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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Barca machine

Grantland's game diary for the second leg of the Milan-Barca quarterfinal:
Brian: Sometimes I watch a bit of play that just knocks me over the head with WHAT A WEIRD TEAM BARCELONA IS. They just won that penalty by bypassing a couple of completely plausible shots in order to stroke the ball around in the area like they were playing a very casual game of hot potato. They were literally trying NOT to pass the ball into the back of the net, and now it's 1-0.

If you're the heads-up display in the Barca-player visual-software interface, how do you decide when to light up for "shoot"? There are like nine floating circles that have to converge, at which point the software runs an algorithm that determines whether the resulting shot would be beautiful.
Three things struck me most about watching Barca effortlessly beat the Rossoneri. First, it's like watching the Harlem Globetrotters. They don't just make the pass instead of taking the shot, they make another pass, and sometimes a third, before taking the shot, and sometimes this all takes place inside the opposing box. I've never seen anything like it. They don't so much waste opportunities as blatantly ignore them.

Second, they press frighteningly well. I would estimate that at least one-third, and possibly as much as one-half, of Milan's attempts to clear the ball were intercepted or otherwise failed. As if it wasn't bad enough that the Milan defense was playing back on its heels in full, catenaccio from the start, but no sooner did they take the ball away than they lost it, usually in their own half of the field.

Third, Barca stretches the field horizontally better than any team I've ever seen. There was always a winger on the far side of the ball, but instead of crossing the balls in the air, the wingers would push the ball inside, force the defender to commit, then a) try to beat him, b) pass off to Messi, or c) pass off to the central midfielder coming up in support. Their entire game is played on the ground, which makes sense given that their front six appear to average about 5'6". They just keep passing and slashing and pressing until the defense cracks, then instead of shooting, pass three more times for good measure, before finally deigning to make an attempt on goal.

I would have been more annoyed by the two penalties awarded Barca were it not for the fact that the fouls were legitimate, and at least the first time, the ball should have already been in the net twice over by the time the foul occurred. The final score was 3-1, but it could just as easily have been 6-1. That's not to say Barca is invulnerable, as neither their defense nor their keeper impressed me. A big, fast team with the benefit of a laissez faire referee could beat them, assuming they didn't run out of steam chasing the little guys around.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous April 05, 2012 6:04 AM  

Barca! ..Might bust out the Jersey today. Not like I've been following that tourney though; been watching the confab olympic qualifiers. As usual, the officiating is criminal to the point of not giving a fook about the sport. I just hope Klinsmanns legacy isn't tainted...

Nah..

Blogger AdognamedOp April 05, 2012 6:06 AM  

Cocomments still sucks.. =( : *p

Anonymous artie April 05, 2012 6:34 AM  

Barca is great with the ball. Everybody knows this.

They are even greater without the ball. It's incredible how effective and fast they get the ball back once it is lost, and most of the time inside the opponents half. It's the first team that really embraced the thought that the attacker is the first defender. Barca is quite boring on offense (outside of Messi), but I enjoy their defense quite a lot. It's very impressing.

On offense, they are technically so good that they don't need to spend too much effort.

To beat Barca, I would guess the good old English kick and rush approach would be the most successful (when you have 1-2 attackers to fight for the ball at keep it long enough). You have to beat the first 2 lines of defense from Barca and then you have a chance. And you don't achieve this by playing out of your own half.

Anonymous jm April 05, 2012 7:33 AM  

I think the Spanish national team plays the same way as Barca does, except they lack the cutting edge of Messi. You do wonder what would have been if he'd decided to represent Spain instead of Argentina...

It's got to be exhausting chasing them around, but the Barca players must be in really good condition too when you consider the amount of running they do off the ball to create space, and press and win back the ball on the few occasions they do lose it.

Guardiola is really impressive too. He didn't hesitate to get rid of some really big names -- Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Ibrahimovic -- to make the team better.

Anonymous Monkey Boy April 05, 2012 7:56 AM  

The only sides that seem to bother Barca are sides that counter-attack very fast and sides that are strong and physical.

Milan actually created more chances and got into better positions than most sides do against Barca over the two legs, there final ball just wasn't good enough and they weren't clinical enough.

Anonymous Bohm April 05, 2012 8:31 AM  

A big, fast team with the benefit of a laissez faire referee could beat them, assuming they didn't run out of steam chasing the little guys around.

He means an English team.

Anonymous Anonymous April 05, 2012 9:27 AM  

The strategy behind the "excessive" passing is twofold:
1) It cause the opponent to chase the ball, opening the area.
2) If the opponent decides not to chase and plays a "zone", it makes them static and allows for better shot selection by the attacking team.
Of course this only works really well when you have the right combination of (excellent)individual skill and excellent group harmomy ( know where the ball is going before it gets there).
Barca has that.

Anonymous Anonymous April 05, 2012 9:57 AM  

Barca plays so beautifully on the field. Such a stark contrast to their odious behavior off the field. Maybe they really like the irony of being the ugliest team on the business side of the game (Chelsea excepted off course)

Anonymous Orion April 05, 2012 10:28 AM  

"The strategy behind the "excessive" passing is twofold:
1) It cause the opponent to chase the ball, opening the area.
2) If the opponent decides not to chase and plays a "zone", it makes them static and allows for better shot selection by the attacking team.
Of course this only works really well when you have the right combination of (excellent)individual skill and excellent group harmomy ( know where the ball is going before it gets there).
Barca has that."

I'd think there was a third method to their madness. Their style also would have a psychological aspect. The ignoring of straight forward shots and instead making multiple passes would assert their dominance over their opponent. It takes a high level of will to maintain the mindset that your not beaten until the game is over with that kind of opponent working at getting in your mind. In a game like soccer with typically low scores, I'd think most opponents would feel immense pressure with the score in Barca's favor.

Anonymous Anne H April 05, 2012 11:17 AM  

As always a very pleasant read !Thanks for making time to share!

Anonymous Anonymous April 05, 2012 11:43 AM  

Orion said:
"I'd think there was a third method to their madness. Their style also would have a psychological aspect. The ignoring of straight forward shots and instead making multiple passes would assert their dominance over their opponent. It takes a high level of will to maintain the mindset that your not beaten until the game is over with that kind of opponent working at getting in your mind. In a game like soccer with typically low scores, I'd think most opponents would feel immense pressure with the score in Barca's favor."

I reply:
Oh yes, indeed very much so.

Anonymous bw April 05, 2012 12:40 PM  

with the benefit of a laissez faire referee

Not a soccer fan, but that's funny right there. Sports fans across the board can appreciate that one.

Blogger robwbright April 05, 2012 3:02 PM  

"I've never seen anything like it."

Me neither. For the last 3 years or so it's been a style and level of soccer that I've never seen before. Unbelievable. The short passing in/near the box is ridiculous. I have a video of all of Messi's 51 goals from last season - about 50-60% of them were made with passes that made me go "OMG".

Their defense is hardly top notch, but I don't think it gets enough credit, either. Pique and Puyol are both quality defenders. The outside backs aren't that good defensively, but Dani Alves can sure get forward and assist in the attack.

Ultimately, it's Xavi and Iniesta that drive the train... and Messi is the best player since at least Maradona (and possibly Pele). Think about those three players - it's arguable that Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are all top 10 players in the world (certainly top 20) and they all play on the same 11.

Blogger robwbright April 05, 2012 3:11 PM  

"He means an English team."

How about Man Utd circa 1998 or so... Scholes and Giggs in their prime with Keane, Stam, Irwin, Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer, Beckham and Peter Schmeichel.

Don't think there's a current English squad that can challenge Barca. In the Barca/ManUtd final a couple years ago, Xavi completed 142 out of 150 passes. I mean, COME ON. That's insane.

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