Life of a Barca forward

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Life of a Barca forward

Post by Adit on Sat May 25, 2013 6:03 am

http://www.haugstadfootball.net/ this is one of the best tactical blogs out there and deserves much better attention.



http://www.haugstadfootball.net/2013/03/27/life-of-the-barca-winger/



Barcelona are likely to buy a winger this summer, but their specific requirements are different from those of other clubs.

The life of the Barça winger is an unusual one. Just as Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system is in many ways unconventional, so does it include unconventional roles. As we know, its collective strategy centres on serving Lionel Messi. Inevitably, this means that the roles around him must be tweaked and adapted accordingly. For no one is this more true than the two wingers.


In general terms, two ‘classic wingers’ could never work alongside Messi. Not even one. Messi is the individualist: he needs the ball, all the time. If you compare Barça’s possession play to the art of channelling water, the aim is to direct every drop towards the feet of Messi. You want to maximise his influence. Play a winger à la Arjen Robben, and you split the flow of possession, diminishing Messi’s opportunity to create.

As such, Barça’s wingers are not there to create, but to support. Think about David Villa, Pedro and Alexis Sánchez: they rarely run with the ball. They rarely make key passes. They produce a limited number of crosses. In fact, they are more often seen playing simple cut-backs. In the Barça team, the two players given the most creative freedom after Messi are arguably Andrés Iniesta and Dani Alves. Which begs the question: what do the wingers actually do?

Phase I

As with Sergio Busquets, the answer lies in their importance to the Barça collective. (After all, it is only logical that if Messi is allowed complete freedom, others must conform; even those further upfield.) As we will see, their real quality – as exemplified by Pedro – centres not on dribbling and crossing, but on movement, acceleration and tactical intelligence.

Let’s break it down. We start with Phase I, in which Barça build from the back: the ball may be at the feet of the goalkeeper or a defender. Here, the wingers stay wide for two reasons: It makes them easily available for a pass; and it creates space centrally for the ‘attacking diamond’ – Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi – to establish a foothold in terms of possession.




In this phase, Pedro and Sánchez form a mechanism for transferring the ball past the opposition’s first wave of pressure. With Jordi Alba or Alves in possession, they drop deep, holding off the opposition full-back, then lay it off first-time to the creative players centrally. They work as ‘walls’ on which the ball bounces off. Once Xavi or Iniesta is on the ball, the Barça possession ‘carousel’ can start spinning.

Phase II

Once this has happened, it usually means the opponent’s initial pressure has been broken. Most teams here choose to drop off, and concentrate on defending deeper and condense space. For their part, Barça enter a more fluent mode: the full-backs storm upfield; the wingers cut inside. More specifically, Alves pushes up as a virtual winger, while Iniesta tends to drift towards the left wing.




As a result of these movements, Iniesta and Alves are often the two players that retain Barça’s width. (Alba can also do this job, allowing Iniesta to wander inside.) The only time the two wingers drift wide are during transitions, or rare, direct attacks. However, the fact that they operate centrally does not make them classic ‘inside forwards’ either – because there is no room for them between the lines. That belongs exclusively to Messi. And so in which space are they actually left to work?





The answer is a strange vacuum between the wide player and Messi. On the right, with Alves on the ball, the opposition left-winger has usually tracked back, effectively creating a back-five. Here, Sanchez is caught centrally in a pocket of space, marked by the left-back. Realistically, he has two options: he can drop down and provide a support outlet for Alves, thus continuing Barça’s passing cycle. Or he can accelerate into the space behind. If that happens, the task befalls Pedro to meet the impending cross.




On the left, Pedro’s choices are also limited. Depending on the space available, Iniesta can either dribble himself, or pass through to Pedro, whose acceleration is excellent. These exact situations are why quick feet are so important at Barça: the spaces opponents gift them will always be minimal, and the players need to build up speed over short distances. A physically larger winger with longer, heavier legs could struggle to be effective in these scenarios.

(Concluding this phase, it must be mentioned that when Barça are not attacking down the flanks, the two wingers are also extremely effective as runners for Messi to find with incisive passes. Yet even here the required quality is the same: movement off the ball, tactical understanding, and an ability to accelerate over short distances. Which is very much unlike the classic qualities of dribbling and crossing.)


Phase III

This phase is common for Barça: the opponent have been played low, and are stationed inside 25 or 30 yards. There is no space behind the defence; limited space between the lines. Enter Messi. As mentioned before on this site, Messi will often pick up the ball not only between the lines, but also in front of the opponent’s midfield. (Quite often, this is the only way to get him on the ball.) The way Messi creates from here is to either play a one-two to get past the midfield, or to shake off a midfielder himself and play a one-two to bypass the defence.





We must remember that for all of Messi’s individual brilliance, these one-two combinations form a huge part of his game; especially for his ability to slice-open compact defences. He is the maestro, the conductor, but he needs the orchestra to play its part. As well as Xavi and Iniesta, the two wingers are fundamental to this: they occupy the full-backs, and are available for quick one-twos. To do this accurately at Messi’s incredible pace requires a finely-weighted touch, quick feet – and an even quicker mind. Again, the metaphor comes up: the wingers are ‘walls’ to aid the more creative players. (A classic example can be watched here.)

The conventional winger

Finally, a quick comparison with the more traditional winger. An obvious contrast to Barça is Bayern München, whose wide players are behind most of what is created. They occupy the Messi role: that of coming deep and getting the ball to feet. The only difference is: they are positioned out wide. To maintain a collective ‘creative balance’, the lone striker hardly ever dribbles. Neither does the attacking midfielder – Toni Kroos. And so, just as Barça, Bayern have understood that too many dribblers can make the team ineffective.





Summary

Ever since Guardiola took charge at the Camp Nou, Barcelona have struggled to integrate foreign players. (Two obvious examples are Zlatan Ibrahimović and Dmytro Chygrynskiy.) Part of that may centre on the unshakable values Guardiola insisted on, to which some players have failed to conform. That prerequisite must of course be accounted for when Barça consider new players this summer, with a backdrop of uncertainty hanging over Sánchez and Villa.

Yet when it comes to wingers, the real challenges will be of a tactical nature. As we have seen, Barça must forget the typically flamboyant forward, and instead attempt to unearth another Pedro: someone with quick legs, acceleration, excellent one-touch play, and spacial awareness. That will not be easy. It may be best to turn to La Masia. Whatever they do, one thing is certain: a ‘star player’ is the last thing they need.

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Re: Life of a Barca forward

Post by Dante on Sat May 25, 2013 9:31 am

Nice read. Even though i agree with most of the details , i disagree about the star player . Villa was a star player too. Before his injury , his role at left wing has almost always been a success. I don't see why it cannot work with yet another player of that status , star or not , it won't depend on his label really.

It's not the status of a player that will judge their next forward , it will be his ability to sacrifice himself for the better of the team. Whoever did that , at least under Guardiola , succeeded at Barcelona. And i am pretty sure Tito is of the same mind .


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Re: Life of a Barca forward

Post by 3lite on Sat May 25, 2013 1:23 pm

Guardiola is one of the biggest front runners. Lets see how well he does at Bayern.

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Re: Life of a Barca forward

Post by Onyx on Sat May 25, 2013 2:52 pm

This is one of the reasons why I think Neymar won't succeed at Barca. Their wingers are inside forwards who are just there to score and pretty much do what the article said. Neymar would want to dribble and do his own thing. However Barca may benefit by slightly modifying their tactics to suit Neymar. It would give them another dimension.
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