Monday, 20 June 2011

How to Beat Barcelona - diagrams

To add to yesterday's post, here is a diagram explaining the basic shape and movements visually.


In defence it is vital to remain compact. This area - highlighted by the red rectangle - is key. Barcelona will play endless sideways passes quietly probing until space appears. The defending side must defend the space, not the ball. The front four must help win the ball back and their willingness to track back and be aggressive in their pressing is key to putting Barcelona under pressure higher up the field. However, in deeper areas, that red square must never be conceded.

Number 8 and Number 11 are particularly important in tracking the runs made by Dani Alves and Puyol/Abidal. Supposing Alves is the more aggressive of the two fullbacks in pushing forward. The striker (No 9) must assume a position just in the space left by Alves. The central defender (Puyol/Mascherano) then has a choice: follow the forward and be dragged out of position, or leave him alone in space.

In transitioning from defence to attack it is important to have a clear idea which side you are going to target, leftback or rightback. Pace is essential and both the three midfield players (Nos 6, 7 and 10) and the three forwards (Nos 8, 9, 11) need to be able to anticipate what will happen very quickly to evade Barcelona's intense pressing.

The correct player to target is the weaker one or the player more likely to be found higher up the pitch. Dani Alves is an obvious target and despite his incredible stamina, would surely be put to the test by a concerted effort to undermine his attacking tendencies through direct passes into the space he has left.

Abidal might also be a target on the left. However, having played at centreback he is a formidable defender. Iniesta, Pedro and Messi practice their dribbling on him as he is seen as the toughest Barcelona defender to beat 1 on 1. His positioning is excellent and he isn't quite as gung-ho as Alves. Alternatively, when Puyol plays, his game is more conservative so there is less space to exploit.

On the counter attack quickly exploiting space is key and so the right side is probably a better option. An industrial, energetic player with decent technical attributes would be the ideal player for this role. Park ji-Sung, Tevez, or Marcelo are all ideal players for this role.


Just as the defensive phase of the game must have one eye on a quick attacking transition, the attacking phase of the game must have one eye on a quick defensive transition. This must place an emphasis on halting the Barcelona counter attack immediately.

In the diagram above, our rightback has the ball in an advanced position with the winger creating the overlap. If he loses the ball - as happened for Inter's third goal against Barcelona - our Number 7 must win it back immediately. Our number 6 is placed to cover him. The two shielding players - 6 and 7 - apply the same theory of compactness in attack as in defence. If Barcelona do win the ball back then it must be won back immediately. This is essentially what Barcelona do so well themselves.

The aim of the attacking phase is to overload the fullback by using one of our fullbacks and a winger to create a 2 v 1 situation. This leaves our centre forward, opposing winger and No 10 to attack the box at the near post, far post and centre whilst awaiting cross. Barcelona do not have a tall side and look suspect in the air (as Ronaldo proved in the Copa del Rey final).

During a spell of sustained pressure the leftback would be a better person to attack. This is because Villa is reticent to trackback to help. As he doesn't track back, Barcelona are either easily overloaded on that side, or they commit men from the centre to compensate and so are prone to a switch. That switch will be exposed by No 8 and 10 in the above diagram.

The attributed required of the No 11 are different from that of the No 8. He must be capable of taking on the left back. An extremely technically adept player is required. Players like Eto'o, Di Maria, Valencia and Sanchez would all be perfect at playing that role.

Finally, the No 10 is crucial in this role. He must have an eye for goal and be a formidable passer of the ball with vision, composure and a quick burst of pace. He must also be willing to drop deep to help the holding players when necessary and press religiously. Rooney has an eye for goal and works hard, but in many other regards is lacking for this role. Sneijder, Modric, Oezil or Sahin are perfect for this role.


There is not an awful lot to conclude here. I will instead end with a suggestion as to the Real Madrid side that I feel would pose the greatest threat to Barcelona and a caveat on this whole exercise. For the former task, I shall assume Real Madrid complete the signing of Coentrao but that they make no other signings.

Given the player types listed above and in the previous post this team is self explanatory. Pepe and Carvalho both love a fight and will not be outdone with gamesmanship. Ramos is good going forward, and a safe defender. Coentrao makes it 3 out of 4 Portuguese at the back. Real Madrid could create the overload with both their fullbacks.

Diarra and Alonso hold. Until Pepe's sending off in the first leg last year they closed down the space very well. Over the period of the four games the holding screen generally did a good job at 11 v 11 so this is not too much of a problem. Alonso is a better passer than Cambiasso and Motta combined so should be the perfect player to quickly exploit space left by fullbacks.

Marcelo is strong going forward, decent technically and would have the desire and ability to track Alves's runs. Di Maria needs to show greater consistency and character in big games but at the moment he is the best Madrid have. His dribbling ability and end product must both make a step up, but if he can do it then he could prove a dangerous weapon.

Sahin, having played deeper as well as in the no 10 role for Dortmund, would be ideal for the No 10 role. With an excellent shot, quality passing and the industry to press and help out his team mates he fulfils all that is expected of this role.

Finally Ronaldo. Cannot be left out and is exceptional in the air, something Madrid need to exploit from set pieces. Let someone else take freekicks and corners. He needs to be on the end of crosses.

Now for the caveat...

Barcelona changed massively from the 09/10 season to the 10/11 season. A similar leap could make a lot of this redundant. The signing of Rossi would definitely signal a change in strategy: Sanchez less so. In any event, no team is going to start favourites against Barcelona. Fortunately, that is not the aim. The aim is a victory, and that is altogether possible.

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