Real Madrid vs Dortmund

An excellent and hard fought 2-2 draw was played out at Santiago Bernabeu between the reigning Spanish and German Champions. This was the much clichéd game of two half’s with Dortmund being in the ascendency during the opening period of the game before Madrid took control and completely dominated the second half.

The game started at a very high tempo particularly by Madrid who made a number of early attempts to get in behind the high Dortmund defence with long diagonal passes. When the game began to settle down around the 10th minute, a number of issues were becoming more prevalent.

Real Madrid Defence

Dortmund were using Lewandowski as a central target to play off, exploiting the space between the Madrid defence and midfield on fast transitions. Twice in the opening stages, Dortmund moved down their left on quick breaks with Casillas saving from Schmelzer in the 8th minute

It was notable how Di Maria temporarily adopted a slightly deeper defensive position on the right, aware of the problems which Ramos was encountering in the right back position.

Without Khedira alongside him, Alonso was being pressed and playing slightly higher providing the gap between defence and midfield which Dortmund were aiming to exploit with forward running from the midfield area.

The opening goal was an example of confusion in the Madrid defence and space behind the full backs.

Following a period of possession by Dortmund, the ball was moved backwards before a long ball was aimed towards Lewandowski who had pulled onto Varane. Pepe moved from left centre back to challenge but lost out to the Pole who flicked the ball onto the forward moving Reus who had ran off Arbeloa. Had Pepe not moved across, he would have been in position to challenge Reus.

The second Dortmund goal again exploited space behind the full back, this occasion it was on the left and behind Ramos. Again, a long ball was won in the air by Lewandowski and Grosskreutz moved into space behind Ramos before passing through to Gotze. Arbeloa unfortunately made the final touch, prodding the ball beyond Casillas.

By contrast, Dortmund were holding a high line with the midfield sitting just in front, preventing any space from developing between the lines and reducing the impact of Ozil. With coordinated pressing when Madrid reached the halfway line, the defence could push high. Madrid contributed to their own downfall by becoming too vertical and playing too many forward passes.

The one significant defensive error which Dortmund committed in the first half enabled Pepe to score the first equalising goal. The Germans failing to clear a corner adequately and Pepe powerfully headed home from the second cross.

Tempo

The fast tempo of the game with the emphasis on transitions suited Dortmund who were able to press Madrid aggressively and play on the counter attack. Dortmund are well known for playing a high energy style of football with a young team capable of sustaining such an approach for the full duration of a game.

With aggressive pressing and Madrid playing directly, Dortmund were able to maintain their high defensive line. Madrid needed to slow the game down and force their style of play onto the Bundesliga Champions. By constructing moves patiently, Madrid would be able to force Dortmund deeper.

Taking that into consideration, the starting line up from Madrid was perhaps slightly unexpected. With Dortmund bringing a physical game in terms of effort, it would surely have made more sense for Mourinho to begin the game with Essien supporting Alonso in a deep midfield role?

Essien is not renowned for quick passing either and would have slowed the tempo of the game.

Khedira Out – The Modric or Essien Dilemma

The changes which Mourinho made at half time were somewhat inevitable. Higuain was withdrawn even though he should have been removed much earlier when it became apparent that a hamstring injury had rendered him ineffective, reducing his mobility considerably. Callejon immediately offered more movement than Higuain.

The second change saw Essien replace Modric and slot into central midfield. This switch should arguably have been undertaken in the original team selection.

These changes allowed Madrid to completely dominate their opponents.

Modric has the potential to be a fine player for Madrid. Intelligent, creative and with a great range of passing, he will progress to become an asset. At this stage of his Madrid career, there are still, understandably, teething issues. Despite having a high pass completion rate of 87% (completing 33 from 38 passes) during his 45 minutes on the pitch, Modric may need to temper his tendency to seek forward passes. Arriving from the Premiership were the pace of the game is greater and much more vertical, a slight adjustment in style is needed to strike a balance between a vertical approach and more lateral passing to stretch opponents.

This is what Essien offered in the second half. With a pass completion rate of 83% (30 passes from 36 completed), the Ghanian was more content to slow the game down and stretch Dortmund with lateral passing.

Slower passing enable Madrid to move up the pitch as a unit and combined with the increased movement from Callejon, this forced Dortmund further back. The graphics below show Dortmund’s back four becoming tighter and the midfield moving closer together as they defended more.

Dortmund Average Positions 1st Half http://www.uefa.com

Dortmund Average Positions 2nd Half http://www.uefa.com

One slight concern for Madrid though was how narrow they became at times with Callejon and Di Maria cutting in from the left and right respectively. The width had to arrive from full back but Arbeloa is a naturally conservative full back and the marauding runs of Ramos were curtailed by the events of the first half.

Despite Madrid dominating possession, the equalising goal almost never arrived. In the 89th minute Ozil scored a lovely goal from a free kick to draw the game level. Questions may be asked over Weidenfeller as he appeared cumbersome as he moved across towards the ball. The free kick was positioned perfectly in the corner but the precision came at the cost of pace. The outcome was entirely deserved and a reward was the more patient probing which Madrid showed during the second half.

The result leaves the group delicately poised. Dortmund now have a home game against Ajax whilst Madrid travel to the Etihad to face Man City in a game which both teams need points for differing reasons.Madrid have the safety of their final group game being at home against Ajax should there be an upset at the Etihad. And that is what it would be if Man City somehow managed to overcome Madrid.

Madrid will quality from the group but perhaps not in 1st position which could lead to a more awkward opponent in the last 16 of the competition. Mourinho would quickly point out however, that on the two occasions he has led teams to Champions League success, they finished second in the group stage.

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Welcome to the club

What was it WH Auden said again?

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

And they are mourning right now in Barcelona. But is it for a defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semi final? Or is it because they fear Pep Guardiola will now walk away?

For the first time this season, Guardiola has indicated he will speak with both Tito Vilanova and Sandro Rosell in the next few days to clarify his future.

Coming off the back of defeats to Real Madrid, which has more or less confirmed Los Blancos as La Liga champions, and elimination at the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League, the future looks bleak. With his preference for 12 month rolling contracts, there is always a degree of speculation about his future each year. It has now been significantly intensified.

In light of these disappointments, will Guardiola overreact and make a rash decision?

I doubt it.

In his four years in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola has made very few rash decisions. It’s not a trend I see him starting now. Two seasons ago, Inter arrived at Camp Nou and put up the defensive shutters and left victorious in the tie. Barcelona came back stronger the following season, reclaiming the Champions League.

If he chooses to go now, it will be because he believes he has taken the team as far as he can and because he believes the hunger within the players is no longer there. It will not be a kneejerk reaction over the past week. These games may have confirmed his decision but they will not be the only factors. There is also the strain and pressure of managing Barcelona and the effect this has upon him privately.

Guardiola is now coming to the end of his fourth season in charge. He has won a remarkable 13 competitions from 17 entered. Win the Copa del Rey in May and the tally moves to 14 wins in 18 competitions.

Remember the great Bela Guttmann and his advice? “the third season is fatal”.

Guardiola is beyond that but what more can he win and achieve with Barcelona?

The Champions League this season represented something of a holy grail. To become the first team in the modern day Champions League to win and defend the trophy. To replicate the magnificent achievement of the great AC Milan team under the stewardship of Arrigo Saachi, the last team to successfully defend the old European Cup.

Remember, Arrigo Saachi, arguably the last great tactical innovator only lasted 4 seasons in charge of his great AC Milan side before they burned out, consumed by his intensive training and the aggressive pressing style of play on the pitch.

Are we witnessing that with Barcelona?

There are certain key components of the team that have changed. Evolution is necessary of course and Guardiola has actively sought to improve the team’s tactics to overcome the obstacles opponents place in front of them.  However, certain key elements have altered and changed the dynamic of the team.

The intensive pressing to regain possession is still there but it has dropped down a notch. With Messi operating deeper, there are sometimes only two forward players doing the pressing and so it becomes easier for opponents to evade.

Opponents have more time on the ball in midfield which leads to more accurate forward passes. This is a real issue for a Barcelona side which attempts to compress the game by holding a high offside line.

A few seasons ago, Chelsea defeated Barcelona in a Champions League tie and Rijkaard and Henk Ten Cate discussed what Barcelona required to become champions of Europe. Surely we should go for more athletic types and move away from these small players? Wisely, and with assistance with Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona chose their current path. And with another elimination at the hands of a powerful, physical Chelsea, the questions over a Plan B will resurface again.

At this junction, irrespective of who manages Barcelona, the club must remain true to it’s style, remembering Cruyff and his influence and his belief in cherishing “style” over all else.

There have been defeats before and Barcelona has bounced back. There will be further defeats in the future.

When questioned after the game about what he would tell a child who has cried for Barcelona for the first time after the exit to Chelsea, Guardiola calmly responded “Welcome to the club. You will cry more times”

el clasico: Tactical Analysis

And so the league title is almost certainly bound for Madrid after a fine 2-1 win at the Camp Nou. With recent clasico’s providing a fair dose of play acting, melee’s along with a very high degree of technical quality, this game was something of a disappointment, missing all of those ingredients which make them such gripping viewing.

It was tense and the crowd were subdued for much of the game. As were the technical areas. Mourinho stayed sitting for most of the game, he would have been extremely happy with how things panned out whereas Guardiola never showed any urgency towards his team.

After clawing back the deficit from 10 points to 4 points, perhaps he knew it was just too much and the team could not sustain the level of effort required any longer.

Barcelona

Guardiola is known for throwing a curveball in his selections and tactics for clasico’s but I doubt anyone saw his selection or formation in advance. Tello and Thiago starting with Pique, Fabregas, Sanchez, Pedro and Keita on the bench. Cuenca did not even make the squad.

A 4-3-3 when defending but switching to a 3-3-4 when in possession and moving forward. As I had suggested in the preview, Puyol initially tracked Ronaldo meaning Dani Alves started higher up the pitch on the right. On the opposite flank, Tello provided the width. Thiago operated at the base of midfield with Busquets moving between midfield and central defence as required.

Barcelona Starting Line Up

Real Madrid

Mourinho kept faith in the team which lost to Bayern and went with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation resisting the temptation to switch to a 4-3-3 and adopt a more conservative approach.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Madrid did not press as heavily or as coordinated as they have done in previous clasico encounters. The front four were pressing but nowhere near as aggressively and the remainder of the team were dropping off. This “false” pressing from Madrid was adversely affecting Barcelona though as they made a number of forced and unforced errors in their passing.

Have Busquets, Thiago and Iniesta ever made so many incomplete passes in the same game?

This was a game that Barcelona had to win to keep alive their hopes of winning the title. The onus was on Barcelona to take the initiative whereas Madrid would have been content with a draw. As such, all of the interesting features arise from a Barcelona perspective.

Nothing that Madrid did was unexpected or unusual. They did their jobs very well with discipline, organisation and a high workrate.

Lack of Central Focus

With Messi dropping deep and Tello and Alves wide, there was no player to occupy the Madrid central defensive pairing of Pepe and Ramos. Subsequently, when Messi took possession and tried to run with the ball, he was easily crowded out centrally.

Barcelona enjoyed 78% possession but much of it was in a central area and in front of the Madrid backline. Busquets, Thaigo, Xavi and Iniesta were all central and only on a few occasions did anyone break further forward ahead of the ball offering a passing opportunity into the Madrid penalty area and pulling the Madrid defence. Too often the passes were across the pitch.

Barcelona needed much more vertical movement from their players and in this respect the late arrival of the subs was very surprising.

How much has Barcelona missed not only the goalscoring of both Pedro and Villa this season, but the movement and finishing that they offer?

Alves Starting Position

Dani Alves played the entire game as a right winger and had little impact on proceedings.

The strength of Alves is when he breaks from deep and at pace, attacking the opposition full back and also providing an overlapping outlet for Barcelona and linking with his team mate higher up the pitch e.g. his link play with Messi previously and now with Sanchez.

On his own and from a standing start, he is not going to beat his opponent so Barcelona were left with Alves on the right, either failing to get around Coentrao or turning back inside.

There were also a number of occasions in the first half when Alves received the ball wide right and no Barcelona player was near him. Each time, Alves was forced to turn back infield. If Sanchez or Pedro had received that pass, Alves would have been overlapping and providing an outlet.

Removal of Xavi

Barcelona have played a slightly more direct fashion at times this season due to two key factors.

1. Sanchez and Fabregas are willing to make more vertical runs, particularly Sanchez coming from out to in and off the shoulder of the deepest defender. As a consequence, Barcelona will look for both players more often and play slightly riskier passes as a result.

2. Xavi has missed some games due to injury. With Xavi, no other player in the Barcelona squad can fulfill the same role. Without his controlling and measured approach, the other midfielders will play more direct passes.

The removal of Xavi after 68 minutes has been misinterpreted in some quarters. Xavi has been struggling with an Achilles injury for some time. He is also severely fatigued now. This has implications not just for Barcelona but also for Spain at the Euro’s.

Also, that Messi was more effective, making the run which led to the goal after Xavi was removed, has also been misinterpreted. The removal of Xavi and the run from Messi are not related. The introduction of Sanchez was key. He occupied Madrid’s central defenders and pulled Pepe wider when Messi broke allowing him enough space to drive towards the Madrid penalty area. The goal resulted after a few deflections.

Focus on the Champions League?

Mourinho went with his strongest eleven. It was clear were his priority lay.

For Guardiola it is not that straightforward. Tello made only his third senior start and Thiago at the base of midfield was also unusual. Why not Keita who provides a stronger presence? Why does Pique remain on the bench?

Fabregas and Sanchez were clearly being rested ahead of the Chelsea game.

It’s an extremely risky strategy which could backfire if Chelsea manage to emerge from Tuesday night with a positive result.

Conclusions

In the clasico preview here, I listed 5 key factors which I considered would have an influence on the game.

Will fatigue be a factor?

Madrid surprisingly kept the same eleven who had started the game against Bayern and the team performed well including Di Maria who put in a considerable defensive effort. If anything, it was Barcelona and Xavi especially who looked tired.

Will Madrid press?

Yes, for the first 25 minutes or so they pressed and held a relatively high defensive line. At 1-0 up, they dropped deeper and looked for quick counters.

Will Madrid continue to be so direct?

Madrid continued their recent direct approach both in terms of hitting some longer passing and also by moving directly towards their opponents goal when they won the ball. Barcelona are always much more considered when the regain possession.

Ronaldo’s role

Ronaldo did his share of defence duties and also scored the winning goal. All in all, a very successful night for him.

Barcelona will dominate possession.

And they did with 78% to Madrid’s 22% but as at Stamford Bridge, the possession was in a comfortable zone for their opponent. Barcelona passed and passed in front of the Madrid backline.

How can Barcelona retain width?

The use of Tello and Alves high and wide failed. Tello in only his 3rd start showed glimpses of his pace but against a deep backline, he could produce little. Alves, as outlined above, is not a winger.