The latest ‘square-up’ between REAL MADRID and BARCELONA was a great example to everyone of how a highly charged game can also be full of skill and tactical qualities. Here were two teams playing the game to win and both had their own tactical way to achieve the desired result. Madrid decided to place more advanced pressure on their opponents and they ‘squeezed up’ to deny space on Barcelona’s back players to restrict their passing game. It was very successful in the opening 15/20 minutes and they took and early lead and might have had more goals. One has to admire the footballing beliefs and ‘guts’ of the Barcelona players who continued with their passing style irrespective of the way the game was proceeding. Eventually, Madrid relaxed the pressure somewhat and Barcelona took advantage of this increase in time and space that suddenly became more available to them and produced two stunning goals. The second half was just as fierce and skilful as the first, with both teams carving out good scoring chances. It was Madrid who managed to find the equalizer to bring the game to an interesting conclusion with the second leg being played tonight. (Wednesday). There is no doubt that both teams are full of highly talented players, all possess tremendous physical qualities. They have different tactical concepts; Madrid, combine the skills of individuals with fast attacking play and defensively they are more ‘positional conscious’ than their Catalan opponents. Barcelona, have a playing belief and showed there determination to stick with it even when placed under the severest of pressure. Their dedication to ‘possession football’ even in their own penalty box, is admirable but it needs players of the highest calibre to attempt to play in this way in such pressurized situations. As occurred during this game, Barcelona, gave several chances to Madrid by trying to play out from the back in their normal way when under heavy and consistent pressure near to their goal.
I am a ‘lover’ of the Barcelona way of playing. However, I have long thought that their compulsion to commit to a single playing style, come what may, is dangerous and will become even more so as opponents recognize that this over-commitment to ball possession throughout the pitch can be a weakness that can be exploited. I have high regard for Barcelona’s and Pep’ Guardiola’s, beliefs, but they must be careful that a strong belief doesn’t become an all-consuming dogma.
Tactical variations are vitally important on the battleground in warfare and in football matches. In the famous book that records the military beliefs of the Chinese War Lord, Sun Tzu – THE ART OF WAR, he advocates the importance of tactical variations. One of his most famous statements addresses the problem of fighting on ground forced onto one by the enemy. He strongly advocates the vital importance of gaining an early initiative and controlling the battle on ground of your own choice. General Montgomery, was also consumed with the need to ‘run the battle’ under his terms and not those of his opponent and used the phrase, “ don’t dance to the other General’s tune, make him dance to yours.”. This is exactly what occurred in the game between the two Spanish ‘War Lords` – Guardiola and Mourinio. The latter gained the early initiative and although it was lost and regained at stages throughout the game, the Madrid team showed that by forcing Barcelona to play under pressure so deep in their own half causing the Catalans obvious problems in producing their normal composed and unruffled game-style .
The return leg at the Nou Camp, took on a similar pattern to the first leg; early pressure from the Madrid side with Barcelona trying to play under severe pressure deep inside their own half. As in the previous encounter, had this early domination produced goals for Madrid from the chances created, Barcelona would have found themself in a very awkward situation to recover from. However, chances were missed and pressure gradually receded to allow Barcelona the little extra space and time for their wonderful players to restore their composure and to go on and win the game and the cup.
Barcelona, are without doubt an exceptional team. They possess a brand of players who have been developed to believe and play a game style that demands high individual skill as well as high quality team-play to achieve the success they have had. For the rest of us who have not invested in long-term player development and therefore lack the quality and playing belief of the Spanish team, we need to earn the space and time to play a more sophisticated game-style. At present we fight for game control but fail to utilize this through a lack of playing ability – we gain the ground but can’t dominate the ball !
I believe Barcelona will encounter more and more teams who assert severe, early pressure on them. How long their opponents’ can maintain this level of effort is questionable, but should chances be taken during these spells of high pressure, Barcelona, would find that giving goals away under these circumstances is unwise, costly and eventually will be highly destructive. Because of this possibility occurring, Guardiola, must have a ‘reserve’ playing formula that can be used when opposed by teams’ exerting high pressure tactics against them.
At PREMIER SKILLS, we were fully aware of the need to have variations to our playing vision. The details of these variations to the established possession game-style that is generated from the very beginning in level one of our PRACTICE-PLAY methodology, are introduced into practice levels four and five after young players have acquired high levels of individual skill and tactical awareness. We, like our Spanish counterparts, know that individual ability and game awareness comes first, where we have been one step ahead of them is in realizing that, gaining the initiative in a game, retaining that initiative or regaining it if lost, requires variations to the regular playing style.
It seems we at PREMIER SKILLS are a step ahead of ‘the best football club in the world’, but who cares?