GL Round Table: How to win the Champions League in the Modern Era

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Post by Lord Spencer Sun May 29, 2022 1:08 pm

El Gunner wrote:the balanced team theory is a reasonably-minded conclusion of course, but i'm more convinced it's about having the clutch strikers that can get you the goals when needed in tight games.

some of the names in the 2000s and 2010s that come to mind:
Raul
Shevchenko
Inzaghi
Rooney
Eto'o
Messi
Drogba
Robben/Ribery
Ronaldo
MSN
Salah
Lewandowski
Benzema

there are a few odd one out years, like Chelsea last season. But really you need that talisman that wins you the game upfront.


You are missing Diego Millito from that list.

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Post by Casciavit Fri Dec 09, 2022 7:38 am

Barca’s sporting director, Jordi Cruyff:

“Football has changed and not because of the World Cup, but in general. Ten years ago, if you won the battle in the midfield, you'd win the war. Right now, that isn't as important. Now its about the areas it is about how consistent and critical you are in your defensive area and the opponent's area. It isn't much physical, but faster. The first touch is forward, not horizontal. You notice this when playing English or German teams.”

I’ve been saying this for the last 3 years. Champions league has become like basketball. End to end. Boxes are of utmost importance now.
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Post by El Gunner Fri Dec 09, 2022 7:54 am

that's the way it should be, efficiency and productivity should be key. Only real shame is we cannot be dazzled anymore by individual brilliance of players like Ozil, Kaka, Del Piero - that's a bygone era unless football goes through an evolution again, which i'm sure it will. Hell, maybe that's even why Messi cannot be as effective anymore against the very best teams' defenses (as you mentioned in the other thread Cas), apart from obviously losing a touch of his electric dribbling pace.
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Post by Casciavit Fri Dec 09, 2022 8:05 am

It’s because there’s no space in the middle anymore. All the top teams block off the centre like prime Atletico. I’ve never seen the defensive organization from smaller teams like I did this World Cup. Messi had an interview before the World Cup where he highlighted how tactical the game has become, so now the details are what make all the difference. Feels like we were ahead of the curve on that one.
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Post by Casciavit Fri Dec 09, 2022 9:09 am

The reason Messi has won only one CL in the last decade is because the top teams learned to squeeze him out. The game has evolved so much, and he’s made his own tactical evolution over the years, but I still have the feeling he could’ve done more.

His prime years involved him dominating the middle as a false 9. He owned the space in between the lines. Now there is no space there. Everything is so compact and tight. It’s so difficult to pick up the ball behind the opposition midfield.

You have to pick it up in front of the opposition midfield and now you’re left with two lines of 4 that you have to break through. Messi was struggling with this from 2012. I was rewatching the Chelsea-Barca game and seeing the way he was trying to break Chelsea’s defensive block was alarming. Mind you this is when he was at his physical peak too.

He kept trying to forcefully dribble and use his athleticism to get past the defensive lines. What ended up happening is he kept losing the ball and that’s how Ramires scored. He then tried to brute force 1-2’s that got cut off. I think Pep has PTSD from this match. None of his teams attacked centrally ever again. Central dribblers makes you too liable to counter attacks. Fun fact, Galtier’s PSG is the first top team to attack centrally since Pep’s Barca.

2013-2014 was when he showed the first signs of physical decline. Top teams tactically evolved so they were able to squeeze him out of the middle and he didn’t have the same kind of athleticism to break compact lines all on his own. He was stifled and anonymous against Bayern and Atletico in those CL exits. Messi playing as a false 9 against big teams died as a concept those years.

2015 comes up and the idea was to pair him up with Neymar and Suarez to reduce his attacking burden. The best decision Messi made that year was moving to RW and letting Suarez play as the focal point up top. This allowed Barca to attack through the wings and gave Messi more isolated situations compared to playing through the middle. To me it’s absolutely no surprise Messi won the CL again playing RW.

The best Barca I’ve seen post Pep was when Barca beat Atletico 3-0. This was after Messi beefed Luis Enrique so he was extra motivated. He and Neymar were hugging their respective touchlines and they completely imbalanced and dismantled Atletico’s defense. That should’ve been the blueprint.

However, Messi couldn’t accept getting less touches on the ball and he didn’t want to defend as a winger, so he was playing this pseudo RW/CAM role where Rakitic was his water carrier. Combine that with Neymar not wanting to be a pure outlet like in 2015 and instead wanting more touches on the ball this led to MSN’s balance being completely off.

Barca then moved to a 4-4-2 post Neymar. This seemed like a logical progression for Messi. He was at his technical peak during the Valverde years, even though he was continuing to decline physically. He played in a free role behind Suarez, and didn’t have any defensive responsibilities. However this was an aging Barca side who had no outlets and defending with 10 men made them susceptible to collapsing under sustained pressure and that’s what happened in the CL embarrassments.

Messi would’ve won the CL in 2019 if he had an outlet as a LW. If he had Son/Sane/Mane there instead of Coutinho they would’ve got a goal on the counter. Barca not signing a LW post-Neymar was the biggest transfer mistake they made during the last 5 years.

Messi in 2022 has lost a lot of his athleticism. His technical consistency has dropped too. He’s been having the same tactical issue since 2012, and he still tries to solve it the same way. Force dribbles, try 1-2s, shoot from edge of box, and then sulk if he’s losing. Him failing to get his team out of a ditch in a big game has been an issue for the longest time.

The only way Messi will get out of that situational blackhole is if he steps up with his own magic and his teammates step up. That means Alvarez scoring his chance when he gets it, Di Maria not dropping a stinker, and the defense not choking under pressure. That’s a lot of factors you need to get right. Laughing
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Post by El Gunner Fri Dec 09, 2022 11:25 am

2022 Messi is basically just a much more efficient and effective Kevin De Bruyne
I can understand his unwillingness to run and defend as a strategy to increase his longevity because remember he is by far the most perfect athletic specimen... extra running and intensity could have given him a recurring hamstring or groin issue by now, or burned out his ACL.

But i get your point about his sulking tendency. I agree as well about him only playing one way. When things go against him and his team he actually just doubles down on his style of play and loses his cool. Like for instance how he played after missing the penalty against Poland. Sure, he could get away with that in 2012 when he was at his best, but he should have adapted more after that.

But now that i'm thinking about ways he could have adapted, I can't come up with any, I'm just realising there hasn't really been a player that dominated the entire attacking half of the pitch as much as he did 2008 - 2012. Simply it's impossible because of how the game has evolved since. Either you dominate the midfield through running and effective passing (Modric) or you dominate the final third through pace and scoring (Salah/Mbappe/Haaland). You simply cannot dominate both those areas on the pitch anymore.

I think we can all agree Messi has never been a carrier of a team as much as he wanted to do that throughout the early stages of his Argentina career and post-Neymar at Barca. He is just physically equipped not to. He needs stability in his midfield behind him, and he needs outlets around him in attack.
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Post by Casciavit Fri Dec 09, 2022 2:48 pm

Messi hasn’t actually done much against the big CL teams in the knockout rounds in the last decade.  

The only teams I can think of where he was the difference maker:

Milan 2013, PSG 2013, City 2014, City 2015, Bayern 2015, Arsenal 2016, United 2019, and Liverpool 2019.

These teams are either big in name, but were in their banter era like Milan, Arsenal, and United. Or they weren’t really a defensive team so he had more space to attack since he wasn’t up against compact defenses. Examples would be like City, and Bayern.

The best teams on this list were Bayern 2015 and Liverpool 2019. He scored 4 goals combined. 3 were low xG Messi magic moments and one was a lucky bounce.

In the last decade he’s been knocked out against defensively compact teams. The elite teams have been able to manage him.

That’s why he needed a specific supporting cast. You needed to have a runner/focal point in front of him, an outlet LW, and midfielders who could carry his defensive workrate but also help get him the ball. Barca’s recruitment strategy post-Neymar was a complete failure. Messi is the GOAT, and he can win games on his own, but he’s tactically limited and the big teams can cope with that. Barca should’ve done more to work around that.

I also think Messi could’ve done more to work around that EG. People talk about Mbappe’s generation as lacking artistry and football becoming more robotic and patterned. I look at Messi and he was the first sign of that. Yes he was way more talented than Mbappe and Haaland, but he was still pulling up the same cards out of his sleeve:

Dribble toward goal, through pass to the left wing, play 1-2s in the middle, drop deep if he can’t get the ball, and try shooting from the edge of the box. If that doesn’t work, keep trying to again and again. If that doesn’t work and his team is losing he walks and puts his head down.

What could Messi have done more?

- Drift to the wings more when the centre gets blocked out. Some games he should’ve played as an outright RW.

- Make more runs off the ball. It’s not always the case opposing teams were standing right in front of their goalie. There was a lot of times he could’ve ran in-behind instead. Instead he waited for the ball at his feet or he’d stop his running past the edge of the box.

- Alter his passing routine. This was especially apparent during the CL meltdowns. I think he should’ve brought more control than he did. He should’ve focused more on passing like Xavi and trying to kill the tempo of the game than passing like KDB and trying to get the away goal. He should’ve focused on passing side to side, where he makes the pitch wider instead of forcing through balls which makes the pitch smaller and increases transitions.

- Foul fish a little bit more. This goes back to more in-game management. For such a lethal free kick taker sometimes you think he should’ve played more like Grealish at times. This would’ve helped kill opposition tempo too.

- Manage penalties better. Clearly he has an issue with high pressure penalties. He either should’ve deferred that responsibility to someone else on the team, or completely change his technique to be more successful from the spot.

- If the opposition builds out from the back he should’ve been more engaged in pressing high. This would’ve made the opposition cause more turnovers, which would’ve let Messi receive the ball in more space. Like Klopp once said…counter pressing is the best playmaker.

My point is he got into a robotic pattern of dealing with the game. He’s technically very complete, but he was strategically limited if that makes sense. It sounds contradictory because Leo is one of the few players in history who could dribble past 5, slice defenses with a through ball, and score 50 a season.

Some might call it low tactical IQ. I don’t know if that’s it. Scaloni said Messi analyzes all the opposition with the backroom staff. Tito once said Messi was the kind of student who already knew the answers so the teachers couldn’t teach him anything. Is it a motivational issue? We’ll see this WC since it’s his last one.

Btw Ronaldo is also tactically rigid. Especially during the 3peat days. The difference is Perez built around his limitations. He brought technicians into midfield like Kroos and Modric to feed balls to Ronaldo. He brought Bale to reduce the match winning burden on him. Benzema played a balancer role to complement their styles. Ronaldo then had unlikely help from Ramos who is one of the most clutch players ever. Let’s not forget he had the best fullbacks in the world spamming him crosses too.

From there it was about feeding balls into the box. He was never as tightly marked as Messi, but he was one of the greatest penalty box strikers ever. The average cross has a 2% probability of being a goal, but Ronaldo bumps that up. When the going gets tough it’s easier to rely on a lucky bounce from a cross coming your way especially as defenders lose concentration than it is to break defensive blocks the way Messi tries to. Messi just doesn’t have the physical profile to consistently play on the shoulder of the defenders the way Ronaldo did.

Ronaldo didn’t win any CL post-Madrid, but it’s because he faced the same issue. He joined teams that didn’t have technicians in midfield and didn’t have additional match winners. He was left with too much of a scoring burden. It brought me to my ultimate conclusion which is that every player is a system player in football to some degree.
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Post by futbol_bill Fri Dec 09, 2022 2:59 pm

I think you have to look at the club that keeps winning the CL!

1. You have to be a top club with money.
2. You have to assemble a squad of top players in most positions as well as solid backups, as today’s schedules means players out at critical times.
3. The squad has to have good balance.
4. You still have to control the midfield or equalize it at a minimum.
5. You need a solid portero.
6. You have to have creativity and solid scorer(s) in front line.
7. You need that ‘never give up’ mentality.
8. And you need a bit of luck.
9. And lastly, you need some stability in both squad and coach.
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Post by El Gunner Fri Dec 09, 2022 3:07 pm

Some might call it low tactical IQ. I don’t know if that’s it. Scaloni said Messi analyzes all the opposition with the backroom staff. Tito once said Messi was the kind of student who already knew the answers so the teachers couldn’t teach him anything. Is it a motivational issue? We’ll see this WC since it’s his last one.
i think it's more so just a case of "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". As much as they might have devised plan Bs or Cs before the game, it's probably more likely you will just go back to default and rely on your previous decade of muscle memory which brought you so much success.

It requires a very calm, mature and creative mind to make such adjustments in game when the going gets tough. And i guess he just doesn't have that quality when he is thrust outside of his comfort zone.
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Post by Casciavit Fri Dec 09, 2022 3:24 pm

Yeah, I agree. The GOAT debate is interesting because everyone has arguments for and against them. The biggest argument against Messi is his mentality. I don’t think it’s exactly that because to be on top for 15 years you need an elite mentality. I think him lacking ingenuity in tough moments has more to do with his personality. It ties in with his upbringing and refusal to leave his comfort zone until he was forced to, and the first season struggles that came out of it at PSG.

His personality is the same reason he didn’t veto the Griezmann signing when he should’ve. We talk about how he could’ve done more on the pitch, but he had a lot of power to influence decision making outside of it too.
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Post by El Gunner Fri Dec 09, 2022 3:43 pm

while i was typing out about Messi not being able to carry his team on his own to a CL win, i was thinking about which player has actually done it... and off the top my head, i think the player who came closest was Henry in 2006. Such a shame he had a meltdown in that final.
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Post by BarcaLearning Sat Dec 10, 2022 2:57 am

futbol_bill wrote:I think you have to look at the club that keeps winning the CL!

1. You have to be a top club with money.
2. You have to assemble a squad of top players in most positions as well as solid backups, as today’s schedules means players out at critical times.
3. The squad has to have good balance.
4. You still have to control the midfield or equalize it at a minimum.
5. You need a solid portero.
6. You have to have creativity and solid scorer(s) in front line.
7. You need that ‘never give up’ mentality.
8. And you need a bit of luck.
9. And lastly, you need some stability in both squad and coach.


Thats quite a way off Razz Huge list of requirements with some missing n some excess Very Happy No club in the way has that apart from like Man C with Pep maybe? Lol... think Porto, Chelsea, Dortmund even? Obviously its a mixed bag of factors n depending on the run of form on the team for that particular season, etc...
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Post by FennecFox7 Sat Dec 10, 2022 3:52 am

Cas great post. I would also like to add that one of the reasons CR7 was so tough to mark was his physical profile as you mentioned. It’s easier to put someone on you to foul you all day long, but marking in the box is extremely difficult, especially when physicality and quick instincts come more into play. In a way, it reminds me of haaland and why defenders have such a tough time with him. Ronaldo had a very good shot from distance too. It definitely made teams uncomfortable and pulled defenses out of their box. Especially with his talent to find good positions to be in
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Post by Cruijf Sat Dec 10, 2022 4:00 am

I do think motivation could be the issue for Messi. He had won basically everything to win, 4 Ballon D’ors, etc by 2012. I imagine it must be very hard after that to not drop from 100% hunger to 99% hunger. He also talked about the effect of having kids.

If you think about it, the fluctuation in Messi’s performances that can be attributed to motivation are kind of insane. The difference in his CL performances 2017-18 vs 2018-19 is huge. In 18-19 he was impactful in every KO tie and very nearly decisive in all of them. In 17-18 he barely did anything iirc. You can also look at this WC. Is it a coincidence that he went from 0 KO goals in his whole career to 2 goals and an assist in 2 games, in his last WC when he is clearly highly motivated?
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Post by BarrileteCosmico Sat Dec 10, 2022 1:20 pm

He's been super motivated for all world cups Laughing whatever our issue was, that wasn't it.

And in the CL the issue was complacency. We would win the first leg by 3 or 4 goals. Show up at the 2nd thinking it was a done deal and them get eaten alive. Happened several times under different managers.
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Post by futbol_bill Sat Dec 10, 2022 2:30 pm

BarcaLearning wrote:
futbol_bill wrote:I think you have to look at the club that keeps winning the CL!

1. You have to be a top club with money.
2. You have to assemble a squad of top players in most positions as well as solid backups, as today’s schedules means players out at critical times.
3. The squad has to have good balance.
4. You still have to control the midfield or equalize it at a minimum.
5. You need a solid portero.
6. You have to have creativity and solid scorer(s) in front line.
7. You need that ‘never give up’ mentality.
8. And you need a bit of luck.
9. And lastly, you need some stability in both squad and coach.


Thats quite a way off Razz Huge list of requirements with some missing n some excess Very Happy No club in the way has that apart from like Man C with Pep maybe? Lol... think Porto, Chelsea, Dortmund even? Obviously its a mixed bag of factors n depending on the run of form on the team for that particular season, etc...


There is one club that has had it for at least 5 times in last 10 years! That consistency should at minimum give cause for consideration. This year City has all of these.
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