Zidane adapting to Barcelona providing the result for Real; Barcelona v Real Madrid match analysis

In last two years El Clasico was very kind to us. With four goals on average it was a match that kept us all on the verge of our seats. However, the game played at Camp Nou on Saturday seemed to have two different teams disguised as top Spanish sides.

Yet, if we consider the circumstances, it is quite understandable why we have seen two timid teams that were more interested in outsmarting than outscoring each other.

Real Madrid came into the derby match without an away loss since December 2015 and in impressive form that saw them win five matches in row. Barcelona, on the other hand, was already behind great rival by six points. Worse than their points summary were the performances they have put together recently. Three draws in last five games and very unconvincing ones.

Therefore, Luis Enrique had to be cautious going into the match that could see him nine points behind the top team of the league. The form and difference in points meant that Zinedine Zidane could afford himself the luxury of repeating the strategy from recent derby match against Atletico Madrid.

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Although Real seems in control of the situation, Barcelona has numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch

Real sat deep and reluctant to press Barcelona high unless it meant chasing down back passes. They opted to stay deep and wait their chance on counter attacks as we can see on the image above. Lucas Velazquez had an important role of tracking back and helping to deal with Neymar.

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As Isco and Modrić leave their position in the line, space opens for 4v1 situation in the middle of the central area

However, initially this provided a lot of space for Barcelona. If we look the same image from hosts’ perspective, we see quite a different picture. Due to low pressing intensity Barcelona could come into the middle third with relative ease. Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s defensive work rate isn’t the best, that meant Blau Grana could get a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch simply by rising one centre back. To deal with it, Isco and Modrić needed to step up which lead to an overload in the central area. Kovačić was left alone to deal with four Barcelona players and lot of space due to Real Madrid relatively deep defensive line.

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Before Real got their act together, Barcelona was able to reach the dangerous part of the pitch relatively easy breaking the central defensive line

We see another variant of play Barcelona employed to find space in front of the defence. As opposed to the first image, two central midfielders do not engage in press on ball carrier. Therefore, Busquets has enough time and space to find Neymar as he cuts inside.

However, Real adapted quickly by rising the defensive line which eliminated the space in front of the defence and creating a lot of it behind.

This was a calculated risk by Zinedine Zidane as he eliminated dangerous space in central areas hoping his defence will be able to deal with Neymar and Suarez. While this isn’t usually the case, Zidane was proven right in this instance. Partly due to quality of his defence, but largely due to great work of midfield that sealed off the passing lanes through the middle. Even Messi, who was playing quite deep and central to help the ball circulation in middle third, couldn’t do much about it and Barcelona was left relying on rather desperate long balls into the path of two strikers.

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Barcelona long passes comparison show the effect of Iniesta in the squad during the second half

 

Above we see long ball comparison for Barcelona during the first and the second half. It is obvious how the hosts were frustrated by good defending from Real Madrid. One lucky goal later and with Iniesta on the pitch, Barcelona looked much like the team we all know.

To an extent this was due to their decision to abandon long balls and try to play around the defence. However, Zidane reacted to goal by making his team more attacking and that meant more space for Barcelona.

As Casemiro replaced Isco, the Brazilian midfielder took over all the defensive duties allowing Luka Modrić to go more offensive which made huge holes in Real defence especially during transition from attack to defensive shape. In that period Barcelona should have probably increased the lead but they needed more confidence to finish off their chances.

As the game was nearing the end Zidane introduced Asensio and Mariano reverting to sort of 4-2-4 in hope to get an equalizer which they eventually managed to do.

To conclude, Barcelona will be far less happy with El Classico than their rivals. They were unable to deal with great defensive work of their opposition and couldn’t find their rhythm until Real opened up. They failed to capitalize on their chances and didn’t manage to shut the shop either. A pattern that repeats all over the last month and doesn’t spur confidence in the rest of the season. Real, on the other hand, didn’t really need the victory but has shown great character to get back into the match they controlled most of the time. Well, at least if we consider they came to defend and look to score on the counter. They defended formidably indeed and while they didn’t score on the counter they didn’t compromise strong position they had before the match. If anything, their confidence can only grow with the goal in the last minute of an away game against the biggest rivals.

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Change that turned the game, Sevilla v Barcelona match analysis

Rarely you see such a different two halves of football match as it was in La Liga match between Sevilla and Barcelona on Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium. The way Sevilla was playing the first half was indeed impressive as Barcelona struggled to get on the ball and establish authority they are used to. A small but significant change made in half time turned the game around. Before we get to that we should respect Jorge Sampaoli’s side and see how they managed to minimize the Barcelona’s threat and go ahead.

Lot of teams try but rarely one can succeed pressing highly skill full defensive line of Catalan club. Sevilla employed very high pressing, and although Barcelona managed to escape it at times, they couldn’t do it consistently enough to get into their rhyth

DENYING BARCELONA POSSESSION

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Asa result of great pressing Barcelona saw only 47 per cent of ball during the first half

In the first half Barcelona had only 47 per cent of the ball. Above you can see why. While Sevilla was largely defending in 4-4-2 shape, with Vazquez stepping up from midfield to join Vietto, the whole team was very high preventing the goal keeper distribution. Sevilla made sure to close down the centre of the pitch as you can see above where Vietto, Vazquez, N’Zonzi, Nasri and Sarabia guarded the three central players. Additionally, Vietto was keeping an eye on central defender while Sarabia took care of his full back.

As central trio Busquets, Rakitić and Denis Suarez were locked out, Barcelona was forced to play down the flanks. As hosts kept defensive line very high, Barcelona found it difficult to transition to middle and offensive third in an organized manner.

Where Sevilla really excelled wasn’t the defensive phase of the match but once they were in possession. Sampaoli took a deliberate gamble attacking with his left back who was most of the time very high up the pitch.

 

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Escudero was very high up the pitch which tied down two wide Barcelona players and created overloads in the central areas

This allowed Vitolo to occupy rather central position during most of the match and play in line with attacking midfielder Vazquez and more advanced Vietto. Alongside Sarabia, those three were most dangerous players during the first half. The key for their space and time on the ball was, however, Escudero. He occupied Sergio Roberto and Rakitić leaving Vitolo, Vietto, Nasri and Vazquez to deal only with Busquets, Daniel Suarez and center backs. This often created overloads in small spaces and deeper in the Barcelona half it was even more dangerous due to lack of defensive work from Messi and Suarez. Sampaoli took a gamble there as advanced positioning of his left full back meant opposition right winger was allowed more space in case of quick counter attack.

While Sevilla looked really good in first half and managed to get into the box almost at will, all of that changed during the period and essentially made it possible for Barcelona to win the game.

Catalans came into the match with an idea to exploit left side and overloaded the central area together with left half space.

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During the first half Messi was pushed into the central area to create an overload on the left wing and left half spaces. However, this didn’t really work as Barcelona couldn’t find possession and threat they are used to

Above you can see typical Barcelona during the first half. Luis Enrique decides to keep Lionel Messi in an attacking midfielder slot while in possession which overloads the left side of the offensive third. He was probably counting on exploiting Mariano’s attacking mentality but we have seen before that it was actually Escudero who was higher up the pitch mostly. Additionally, when pushed back deeper into their half, Sevilla would transform into 4-1-4-1 shape and there were always N’Zonzi or Nasri available to close down Messi who was in central area. Whatever the reasons behind Enrique’s thinking, overloading the left side wasn’t really producing the performance he was hoping for. It was even unfortunate choice as it meant that Escudero could venture forward even more without a threat of leaving Messi in the space behind him.

THE CHANGE IN SECOND HALF

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Most important change Luis Enrique made was moving Messi closer to the right touchline. He could find more space and time to dictate the game from there

Above you see the comparison of Messi’s positioning during the first (left) and second (right) half. Enrique abandoned his approach from first half and brought Messi back to right flank for the rest of the match and this made all the difference in the end. Although he scored in first half, Messi and Barcelona played much better after the half time.

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Comparison between first and second half reveals that Barcelona had abandoned left side after the break and attacked evenly down both flanks once Messi went from center to the right wing

To complete the picture, you can see another diagram above representing Barcelona attacking lanes during the game. It is obvious Barcelona spent the same amount of time in the central area during both halves. However, their wing play changed significantly. In first half they almost abandoned the right wing leaving it exclusively to Suarez and Sergio Roberto. Displacing Messi wide in second half meant more time on that part of the pitch and even more time on the ball for Messi. While he had only 25 touches in the first part of the match, the shift to right wing meant also he touched the ball 42 times, almost doubling his time on the ball.

In conclusion, Sevilla played great half and a lot of credit goes to them. However, by placing Messi centrally Enrique played into their hands allowing Escudero to create more space for Vitolo. At the same time, having a strong defensive midfielder in N’Zonzi made it difficult for Argentinian to find space in well placed Sevilla defence. Credit goes to Luis Enrique for realizing the problem and solving it as well.

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.

TACTICS: An insight into the Inside Forward tactical role

It is no secret that biggest football stars aren’t just players. They earn as much shooting commercials as playing football. Cristiano Ronaldo is selling us anything from underpants and deodorants to cars. Did you ever ask yourself why is that? Popularity comes with success and various brands employ footballers to sell us their products. It is very much the same with tactics. The whole football world wants to emulate successful teams. This past decade, it was Barcelona so everyone wanted to play like them including the Spanish national side.

As teams throughout the world strived to be as successful as Catalans, we have seen the rise of popularity of 4-2-3-1 formation with wide strikers. Their success made a worldwide trend in football and today most of the teams use the same formation and even roles. It is, therefore, worth to take a look at the role that is widely employed at all levels and see what makes it so important and popular.

Inside Forwards: Arjen Robben, Thierry Henry, Nolito, Neymar, Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo

Essential attributes: Decisions, off the ball movement, acceleration, technique, finishing.

While the 20th century was dominated by prolific wingers, today it is difficult to find one in any of the top teams. In the modern game, it is the full-back’s job to bomb forward and put the crosses in from wide. Where winger used to rule, today you will often find an “inside forward”. Think of Thierry Henry in Barcelona or Robben at Bayern to get an idea.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said: “It’s funny when I see centre-forwards starting off in the middle against their markers and then going away from goal. Strikers going inside are far more dangerous…”

While inside forwards emerged within 4-2-3-1 formation, they have different roles in different teams. They are players who are either two-footed or play on opposite side of their preferred foot. This makes it hard for inside forward to cross the ball but his assignments rarely include crossing. The main job of an inside forward, or inverted winger, is to use his acceleration and technique to take on their man and drive towards the goal.

Tactically, Guardiola’s inside forward provides a challenge for the full-back that is marking him. When his team is in possession, inside forward needs to stay wide to keep the defense stretched. This makes gaps between the defensive line wider and more exploitable.

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Guardiola’s IF Nolito is holding the touchline to spread the United defence. The attacking midfielder, Silva is making a run from deep into the undefended space

Above you can see Guardiola’s Manchester City in possession. Nolito is playing an inside forward role and you can see how important it is for him to keep discipline and stay wide. His positioning means Manchester United needs to stretch their defense which is then exploited by Silva. Off the ball positioning and teamwork is essential for a player in this role. If he was a bit hastier and wanted to score, he would go inside and cancel the option of a pass to Silva.

Once on the ball, inside forward needs the technique and dribbling combined with acceleration and good decision making. All these come together since he needs the ability to go past the full back that marks him. Once away, he can shoot since his stronger foot has a wider angle on the goal, or pass to one of the teammates.

From the tactical side, good inside forward provides a challenge for any defense. His movement from wide towards the center creates confusion in the defensive line. This comes from a fact that an inside forward is first marked by a full back. But, once he moves more to the center, responsibility for marking him becomes a gray area.

If the defense isn’t well coordinated and lacks communication, inside forwards can create all sorts of problems since the full-backs need to make difficult decisions in the short time window. Do they shadow the forward’s run inside?

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A text book example of situation in which the Full Back decides to follow the Inside Forward

Above you see a situation where a full-back decides to track the inside forward. This creates space for the onrushing opposition full back who has acres of space to either cross the ball or pass it back into the central areas.

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A text book example of situation when the Full Back decides to leave an Inside Forward to his team mate while covering the opposition Full Back

The second GIF demonstrates a situation where full-back decides to pass the inside forward to his center back and tracks the run of full back. However, this creates a potential overload on top of the box.

Obviously, full backs do not defend alone but as a part of the team which makes it harder for forwards. For that reason, a good inside forward must be able to make a decision quickly as to exploit any hesitation, slip of concentration or misunderstanding in defense. Only then physical attributes such as acceleration and pace come into play.

While inside forwards have different tasks and responsibilities within different teams, they all pose a same fundamental dilemma for the defense. This is the main reason why coaches love to use such player on the pitch. Come back to see the next part where we will examine another important role often used with inside forwards. The false nine.

 

The article originally appeared at Fieldoo , a service for connecting footballers, agents and football clubs.

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.