Revisiting the dark room

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Post by The Franchise Fri Jun 24, 2011 12:45 am

http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/04/20/inter-3-1-barcelona-tactics-guardiola-mourinho/

Revisiting the dark room Inter31barcelonamourinh








It’s not often during his two seasons as Barcelona manager that you can conclusively say that Pep Guardiola got his tactics wrong – but tonight that was the case, as Inter take an important two-goal lead to the Nou Camp.

Both sides essentially played their standard formations. Inter were 4-2-3-1 with Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev wide, and Javier Zanetti continuing at left-back. Barcelona played a similar team to the first leg at against Arsenal – Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, Lionel Messi behind him, Pedro in a wide-right role and Seydou Keita playing from in to out on the left.

In playing their tried-and-tested shapes, it’s fair to say that neither team significantly adapted their side to try and counter the strengths of the opposition. The result was that we had a far more open game than we expected – midfielders got time on the ball, full-backs were able to attack, and there were plenty of chances.

Referring back to the preview published on this site yesterday, it’s fair to say that the starting XI from Guardiola didn’t work. Playing Ibrahimovic upfront as a focal point for the attack didn’t suit Barcelona in this game, and played into the hands of Lucio and Walter Samuel, who dealt with the balls into the Swede comfortably throughout. Playing Ibrahimovic means that Barcelona play a slightly different way - and as a whole, that is a positive thing for the squad. Sid Lowe at the Guardian has commented that Ibrahimovic was bought so Barcelona were able to score goals they weren’t able to without him – his goal away in Stuttgart for example – and although Barca may be a slightly less prolific side in the forward positions, they arguably are more varied in their attacking options.

Tonight, however, the focal point Ibrahimovic offers was not needed. Barcelona’s passing style was slightly longer than usual – Xavi tried to hit surprisingly long balls into him with his back to goal which he failed to control, and Barca tossed crosses into the box for him to challenge for in the air, but on more than one occassion he went with his feet, rather than his head.

Playing Ibrahimovic backfired for three reasons:

1) It meant Barcelona changed their passing style and played longer than usual, meaning they were less fluid and suited Inter defensively.

2) It meant that Messi had less space to work in – against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu he thrived by playing infront of the Real Madrid centre-backs and on three separate occasions he reached through balls played by Xavi. Tonight, with Ibrahimovic taking up his space, he couldn’t play this role.

3) It meant that Barcelona were less secure defensively on their left-hand side. They were completely caught out for Inter’s third because Keita was playing relatively centrally and failed to track Maicon’s run. Had Eric Abidal been playing left-back with Maxwell infront, it’s doubtful that would have happened.

Barcelona’s switch to the system in the preview (and in doing so, taking a off striker (Ibrahimovic) for a left-back (Abidal)) when 3-1 down was surely an admission from Guardiola that his initial shape was wrong.

Equally, Mourinho played the game beautifully. Setting out with Pandev and Eto’o wide was slightly more attacking than was expected, and although Pandev found it difficult defensive against Dani Alves, the move worked very well in moving Alves narrow when Pandev made inward runs. Inter’s first goal was a great example of this – from a right-wing cross, Alves followed Pandev’s run towards the penalty spot leaving a huge gap at the far post, where Wesley Sneijder ghosted in unmarked to score.

It’s difficult to blame any single player without knowing Guardola’s instructions, but it’s interesting to note that Rubin Kazan manager Kurban Berdyev (until tonight, the only tactician to get the better of Guardiola in the Champions League this season), said he helped beat Barcelona because ‘I noticed that Xavi and Andrés Iniesta – key players in the team – almost never drop back to their own penalty box.’ Busquets, the left central midfielder was always going to be drawn to the near side of the goal from a left-wing attack, so Sneijder was probably Xavi’s man. If Berdyev noticed Xavi’s positioning in this manner, then it’s fair to say that Mourinho probably would have done too, and therefore the Pandev-in-and-Sneijder-out routine may have been a specific plan.

The second goal saw Barcelona caught out on the break down their weaker left-hand side, as previously mentioned, whilst the third saw Sneijder again unmarked at the back post in a not dissimilar fashion to the opening goal. Inter essentially exploited Barcelona’s weaknesses very well indeed.


Another feature of the game was how often Barcelona were caught out from balls over the top. One cannot simultaneously praise Barcelona’s integrated pressing throughout the team and also criticize their tendency to play a high line – the two are basically mutually inclusive and it’s clearly a risk that Barca feel is worth taking. Inter looked to exploit Barca’s high line but didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to try and catch Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol out, they simply tried the ball over the top time and time again: Inter players were caught offside five times in the opening 25 minutes.

The final period of the game saw both sides revert from their starting XIs to the teams shown in the preview – Dejan Stankovic came on for Goran Pandev – and there were no goals. Indeed, the final minutes were rather what we had expected from the outset, a tighter, tenser game with Barcelona playing the ball around the Inter penalty area hoping for a killer ball, with Inter threatening mainly on the break.

It should come as no surprise that Gerard Pique played for much of the final ten minutes as an auxiliary forward, despite it being the first leg, for three reasons. Firstly, Guardiola had already brought on a defender for a striker and therefore moving a defender upfront made the side no more defensively open than he had started the game. Secondly, because an away goal in the final ten minutes here would have counted for more than a home goal in eight days time. Thirdly, because Inter were tired and slightly ragged at the back, and in three weeks time they will quite possibly play the most Catenaccio-esque football we’ll see in Europe all year.

As for Messi – Inter didn’t do anything special to counter his threat. One player – generally Cambiasso – stuck to him tightly when the ball was in and around the penalty area, but there was no specific man-marking duty and he wasn’t much of a danger throughout. Ibrahimovic taking up Messi’s space did a better job for Inter than a man-marking brief ever could.

A million things to discuss from this game, and the British media narrative will undoubtedly be “Mourinho gets his tactics right” – and he certainly did – but more crucial was the fact that Guardiola got his wrong.





Now, over a season on for this what have we learnt and what might be the difference today?

Well for one, I think the key thing, the Messi-Ibra dynamic has been removed. I agree with the writer here in that with Ibra we was less dynamic but more varied. However, more important then that, we didnt and now looking back dont need variation. Playing balls into Ibra with his back to goal against two men in Lucio and Samuel who are are as tough and physical as they come, was too much for Drogba...then you know it is too much for Ibra.

Removing him from the equation, we have Messi with more room to manovuer and more roam to function. Villa out in between the rightback and rightcentback (or Pedro with Villa doing the same from the right) gives us a fluidity and movement in the front which ultimately leads to less congestion for everyone.

The ultimate question would of been posed to Inter which no team seems to figure out. When Messi drops into midfield, leaving the centerbacks with nobody to mark, what do they do? Do they just leave him wander and for a midfielder to worry about, leaving the midfield outnumbered? You dont want space in between the lines, so does one centerback follow him out? But that leaves a space for a well timed Villa/Pedro run which Xavi will pick out.

That Inter side, like any other team, would have a much tougher task now with the set up vs what we had with Ibra, that much is clear.


Second, Adriano/Abidal and Iniesta replacing Keita and Maxwell. Adriano or Abidal are better defensively then Maxwell, there is no question about that. They offer speed and dynamism whereas Maxwell is strictly fundemental and when he is beat, its over.

Keita offers a defensive presence far above what Iniesta does, but tactically for this game he wasnt ever best suited because of the set up of Inter's team. There wasnt a need for pressing from the front, Inter were direct and getting the ball back to front quickly. His pressing counted for nothing as Inter sent balls forward instead of trying to weave patterns of passes out from the back and in midfield. Next, of course we lacked Iniesta guile, creativity and big match antics which is no doubt a real life thing. What he would of done, we cant know now, but no question you want him on your team in games like these.


Personally, while I believe it still to be a struggle, I think we handle that Inter side today. What do you think?


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Post by messixaviesta Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:59 am

dani, wonderful post.

Yes, it's not Ibra flopping that caused us problems. Good point that we can't expect him to handle a central defensive duo that kept Drogba in their pockets. They really must be one of the best defensive duos we have seen in the last few years and both were playing at or near their very best at that time. His playing style restricting the dynamic of the forward line is what mattered more. Like you said Messi didn't get all the space needed to play to his full potential.

Going back to your question about whether we needed any variation the answer today would be that it's not absolutely essential but it's desirable provided it doesn't take away anything from our normal playing style. Ibra made us lose out on our fluidity which was quite a loss.

You have given some other very good reasons which I completely agree with and have said so in the past. I especially loved this line but that's expected from me - "Next, of course we lacked Iniesta guile, creativity and big match antics which is no doubt a real life thing.".

Other than all that you mentioned I will add two more points. The first is that Busquets has improved a lot in one year with greater experience and more tenacity. The other and perhaps most important point is that in that tie first leg we threw caution to the wind which is stupid in an away leg when you are not even chasing the game. This time in contrast see how we were smartly conservative whenever we needed to be. The highlight was the first leg against Real Madrid when of all people Dani Alves stayed in his own half. Smile

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Post by CBarca Sat Jun 25, 2011 3:39 am

I would write a longer, more thought out post, but I have to get ready to ref for a tournament tomorrow. All i have to say is...

I agree, we would handle that Inter side today, while having Ibra made us a little more ehh...unpredictable...(maybe?) in our play, the fluidity and passing that Barca relies on was far reduced. And against an Inter side that plays 8-1-1, then that is a key factor in our defeat. Barca with Ibra could play long ball, they could cross, but they could not pass through the middle as well or be as fluid. Against Inter, long ball and crossing isn't going to work, especially considering the height of Barca other than Ibra.

The classic passing of Barca was all that we needed, and Ibra didn't quite make that work. It's really not his fault, but a tactical error.

That was probably said already but whatever.

I also posted cause this is a good thread and should go to the top...it needs more replies.
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Post by Aristotle Onassis Sat Jun 25, 2011 3:52 am

I like ZM's take on the match. And I agree with most of what they've said.

Particularly the part of Ibrahimovic taking Messi's space. It's completely spot on. And, if I'm not mistaken a similar situation took place at the Emirates that same season, where Messi barely got into the game.

Perhaps Pep realized this fact, and so began immediately began playing Bojan from that point on for the rest of that season? Perhaps that's why he was so ready to be rid of Ibrahimovic - for not only was he unable to do the job for which he was intended (the reverse pivot), but was also severely cramping Messi?


I also agree with what you've said on Messi's role in dragging defenders out of position. In fact, ZM actually mention how difficult Manchester United found this in their write-up on the final.

I wouldn't go so far to say that we would've handled Inter. But I definitely think we'd have won that match with this team.
Not only with the problems Messi would cause in his free central role, but with the way Villa, Iniesta, Abidal have completely transformed a left-hand-side which was clearly an issue back then. Even from the diagram, it looks like Inter was given a free pass on that side to do whatever they wanted.

.... But then again, if I remember correctly, that was the case all season. The left-hand-side was rarely ever secure (with Maxwell) nor rarely ever threatened in attack like the right.
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Post by messixaviesta Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:07 pm

@CBarca wrote:they could cross

This brings back very unpleasant memories of one or more matches in which Iniesta was totally shunted on the left wing and all he was doing was provide crosses for Ibrahimovic which the Swede was able to do nothing with.

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Post by messixaviesta Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:11 pm

@Aristotle Onassis wrote:
Perhaps Pep realized this fact, and so began immediately began playing Bojan from that point on for the rest of that season? Perhaps that's why he was so ready to be rid of Ibrahimovic - for not only was he unable to do the job for which he was intended (the reverse pivot), but was also severely cramping Messi?

.... But then again, if I remember correctly, that was the case all season. The left-hand-side was rarely ever secure (with Maxwell) nor rarely ever threatened in attack like the right.

Yes that's true. As for Ibra not being able to do the job that was expected from him, dani has explained in the past that in order for that to happen we would have to change some things in our style which we never really did. As for his restricting Messi's freedom of movement on and off the ball that's very key and most of us at that point were felling the same way.

The last point is very good.

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