Sunday, 29 May 2011

Barcelona dominate Man United in 3-1 victory

Barcelona totally dominated Manchester United on the first Champions League Final at the new Wembley.
Barcelona started with probably their first choice eleven, other than Javier Mascherano coming in for Puyol at centre back. Manchester United started with the team that has been their main side for their big games in the last few weeks with no room for their most destructive attacking forces in Nani and Berbatov, the latter of whom didn't even make the bench.

For the first 5 to 10 minutes Man United were on top, pressing Barcelona high up the pitch and causing them to be sloppy in possession. In the first 10 minutes, Barcelona were tackled 7 times and gave the ball away 12 times, a far worse statistic for them seeing as most of this took place in their half. This meant that United had a good amount of possession early on and they passed it around quickly with Evra notably high on a couple of occasions and a couple of shots on goal early on.

However, the pattern of the game turned out to be similar to the 2009 final between the two sides. The first 10 minutes United were aggressive and had Barcelona mainly penned back in their half but Barcelona soon settled into the game and United were soon chasing shadows.

United's centre midfield on paper, Giggs and Carrick, didn't look able to deal Iniesta and Xavi with a lack of ball winning skill, so it was no surprise to see Valencia and mainly Park moving inside to help out in the middle and only going out wide when the full backs had the ball. Park's energy was good early on, setting the tempo for United's early dominance with a tackle on Dani Alves and was generally lively. Unfortunately for him, for a lot of the first half he spent his time in the middle helping track Messi's runs from deep and cover for Carrick and Giggs, so much so that on a number of occasions he ended up closer to the right flank than to the left flank. Valencia meanwhile wasn't as good positionally and didn't look as comfortable in the centre, committing 7 fouls.

A notable feature of Barcelona's play was not only Messi dropping deeper than usual but also David Villa's positioning when Messi did drop deep. Villa was far more central than we've been used to seeing and at points when Messi dropped deep, Villa seemed to take up the normal position of a centre forward, occupying the centre backs while Alves stretched the play high up on the right. Only when Messi moved further forward or ran at the centre backs did Villa move out wide to the right. This is easily identifiable when you see the average positions taken up in the first half:

45 - Here are the average positions for both sides so far in the CL final. Graphic #championsleaguefinal

A lot of Man United's attacking features came from long balls, testing out particularly Mascherano and Alves in the air against Wayne Rooney, a clearly deliberate tactic. This was successful when United got bodies forward, especially early on, but as the game went by and United had many bodies back defending, the long ball was not really a threat with Javier Hernandez being unable to make much of it against the two centre backs while Rooney couldn't do much to support as he was tracking Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield. Rooney didn't do a great job here because he wanted the ball and this shows as Busquets started a lot of the moves, making 82 passes with a 94% success rate. This meant that as United got the ball clear it came straight back at them just as fast and Barca tired them out with their lengthy periods of possession and brilliant interchanging of positions. Hernandez himself was quiet for most of the match even though his positioning was mainly between Mascherano, the midfielder playing centre back and Alves, who left lots of space as he went forward.

The main attacking feature from United when they had the ball in Barcelona's half, was to attack the flanks. One of United's main strengths this season and indeed under Ferguson has been their dominance out wide. The fact that Nani, who has 18 assists in the league this season (the highest in the league), didn't even make the starting eleven shows their strength out wide and it was a tactic that caused no surprise for Barcelona. The energetic Evra and Fabio looked to get forward when United had the ball and with Valencia and Park on the wings this was always going to be a key point of the game for them. Indeed even when Park cut inside, Giggs often interchanged with him, causing no real damage to United's structure - both players are happy either in the centre or on the left hand side so can play very well there. However this didn't particularly work out for United with Barcelona blocking out the space for the wide players with clever use of the full backs and centre midfielders.
The tactic used by Barcelona to shut out Man United's wide players on the ball.

Messi himself was brilliant and his movement from the deep was excellent, often catching out United's midfielders and defenders and in truth they couldn't deal with him. Even for the first goal his movement caught out Evra who followed him into the centre leaving space on the right for Pedro to score.

Man United it has to be said showed great spirit in getting back into the game because they were being completely dominated at that point. From the throw in Barcelona had been sucked in to the left hand side meaning there was a lack of defensive cover on the right and Rooney had plenty of space to finish even though it was a great strike. Ryan Giggs who had drifted into the box was probably offside but it was tight and it's hard to be too critical of the linesman for that decision because it was a tough one.

At the start of the second half Barcelona came out and penned United back on the edge of their box causing them a lot of trouble. Messi was becoming more and more influential in the game and in the Barcelona moves and in truth he had too much space with which to work. United mainly played a zonal marking system with him meaning that different players picked him up in when he was in different positions. However they often weren't compact enough in the middle and players often either gave him too much space or got too tight to him allowing him to turn and run. For Barca's second goal, he wasn't really closed down and had too much space with which to work. The centre backs didn't want to close him down because of leaving space for Pedro and Villa to run into from out wide and maybe weren't even expecting him to shoot but to pass instead.

In terms of positioning for United in the second half, Ryan Giggs moved over to the left hand side with the energetic Park moved into the centre to try and put Iniesta and Xavi under more pressure than had previously been given. In the end though Man United were sat so deep at points that Barcelona could just play it back to Busquets or the centre backs should they be put under any real pressure and Park himself left too many gaps in pursuit of the Barca midfield.

David Villa was a lot more wide on the right than he had been in the first half, leaving Vidic and Ferdinand with no one to directly mark. This meant that Barcelona played a more straight up 4-3-3 that they've become known for with no one playing as a centre forward. Xavi and Iniesta were again brilliant, running the main of the possession game, Iniesta making 115 passes with a 93% succession rate and Xavi making 148 passes with a 95% possession rate. Meanwhile the player with the most passes for United was Ferdinand who made 47 passes with an 85% succession rate. Barcelona's average pass completion rate was an extremely high 90% with United's being at 80%. (stats got from

David Villa's great strike finished off United and meant that Barcelona could just kill the game off by keeping the ball. They therefore sat back deeper and passed the ball around with seeming ease against an ever tiring United side. Nani came on for Fabio just before Barcelona's third and didn't show much going forward nor defensively while Valencia who moved to right back because of the change and got the yellow card that really should have been given earlier after a number of fouls. Barcelona didn't properly test out Valencia in the right back slot but they didn't need to and they didn't have any problems late on as United couldn't really open them up. Scholes came on for Carrick and sat deeper trying to control United's possession but in truth they didn't have much of the ball anyway and were thoroughly outclassed as Barca comfortably won the Champions League.
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  1. A very good tactical analysis, although perhaps the most obvious point is missed. Barcelona had better players in each position, so even if Ferguson had won the tactical battle, Man United would probably still have lost the game.

    Wonderful football from Barcelona which reminds us all why we love the game.

  2. Why were Villa and Pedro, at the beginning of the match, positioned in the opposite side they normally play?

  3. Comment number 1) Yes of course there's going to be a matter of having the best players. However United have good enough players that if they had won the tactical battle they may well have won. Sometimes it's also about having the right players for the right tactics. United clearly were outclassed tactically and that showed on the field. If United had stopped Barcelona's strengths (I know it's extremely difficult) and attacked their weaknesses then they may well have won. The problem is as I wrote about above, Barcelona were so superior in their organisation and patterns of play that as a team it makes them look better than they are as individuals.

    Comment number 2) Both players have struggled the last few months and have been unable to regularly get on the scoresheet or make a visible impact on the game. Guardiola may well have been swapping to see if it would work better. He has done that recently in a couple of games so it may well be that it worked better in those games. (I haven't seen their last few games this season.)

  4. If you actually watch Barcelona you'll realise they dont "normally play" anywhere. They roam around the attacking positions

  5. Yeah also a good point, they interchange positions so often so that they always have particular zones filled and it moves opposition players round until tiredness and gaps appear.

  6. Ferguson was found wanting. He should have flooded the midfield and played very narrow. Anderson, Nani and scholes should have played instead of Carrick, Valencia and Hernandez. Nani and Rooney could play on the flanks and really attacked the right side of Barca. Scholes should have played to spray the passes to keep Barca on their toes. Anderson could have been used to break up play together with Park. If fletcher was fit, he should play instead of Giggs.

    Not sure why Berbatov was left out. He should have been introduced on 80 mins and played long ball all the way with Ferdinand and Vidic thrown forward as they had no answer to Barca's passing.

    Losing 3-1 or 7-1 does not matter in the Champs league final! He seemed to forget that his team had scored twice in injury time when they beat Bayern many years back and simply gave up after the 3rd goal bereft of ideas.

  7. That's a very good analysis.On a more general note it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the big European sides react to the Barcelona challenge.Will they try to emulate its system/style of play and eventually catch up or will they focus solely on stopping them?And on Barca's side how much more can they evolve this style and to which direction?

  8. Barca employed short quick passes, rare;y more than 5 yards, one touch football, not making the obvious triangular passes so common in the EPL ( the ones where a forward is vulnerable but is forced to run onto a diagonal ball, with the hope he wins the percentage possession).

    Barca looked like a bunch of lads who have played hours of fast one touch five a side, they don't knock it long or high but work for each other, it looked like telepathy but I bet it was just them having fun.

  9. Good analysis! One point I would like to add is that the attacking on the right flank by Dani Alveis and interchange with Messi provides constant threat. We all know Xavi is the conductor of the team in the middle, Inesta provide creativity mainly from left. Messi has the freedom of going anywhere he wants. and this seems to be the attacking structure for Barcelona. I have seen Deni Alveis on attack much more than on defense and I remember he also have a extreme high number of assists (considiering his position) this season too.

  10. Xavi tthe best CM i have seen. ManU need Sneijder, Modric & maybe even a Jack Wiltshire to toughen up that midfeild & to put that bit of quality thats so badly needed! Barca would make the Prem look like La Liga...

  11. ..everyone forgets that without destroyers such as fletcher and hargreaves (that SAF would have played both if available) to nullify the barcelona midfield there was no other option than to use energy and pace. A midfield of fletcher with scholes/carrick and hargreaves man marking messi, rooney would have received decent support from width of nani and park and although man utd may have not made many more chances it would have certainly contained barcelona to a point of frustration, which would have made the result completely different. Man Utd's problem was the lack of an enforcer to stop messi playing as notably in the first hallf he was tackled more often than he actually beat players and if that happened yhe whole game he would be forced wide to find possession thus upsetting barcelona's style. Man Utd can consider themselves a little unlucky that boith their options of this man marker were unavailable, good article though. thanks

  12. man united were never going to beat barcelona unless they adopted some type of man to man marking, such as anderson following messi around the entire game. If you sit back Barc will find space - you have to be brave, mark xavi, iniesta and messi tightly. If you can close them down , you might only lose by one or two goals, but at least its better then getting murdered in front of 300 million people..

  13. Man United did manage to win the ball quite often but were very wasteful in possesion, Park and Valencia in particular. Hernandez was caught offside too often. Berbatov is much better at keeping the ball and might have made a difference.

  14. Good summary- I think the simple stats, if your making many times more passes AND with higher accuracy , then you have a great advantage.
    Man U, and most UK sides give the ball away so badly- possession is not kept well at all, therefore Barca just need to press close and our lack of control will mean we GIVE the ball back.
    They dont need to tackle !!
    Man U lost posession under pressure so many times, later due to lack of ideas and exhaustion...

  15. Carrick was useless. Why does Sir Alex continue to put up with his average displays? He is not nor ever will be a replacement for Scholes.
    Who from the ManU team would get into the Barca side?
    Barca are a side of very talented individuals that work as a team. They have understanding of each other and confidence in themselves.
    They control and use the ball. Ball control is the key. It build confidence in their own ability. Being able to control and pass with speed, provide options and have an exceptional work rate is where they win out. This United team are not the best and have won the EPL by default rather than domination. Barca have dominated in Spain.
    The way forward is to assess why Spain won the world cup and why Barca are so good. Reflect and learn.
    I expect the response will be to buy more players and drop them as soon as they don't perform. Pay huge sums for one or two players and expect the whole team to change. Carry on playing as if it were on the pitches of the 70's and early 80's where touch and skill were impossible. Then talk the teams up as if they are contenders, as usual.
    Arsenal play great football with a wonderful approach to the game. With better players and the same ideals they would have a team that is......Barca. It is time to learn. Liverpool of the 80's, United late 90's etc etc.

  16. Nice analysis man (I followed this from the comments on the BBC side)

    Messi destroyed Evra to set up the 3rd goal (made me think about 2002 when a young Ronaldinho destroyed Ashley Cole)

    I think Manchester United should buy Aguero and two central midfielders to replace Carrick and Giggs.

  17. I also saw that Barcelona never took a corner immediately as they knew that they don' t have the air fighting power as the Mancunions have.

    Messi was wonderfull, just like Iniesta and Xavi. There are two ways to stop Barcelona:

    1) a la Mourinho, by playing destructive football and hope you get the better of them
    2) by playing them in their own way, playing 3 man in the back, 4 man in midfield and 3 men up front (3-4-3)

    Off course option 2 looks suicidal because of MVP but that's the way the Dutch Giants Ajax played during the Louis van Gaal era.

    The second option is not mentioned nowhere in the analysis I have read so far. Everyone seems to encourage the Mourinho destruction style.

  18. Thanks for the compliments guys. Appreciated.

    For the last comment (20:50) I would have a mix of the both the options you mentioned by playing this -

    Obviously it's far easier to just show it on the internet than do it in real life, but I think it matches the players fairly well and if the midfield is kept really tight and compact, it could work pretty well.

  19. @lankguy 21:06

    Ok, whay you have pictured is 4-5-1 and is often combined with the destructive tactic of Mourinho and co's. Again, although often times effective, for the neutral spectators a boring game to watch (except for the Italians who love this kind of games).

    The tactic I proposed in comment 20:50 is a more adventurous one. But it takes a lot of courage to try to battle Messi, Villa and Pedro with only 3 defenders. They would have to be world class superb players like probably Peppe, Lucio, Chiellini.

    Key in my attacking proposal would be the central defending mid-fielder who would have to be able to play as a libero and as a central defending midfielder, if the situation asks for it. I can't think of a current player who would do the trick but in the past you would think of players like Rijkaard, Ancelotti, Dunga, Desailly etc etc. Big powerful central mid fielders who could tackle, deliver, control, score at the same time.

  20. It's not actually a 4-5-1, it's more of a 3-6-1 with three central defenders, a deep lying defensive midfielder with two other defensive/central midfielders slightly higher, combined with two wide midfielders and an central/attacking midfielder with a striker up front.

  21. Why do so many of Sir Alex's long term investments not work? Who has come through the ranks at United and held down a place in the first team in the last 5 years?
    What about the Cleverly's and wellbecks? What happens to them now? Are they good enough to trust or does he go out and invest in more internationals? Importantly who would move to ManU now given the gulf between them and Barca and the seemingly lack of progress the team has made in the last 3 years.


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