play both wings + mid(?)

  62. eklavya
    August 18, 2009

    Green light for Ibrahimovic and Messi! YAY! 😀


  63. OhYes
    August 18, 2009

    Yeah can’t wait til tomorrow. Any word on Iniesta?

  64. eklavya
    August 18, 2009

    Not yet…I guess we’re gonna play like this:


    I dunno about Xavi…pep said he might be rested….

  65. eklavya
    August 18, 2009

    -Champions League
    -Spanish Super Cup (Atletic Bilbao)
    -European Super Cup (Shaktar)
    -World Club Cup (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
    -Gamper Cup (Man City)
    -Copa Cataluynia

    That makes it 8 not 6 😛
    Not sure about the last one though…

  66. Maximus
    August 18, 2009

    2000 apologies, I always thought busi was 6’2 and The Yaya was 6’1. So I regret typing anything was more than The Yaya and making that mistake!

  67. Kxevin
    August 18, 2009

    You’re forgiven, Maximus. Now the earthquake can stop….

  68. Han
    August 18, 2009

    Very impressive work this article.

    What I maybe enjoy even more is the absence of utter ignorance, sheer stupidity, blasphemy and other irritating comments from people who have either have never heard of “the overriding power of better arguments” or just plainly refuse to hear/read other peoples arguments.

  69. Colin
    August 18, 2009

    Thanks for the knowledge Hector. This is going to improve my positioning in Pro Ev 2009 big time.

  70. Alexinho
    August 20, 2009

    Yes. Can’t wait for more of this. It’s one of the main things I loved about coming to the old site.

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