Sunday, 11 December 2011

A couple of tactical points on El Clasico

A full game summary can be found here from Michael Cox at Zonal Marking

Here is a brief look at a couple of notable things from the game:

Real Madrid's pressing game

Before the game, much of the talk had been about whether Madrid would press high and stop Barcelona building up transitions from the back or sit deep and shut off space in the final third. They went for the former.

Though the goal came from a bad pass from Valdes and a marking mistake from Pique (should have been tight on Benzema), it did show one thing teams can do to give themselves a chance against the Catalonians.

It's common sense but from a kick off both teams are on equal levels; both in their own half with roughly the same lines in midfield and defence. What often happens from kick offs is that the ball gets passed back to midfield or defence and then gets knocked long. However with Barcelona's possession game, they often prefer to pass it around the back.

Because everyone is in their own half from kick off, it means that you can't push the defensive line up to give yourself more time and space in possession. Because of this, it is an idea to press Barcelona high and aggressively from the kick off.

Madrid did exactly that. Immediately as the ball went back, Benzema and Ozil moved forward quickly, Benzema making good pressing movements and following the ball, man on the ball and taking into account the next pass while Ozil followed in a deeper position behind.

As the ball goes back to Puyol, Benzema presses him while Ozil follows, pressing the player behind. Di Maria moves forward  ready for when the ball moves to the left.

As the ball is played across to Pique, Benzema goes to close him down with Di Maria doing the same from the right and Ozil stopping the ball going into midfield. This forces Pique to play it back to Valdes.

Of course the goal came seconds later from a misplaced pass from Valdes but just see the pressing shape high up when Valdes went to play the ball:

Benzema on the left, Ozil down the middle, Di Maria on the right.

Real Madrid's 4-2-3-1 shape was a factor in their high pressing. Before the game, the rumours were that Ozil wouldn't start and that a 4-3-3 would be played, particularly when assistant coach Karanka said in the press conference the day before that they would.

A 4-2-3-1 however allows your central attacking midfielder to fulfil a number of pressing roles. It all depends on where the ball is, where the nearest players are (both on the same team and opposition team) and where the current position of the player is. One of these roles is to press alongside the main striker. This is generally seen against a 4-4-2 when the ball is passed around at the back. Generally the wingers will also press in this situation when the ball goes towards the full back, thereby creating a 4-2-4 pressing shape. This is seen here:

Because of Barcelona's threat in midfield and link up play, you can see Di Maria and Ronaldo slightly deeper, creating a 4-4-2 shape. If the ball had gone to the full back, the winger would either have held position or would have pressed, and Ozil or Benzema would have pressed Pique, while the other dropped deep to stop the overload and ball going into midfield:

Diagram of if the ball goes to Puyol - Ronaldo will close him down, Ozil presses Pique while Diarra and Alonso deal with the two players in front of them. Benzema drops deep.

One of the other pressing roles is shown from the goal - just behind the striker. The idea here is that the winger and the striker press the full back and centre back while the attacking midfielder (Ozil) stops the ball going into midfield. Often this creates a 'pressing triangle':

Real Madrid did this very well early on, making it very difficult for Barcelona to work their transitions around in defence and forcing them back.

If a 4-3-3 had been played, arguably only the second of those pressing roles is possible. Having Ozil playing there also meant better transitions.

Barcelona between the lines

When a team is being pressed high up, the short, horizontal passes are the most risky. Of course in a possession based team like Barcelona, who do build transitions from the back, it is possible to halt the flow if you press high and aggressively. This is far easier said than done of course and it takes a very well organised team to do that. Real Madrid managed to do it in a lot of situations in the first half.

Barcelona's main transitions however often go from the defence into players between the lines like Messi and then back to the midfield to control from there. Villas Boas explains it very well in this interview in the telegraph from August:

Guardiola has talked about it: the centre backs provoke the opponent, invite them forward then, if the opponent applies quick pressure the ball goes to the other central defender, and this one makes a vertical pass.
Not to the midfielders, who have their back turned to the ball, but to those moving between lines, Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi, or even directly to the striker.
Then they play the second ball with short lay-offs, either to the wingers who have cut inside or the midfielders, who now have the game in front of them.
In the first half this was certainly needed when in possession at the back. Because of the Barca midfield dropping deep, thereby enticing Real Madrid to press them, there was space in between the lines if the ball was moved there, often in between the full backs, wingers and defensive midfielders, as highlighted here:

The space between the full backs and wingers and the overload in the centre in Barca's favour.

With Iniesta the main player on the left for Barca and Messi and Alexis drifting around further forward, they were very important in getting the ball out of defence and actually creating spells of possession. Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona were increasingly keeping more of the ball thanks to their quick combinations in the centre and between the lines and this told the difference in the second half.

With hindsight the move from Guardiola to move Alves forward was inspired. The width that came from it and the option for the diagonal outball to him was important particularly as Iniesta was coming quite narrow to create overloads in the centre and possible interplay, often between him and Fabregas and so there was no one wide and high up on the left for Barcelona.

This meant play could also be spread there if needed to and also stretched Madrid to cause more space between the lines.

Busquets, who was moved to centre back when Alves went right wing, was also coming out of defence and Real Madrid were struggling to control the overload in the centre. Indeed Barcelona seemed to have more passing options when Madrid did press high up.

Because of the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape described in Zonal Marking's match report, Messi was also allowed more space. Real Madrid in truth actually did a very good job on him thanks to some terrific tackling, most notably from Diarra. However he did play a part in two goals, finding space in front of Madrid's midfield for the first goal and slightly to the right for Barcelona's third.

There comes the problem when facing Barcelona. If you sit deep and compact, you allow them onto you from deep, allow them to push you back and have the risk of their pressing game suffocating you. If you press high up, then there's space between the lines for players like Iniesta and Messi and their quick combinations and interchanging will open you up. Coming up with a tactical plan is very difficult and ultimately, though Madrid looked dominant early on, Guardiola managed to get the better of Mourinho.


  1. i also found

    this site is way up there with zm!!

  2. i think any other day Madrid could have won this game. with Cristiano's miss and the fact that Barcelona's second goal was "not talent or failure but luck" and third goal was a rare counter-attack not to mention that Coentrao was used on right back so he can stop Alexis from scoring the very way he did the first goal.

  3. Could have. Barca could have scored more as well if they did not take their foot of the gas. You must understand when Barca wants to score they score on days like this. Madrid was carved open and Sep gave Mouriniho a lesson... again.

    He can play what ever formation but he will not beat them unless he catch them on a off day. A guy like Diarra is no match for Messi. You need more class when marking him. The best destroyer that can keep tabs on Messi I think is unfortunately Messi's team mate. Busquets.

  4. Thanks, this is a really good tactics!


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