Guardiola finaly abandons possession game; Man City v Barcelona match analysis

Despite stubbornly defending his way, Guardiola finally seemed to take a step back from his possession game and went for more pragmatic approach which was instantly rewarded with a win over his former club. Although City employed different approach against Barcelona, compared to the match played last week at Camp Nou, the match flow was quite similar. Barcelona went one up from the first shot on goal despite City being quite successful at closing them down.

GUARDIOLA’S GAME PLAN

1. ABANDONING POSSESSION AND PLAY OUT OF THE BACK MANTRA

Without his sweeper keeper, Claudio Bravo, Pep maybe didn’t want but simply had to abandon his desire to control the possession. That was the first step towards the change of strategy compared to match at Camp Nou. Playing with less skill full goalkeeper meant City can not keep the ball at the back against Barcelona pressing and led to much simpler game plan. The way Guardiola wanted to play at home, compared to the away match, is maybe best seen in clearances department. While City was reluctant to clear the ball at Camp Nou (only 15 clearances), at home ground they went for a long punt 25 times. Not allowing easy goals seemed to be the goal for Guardiola.

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Most important decision Guardiola made prior to the match was to abandon the possession game. Compared to Bravo in first match against Barcelona, Caballero had completely different ball distribution

Above you see the passing map for both City goalkeepers in the first and second match. While Claudio Bravo was able to get to 70 per cent pass completion rate, Willy Caballero had only 37 per cent. No doubt Bravo helped City keep the possession and control the match as Guardiola wants, it also meant that a red card Bravo received was a direct consequence of game plan.

With Caballero between the sticks City opted to clear the ball much more frequently giving the possession away but keeping nice and tidy at the back avoiding crucial mistakes close to his own goal.

As a consequence of this shift in approach, City had only 35 per cent of the ball at home ground while at Camp Nou they were only three per cent behind the best passing team in the world.

2. ZABALETA ROLE

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Tucking inside from left back position, Zabaleta brought Neymar with himself. This meant less players attacking back three and easier build up

Above you see a characteristic movement from Zabaleta who cuts inside from right back position. This forces his marker Neymar make decision. Does he go and track Zabaleta inside? In this instance he does and leaves Messi alone to cover Stones and Otamendi.

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However, when Fernandinho managed to break the pressing and if Neymar wasn’t paying attention, Zabaleta would find himself in acres of space to ping the ball behind the defensive line

Although Barcelona generally does well when pressing in numbers on the small space, above you see importance of Zabaleta’s positioning whenever the ball is on the left side of the pitch during the transition into the middle third. As Fernandinho manages to break the pressing Neymar remains in no man’s land and Zabaleta is alone with enough time and space to go for a direct ball behind high defensive line.

3. HIGH PRESSING

Although Zabaleta was important in breaking down Barcelona pressing and an option if Neymar wasn’t careful, City didn’t make much of it. They were most dangerous when they didn’t have the ball. Their positioning without the ball was formidable throughout the match. City managed 21 interceptions compared to only 10 of their opposition. However, it is even more important when they made the bulk of them. Two thirds of those balls City managed to get in middle third of the match between 30th and 75th minute. During the same period of the game Barcelona managed to intercept only four balls. To remind you, they had scored in 39th, 51st and 74th minute of the match while the first goal was direct product of work without the ball.

To conclude, it could be safely said that Guardiola went very pragmatic with his approach to the match. He kept what went well in the first game (pressing) and abandoned what wasn’t good. Once Claudio Bravo was banned for the match Guardiola had no possibility to go and win the possession game against his former team. He opted for direct game mostly over the right wing while waiting for runs from deep by De Bruyne and Silva once he managed to catch Barcelona on counter attack. Barcelona played same as they did at home and couldn’t produce much. Once City cut down on their own mistakes they went and won the game pretty much the same way they lost it last time around.

Why Aguero didn’t play, Barcelona v Man City analysis

Beefsteak is part of the cow while football is made of mistakes… That’s how Guardiola comforted himself after Barcelona served him with four goals. How many mistakes Guardiola made himself is difficult to judge. However, it is certain he will not abandon his philosophy. Ball playing goalkeeper is fundamental part of how he wants his teams to play and that won’t change. Goalkeeper, however, eventually might.

 
Barcelona is in trouble in the back line and as game progressed, Pique and Alba both had to be substituted. Despite that, Guardiola kept De Bruyne in nr. 9 spot until 78th minute when he finally introduced Aguero. Too late, however. But decision to have De Bruyne instead of his best striker from the first minute was driven from the way Guardiola wanted to confront Luis Enrique. Aguero was consciously sacrificed as De Bruyne was fundamental part of Pep’s game plan.

While the ball was at the feet of Ter Stegen, City was very high up the pitch. However, they didn’t press. They made sure to keep passing lanes in central areas covered and prevent Busquets, Rakitić or Iniesta to come deep and pick the ball. This forced Barcelona players into predictable passing from goalkeeper to one of the center backs and then to full back. That was the trigger for aggressive closing down.

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De Bruyne was fundamental to the way Guardiola wanted to close the center of the pitch. His hard work and physical resistance meant Barcelona could be effectively closed down. A job Aguero could hardly do well

Above you see the moment Barcelona passes to Mascherano on the right side. Once the ball was near the byline City attacked in packs in the constrained space. De Bruyne was crucial here as he has mentality and physical ability to shift from left to right following fast tempo Barcelona is able to produce in the defensive line. Furthermore, he is able to press intensively and then track back. Characteristics Aguero lacks although he might be better finisher.

How hard it was for Barcelona to cope with this intensity from the attacking line we can read from possession. First quarter of hour teams were split equally on the ball. However, most indicative is that players who spent most time on the ball among hosts were Ter Stegen and Umtiti.

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Guardiola’s plan to cut off midfield trio was a success as you can see that City’s pressing forced Barcelona to play down the wings almost exclusively (cource: @11tegen11

Above you see very good passing diagram from @11tegen11 and how this approach from Man City influenced Barcelona. Busquets, normally one of the most influential players and one who’s job is to connect defence and midfield was almost completely cut off. Their game suffered as well since Iniesta and Rakitić struggled to get on ball. Guardiola’s intent to seal off the midfield was quite a success. Instead of Busquets it was Digne and Mascherano who had to connect the lines and that is in big part thanks to De Bruyne’s mobility and hard work.

Despite solid performance that denied Barcelona the space and time in most dangerous zones, hosts managed to get into the lead after bizarre string of luck and Messi’s composure and determination. First Fernandinho slipped far away from goal and left the ball to Messi and few seconds later already won ball rolled right around penalty mark.

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Barcelona scored after series of bizarre incidents that resulted with Messi alone in the box. Chance he wouln’t miss if he had only one leg

At that moment Messi was still surrounded by Otamendi and Silva, but both of them expected to go on counter as the ball was already won. Less than a second later, Messi was already celebrating his first goal.

From that moment Barcelona takes the initiative for following 15 minutes which was the time City needed to get back into the match. Although there were no significant tactical changes, the visitors upped their game and managed to finish the half creating few promising chances themselves.

When second half kicked off it was expected that City would continue to search for equalizer since Barcelona didn’t do anything significant. However, another bizarre moment came in 51st minute. Any other goalkeeper in any other team would leave defence to deal with lose ball 20 yards from his goal. However, Bravo is brought to be a ball playing goalkeeper so he went to do his job and – failed miserably. Poor pass into the feet of Suarez meant a prompt shot at goal that Bravo attempts to save and rightly gets sending off for hand ball outside the box. At that moment game was practically over.

Despite very ugly result in the end, City did well in terms of stifling Barcelona. While first goal was rather unlucky, red card is direct product of the way Guardiola wants to play and it determined the final result. Most certainly Guardiola will not change his philosophy as ball playing goalkeeper is fundamental to the build up play, but he might try to find another keeper.

CL: Borussia v Real Madrid, read what late changes made the difference

Highly anticipated clash between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid ended peacefully but didn’t provide football quality that was expected despite four goals scored.
Teams came on the pitch with quite different baggage. While Borussia scored 20 goals in last four matches it seemed everything is clicking in Thomas Tuchel’s side. They even won last three clashes against Spanish heavyweights on their stadium. However, BVB was missing Marc Bartra, Marco Reus and Sven Bender, all important players.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, came to Germany after two draws and severe problems were reported among the front three. If you count that two very important players like Casemiro and Marcelo are also out injured, it didn’t look good for Spaniards.

Problems with injuries and between Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale coupled with poor recent form and fact Real plays away, urged Zidane to opt for more cautious approach relying on quick counter attacks.

Borussia, on the other hand, encouraged by recent form wanted to cut Real off early.

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Everything evolves around Weigl in Borussia. However, Ginter provided a Great performance running from deep into middle third. Too bad Real was good on defence and Borussia front line didn’t have their day

Above you can see Borussia in early stage of the match. Rarely you can see a whole team so high on the pitch, and it is even more stunning to see it against Real Madrid. What strikes is that Borussia is inside quite a small space since both full backs are sitting very narrow. While it allows for quick short passing it also gives opportunity to opposition to close down quicker and with fewer players.

Everything in Tuchel’s side evolves around Weigl who is in deep lying playmaker role and truly connects the defence and attack. However, he is heavily supported by Ginter who is surging forward almost in line with Weigl.

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Although Weigl is the man that connects BVB lines, it is Ginter’s offensiveness that provides an extra player in Tuchel’s team

Above is a map of all touches on the ball that Ginter has made during the match. With 117 touches he is above all other BVB players and represents a true ball playing defender. It isn’t just touches that makes him important part of the team but his forward passing as well. His insertions deep into the middle third is also a reason why Schmeltzer is often playing a bit more centrally than a full back normally would.

However, few quick and direct passes Real managed early in the game urged Tuchel to drop defence below half way line. The match was fairly even in the opening quarter until Real scores afte quick break and Borussia gets firmly on the ball and possession.

The way teams played didn’t really change much until Real scored again. Tuchel started to move things more rapidly as Borussia was very slow in build up which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to get back in position and assist three central midfielders who did great job forcing 30 interceptions and turnovers.

As time passed Tuchel changed Schurle for quite poor Goetze, but real change came when Pulišić and Mor came on the pitch. They were more direct and their dribbling and speed meant Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to get back and effectively help the defence. Tuchel did well with his subs as they provided an equaliser since Real couldn’t cope anymore with pressure fresh players provided.

To summarize, both teams had sound plans for their offensive game. Real was fortunate to have scored and could keep on defensive looking for their attacking players to counter while Borussia was always under pressure. In the end great speed of decision and technique from Mor and Pulišić really turned it around for the hosts to make both teams happy. Real got yet another draw but Modrić, Kroos and Rodriguez proved they could cope with highly offensive opposition even without Casemiro.