Super Copa Review: Barcelona 5 – 4 Madrid Aggregate: The Heart is a Funny Object [Updated]

There’s a belief we often share that what’s beautiful is fragile.  That wonder is always on the verge of breaking apart.  That what’s beautiful cannot put up enough resistance to last in a world that can be so difficult and harsh.  This belief isn’t universally subscribed to – but it’s quite common across cultures.

In fact it seems that we often cherish something for its aesthetic qualities precisely because we know it’s ephemeral, that it doesn’t have adequate defenses to resist, that it’s lovely because it isn’t resilient enough to stay for very long.  Japanese cherry blossoms.  An aria sung.  Landscapes painted on scrolls bleached by the sun.  The colors of Holi washing away in the rain.

Football itself shares this bias.  In the unresolvable debate in its soul between romanticism and pragmatism, there’s a notion that the beautiful game simply isn’t robust enough to survive outside of a few flickering moments of brilliance.  The Netherlands 1974.  Brazil 1982.  These are fundamental touchstones for belief in the game.  Ephemeral beauty that ultimately couldn’t survive the pragmatic world it was faced with.

Guardiola’s Barcelona continues to prove all of this wrong. It continues its alchemy of mixing romanticism and pragmatism to produce a kind of aesthetic that is equal parts beauty and strength.

A new kind of wonder all over again.  That’s what we’re watching.

I try my best to be objective about the game.  To be dispassionate as I can.  It’s part of what I have to do for my writing here.  And I do that by using an analytical framework to watch and to try to understand the game.  Those are my tools, my point of view.  It’s in my nature.

And honestly, before this tie, objectively, I did not think this team was going to win.

I watched them play in person against Manchester United on the summer tour — they weren’t even remotely close to match form or fitness.

Then they had those other mediocre-to-disastrous pre-season games topped off by the 1-4 drubbing at the hand of Chivas.  The squad was not even close to match ready.  Sure those Barça squads were filled with youth players — but that also meant that the first team wasn’t available, wasn’t working within the system, that they weren’t even engaged in the process of getting ready through the experience of match play together.

In the first leg of the SuperCopa all of those issues came to the fore.  Barça were overwhelmed by a much more prepared, more match fit Madrid team.  A team which had clearly prioritized winning the SuperCopa as a way to start its season, and draw a stark contrast to the 5-0 victory Barça secured to start the Clasicos last year.  But in the end this Barça team was robust enough to survive and secure the result they needed at the Bernabeau.  But it literally took everything the group had, all of the resources that could be drawn upon from its experiences as champions.

Even after that first leg — objectively speaking — I didn’t know if they could win this second match. There would be accumulated fatigue.  The team was short due to injuries.  Objectively it just would not be possible to secure needed fitness or form in three days time.

But in the end the heart is such a funny object.  Strange and wondrous.  Who can understand it?  And make no mistake about it, this was a performance that came straight from the heart.   Yet another victory from Guardiola’s Barcelona that demonstrated that what’s beautiful in football doesn’t have to be fragile or mercurial — that in fact being tenacious and robust makes the whole of the project even more wondrous and joyful.

It’s football that makes you believe again.  In a whole new way.

The Two Best Seats at Camp Nou From Which to Watch the Genius At Work


Match Analysis

In order to fully appreciate the dynamics of this match and how play changed from the first leg it’s important to the relatively unorthodox manner in which Madrid implement their pressure defense.  As discussed in detail here at Barcelona Football Blog last season, Madrid press in a very interesting fashion.  One of the central tenets of strong defending is staying compact.  This is especially true to pressing.  In order to press effectively you need to make the field as small as possible.  To make the field as small as possible it’s important to stay compact.

Arrigo Sacchi famously made it a point to demand that his team leave no more than 25 meters between their forward and back lines.  The goal was to squeeze the opposition to one-quarter of the entire pitch.  With the liberalization of the off side trap however it’s likely impossible for any team to stay as compact as Sacchi wanted.

Nonetheless staying compact remains critical to the best pressing sides in the world.

When Madrid press they don’t stay nearly as compact as other sides that successfully press.  Staying compact means that you must play a high line.  Playing a high line involves significant risk for being beat over the top or through transition play.  Mourinho is attempting to have his side press, but to also decrease the risk associated with playing his back line high.

In the first leg of the Super Copa, based on average position, Madrid had approximately 50 M between their front line and back line.  For comparison, Barcelona had approximately 40M between its front line and back line.

How is Madrid simultaneously doing both of these things — pressuring the ball effectively without keeping its back line very high?  They are utilizing pace.  This is the most interesting tactical defensive innovation Mourinho has implemented while at Madrid.  Their team has tremendous athleticism distributed across the pitch.  Rather than depending on “hunting in packs” by staying compact Madrid initiates its pressure by having a select number of defenders run at the ball at pace.  When the ball is passed, they utilize pace to close down the receiver.  Because they have so much athleticism across the pitch they attempt to launch defensive attacks from numerous positions.

This is not to say Madrid’s defensive formation is loose.  For example, they become very compact on the press when the ball is played to the touchline.   It’s just that their formation is not as compact as one would anticipate given how effective their pressing is.  They are using velocity to make the pitch small.

Madrid Pressing Through Pace and Man Marking 1 vs. 1 But Not Staying Compact

The still shot above from leg 2 typifies how Madrid presses.  Notice how Madrid has numerical equivalence with Barcelona in the Barcelona defensive half (this is a major tactical adjustment Mourinho has made in response to the changes Guardiola made between the Copa Del Rey and Champions League Semi — fully explaining this adjustment will require a separate post however).

There is one marker on every Barcelona player at the back.  Once Barcelona attempt to advance the ball the Madrid defenders runs to close down the ball at speed.  Each marker follows the players without the ball to make ready pressure if a pass is made.  When the new Barça player receives the ball a new defensive attack is launched.

This defensive system takes advantage of two Barcelona characteristics:  1) Barça players tend to play passes to feet when they are building play out of the back; 2)  Barcelona players tend not attempt to beat defenders 1 vs. 1 off the dribble (more on this later in the explanation of goal one but a full explanation is out of the scope of this review)

However, all tactical systems have their trade offs.  And if you press the way Madrid does that means there has to be space in the interior of the defense.  What Madrid is gambling is that they can repossess the ball faster than you can find that interior space.

The way to beat this system is very clear.  Circulate the ball faster than they can run.  This requires quick decision making, rapid passing, and strong off the ball movement.  Barça’s problem in the first leg of the Super Copa was that all three of those facets of their game were off form.  The major problems were:  1)  they lacked the fitness required to move off the ball to probe interior space; 2) because neither Xavi nor Busquets and Pique didn’t start they lost the central axis of play.  The decision making was slower and the touch and passing not as deft or controlled.


The Class

Barcelona’s Adjustments

Addressing the Madrid Press

In this match, Barcelona made critical adjustments to counteract the way Madrid pressed.  Their ball circulation was much more rapid, with Xavi and Busquets back their central passing axis was much improved and their ability to build from the back markedly better.  This was supported by Pique’s presence in the back.  In addition, their off the ball movement was somewhat better, especially in the first half (but due to lack of fitness the off the ball movement still wasn’t good and it decayed severely in the second half which is why the team struggled so much later on).  Barça also attempted to play longer balls over the top more often (as opposed to leg one where the long balls were more like desperation heaves).

Finally, once it’s understood how Madrid’s system of pressure defense operates, it becomes very clear that one of the best ways to cause the Madrid system of man marking pressure based on team pace is to drop players who have the ability to beat players off the dribble deeper on the pitch.  If the Barça player can beat the man marking him 1 vs. 1, then the Madrid defense can become very vulnerable as interior space will open up quickly.  This is especially true if you can do this in midfield because Madrid was not keeping its back line very compact.  Space could be found between those lines.  And this is exactly how Barcelona scored its lightning first goal.

The play starts simply enough.  Pique plays the ball to Xavi who plays a simple ball to Messi.  The key issue here was Messi’s positioning.  He stations himself out on the flank in midfield.  Because C. Ronaldo is marking Alves on the press there is space behind him.  Carvalho, who was marking Messi for much of the match, steps out and  picks up Messi and marks him out along the toucline.  Coentrao drops deep and central into the space Carvalho has vacated, functionally playing the CB position now.  However, Messi beats Carvalho off the dribble and this creates a cascade of problems for Madrid.

Messi Beats Carvalho off the Dribble

In the still shot above notice what’s happened once Messi beats Carvalho off the dribble.  He has created a 2 vs. 1 situation for Khedira.  Pedro has intelligently dropped into that same space.  Messi was Carvalho’s responsibility.  As Khedira attempts to slide over to cover, he is caught wrong-footed and Messi easily blows by him.

The other key issue in the still shot above is that Xabi Alonso was responsible for man marking Iniesta.  When Messi breaks containment off Carvalho, Alonso starts drifting to the middle anticipating a Messi run through that region.

Messi's Run Breaks Madrid's Defensive System and Iniesta is Left Free

In the still shot above Messi has beat Khedira.  The key issue to note here is the positioning of the Madrid center backs.  Notice how much space Messi is about to move into.  This is because Pepe and Coentrao are staying deep rather than stepping up or staying as compact as they could.  They are too far away from where Messi has received the ball to step out on him. Rather than “hunting in a pack” to pressure Messi it’s only the defender assigned to mark him applying pressure 1 vs. 1.  The other defenders move away from Messi to deeper positions rather than towards him to press.

Once Messi beats Carvalho the deep Madrid backs start to move deeper rather than moving forward to close down and pressure alongside Khedira  (or to facilitate the off side trap).  Instead Khedira is left to pressure 1 vs. 1.  This open space forces Alonso to disregard Iniesta and commit to this area.  Iniesta reading the play makes a tremendous run.

The entire Madrid defensive system has collapsed because Messi beat Coentrao in a 1 vs. 1 situation.  They have a 6 vs. 3 numerical advantage around the ball and get carved open.

Rather than making the run that Alonso and the center defenders are waiting for however, Messi unleashes a brilliant through ball between the center backs for Iniesta to run onto (notice how it was not a ball to feet pass that caused the Madrid defense so much trouble).

Madrid Not Compact - Messi Opens Space in the Middle and Threads Through Ball In

In the still shot above, Iniesta has lost all of the defenders and timed his run brilliantly. Iniesta then goes on to show terrific composure and coolly beats Casillas with a lovely chip after dinking him.  Madrid has a 6 vs. 3 numerical advantage around the ball, and still get carved open in moments.  This is the risk they run by pressing in this fashion and not staying compact.  Defending the interior space can rapidly become a problem.

Overall, Barcelona’s off the ball movement simply wasn’t rapid and crisp enough to allow them to take advantage of the Madrid defensive system.  They simply did not have the fitness to do so.  In turn they struggled to maintain coherent possession a problem which would become a mounting problem as the game progressed.

All this said — the Madrid pressure defending was outstanding all evening.  Credit to them for their work rate and coordinated, system-based defending.

However, in the end Barcelona controlled 60% of possession in this second leg.  Not their usual domination of the ball but an improvement.  While the statistics varied in the first leg, Barcelona only had roughly 53% of the possession at the Bernabeu.


The Return of One Touch Play:  Barcelona’s Second Goal

In the first leg of the SuperCopa, Barça’s touch and weighting of passes were off all evening long.  In leg two, both were improved, though still far from where they will be once they regain match form. However, Barcelona’s second goal was just remarkable for the quality of its one touch play.

The goal, of course, was an utter work of genius between two players who are so skilled on the ball it is hard to get over.  The goal was scored off a corner that was created when Pedro beat Ramos off the flank.  Messi is positioned at the 18 yard line.  Xavi directs the corner and it deflects off Benzema toward Messi.  In theory this is not supposed to be a dangerous area to receive a corner.  It should be straight forward to close the man down, given how tight space is.

However, this is Messi and what he did was just genius.  Too much attention is being placed on this goal to how it ended.  What not being paid enough attention to is how it started.  Messi is being marked by Carvalho on this corner.  That’s how worried Madrid was about Messi.  They placed one of their CB out to the 18 yard line to defend him.  Xavi’s corner bounced once and starts rising as it approaches Messi.  That is a very difficult ball to even control off a corner when you are closely marked.

Not only does Messi control it but he beats Carvalho in an instant.  Messi intentionally one touch passes the ball off the bounce to Pique.  Just think about that.  He doesn’t even settle the ball with his chest.  He passes it perfectly to Pique.  And like that Carvalho is beat.  He turns to locate the ball and Messi instantly starts his run to goal.

Pique then makes a play that perhaps no other CB in the world can make.  First, once he sees the ball directed to Messi at the 18 yard line he comes backwards towards Messi.  He knows Madrid is going to run the off side trap from the corner and he beats them into an area of space in the crowded box.

Pique Steps into Space as Messi One Touch Passes Him the Ball WIth Chest

In the still shot above just look at how much space Pique has found inside the box on a corner.  That is a remarkable reading of space on the play.  He’s actively making himself a point of reference for Messi to play the ball off of.  Though I’m not sure I would guess this is a play Pep designed for this situation.  And it worked perfectly.

Pique receives the ball and then one touches the ball on a back heel pass to Messi, who is in stride on his run.  Just phenomenal skill from Pique there.  C. Ronaldo and Khedira attempt to catch Messi but his acceleration is just too much and he coolly beat Casillas yet again.

Overall, one of the key factors that won this trophy for Barcelona was their skill and tremendous execution on goal.  Here is a comparison of all shots on goal over the tie between the two teams.

Comparison of Shots on Goal: Barcelona's Clinical Finishing (via Opta Sports)

Barcelona Concede off Set Pieces

I’m not going to spend too much time analyzing these goals.  To be honest, both were the result of awful set piece defending.  On the first goal Barça did not close down Benzema as he collected a deflected corner.  Benzema made an outstanding cross to C. Ronaldo.  The goal may have been offside (it appeared Ramos got a touch putting Ronaldo into an off side position).  However, that is irrelevant.  The fact is Barça did not execute its off side trap properly off the corner.

The second goal was even worse.  Kaka put in an awful corner directly to Adriano, who proceeded to shank the clearance.  The Barça defenders then engaged in a comedy of clearance errors until the ball rolled to Benzema, who finished well.

Both of those conceded goals were filled with errors.  With more practice and drilling they are unlikely to occur later on in the season.

Nonetheless — credit to Madrid for taking advantage of the opportunities when presented.  Both C. Ronaldo and Benzema finished nicely.  And ultimately Madrid won the corners through their consistently high tempo direct play.

Barcelona’s Pressing is Improved but The Team Tires: The Back Line Saves the Match — The Story of the Second Half

One of the major problems for Barça in Leg 1 was their inability to press effectively due to limited fitness and stress from not retaining possession.  In this match, the pressing was better but still far from where it is when Barça are in full fitness and sharp.  But with the improved coordination and work rate their pressing was better.

A major key to all of this was the return to Sergio Busquets.  Busquets was still off form — but his presence defensively was enormous (as was his calm ball circulation).  Perhaps the biggest impact his return had was to help neutralize Mesut Oezil.  Oezil had a wonderful game in leg 1 — by far his best match against Barça.  Oezil is a very interesting player.  He has phenomenal vision and is a wonderful passer (especially off crosses from the flanks).

However, while he has good touch – he does not have great touch.  And while he has good close control of the ball it is not great either.  He’s not a player that is going to beat players off the dribble in tight space.  In fact much of his game is predicated on roaming laterally from touch line to touch line to find space.

As such, Oezil has often struggled with facing a team that presses vigorously (the Germany vs. Spain match in the 2010 WC exemplified this).

In this second leg Busquets supported by the overall Barça pressing did a marvelous job once again marking Oezil out of the game.

However, as the match proceeded Barça’s ability to press and engage in off the ball movement fell off significantly due to limited fitness.  As the second half went on there was a marked change in Barça’s play. In turn they got caught in a vicious cycle of losing the ball and then not being able to repossess it through pressing.  Madrid — who were also tiring — took the initiative and put Barça on the back foot again in the second half.

The team just couldn’t press with the vigor they usually do.  They don’t have the fitness.  In this regard while the actual way Madrid scored was due to an comical mistake, they were dictating play towards the middle to end of the second half and it looked like it was only a matter of time before they scored.

That Madrid did not take control of this game and put it way in the second half with the Barça press tiring is a testament to how brilliantly the back line played.  After a very poor game in leg one the defensive back four were outstanding in open play.

Defending Deep with a Disciplined Line: Mascherano Anchoring the Back

The Barça back line did what it rarely every has to do or is designed to do — absorb relentless pressure while defending deep.  That the back line could execute what was required to keep the team ahead or level was a testament to their determination, intelligence and hard work.

Cules will have differing opinions on who played the best — but Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano were both utterly brilliant this game.  Alves is often thought of as a poor defender.  But what his critics often confound is his position on the pitch with his defensive skill set.  In the Barça system his function is to get as forward as he can.  Pep is willing to risk players getting behind Alves — when they do that it is not a defensive lapse on Dani’s part.  It’s just a component of tactical risk.

In both legs of the SuperCopa, Alves was brilliant.  Guardiola likely adjusted how he wanted Dani to play and had him prioritize defending C. Ronaldo.  And in both games Alves had the Madrid attacker in his pocket. Over and over he made key tackles and interventions to neutralize Madrid’s chief goal scoring threat.

C. Ronaldo is known for his pace.  But in these two games we saw what a great athlete Alves is.  Over and over C. Ronaldo attempted to beat Alves on the flank through pace and couldn’t do it.  This was a major reason why Madrid had difficulty scoring from open play in these games.  Their biggest scoring threat was caged in by the Barça RB.

What can you say about Javier Mascherano?  He is a wonderful example of how it’s so easy in football to confuse a player’s role and his skill set.  In Liverpool he was confined to an extremely narrow, tactical role. He was a specialist player operating in Benitez’s highly autocratic system.  It seemed very odd that Guardiola was so interested in bringing to Barça a player who seemed limited to a “destroyer.”

But Pep knew better.  He saw that Mascherano’s skill set was far richer than his role allowed at Liverpool.  And since coming to Barcelona he’s been something of a revelation.

Over these past two games he has been an absolute rock.  He has played at a world class CB level.  And with Mascherano it all starts with his intelligence and defensive reading of the game.  The only other player on Barcelona who has similar talents is Puyol.  With every passing game at CB, Mascherano is looking more and more like the heir apparent to Puyol’s position on the team.

In the SuperCopa, Masch made one critical intervention after another after another.  For a player who was supposed to be a yellow and red card magnet outside of the rough EPL it’s particularly amazing to watch his dexterity and intelligence on challenges.  His ability to read a game is remarkable, and he used that ability to it’s fullest to anchor a back line that had to be perfect to see this team through.

Abidal had an absolutely terrible match in leg one. He was off form and repeatedly made clumsy mistakes.  Tonight he was back to looking like himself.  Calm and collected on the ball and very solid at the back.  He still is coming into form — he should have stepped up much more quickly on the off side trap on the first goal.  He and Pique both should have cleared the ball on the second.  But overall a terrific performance.

Similarly Pique was very good.  He’s still recovering from a knock and has missed significant training time but he played well at the back.  And his assist to Messi was an outrageous piece of skill from a center back.  Piquenbauer indeed.

Keita came on as a late sub for Busquets.  While he wasn’t involved very much, he also didn’t make any mistakes in a position he’s still adjusting to.

Finally, Victor Valdes was again just superb.  Time and time again he was pressured and challenged.  And Madrid just could not beat him from open play.  He was magnificent.  Once again he proved how unique he is.  Not only was his contribution saving shots fundamental but he was critical to building play from the back with his ball skills and distribution.


Guardiola Changes the Dynamics of the Match:  The Composed Play and Positional Intelligence of Cesc Fabregas and the Brilliance of Messi

Pep has done just a phenomenal job preparing his club for what turned out to be a vicious war when they were not close to being in the form Madrid were in.  One thing he probably should have done however was to bring in fresh legs sooner as the team was fading in the second half.  Now his hands were absolutely tied in many ways due to injury.  Sanchez would have been perfect to bring in for this match – but he picked up a knock.  Same for Afellay.

Villa and Pedro faded significantly during the second half due to fatigue.  Bringing on Adriano as a winger for Villa was a creative move.

But the area where Barcelona was really suffering was in the center of the pitch.  They lost control of the middle as the second half went on.  This was in part due to fatigue from Xavi, Iniesta and Messi (notice how infrequently Messi dropped deep to pick up the ball).

At the same time this was far too heated a game to bring in a youngster like Thiago.  He would have been overwhelmed.  It’s the kind of experience that can ruin a young player’s confidence and development.  It’s just beyond the scope of what they can do.

So once Madrid leveled the score Guardiola brought on the weapon he’s wanted so badly since he took over as manager.  And we saw tonight in very clear, stark terms why Pep wanted Cesc Fabregas so badly.

In a dying game where Madrid had all of the momentum and Barça were fading badly due to fatigue, Fabregas changed the dynamics of the match.  After conceding the equalizer, the entire team took on new determination.  But determination only gets you so far in the face of exhaustion.

Fabregas came in for Pedro and Pep moved Iniesta nominally to the wing (Iniesta of course pinched in to midfield a great deal).  And once he came on to the pitch he added significant composure and energy back into midfield play.  He was composed on the ball and did a wonderful job directing play.  He looked extremely comfortable right away.  In addition he played very well defensively making several strong interventions.

Fabregas and Xavi played as a very fluid two man central midfield with Xavi moving to the center right and slightly deeper and Fabregas largely towards the middle and moving into an advanced position.  Here’s an example of how Barça lined up:

Fabregas' Positioning Relative to Xavi

Fabregas played as a trequarista more than even as a central midfielder at Arsenal.  Even in the youth ranks at La Masia he was a player who looked to get forward and score.  Those traits were enhanced when he went to Arsenal and yesterday Fabregas made several intelligent runs forward — it seemed clear that he knew that he would have to provide a threat as the man with fresh legs.

Fabregas Makes Forward Run Opening Space for Messi Between the Lines

In the still shot above Alves has played the ball off to Adriano on the right wing.  Xavi is trailing the play towards the right.  Iniesta is behind in midfield.

Fabregas is making a direct run to goal and he is the most advanced Barcelona attacker.  This is something we rarely see from a Barça midfielder, and it’s a good example for how Fabregas will diversify play tactically for Barça.

The key to understanding the immense value of Fabregas making runs like this lies in Messi’s positioning in the above still shot.  With attacks engineered off the flanks Messi frequently slows down.  Often he does not make aggressive, direct runs to goal.  Instead he chooses to find space between the line for the pull back or delayed ball.  This is what he’s doing in the still shot above.

However, look at how space is being created for Messi.  It’s Fabregas’ run that is driving two defenders towards their own goal and away from Messi leaving him unmarked in space.  This is the potential interplay we are going to see from Cesc and Messi.  It is brilliant positional football.

Fabregas would go on to be integral to Barça’s final goal — the one that sealed the victory.  Much is being made of the fact that Fabregas made one of the passes before Messi’s otherworldly strike.  This is is missing the larger point.  What was so impressive about Fabregas’ play on that goal wasn’t his pass — it was his positional intelligence.

The goal scoring play started harmlessly enough.  Xavi plays a corner short, gets the ball back and plays it to Adriano, who then plays it to Alves, who plays it back out to Mascherano (stationed just inside of the midfield line in the center circle).  In other words, in the 87th minute of a 2-2 match Barça turn a corner kick into a ball played back to their CB standing at midfield.  They are playing the ball backward, and still transform the situation into a goal.

Xavi Plays Corner Backwards as Fabregas is Initially Double Marked in Middle


The screen shot above marks the start of the play as Xavi pulls the ball back towards Adriano.  The key thing here to notice is Fabregas’ initial positioning.  He’s toward the middle of the pitch and is double marked.

Fabregas Drifts Wide to Find Space as the Ball Continues Backwards

Above, as the ball is played backward, notice how Fabregas changes his position.  He is moving away from the center where he was double marked and is drifting out to the wing into the space vacated by Adriano who has pulled in to the middle to receive the ball from Xavi.  As Fabregas drifts outwards Xavi drifts into the middle between the lines.  Messi is walking back from an offside position stationing himself in the channel between CB and FB.

Two sources of movement: The ball played backwards vertically and Barça’s attacking central midfielder drifting horizontally into space.

What starts out as harmless, typical Barcelona “negative” and “boring passing backwards” rapidly turns into catastrophe for Madrid.

When Mascherano receives the ball at the midfield circle he plays speeds up the tempo of play by playing a brilliant long ball over the top to the player completely open in space — Fabregas.

Fabregas Now Free in Space Receives Long Ball Over the Top from Mascherano

In the still shot above, look at how much space Fabregas has found.  The perfectly weighted long ball over the top from Mascherano (he is an outstanding long ball passer over the top — perhaps the best on the entire team) cuts out all of the clustered Madrid defense in the middle.  But it’s Fabergas’ open positioning that allows Mascherano the target to circumvent the defenders.

Fabregas' Movement and Positional Intelligence Create a 2 vs. 1 Advantage for Barca

Fabregas controls the ball with fantastic first touch to start the final attacking maneuver, and here’s what’s so remarkable about this entire sequence tactically:  Fabregas started this play being double marked by the Madrid defense.  Through his positional intelligence he has now turned that initial double marking into a 2 vs. 1 situation for Barça out on the flank against Marcelo.  Not only that — he has created a 2 vs. 1 where the defender is isolated alone in space.  That is brilliant football.  The epitome of what the fluid interplay of tika taka is supposed to create.

Marcelo is forced to defend four things.  Fabregas, Adriano, the space behind him toward goal and the space lateral to him.   He cannot hope to defend even two of the four never mind all four.  Fabregas has multiple choices in how to exploit the situation.

And here’s where Fabregas’ training from La Masia comes into play.  Normally at this stage in the game it would make sense to use a 2 vs. 1 situation to attack the goal directly.  And Fabregas starts to do this.

Fabregas Forces Marcelo to Commit Leaving Adriano Open in Space

Fabregas doesn’t quickly one touch the ball away.  He shows Marcelo the ball.  He uses it to draw out the defender. He makes two slight feints toward goal, and in the end he achieves his goal.  In the still shot above notice how he’s forced Marcelo to commit to him.  This leaves Adriano alone in space.  But rather than playing the ball to the nearest open man, Fabregas further exploits the positional advantage by threading the ball unexpectedly to Messi who has found space between the lines (Adriano does a fantastic job letting the pass go right by him — that’s a great example of the small things players have to learn in the Barça system.  A year ago he think the pass is for him and traps the ball.)

Suddenly the tempo of play accelerates.  Messi rapidly one touches the ball to Adriano who has started a delayed run.  Marcelo is completely out of position because Fabregas forced him to commit.  Messi’s one touch pass perfectly plays Adriano back into open space.

Adriano Free in Space Delivers Cross into Box Messi Timing His Run

Adriano then delivers a perfect cross into Messi who executes a volley of staggering quality.

What’s amazing about this entire sequence is that Madrid really haven’t made any defensive mistakes at all.  In the still shot above notice how Coentrao has done an excellent job of tracking Messi’s run to goal.  Messi is marked in the box.  And he still scores.

At this point, I feel compelled to say something about Messi.  But what is there possible to say.  His genius is unfathomable at times.  His vision, intelligence, positioning, strength, balance, touch and ability to finish are beyond belief.  You can watch. It no longer surprises.  But it’s still difficult to believe it’s real.


The End:

To start off the season Guardiola wins his 11th trophy equaling Cruyff’s club record.  It is an almost outlandish level of achievement.  But what truly mattered here wasn’t this trophy — the SuperCopa is after all only a pre-season tie (one that is nice to win but not indicative of play in the real season).  What mattered was how this team won.

Barcelona proved robust in the face of tremendous difficulty.  This was a squad that prevailed yet again despite the fact that they were not even close to full form and fitness.  While Madrid was also in pre-season shape it is now clear how much they focused and prepared to win this trophy.  They were far ahead of Barça in terms of readiness to play.  And despite all that Barcelona produced a devastating result through a combinations of systems based discipline, tactical intelligence, skill and heart.  What Pep did to get this team through these two brutal matches was astonishing.

There is of course another story to this match — an ugly, unfortunate one.  But there will be plenty of time for that later.

Right now is a time to appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to witness this spectacle.  We will probably never see this again.  So we should always feel fortunate to have had the chance.  It will be up to us to explain to others years from now the wonder.  The determined heart.  The light and heat of this beautiful blaugrana fire.

How long can it last?

Man of the match?  I’d pick Guardiola.  But he wouldn’t want me to.  So instead I’ll select who I think he’d tell me to.

The team.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Recent Posts

Written by:


  1. mei
    August 18, 2011

    Haha wtf euler. Just read the first two paragraphs and it feels like a novel book introduction.

    • Noslehcimretep
      August 18, 2011

      for real, in a year of reading this blog (any any other tactical review for that matter) that is the best opening I’ve ever seen.

  2. BarcaGirl_Indo
    August 18, 2011

    Euler, this is exactly what I need. thank you so much.

    my eyes hurt from reading crap about a non-exist racism by Villa,

    now I’m gonna read every single word from your review,
    I’ll make a comment later! 😀

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      Oh for crying out loud what now? Villa’s the target now not Busi? Brilliant Madr*d, try to take down a Spanish hero to deflect attention. What did I miss?

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      note on villa-ozil: apart from players hitting each other, there are no reports in the spanish media about any remarks about religions
      47 minutes ago

      note on villa-ozil: the supposed ozil quote on villa is apparently being spread by a real madrid fan site without giving any reliable source

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      I hope you know my rant wasn’t directed at you. Sorry you’ve been sad. Euler’s review will make you happier. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      August 18, 2011

      Euler’s review will make you happier.

      it did, mom4. thanks, mom4 and Euler! 😀

    • Barcaleya
      August 18, 2011


      Euler’s review is making me quite euphoric…like being in love. Haha

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      August 18, 2011

      I know, mom4, I know.
      there’s no proof or statement whatsoever from EE,
      yet my friends on twitter already wishing for Villa’s death.

      I can’t stand it. God, why people are so ignorant? I can’t even. ugh.

  3. footballfan
    August 18, 2011

    Great review as usual Euler, very excited about how Fabregas (and Sanchez) will change how Barcelona usually plays. Pep seems to produce tactical innovation every year he is at Barcelona, really great.

  4. Jackieboy
    August 18, 2011

    Great review so far, not done reading yet, but just wanted to note that Xavi’s corner wasn’t directed at Messi, it was a cross that was headed out by Benzema.
    Oh, and just realized – Ronaldo’s goal was offside, I never noticed it was first deflected by Ramos, and then by CR, who was in an offside position at the time of Ramos’ deflection. Who cares.

    • August 18, 2011

      Thanks for noting the Xavi corner. I knew it was deflected off Benzema but was writing and rewatching. I thought Xavi was intending to send it to Messi even with the deflection. But you’re right – it was probably meant to in swing to Pique.

      I’m going to update the post to correct this so it doesn’t confuse people.

    • jrgunner
      August 18, 2011

      not only was there an offside, but the ball was not inside the quarter -circle when the corner is taken.i know it’s just a couple of inches but if they draw the lines on the pitch it is for a reason

  5. K_legit
    August 18, 2011

    Euler nails it

  6. Gogah
    August 18, 2011

    Mouth watering de construction of Messi’s second goal. loved that.
    Also loved your beginning about robustness and the durability of aesthetic brilliance.
    Beauty and strength.
    those are the new words to describe this barca team. It is high time we stopped overlooking the strength, tenacity and competitiveness Pep has instilled in his squad. Let this be the beginning of more things to come this season. What a win! and what amazing goals! Messi’s brilliance is starting to tire me, frankly.

  7. blitzen
    August 18, 2011

    Haven’t read this epic post yet, but I just wanted to say that this week Pep and Tito should be working on team defending of set pieces. Call up the B team and have them bang in corners and freekicks while the first team defends, and FIX this massive issue with our defense.

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      Can they do that during the strike? Can they practice?

    • August 18, 2011

      maybe puyol can call a practice without the coaches, we used to do that in hs when we couldn’t have an official practice we’d have a captains practice

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Strike doesn’t start until tomorrow, so they could do it today. But they won’t.

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      barcastuff barcastuff
      Barcelona say that, despite the players’ strike, the Gamper Trophy game against Napoli on Monday will be played #fcblive

      Strange way to conduct a strike. Oh well, put in all the guys and get some match fitness back.

  8. mei
    August 18, 2011

    So having read the entire article I got to say there are few writers that analyze tacticts in football one can read, having a beer , and enjoying it so much.
    Tactical insight is supposed to be boring and difficult to understand : euler makes it enjoyable and leaves you demanding more.

  9. blitzen
    August 18, 2011

    Mourinho is complaining about ballboys now?

    “What I’m about to say is not a criticism, I’m just stating a fact: there were no ballboys in the second half, which is something typical of small teams when experiencing difficulties.”

    What the??? 🙄

    • August 18, 2011

      also there was no sun, I know in madrid we seem to be able to play games in the sunlight, maybe unicef wanted it darker so there minions could not be seen

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Yes, those nasty little Unicef imps trolling around stealing all the balls and poking people in the eye then blaming it on perfectly innocent people. It’s outrageous!

    • htMillBay
      August 18, 2011

      This has to be the last year of Mad cow because he is one of those egotistical coaches that think he is “mas de un club”.

      When EE is not playing Barca, they can play beautiful football. The most expensive club in the world is not lacking in talent. I have Madridista friends who hate Mou because they know their team is very capable yet the “special one” puts the spotlight on himself while putting a bad light on the entire team and club. They can’t wait until mad cow moves on to yet another desperate team.

    • Sam M
      August 18, 2011

      Thanks for the wonderful tactical review.

      Not to dwell on the unsavory ending of the match but I think The Who needs to update their song, “Behind Blue Eyes” to “Behind Mou Eyes.” Here are the lyrics of the original:

      No one knows what it’s like
      To be the bad man
      To be the sad man
      Behind blue eyes

      No one knows what it’s like
      To be hated
      To be fated
      To telling only lies

      But my dreams
      They aren’t as empty
      As my conscience seems to be

      I have hours, only lonely
      My love is vengeance
      That’s never free

      No one knows what it’s like
      To feel these feelings
      Like I do
      And I blame you

      No one bites back as hard
      On their anger
      None of my pain and woe
      Can show through

      But my dreams
      They aren’t as empty
      As my conscience seems to be

      I have hours, only lonely
      My love is vengeance
      That’s never free

      And here’s a glimpse into Mou’s eyes (those windows to his soul):

  10. Whatever
    August 18, 2011

    Simply amazing. Thank you very much for taking the time to do the review. It’s brilliant.

  11. Flippy
    August 18, 2011

    Great review Euler! The amount of energy, time, and most importantly passion you commit to writing such pieces is remarkable. How do you normally watch the match? On television, or do you download it onto your computer? And the screenshots, how do you get those? How many times do you watch the match? Really, I think this kind of content deserves to be in a football magazine, or maybe even a book, not an online football blog that is free. Thank you so much Euler!!

  12. mom4
    August 18, 2011

    Wow, Euler! You are the Messi of tactical reviewers.

    BTW, what is a trequarista? How does it differ from a
    false 9 or attacking mf? Always wanted it explained in simple English.

    • footballfan
      August 18, 2011

      As best to my knowledge trequartista is someone who plays in the ‘hole’ behind the strikers, similar to how totti and sneijder play.

    • August 18, 2011

      A trequartista (“three quarters” in Italian) refers to a player playing between midfield and attack, who’s job it is to link up play but also get forward and score goals. Totti, Zidane, del Piero, Kaka were all trequartistas. Rooney would probably qualify today.

      It is similar to (but slightly different from) the Argentine “enganche”, who plays in a similar position but is more of a passer and playmaker than someone who scores goals: Riquelme, Aimar, Sneijder could all be classified as such. Their job is to supply the “last pass”.

      What both have in common is that they are traditionally referred to as “no. 10”. A false 9, by comparison, is the FURTHEST player up the pitch. What he has in common with the no 10 is that the skills required and tasks are similar (scoring and playmaking). The difference is that the no. 10 usually plays behind at least one if not two players, whereas the false 9 is furthest up the pitch. This is the Messi role. This is why Barca’s formation is sometimes referred to as one without a traditional center forward, since there is no one in that striker/forward role, and instead you have a very attacking midfielder playing in a withdrawn role.

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      Excellent, Ahsan. I finally understand! Thanks!(and to footballfan, too)

  13. BarcaGirl_Indo
    August 18, 2011

    I’ve read it, and it is another MESSI review by Euler. thank you so much for your dedication to make this review, Euler!

    – Messi, Messi, Messi. he always the biggest difference between Barça and EE. our team is amazing, even without Messi. but with Messi, we’re on another level.

    – set pieces. I know that our team was never really good in defending set pieces. but these two legs our defending of set pieces was so terrible. huge homework for Pep.

    – Fabregas. when the score was 2-2 and Cesc come in, I literally said : “Cesc, please save us, Cesc!” 😛
    I have this faith with Cesc, that he is a kind of player who can come into the field and makes a difference. and he did.
    I know that in the end it’s Messi who saved us, but like Euler said, it was Fabregas who changes the dynamics of the match when Barcelona was really suffering in the center of the pitch.

    Right now is a time to appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to witness this spectacle. We will probably never see this again. So we should always feel fortunate to have had the chance. It will be up to us to explain to others years from now the wonder. The determined heart. The light and heat of this beautiful blaugrana fire.

    absolutely beautiful.

    • Blau-Grenade
      August 18, 2011

      Very well said!!!

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      August 18, 2011

      really? thanks! 🙂

  14. Blau-Grenade
    August 18, 2011

    Euler, you are absolutely brilliant. I read every word of this article. Not only do you understand everything tactically, but also know how to write it so that it is all a sheer pleasure for me to read. I’m so happy this blog is returning to footballing matters.

  15. c0rrine
    August 18, 2011

    awesome review 🙂 i was able to attend this game, my
    first match at the camp nou. so amazing, wish i coulda dragged you all there with me!!

    • Blau-Grenade
      August 18, 2011

      Wow, please tell us your experiences. Make a big post.

    • Colby
      August 18, 2011

      This isn’t THE corrine, is it (from way back when?) Also a fan of Liverpool if I remember correctly…

    • c0rrine
      August 18, 2011


  16. August 18, 2011

    Euler, what a review? I am kind of jealous of you. Brilliant.

  17. K_legit
    August 18, 2011

    From twitter land:
    Onze del Madrid:Bin Laden, Jack el Destripador, Hannibal, Sadam, Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Charles Manson, F.Krueger, Khedira i Pepe


    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      August 18, 2011

      hell yeah! 😀

  18. messi_fan
    August 18, 2011

    A really good review. I especially liked the part about Cesc’s positioning. I also liked the part where you pointed out how Messi chest-passed the ball to Pique. I hadn’t noticed that!

    Thanks Euler!

  19. Helge
    August 18, 2011

    Are you serious, Euler?

    I haven’t read it yet, but it seems you put as much effort into it as in bachelor thesis 🙂
    This must be the longest review ever, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as a ‘good night read’ later on.

    How long did it take you to write this review? Have you ever considered to publish your own book about football tactics?

  20. August 18, 2011

    Wow, Euler. This is more like a football lecture than a review. It took me more than 40 mins to read without making sure whether i have it digested. It’s really really tactical. Appreciate the effort. Thanks a lot.

    Euler, I do wanna ask, are the players really so aware of everything so tactically like your analysis? While I think you are so right and so observant in every single thing they did on the pitch, sometimes, I believe, they do things instinctively. Such as the Fabregas part. To me he has something in mind, but I don’t know whether it’s as tactical as what you suggested. Please share 🙂

    If you talk about intelligence, I also wanna give more credit to Adriano for the last goal. 1) Adriano sensed that Fabregas’ pass wasn’t directed to him 2) He ran into space after leaving the pass to Messi, who then, one-touched it back to him for the cross. 3) executed the cross wondrously to a spot Madrid couldn’t defend.
    Of course, I am not saying he is motm. but still…

    Will skip other nonsense for now…

    • Gogah
      August 18, 2011

      good question. but the answer is this.
      yes, the players do things instinctively. the smaller details (like sanchez’ headed pass for messi’s goal) are performed on instinct. But they always try to play for the larger picture and work towards a grand plan. The overall tactics and approach to the game, including controlling of space, speed of pressing, positional details are all communicated by Guardiola clearly. How they execute that grand plan is down to the players’ skills and instinct.
      Guardiola talks about spaces and moving the ball quickly and so on.
      it is up to the players if they want to toe poke it, side foot it or use their head. That is just my guess. Because I identify more with the player than a ‘director’. Yes the game plan is masterminded by Pep, but if the players do not have the creativity and intuition to make the plan come to fruition, it is of no use.

  21. Lev
    August 18, 2011

    WTF Euler? when is your book coming out?

  22. Megster
    August 18, 2011

    Wow euler! My brain’s bleeding right now as I try to picture every tactics you describe. But it was really a wonderful piece. Zonal Marking might be taking some notes from you right now.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      August 18, 2011

      Zonal Marking looks like amateur if you compare them to Euler! 😛

  23. August 18, 2011

    Fantastic review Euler, thanks so much. Your posts have helped me to understand the game and the way we play so much better.

  24. blitzen
    August 18, 2011

    You are all missing the most important question of the day:

    What did Ryan end up writing on his sign?


  25. August 18, 2011

    This match review is brilliant. I sit there, blather on about writerly crap, then throw out scores that make everybody bicker about what a jackass I am. Euler just owns everything before him.

    For me, there were so many interesting parts, but foremost among them was the Mascherano comment, that he is becoming the heir apparent to Puyol. So here so many of us are, yelling about how we have to buy a quality CB to replace Puyol, we’re doomed, etc, etc, and Guardiola has a plan all along. I described Mascherano’s performance in an e-mail exchange with Kari as Puyolesque, and it was: the calmness, the key interventions, the passing out of the back and constant ball winning.

    Madness. The “in Guardiola we trust” phrase must, of necessity, rear its head again.

    • Blau-Grenade
      August 18, 2011

      Definitely looked like it.

    • tutomate
      August 18, 2011

      Definitely does.

  26. Barcaleya
    August 18, 2011

    Dear Euler,

    I am at a loss for words for this particular review.

    So much romance. Haha.

    If Barcelona the team was a person, I’d want to be that person, based on the enumerated and dissected qualities in this review. Lovely but resilient. Romantic but pragmatic. Beauty lasting in a harsh and difficult world. Strength. Intelligence. Poise.

    Light and heat…

    Amazing how our boys makes poets of all of us….and thanks to Euler for being able to articulate (both technically and poetically) the beauty and genius that we see from the team.

    • August 19, 2011

      This ^^^^ A million times!

    • Barcaleya
      August 19, 2011

      Thanks, missingpage! 😀

  27. August 18, 2011

    Seems like there’s an analysis due from someone intelligent (I nominate Linda!) about instinct, players and how it affects their on-pitch actions. Curiously, I think that as cliveee notes above, it’s doubtful that the players think about their actions as clearly as Euler articulates them. But it’s the nexus of knowledge, talent and instinct that make such things appear so thoughtful, even though they are in fact thoughtLESS. They just happen.

    So when Sanchez kneels to head a ball to Messi, he doesn’t think “Okay, right here, I’m going to do this, so that this can happen and then maybe Messi will make the run.” He thinks it somewhere, in the same part of the brain that makes us duck when something is thrown at us, or start and loud, sharp sounds. It’s just instinct.

    Zinedine Zidane is still one of my favorite players to watch. The documentary on him (despite the fact that he’s wearing the wrong colors) is amazing, because when you can watch one player, you realize everything that he does. You also realize that talent elongates time. Messi can do what he does because he’s so good that he just has more time to play with. If you take, by way of example, Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo in that now long-gone NBA playoff game, Jordan jumps and Ehlo jumps. Ehlo returns to earth and Jordan is still in the air, making his jump shot really nothing more than a simple shot that he’s taken and made about a million times in practice.

    Iniesta makes that run for the Messi pass not because he has thought about it, but because he hasn’t thought about it. It’s happened a million times in practice, why wouldn’t it happen now?

    There’s a great book called “The Talent Code” that gets into all of this very deeply, as well. Good stuff.

    • Xingxian
      August 18, 2011

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but my brain/memory tell me that in interviews/documentaries there is a distinct gulf between Xavi’s ability to recall/elaborate what/why he did versus Messi’s. Not to say that Xavi’s ability to explain and expound on soccer indicates a lack of instinct or talent.

  28. irie_jamaican
    August 18, 2011

    Awesome analysis. Wonderfully broken down so even the dumbest of the dumb should be able to understand. Trying to get my madridista brothers to read it and accept the brilliance that is Barca, but like all good madridistas, they are unable to see beyond the brainwashing of their cult leader (Mou)- even when they should know that what they are saying is nonsensical. I mean they are intelligent, educated people most of the time.

    • August 18, 2011

      Not really. It’s just that they are just committed to their club as we are to ours. To them, Marcelo’s foul on Fabregas was justly rewarded with a red card, then our bench escalated the affair, thus converting it to a brawl. Every argument has two sides.

      Some even believe that Fabregas’ reaction was exaggerated. Nonsense? No more or less nonsensical than the assertion that Pepe was trying to break Alves’ leg with his now-infamous challenge in El Clasic last season, or the allegations of racial taunts against Busquets, which have again reared their ugly head.

      El Clasic will never be civilized. The best we can hope for is less horrific. It makes those days of them just kicking Messi seem like fond nostalgia, right?

    • Srini
      August 18, 2011

      Kxevin, I think you do a lot of easy rationalisation while trying to play devil’s (EE’s) advocate for the sake of it.

      Marca and AS (and Sid Lowe reports on it as well) – the biggest Madridistas you would imagine – have themselves brought about criticisms of Jose Mourinho’s and his squad’s behaviour. Even the Villarato theory originator – can you get worse – Alfredo Relano seems to have written a stinging editorial on Madrid’s behavior. Atleast that is what I garnered from Google Translate. And even that punk Tomas Roncero seemed to have made some “rational” points on Punto Pelota.

      So, it is not as if the staunchest Madridistas can’t see through reality themselves and it is a stain on those unrelentingly biased buggers that they cannot get over their innate bias. So, it is not as simple as you make it out to be.

    • August 18, 2011

      You are incorrect on all counts. What I am explaining is some of the fallacies behind your notion that they are somehow “brainwashed.” They are no more or less “brainwashed” than we are. Each set of fans is seeing things through its own set of filters. To us, they’re wrong. To them, we’re wrong.

      It’s as simple as that.

    • Srini
      August 18, 2011

      No it is not as simple as that. Even the most diehard of fans can see through blatant misbehavior and be ashamed or atleast critical of it. Only the truly irredeemable will be incorrigible.

      But lets agree to disagree.

    • August 18, 2011

      You miss my point: It isn’t about misbehavior or shame. It’s simply about the ability of fans to believe that their side is right. This isn’t true of all fans, but that makes the reality no less apparent, thus making them no less brainwashed than our fans are.

      Recall the Busquets incident, and my reactions to it, and the stick that I took for it? Our side is right, dammit, and that’s that. It’s a perfect example of the other side of the coin. They said he said it, we said he didn’t. They say we’re brainwashed, we say we’re not.

      For me, this isn’t right or wrong, nor is it as simple as us being able to say that their fans are brainwashed, particularly when that brainwashing is in part, a big necessity of being a fan.

    • mei
      August 18, 2011

      Watch the video again. Mou walks into the field right when the challenge is made.Affair escalated by whom?

    • nzm
      August 18, 2011

      Yes – I read it with some surprise. I had to check the URL twice to make sure that I was on!

      The only thing that I don’t agree with is that Busquets will go to CB – at least, I hope that doesn’t happen. Bucket’s strength is in the midfield. Mascherano is a better mongrel (Puyol-esque) to take over as CB.

      I believe that the exit strategy for Puyol began with the purchase of Mascherano.

    • August 18, 2011

      Yeah, I don’t see Busquets going to the back line, either. But Mascherano, for sure. You and Euler, with the foresight. I admit that I didn’t see the Mascherano=Puyol thing. Not at all.

  29. superpeter
    August 18, 2011

    Great review!

    Love the first still shot: Messi scoring and CR helpless on his knees.

  30. Srini
    August 18, 2011

    Let me unabashedly say that this is some of the best stuff on sport I have ever read. It deserves a Pulitzer, Euler. I do not know of a better reporter on matches. Perhaps Marc Stein of ESPN on NBA games could be a match, but even he seems to be inferior. Forgive me for taking this time to lavish so much praise.

    What I liked about this review is that I related to all of what Euler said while watching the game, but after the incidents at the end of the game, the only thing left was a very bad taste in the mouth after what Jose Mourinho and his assorted thugs Marcelo and Pepe did. I wanted to enjoy the beauty and passion that won Barcelona this otherwise inconsequential cup, but I could not manage to do that.

    This review truly makes me want to enjoy the sweet (little) triumph and to rise above the Morbo. For that I thank Euler. Keep these coming, my fellow Cule and anonymous friend.

  31. blitzen
    August 18, 2011

    By request, a Special SuperSillyCup edition of the blitzen awards:

    Swiss Army Knife Award: Adriano, who played as a winger for the last part of the game and beautifully assisted Messi’s goal (along with Fabregas). I think we may see him in the front line more in the future, especially if Villa gets more than a one-match ban and Afellay doesn’t come back soon. Well done.

    Gaby Milito Memorial Award: You just know if Gaby had been there he would have jumped right in to the melee and hauled people (Villa!) out by their ears to stop them getting in trouble. I never missed him more than I do right now.

    You Call This a Defense? Award: Iker Face, who is never ever at fault for any goal scored on him.

    Earned His Stripes Award: Cesc, playing his first game with the team, showing that he has the skills, the desire, and the speed of thought needed to be worthy of the uniform. Welcome back!

    Red Bull Gives You Wings Award: I am convinced that the entire RM team was loaded up on caffeine and sugar before the match. How else do you explain the intensity of their pressing, their speed, their inability to coordinate their bodies, resulting in those awful tackles, and the huge sugar crash they experienced near the end of the match, resulting in their acting like cranky toddlers having a temper tantrum?

    Crisis? What Crisis? Award: For anyone who didn’t notice, our backline was in pretty fine shape last night. Alves, Mascherano, Pique, and Abidal all had excellent matches. Masch too short to be a CB? HA!

    Turn the Other Cheek Award: Kaka, for not getting involved in the fracas at all, nice boy that he is, and Mascherano, for hauling Higuain out of the red card danger zone and calming him down with some captain-style straight talk (much more than Iker Face did, btw).

    Drank the Mou-L-Ade Jonestown Memorial Award: Iker Face, again, and Sergio Ramos, for their post-match comments. Sigh. White is now the colour of brainwashing.

    It’s a Victory For Football Xavi Memorial Award: “What,” I hear you say? “Victory for football? After everything that happened?” Yes, indeed. If you can disregard the excessive physical play, the nasty fouls, and the fracas at the end of the match, that was a damn fine game of football. RM actually came out and played, at least in the first half before they got so frustrated. No parking the bus. No hanging back and leaving CRonaldo dancing in frustration because of a lack of support from his midfield. A number 10 who is actually worthy of the number (no Diarra). And a Barcelona who prevails through their individual brilliance, great teamwork, and incredible heart, even though they were half-fit and lacking practise. This RM was much better prepared, in terrific shape, came out with a plan and executed it very well—and Barça beat them anyway. A victory for football, I say.

    • August 18, 2011

      I would like to forward the “Turn the Other Cheek award” to Sabella so he stops this “Messi Captain” non-sense and leaves El Jefecito to his rightful place in the Argentine NT. Thanks.

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      The very first Blitzen awards of the season! Great job, girl!

  32. K_legit
    August 18, 2011

    Oh and
    Messi cannot score when Pepe’s on the pitch, Messi cannot score when Real is 11 men strong..


    3 goals and two assists over two legs

  33. barca
    August 18, 2011

    Great review Euler. It gives a great delight in discovering fans like you who can look beyond the tiki-taka and joga bonito and explain barcelona in terms of tactics. I found a lot about the match that I couldn’t see in first place.

  34. August 18, 2011

    I thought Madrid would be psychologically down just as we were psychologically “up” because in my mind we would come into this guns blazing with the cup in our pocket and it wasn’t the case, Madrid were dominating us for a while there, we couldn’t win a ball in the middle, Pique kept giving up the ball, etc etc. Madrid was in it to win it, and it made for a great match except when they decided to stop looking at how well they were doing and started to kick us around. Well Marcelo started to act like a child I should say, the match went fairly well until he came in.
    That CR7 goal, wasn’t his, he’s actually moving out of the way because he his Ramos touch it, in his celebration he doesn’t know whats up either. so LOL to that.

  35. August 18, 2011

    Good work Euler. Though I read it fast and will give it another round later. My five cents (or little more) about our defense :

    – At the moment, Valdes is THE BEST goalkeeper in Spain. By far.
    – Abidal was as exciting as music in this match. He was a solid fullback before, now he is a complete Barca-brand defender. And he is getting more skilful with time, which is astonishing considering his age.
    – Pique (and here where I disagree with Euler) didnt have a great match. He was ok at some times, confused some other times, and Oleguer-ic many times. And I’m talking about Pique the defender, not the forward. That -Ibra like Ha!- back heal was pure gold.
    – Mascherano is great as a center back (Zonal marking is wrong thinking otherwise). He has everything needed to be Puyolitic. And as I mentioned before, when there is Pique, there should be Mascherano. When there is Puyol, Busquets is the right partner. Aain, sMACH worth every euro paid to get him.
    – Alves: Thanks for renewing your contract. Flawless.

    I think the key problem for Real Madrid defense was the lack of synchronization and positional play while pressing. Barcelona improved a lot in the past three years on that. Vilanova mentioned that they had training sessions for that. Besides, RM pressing high showed the quality of our defense, by exposing their defense weaknesses when the team gave up on deep zonal defense. Messi and Iniesta were smart enough to attack between the two center backs.

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Mourinho’s loss of self-control, then, was proof of an emotional inability to accept a subservient role for another year. For all the millions of words written about his machiavellian cunning, this latest caper exposes a measure of stupidity, as well as nastiness, because he seemed to forget that every sneaky act is now recorded and pinged around the world on digital pathways. In a rational state he could not have thought that gouging the eye of a fellow professional who was in no position to see the attacker approach would enhance his already frayed reputation.

    • nzm
      August 18, 2011

      Good piece. Of course there were no ballboys for the 2nd half – it was after midnight and they had to go home to bed! 😀

  36. K_legit
    August 18, 2011

    Wow are blitzen and Srini doppelgangers?

    • Vj
      August 18, 2011

      If they were doppelgangers, they wouldn’t post the same thing at the same time. Just goes to show that they are not doppelgangers #logic 😛

  37. Brosep
    August 18, 2011

    Not a great source, but it’s what we all expected. Given LFP’s ability to enforce its own rules or even investigate reported infractions (stand up, Hercules), there is no surprise.

    The English FA just handed Alex Song a three match ban for a stomp on Joey Barton that the referee did not see. At the same time, they confirmed Gervinho’s three match ban for what amounted to a light tap on Barton’s head, even after considering evidence that Barton was diving/exaggerating.

    In this incident, which much like the Alex Song incident the ref did not see, Mourinho committed an infraction somewhat more serious than a tap on the side of the head and may go unpunished. As polemical as this sounds, the LFP seems to solve most of its problems by ignoring them, and this applies as well to player compensation issues (the strike) and match fixing allegations.

  38. say2
    August 18, 2011

    great review euler.
    love u guys at BFB u are simply hav made my fracture recovery process lot pleasant.

    • mom4
      August 18, 2011

      Get well soon 🙂

  39. nzm
    August 18, 2011

    Awesome analysis, Euler – and I sense, in your opening statement, that a romantic poet dwells within you!

    I was pretty perplexed when Adriano came on for Villa – puzzled because I didn’t know where he’d be positioned.

    But then I saw the sheer brilliance of Pep’s tactical reading of the game.

    Alves had effectively shut down Ronaldo, and in an effort to free up Cristiano, Mourinho moved Oezil to play outside him, hoping that Alves would not be able to sustain the pressure of defending both players.

    Pep saw this, and brought in Adriano – effectively 2 defenders on Barca’s right wing. This allowed Alves to continue defending deeper at the back, and Adriano could patrol the right wing.

    Shortly after this, Oezil, (lost his legs and puff as he does), was subbed off for Kaka, and Ronaldo moved to the right where Abidal also kept him quiet.

    This freed up Adriano to come forward which he did to great effect, being instrumental in the Fabregas-Messi-Adriano-Messi play in which he provided the assist for Messi’s 2nd goal.

    Sublime, all around.

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Xavi actually lost the ball in the first half, and – write it down in your notebooks – misplaced a pass to Andres Iniesta in the second. He probably donned his hair-shirt the next morning, and went to confessional. Is the end of the world nigh? Probably not, with Thiago and Fabregas waiting in the wings.


  40. blitzen
    August 18, 2011

    Some good news: Ronaldinho has been called up by Brazil for the friendly against Ghana in September. Good for him!

    • nzm
      August 18, 2011

      That’s so cool! Brazil needs a spark to get them going again after their disastrous Copa America exit.

      Now, if only Riquelme can be convinced to return for Argentina…

    • Jnice
      August 18, 2011

      Just found out about that a few minutes ago. My favorite player ever recalled for a match against Ghana? Can’t get any better than that.

  41. Roviero
    August 18, 2011

    “Notice how much space Messi is about to move into. This is because Pepe and Carvalho are not staying compact. They are too far away from where Messi has received the ball to step out on him. This forces Alonso to disregard Iniesta and commit to this space. Iniesta reading the play makes a tremendous run.”

    You’re wrong. It has nothing to do with Pepe/Carvalho not staying compact. The back line are placed in a good position (if you want to play a high risk game that is) when Messi takes on Coentrao one on one. The mistake that’s being committed is when Pepe and Carvalho does not drop and take depth immediately when Messi beats Coentrao. Because from that point on all it takes are two passes (or some Messi magic) to put the Real Madrid defense in real danger. Sure enough, moments later when Messi dribbles past a tactically clumsy Khedira, Carvalho and Pepe get exposed by leaving too much space behind themselfes and Casillas. So… when Alonso forget to mark a fairly pacey Iniesta the end-result is inevitable.

    • nzm
      August 18, 2011

      Here’s another take:

      Pepe and Carvalho were perfectly fine where they were in order to play the offside trap on Iniesta.

      It was Ramos who stuffed up and didn’t move forward in line with Pepe and Carvalho, thus allowing Iniesta to be onside and go on to score.

      Also had Alonso stuck with Iniesta, it may have been the required pressure that was enough to foil the goal.

  42. Jnice
    August 18, 2011


    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Just having this debate on twitter. See video below. At 2:37 Mou swings his foot at the ball, which has rolled back into view in the same sightline to the viewer as Cesc’s head. Dani Alves gets there first and scoops it away as Mou’s foot follows through and misses. I don’t think he was or intended to kick Cesc. (His later assault on Tito was of course deliberate, though, and not open to debate.)

    • August 18, 2011

      Was coming here to address that.

      He didn’t kick him. This video at 2:37 shows he tried to, but missed. As I was saying to blitzen, this just gives us a different angle of the same situation. That’s why Cesc is in the same sight-line as Dani. You’re meant to watch both videos in conjunction to get the whole picture.

      Where Dani picks up the ball is no where near Mourinho, unless he magically teleported over.

      And by the way, at this point I’m not even angry. It’s there for everyone to see. Last season people used the embellishing from some of our players as if it balances out everything RM has done. It doesn’t and hasn’t. To see such a disintegration is unsurprising, but very damaging to RM — but at this point, I don’t think they care. It’s all about an means to an end.

      To quote Xavi, “es lamentable.” It’s lamentable.

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      And the next twitter post in my timeline is “Mourinho cunningly stamps on Cesc”. Whether you believe there was intent or not, no contact was made. This is how these things get out of hand.

    • blitzen
      August 18, 2011

      Oh, and the same video seconds later shows Tito smack Mourinho upside the head in retaliation for the eye poke.

      No innocents here.

    • August 18, 2011

      If someone went over and poked me in the damned eye, I wouldn’t just say ‘gee, someone poked me in the eye, I’m just going to stand here and not do anything because we’re the bigger people’. There is something called self-defense. But in any case, that’s just me.

      Sorry, blitz. I really am sorry, but I can’t balance this out right now. Other than the racist chanting, which was saddening to hear and a real problem for Spanish football on the whole, and the Villa-Ozil situation, which was weird in itself, there is a bigger evil right now, IMHO. It’s gotten out of hand. And this is taking into account what has happened last season too. They are using the nonsense they create at the end of matches to distract from what they are doing on the pitch — the good and the bad — and their failure to beat us.

      I just can’t do it right now.

      I’m not angry or pissed off or anything. I’m just tired of it. We have a great football team, that showed a lot of heart. I’d much rather talk about that, TBQH.

    • Dani_el
      August 18, 2011

      I agree, for every action there’s a reaction, this, I believe, is a team of good guys, but to turn the other cheek…well that’s god like qualities.

      I am disgusted, by Mou and his orders, it is verguenza ajena (feeling shame for another). But still this was a great game for us, some madridistas are saying that “if it wasnt for Messi” or that they even had more possesion than us, as Euler said, we still had more possession and better chances. This was the tightest match in the last 3 years I think, but it they couldnt win Pep’s team now, without preseason training… I believe in this team more than ever, and maybe we’ll have the next Puyol in Masche.

  43. Triplo Volanti (formerly Cesc Pistol)
    August 18, 2011

    Jesus Christ EULER! I am shocked and amazed of not only your power of observation, tactical understanding but also to weave such beautiful words to express all of it. I love you, really I do. And I envy you more. I like to imagine I have an intuitive sense of understanding tactics and play while watching a match, but this is so far beyond me I am in awe. AWE.

    Really the only thing I wish to say is you must denote time to the things you left out as ‘to be discussed in another post’. I cannot state how happy your review makes me. It felt like a holy experience reading it.

    • Helge
      August 18, 2011


Comments are closed.