Levante vs Barcelona: 3 Short Observations

Three short observations on the Levante vs Barcelona game tonight:-

The Pitch

Much has been made recently of Barcelona’s desire to play on wet pitches with very short grass to aid their short, quick passing game. Tonight, they faced an opponent who has a very soft pitch with long grass. As a result, short quick passing becomes more difficult to achieve and players lose their footing when they try to turn quickly.

The pitch at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia has been like this all season, so it was hardly a surprise for Guardiola yet they failed to react to this until the second half, still determined to play intricate short, sharp passes on a poor quality surface.

More opponents will leave their pitches dry and with longer grass against Barcelona. A quicker, more direct approach is needed in such circumstances.

Barcelona need to learn to adapt more to these challenges.

The Starting Line Up

Following on from the point above, in addition to the pitch being poor, Levante were always going to defend deep and in numbers. They only average 40% possession per game. They are a deep lying, counter attacking side with Kone leading the line.

Combined with the pitch, why did Guardiola not start with Cuenca to pull Levante wide? With Sanchez and Pedro both coming infield, Levante could outnumber Barcelona due to sheer weight of numbers.

Similar to the game vs Milan, Cuenca has an impact simply based on his starting position alone. He pulls defenders out very wide and creates space.

He helped create the equaliser and then won the penalty which Messi converted.

Cuenca is becoming an increasingly useful player for Barcelona. There is arguably nobody else in the Barcelona squad who offers the same qualities as he does in an attacking sense e.g. the width and the ability to take an opponent on the outside.

He is a traditional chalk on the boots winger.

Javier Mascherano

If the entire Barcelona squad was fully fit and Guardiola had to chose his strongest starting eleven, who would he chose as his central defensive partnership?

Surely Mascherano would be a starter?

He makes more tackles and interceptions per game than anyone else in the Barcelona squad. He is second only to Xavi in the number of successful long passes per game. He can be an attacking asset as well as a defensive asset. Crucially, he has eliminated his previous habit of picking up yellow cards all of the time. He has 9 yellows from 46 appearences this season.

Tonight, Mascherano beat Kone to a ball through the Barcelona defence when they trailed 1-0. He won the tackle cleanly and knocked the ball back to Valdes. He then collected the ball from Valdes, moved upfield and released Cuenca which led to the equalising goal.

From initially being used in defence as a stop gap measure, he has made the position his own.

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Barcelona vs AC Milan: 3 short observations

Three short observations on the Barcelona vs AC Milan game last night.

3 Man Defence

Guardiola has used a 3 man defence on occasion at home this season particularly against weaker opposition but this was the first time they have used it against a strong opponent. It allowed an additional man to play in the midfield area which is important against a narrow Milan side who strength lies in the central midfield area and gave Alves the freedom to start very high up on the right.

The 3 man defence still provided Barca with a spare man against the Milan front two of Robinho and Zlatan.

Guardiola talked at the press conference afterwards about the flexibility of Alves and how this assist’s the team.

Width

Both Alves but especially Cuenca played high and wide, staying on the touchline to stretch their opponents. In the first game at the San Siro, Barca were far too narrow probably a combination of line up and pitch quality (remember Arsenal had also struggled to gain any width at the San Siro).

Cuenca had little influence on the game but by being permanently stationed on the touchline it pulled Milan’s back 4 across the full width of the 18 yard box. The success that Milan enjoyed at the San Siro had been forcing Barca narrow.

With the back 4 stretched, the midfield dropped deeper to prevent Barca exploiting the gaps in the defensive line.

Fabregas

Recalled to the starting eleven after injury, Cesc alternated between playing in and around Messi often moving beyond him on occasion but also dropped deeper than Messi to collect the ball. This led to Messi being isolated on occasion with Alves and Cuenca very wide. This was the exact problem Barca faced in the clasico last season early on when the role of Cesc was confused and he strayed too far from Messi but too close to Xavi.

Perhaps there is still a little bit more work required on the training pitch to iron out the small problems on how Messi and Fabregas should link against better opposition.