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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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.