analysis | 2016-12-07
Explaining how Barça's current setup is overlooking the club's greatest strength
It's becoming more evident that this Barça version is moving away from the positional play that made them the most dominant team in the world
It’s rather surprising to witness the team who climbed up the highest shrines of the football analysts with their wonderful game to be warding off from it, but the cycle, at least on a model level, it’s coming to an end.
Barça's current midfield is the absolute opposite from the one which inspire love to the fans and critics. Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta were three key pieces to understand Guardiola’s Barça positional game.
Pep managed to link pass sequences in that zone which enabled to organize everything else, allowed to gather players up front and to disrupt the rivals with the pass-pass and conduction-pass combinations.
To watch how Xavi spun defensive systems was an authentic marvel to witness, to see how he outlined the game and how he accelerated or paused depending on what the match needed.
Nowadays, Busquets’ closest teammate is 15-20 meters away and they are always oriented in front of his position, the most contradictory aspect from the required for the positional game.
To stand with both feet oriented towards the ball carrier does not allow to see the opponent pressure, prevents you from speeding up the game since you cannot move the ball from one zone to the other and, most importantly, keeps from generating positional triangles with clear passing lines.
Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio were one step ahead of everyone else. They could accelerate the game because of their proper feet placement as the ball receivers and the good passes of their teammates as the ball carriers. Currently, the passing is not good, the distances are too long and the receptions are very harmful for the continuity of the passes sequence which would enable to overcome the rival.
There is no speed in the ball, given those distances between teammates, the incorrect profile positioning and geometric figures.
Pep achieved that each ball carrier enjoyed of up to 3-4 passing lines; so many teammates who guaranteed the ball possession with a passing line to the back (safety pass), two to both sides of the ball carrier (stretching the opponent defense in width) and that enabled to find the attacking front (because the vertical lanes got open) as well because the vertical passing line was always there.
In my opinion, Luis Enrique is giving an excessive priority to the MSN’s pair game and Barça’s creative machinery -where the offensive game must be set up and the ball must be recovered if lost- has become defective because often it’s impossible to play from the back in a clear way. Busquets [when Iniesta was absent because of injury] is the only midfielder who enables an easy pass, but there are no more units which allowed to overcome the first line of pressure and outnumber the rival in the central zone, where you must gather the most men and defeat the opposition.
It’s unquestionable that Barça’s competitiveness is always going to be present; Messi-Suárez-Neymar can unbalance, disorganize and break any defensive system in front of them and without having to dominate the match. The MSN is the escape valve from any issue for Luis Enrique’s team.
But it’s not surprising to anyone how alarming is this Barça’s creative ability. The difference between the previous machinery and the current one are gigantic. Luis Enrique does not have any choice but to recover Iniesta’s best version to try to get closer to the structural ball-oriented dominance and regain certains features of the positional game.
One of Barça’s most productive tools since Guardiola took charge of the team has been Iniesta’s conduction in the central lane, enabling to surpass defensive lines, free up men in the flanks and attract defenders around the ball in order to find spaces outside and achieve that the dribbling footballers (Neymar-Messi) have a pair game where the one-versus-one are an essential advantage.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot to work on players such as André Gomes, footballers who were signed to raise the squad level and who are currently clogging the model which has been Barça’s trademark since many years ago. Some vital concepts seem forgotten and they’re very important in order to recover certain aspects of the positional game. The most significant ones: the distances between the players, the lateral and vertical triangles towards the ball carrier and profile positioning of the ball receiver. The latter is the most essential aspect since it allows to gain more time and space to create the plays: as long as we see André Gomes receiving the ball with his feet pointing towards Busquets and we don’t see that one foot is already oriented to turn the ball to other zones, it will be difficult to reclaim the pragmatic behaviours of the positional game.
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TRANSLATED BY: Jaime Ibarra
Jaime is a chemical engineer from Venezuela who is passionate about football and Barça. He loves the club’s history and he has been an unconditional fan since Ronaldo “The Phenomenon” amazed the world with the Blaugrana colors.