Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

Report: Messi, Alves give Barca edge over 10-man City

“MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) — Goals by Lionel Messi and Dani Alves saw Barcelona take control of their  Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester City with a 2-0 win in Tuesday’s  first leg.”

My AFP report on a night of regrets for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium can be read here.

Reaction: Pellegrini turns on referee as Man City lose to Barcelona

Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up

The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.

The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

APOEL: 4-1-4-1

The average positions of APOEL's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.

[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]

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Pitchside Europe: Why do Messi and Ronaldo score so many goals?

“Last season they both scored 53 goals for their respective clubs. Since Ronaldo joined Madrid in 2009, he has scored 126 goals in 127 games. Over the same period, Messi has scored 150 goals in 151 games. The diminishing goals-per-game ratio at the World Cup — an established barometer for long-term football trends — proves that the sport is becoming more defensive, and yet Messi and Ronaldo are scoring at a faster rate by the season. So what’s the secret?”

My latest Pitchside Eurosport blog for Eurosport, on why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are able to score goals at such a strikingly anachronistic rate, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Ten questions for 2012

“As the major continental leagues resume following the winter break – Serie A and La Liga returned to action over the weekend, with Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga set to follow suit in the next fortnight – Pitchside Europe looks at 10 issues that will help determine the balance of power across the European mainland in the 12 months ahead.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, which looks at Real Madrid’s quest to topple Barcelona, Juventus’ bid to prolong their unbeaten run and Borussia Dortmund’s emergence as enduring rivals to Bayern Munich, can be found here.

Tactics: How Barcelona have changed football

Tiny cracks may be starting to appear in the previously impregnable armour of Barcelona, with Real Madrid rampant and Pep Guardiola’s side rudely obliged to play catch-up, but this team’s place in history is already secure. The trophies and the unique, hypnotic passing style have made sure of that, but less remarked upon is the tactical legacy that they have bequeathed to the game.

As the first budding usupers begin to congregate at the gates of the Barca citadel, Football Further looks at five tactical maxims that Guardiola and his team have torn to shreds.

1. ‘Don’t mess around with it at the back’

As any Sunday league football captain will be only too happy to tell you, trying to play your way out of trouble in defence is the game’s cardinal sin. “Not there! Not there!” is the cry whenever a full-back checks inside and seeks to pick out a defensive colleague, or – heaven forbid – a centre-back attempts to carry the ball out from inside his own penalty area.

Professional football, particularly in England, can take a surprisingly similar view of players who try to build up play from the back, but Barcelona’s commitment to guarding possession extends to all areas of the pitch. Yes, passes inside your own area carry a risk heavier than passes made anywhere else on the pitch, but if you trust yourself to pass the ball five yards to a team-mate, why would that trust suddenly evaporate merely because you happen to be close to your own goal?

If anything, Barca’s players almost seem to enjoy playing each other into trouble at times, because they know their team-mates have been taught how to protect the ball properly. It is thanks to this confidence that they are able to rattle passes at each other at such an astonishing tempo, regardless of where they are on the pitch.

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Pitchside Europe: The case for the three-man defence

“The 3-4-3 is particularly effective against sides that deploy two central strikers and Barcelona’s 5-0 demolition of Villarreal on the opening weekend of the La Liga season owed much to Pep Guardiola’s courageous decision to counter the visitors’ strike-force of Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi with a three-man back-line. Napoli’s intrepid 3-4-1-2, meanwhile, has not prevented them from making the early running in Serie A.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport attempts to understand why teams can be so resistant to the idea of playing with only three defenders. You can read it here.

Pitchside Europe: Valencia – running to stand still

“Improving on last year’s league placing, however, appears impossible. Valencia lost all four games against Barça and Real last season – going down 6-3 at home to the latter in April – and the big two look even stronger than they were a year ago. Valencia also face fresh competition from newly rich Málaga, while Villarreal, Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will have designs on third place as well. Llorente and Emery may have brought a sliver of optimism to a debt-laden club, and Emery may dream of “creating a great team”, but Valencia’s biggest challenge this season will be simply staying where they are.”

My latest column for Eurosport, on the multiple challenges that Valencia are having to juggle as they seek to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly in La Liga, can be read here.

Tactics: How the Champions League semi-finalists line up

This season’s Champions League semi-finalists reached the last four with an average aggregate winning margin in the quarter-finals of four goals, making them the most comfortable set of semi-final qualifiers in the Champions League era (post-1992).

The diagrams below depict their tactical line-ups from the first legs of their quarter-final ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

Schalke: 4-4-1-1

The average positions of Schalke's players in the first half of their 5-2 victory at Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final; UEFA

[Squad numbers: 1. Manuel Neuer; 22. Atsuto Uchida, 4. Benedikt Höwedes, 32. Joël Matip, 2. Hans Sarpei; 17. Jefferson Farfán, 14. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, 18. José Manuel Jurado, 11. Alexander Baumjohann; 7. Raúl; 9. Edu]

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A tactical guide to the Champions League semi-finalists

When it comes to surviving in the latter stages of the Champions League, it seems versatility is the key to vitality. One of the most notable things about the four sides that have made it to this season’s semi-finals is that all four have, to a greater or lesser extent, deployed formations and tactical systems that they do not use in domestic competition in order to reach the last four.

Defending champions Barcelona romped to an unprecedented six-trophy haul last year using a fairly classic 4-3-3 system that featured three narrow central midfielders and two goalscoring wingers (Thierry Henry on the left, Lionel Messi on the right) either side of a central forward (Samuel Eto’o).

This season, however, their shape has morphed into an assymetrical 4-3-3 that more closely resembles a 4-2-4. Messi has abandoned the right flank in order to occupy a roaming central role, from which he wreaked such havoc in Barça’s 6-2 humiliation of Real Madrid towards the tail-end of last season and the 2-0 Champions League final victory over Manchester United last May.

“Last year we won six titles and he played wide but we need him involved and sometimes he sees more of the ball when he plays more in the centre,” said coach Pep Guardiola after the 4-0 demolition of Stuttgart in the second leg of their last-16 encounter.

Messi’s place on the right flank has been taken by Barcelona B graduate Pedro Rodríguez – himself a capable goalscorer – with Bojan Krkić playing as the central striker in Zlatan Ibrahimović’s absence in the 4-1 quarter-final second leg win against Arsenal last week (right).

Seydou Keita, a goalscoring carillero in La Liga, plays almost as an orthodox left-midfielder, with both he and Pedro instructed to put pressure on the opposition’s full-backs when they lose possession. The attacking instincts of right-back Dani Alves allow Pedro to abandon the right flank when Barça go forward, with Messi also drifting into his former role on the right from time to time.

Internazionale, who will meet the La Liga leaders for a place in the final, have exchanged their 4-3-1-2 standard Serie A shape for a 4-2-3-1 that accommodates playmaker Wesley Sneijder and three strikers in the form of Goran Pandev, Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito.

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World Cup scouting: Jonathan dos Santos (Mexico)

Fraternal similitude is a difficult thing to predict in football. For every pair of brothers like Kolo and Yaya Touré or Gabriel and Diego Milito playing at the very highest level, there’s a John and Paul Terry (currently at Rushden and Diamonds) or a Ryan and Rhodri Giggs (last seen playing for Bacup Borough in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division).

It is for this very reason that Barcelona have reason to be cautious about the development of Jonathan dos Santos. The teenager is the younger brother of Giovani dos Santos, who came to prominence with great fanfare in the 2007-08 season before surprisingly being shipped to Tottenham Hotspur for an initial fee of £4.7 million in the summer of 2008. The star of the Mexico side that won the 2005 Under-17 World Cup in Peru failed to make an impact at Spurs following Harry Redknapp’s arrival at the club and spent the last two months of the 2008-09 season at Championship side Ipswich Town. In January he joined Turkish giants Galatasaray on another loan deal, linking up with Frank Rijkaard, the man who gave him his chance at Barcelona.

At 20, Giovani dos Santos still has his whole career ahead of him, but it is undeniable that he has lost his way since leaving Catalonia. Heralded as the Mexican Ronaldinho when he first emerged on the scene in late 2007, he appeared to possess all the tools to become a world-class attacking player. Somewhere along the line, something went awry and it can only be hoped that in Turkey he rediscovers the form that made him such a tremendously exciting prospect.

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Tactics: Plan B Ibrahimović vindicates Guardiola’s vision

It is always sweeter for Barcelona when they beat Real Madrid thanks to one of their own; a player schooled in the traditions of pass-and-move, 4-3-3 and the Johan Cruyff school of tactical responsibility at their fabled academy. A Xavi. An Andrés Iniesta. A Lionel Messi. On Sunday night, by contrast, it was a goal from record signing Zlatan Ibrahimović that allowed them to overcome their old rivals, but rather than a betrayal of Barca’s traditions, the Swede’s strike was a thumping vindication of manager Pep Guardiola’s clear-sighted and courageous recruitment strategy.

Real took to the field at Camp Nou with a line-up featuring some £185 million of new recruits and produced a commendably tenacious showing for a side supposedly beset by unsolvable tactical conundrums and plagued by implacable egos. They worked hard, pressing high up the pitch as Barcelona did throughout last season, and their threat on the counter-attack was borne out by a spate of first-half chances that could easily have seen them take a 1-0 lead into the interval.

This Barcelona, however, is a different beast. Last season their fêted passing carousel swept all before them but they received an almighty scare that they were lucky to survive when they eked past Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final after seeing their flowing football squeezed half to death by the Londoners’ muscular midfield.

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