Friday, April 26, 2013

Barcelona's two sides of the coin

Barcelona started this game with Messi as a false 9 and Alexis & Pedro on the wings. Mainly because their defensive abilities, to track back and help the defense, especially to cover Robben & Ribery. This is something that only those two in this team can provide and that probably why Tito started with them. Neither Tello, Villa, Iniesta or anybody else could track back like those two, to help out the defense. That was especially needed also because Messi wasn't fit and they needed to help him too with defending. It was almost Those 2 had to do the work of 3 in defending. Both Alexis and Pedro do the job very well, but they don't do the pressing they used to in couple of years ago, that was their trademark pressing with the whole team. They lack the support from midfield at the moment, especially from Xavi, Iniesta & Messi.

While on the other hand, this system with false 9 and two wingers does rely heavily on Messi, say whatever you want, because he is the playmaker and the finisher, he makes things happen. But he also needs fit and hungry players alongside him, who could make deep runs behind the defense. Yesterday we saw one through ball behind the defense from Messi to Alba in the first half and second from Xavi to Alves in the second half. That was it! No runs from Xavi, Iniesta or Messi. I think this picture illustrates it perfectly:

When you have so many players playing on the same line horizontally, you need to have some movements and runs behind the defense. Barcelona didn't have that vs Bayern, maybe it was fitness issue, maybe something else, don't know. But I know when Barcelona is at it's best they are very clever and sharp with their movements in the final third.  As you can see from the heat map, the final third is basically empty, because nothing happened there. Usually it's Messi's area in this formation, but he didn't affect the game much and so it was easy for Bayern to defend. They made it compact in midfield and forced Barcelona to play back passes, while the back 4 had rarely to cover anybody, because there was no runs.
As for Alexis and Pedro, this is the other side of the coin. They are brilliant with their defensive work, probably the best 2 defenders yesterday were the 2 wingers. But they had almost zero impact on the attack. It's not that they can't do that. They can with their national teams. Pedro has scored more goals with Spain this season than he has with Barca, I think this is pretty telling fact. Alexis plays as a striker/false 9 with Chile and he is the focal point of their attack. But then again when you move either of them in the middle, which could possibly suit them better, especially for Alexism and would add another dimension for the whole team in attack. But then again you would lose another defender, and since teams play from Barcelona's wings, it would leave the full backs wide open. That's the other side of the coin in this formation.

Are there any flaws in Barca's game? Yes. Do they need to improve? Yes. Is this end of the era and all the heavy criticism justified that they have received? Absolutely no. Let's not forget that there have been some bigger problems in this season than just losing or winning games. When you have your coach fighting with cancer and Abidal fighting for his life you need to bite your tongue a little bit and be more careful with your criticism. They are still the top team of the world. It's not like they took the League championship back from Madrid and got to the 6th successive Champions League semi finals....oh wait.

Can't wait for the next season.


  1. Barca wanted to be more stable in defending, especially on the wings (as you wrote Pedro and Alexis did it well), but on the other hand that caused their attacking problems. Their style, their philosophy works best, when they press/counter press immediately, and that was missing from Tuesday. I think that was the main problem.

  2. SERIOUSLY,you think the 4-0 result is a consequence of attackers not playing well and not due to isolated off game that the midfielders had.

  3. My friend tell me that Busquets was tightly marked by Mario Gomez and that is the reason for lose. A defensive midfielder marked by a forward, this is shown in the second clip you posted.

    1. Sergio Busquets wa closed down and marked by Thomas Muller. For me the best player on the pitch was Javi Martinez who made a fantastic work against Iniesta he marked Iniesta.
      Shweinsteiger marked Xavi.Messi was alone in the middle.

  4. I'm not sure your reaction to Barca's recent troubles is reflecting that well on you. On twitter at least it has been to decry "bandwagoners" (crime: liking a club because it's successful) and even to have a go at Chelsea (crime: playing defensively against a great attacking team...a year ago). Barca's complete defeat by Bayern is to be hand-waved away as a one-off (or a two-off as the case may be) and the effect of some very unfavourable contingencies - i.e Vilanova's cancer, Messi's lack of fitness.

    Meanwhile pretty much everywhere else people have been observing a) the team's decline* (at least relative to May 2011) and b) suggested reasons why - overdependence on Messi, marginal decline of Xavi, ineffectiveness of Iniesta, failure to integrate players who developed elsewhere, lack of competitiveness in la liga, lack of new ideas etc. This article here is the closest we have, and it mixes the usual appeal to contingencies plus a suggestion that Barca just have an unfortunate tactical tradeoff that presumably is not one they've gotten themselves into through poor long term planning.

    Not completely having a go here because the whole reason I read this site is because the analytic work is second to none, but it would be nice to see something maybe a bit more self-aware. I've had plenty of experience of both success and failure: the latter inevitably results from the former when you stop being self-critical and look only for others people's failings to nitpick, the former inevitably results from the latter when you learn to stop blaming the world and think instead about why you've had this disaster and how you can avoid another. Also, apologies for the overuse of parentheses.

    *evidenced as early back as the smash and grab by Celtic of all teams, but can't imagine anybody was unaware once they lost to Madrid's second team, were beaten fair and square by Milan and certainly now given a crushing defeat by Munich - you've probably already had the point made to you that Fabregas and Song's old club did substantially better than FCB against Munich, but in fact no team has done worse over both encounters against Munich as FCB did.

  5. Ive never seen wingers so hardworking in both defence and attack at the same time. This is why both pedro and alexis are so important to the team and it saddens to me see that not alot of people have seen and understand this importance.

  6. You forgot to mention that Messi was injured before this game, and he shouldn't have played in the first place. It was obvious that he lacked fitness. Fabregas would have probably been a better option.
    As for Iniesta's and Xavi's lack off movement, the reason for this could be that both of them were overused during the season because Vilanova didn't rotated the team as much as he should have, in my opinion.