Thursday, 19 January 2012

"Pass the football to the left hand side" - "El Clasico" Analysis

Well, Mourinho's team selection surprised many including me, but for 20-25 minutes it looked to be justified. He setup essentially 4-3-3 on paper but when Barca had the ball the midfield three were tight with Ronaldo in particular defending deep tracking Alves.
Therefore the directive looked simple; defend as a synchronised unit particularly in midfield cutting of passing angles. When the ball is won back, the key was quick transition of the ball into wide or channel areas, Ronaldo on the left being the favoured ball. This made perfect sense since Alves is always high up the pitch and if Ronaldo reacted quickly he could expose the space vacated by Alves.
Typical positional snapshot in the 1st half
This certainly came to fruition after 12 minutes when Febregas lost possession left of center about 25 yards from goal, within seconds Ronaldo was on his bike and motoring in behind Alves. Benzema found him with a good angled pass and he had a one on one with Pique. A trademark step over created the angle and a low left foot shot went through Pinto's legs. Maybe Pinto could have done better. Real was 1-0 up.
This tactic continued for another 15-20 minutes and if Real's final ball was better they might have had another opportunity or two. But, Real's concession of possession (30% v 70%) and a mentality to drop deeper after the goal was always a problem and allowed Barca to dictate.
Whether it was deliberate or not, Barca also began to favour left side too, with Iniesta hugging the left side.
Again this made perfect sense, since Abidal does not play as high as Alves and Benzema was not tracking deep like Ronaldo. The thinking might also have been to expose Altintop and Carvalho who have not seen a lot of action this season. Fabregas although drifting favoured left side inside of Iniesta.
It was no surprise then that all of Barca's clear cut 1st half chances happened or materialised on the left hand side. 

Iniesta's area of operation

Fabregas found Sanchez with an angled ball from the left which Sanchez headed against the woodwork. Messi stung the palms of Casillas after being played through on the left hand side of the box. Iniesta should have scored after a passing exchange initiated from the left opened up Real. But he fired wide from 8 yards.

In all fairness, Altintop had a decent game and one on one was playing well against Iniesta. But Iniesta's use of others around him created problems.
Real needed half time or a change in approach as it was only a matter of time before Barca scored. Half time arrived, 1-0 Real.
No changes at half time and it started with more of the same, with Iniesta wide left. On 48 minutes it was to be Iniesta's wide play and desire to take on Altintop that led to a Barca corner and the equaliser. The resulting corner was swung in and Pepe was caught napping allowing Puyol to bullet a diving header passed Casillas. Real will be disappointed at losing such a soft goal.
Again, 5 minutes later an Iniesta and Fabregas one two combination on the left allowed Iniesta to volley on goal, with a timely Ramos block diverting the ball onto the post. Another warning.
Ironically, in an almost personal mission to buck the trend, Altintop went forward and turned Iniesta inside out. The cross was met by Benzema and his header struck the post. Encouragement for Real but it was to be a one off endeavour. It felt like Real would only score again from a set piece or a fast break. However, they both relied on the getting the ball.
The game then for a 10-15 spell was spoiled by the antics of Pepe. Disgusting is the only way to describe his feigning of injury and deliberate stamp on Messi's hand while he lay on the grass.
In between Pepe's antics Real made a double substitution on 65 minutes, bringing on Ozil and Callejon for Diarra and Higuain. This appeared to create a midfield diamond when read clockwise of Pepe, Alonso, Ozil and Callejon with a swap of Alonso and Callejon later in the match. Ronaldo and Benzema both up top, with Ronaldo slightly behind on the right.

Barca now and again tried to find the rapid Sanchez who was playing on the shoulder of the defender, with a longer surprise pass. But it was used sparingly in favour of finding Iniesta wide left.
So on 75 minutes Iniesta again progressed wide and forward, Altintop conceded a throw in stopping him. Abidal came up to take the throw in. A short throw to Fabregas, resulted in a tackle and another throw in.  Abidal this time found Iniesta, played a quick one two and passed inside to Busquets who found Messi 35 yards out in a central position. Real shifted left in the direction of the ball. Altintop tucked in and Ronaldo watched the ball. Abidal decided to stay wide. He was spotted by Messi who switched play back to the left side. Abidal was in and he finished with aplomb for a defender.
The plan was undone for Real, like the previous encounter Barca did not panic and reversed the scoreline. They believe so much in their passing game and in each other.

Callejon provided some endeavour but to no avail and Ozil was literally non existent. Pepe was removed and replaced by Granero but you could not see a way back for Real.

Barca saw the game out with little stress introducing Adriano, Cuenca and Thiago in the last 10 mins for Sanchez, Febregas and Xavi.

Real now need to go and score at least twice at Camp Nou and with a similar game plan I can't see that happening. A greater share of possession is needed along with more midfield creation and endeavour. I would expect Di Maria to play if fit and Callejon possibly too.

Let's see what next week brings...

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