By John Cartwright

When Mourinho’s Inter beat Barcelona in the EURO Championship by ‘parking the bus’, it left a question mark about the Spanish club’s possession play tactics. That question however, has often been ‘camouflaged’ by Barcelona’s outstanding playing quality and an ever-growing reliance on Messi’s ability to score. But as Barcelona and Messi’s playing reputations have soared, it has meant more opponents being forced to play ultra-defensively against them. Even going back to Spain’s World Cup victory, one remembers the difficulties they had overcoming opponents who pulled numbers back to defend. I have made several comments over the past couple of years about the developing problem that would confront teams such as Barcelona who rely on a ‘one brand’ playing method.

Without doubt, Barcelona have ‘raised the football bar’, and we have all enjoyed watching them, but their results this year have further emphasised a need for changes to the patient, possession style of play that has characterized their success. There needs to be more variety to their playing style. They are outstanding in the way they regain possession of the ball and because of this they should and could ‘gamble’ more tactically. The high possession statistics achieved by Barcelona as well as others copying their playing method is great, but means nothing without a penetrative conclusion. We, in this country, are Barcelona in ‘reverse’- ‘all penetration and no preparation’!  Our poor skill levels demand a simplistic playing  style, therefore, the direct route is generally the only option available. So we have two playing opposites; the patient, skilled possession method of the Spanish that needs more penetrative alternatives; and the game here that too often resembles ‘fightball’ and requires an ‘injection of skilled patience. The search for and discovery of football’s ‘Holy Grail’ – real, ‘Total Football’,  is more likely to be found by a country who have an established  development infrastructure –  for it will be easier for problems to be noted and modifications to their playing style to be quickly introduced. That country is more likely to be foreign rather than our own!

What’s missing from Barcelona’s game-style at present is variables in their preparatory play. They seem over-conscious about ball possession and fail to exploit opportunities to penetrate quickly when available. Their flank play has not improved and any space down wide positions is not utilized enough. There is a lack of individual quality as well as insufficient ‘overloading’ in the wide areas and players who occupy these spaces have failed to produce as one would expect. The  Club also seem to have a complete distaste in using any pass forward over 20 metres; this lack of early forward play allows opposing teams to get back and defend more solidly. The use of longer passing is an asset to attacking play—IF USED CORRECTLY and should be an integral part of any sound tactical method used in the game. Barcelona, are, without doubt the best team I have ever seen when keeping the ball around an opponent’s penalty area – (front play- round). They show great ability to play in tight situations and do create and score many goals from highly-skilled individual and combined situations. However, the opportunity to play angled, diagonal crosses from positions around a crowded box is very rarely used. The desire to keep good possession and not risk the loss of it has meant a noticeable lack of variety in their crossing of the ball. This is probably due to both a lack of height and heading ability in the team. I have always said that Heading is, ‘the football perfectionist’s blind spot’ and Barcelona are an example of this statement. The game allows the ball to be headed, but this often means players who are good in the air are not so good on the ground! Barcelona must produce or find players who are capable of being talented with the ball at their feet as well as with their head to complete the total playing quality for the game they seek. It should be remembered that most goals are scored from crossing situations and Barcelona, at present, are playing without sufficient use of this important fact.

We at PREMIER SKILLS have always recognized the importance of variations to playing styles and already cover these aspects in our coaching programs  – perhaps, Barcelona might be interested in taking a look!!

So Barcelona, the world’s greatest team, must ‘go back to the drawing board’; (variations) must be added to their game to conjoin with their present playing qualities. If this is done I believe they will ‘raise the bar’ for the game once again…… I for one wait in hopeful anticipation.


30 thoughts on “Variations……….Variations

  1. John – even the best must change – eh!
    Staying true to the brand cannot mean inflexibility – the Apple brand allowed the iPod and the iPhone to move beyond computing into music & entertainment – but is still true to Steve Jobs’ brand
    Blind faith takes you only so far. Think Kodak!
    Just as true to football.
    Chelsea’s efforts were fantastic – disciplined, courageous, spirited.
    They had as much belief as Barca did…only Barca failed to make Chelsea change – so Chelsea’s belief was being reinforced just as Barca’s belief was being drained.
    Chelsea’s 10 reinforced their discipline & shape – though Drogba as left back was a surprise.
    The Barca belief needed new ways round the bus – not through it
    Barca hit longer balls around the halfway line to avoid Drogba in the 1st Half – though sideways not forward.
    You are right in the benefits of a cross-diagonal pass – Vidic, Ferdinand & Evans use it brilliantly to the United wingers.
    They also refused to send Alves on overlaps on the wings – so didn’t draw the solid blue wall apart.
    Running around people draws more attention and weakens the defence as you know.
    So great lesson Obi Wan Cartwright —
    don’t be over-dependent on your own truths – our way or the highway (especially if there’s a bus in the way!)

  2. I find a lot of this talk about how Barca need to diversify interesting. Before this semi there were very few if any calling for such. And in fact when watching the 2 legs closely Barca were hardly void of chances. And had they been more clinical they end up run away winners. In this last leg alone Messi shoots straight at cech when put clear early in first half, PK miss, hits the post on 82 mins. Iniesta has 2 shots blocked from 10 yards, Busquets goes over the bar from 8 yards. Plus several other I’m sure I’m forgetting. Plan B? Why plan A worked they just didn’t finish.

    The only thing I would change would be to drop off when they had lost the ball rather than press as they normally do to invite Chelsea out.

    • soccerpurist is absolutely correct. This reaction to their recent defeats is bordering on hysteria! Barca were a little profligate but basically unlucky that is all… We English should be ashamed of yet another insipid performance against a Spanish team which pales in comparison to the dominant displays of Liverpool under Rafa Benitez (during his pomp at Anfield).

      • Hi Mark. I fully agree with your comments that on the nights versus Chelsea there should have only been one winner in both games–Barcelona. However, there has been a significant decision by many teams that have confronted Barca. lately; to withdraw in numbers and defend the box. Many have seen the flank positions as a less dangerous defensive problem.
        In the Spanish league Barca. have dropped unnecessary points against teams they have tactically, sklifully and territorially dominated. The one brand quality of anything will be tested and overtaken by competitors unless improvements and additions are made to the initial ingredients……..nothing stays the same!
        I have always been a believer in Barca-type football, —- i resigned from both playing and coaching positions because i disagreed with the ‘up-and-at-’em methods that define our playing qualities; that’s why i decided to produce the Practice-play methodology of Premier Skills Coaching. It combines the qualities required for Barca. type players and performances allied to the an understanding that there are times in anything when one has to ‘earn the right to play’ –Variations to the initial game-style to provide improved opportunities for results and allows continued playing domination to continue.
        General Montgomery stated, “fight on ground of your own choice and be prepared to make tactical adaptations when necessary.” In my opinion, for Barca to remain the World’s greatest team Pep. Guardiola. must now make those neccesary tactical additions.

    • Hi Soccerpurist. I fully agree with your comments, but a trend has occured with teams’ playing Barca. over the past few years– they have decided they can’t play a normal game against them and have withdrawn their players deep to defend the box and await the chance to counter-attack. Barca. have found difficulty and have relied heavily on Messi. Possession is fine but there must be a positive end product. Barca. have dropped important points this year agaist lesser opponents and must begin to re-shape some of their playing method to overcome packed defensive systems.
      One should always realize, nothing stays the same in life; not even the beautiful game a la Barca. They have the ‘tools’ available to make the necessary variations with new players from their own development school or from carefully ‘scouted’ intakes. What was, and still is great to watch, can become even more fascinating and equally successful.
      Best regards to you…………John

      • John, I agree that the philosophy must continue to evolve as any sustaining successful program must. My post was not necessarily to disagree with what you said but in reaction to a lot of what I’m reading elsewhere about Barca needing a “plan B” some to the extreme that Barca need to reinvent themselves. That I will wholeheartedly disagree with. What has made them successful is an unending, resolute commitment to their philosophy. Taking that philosophy further is a necessary step. Re-writing in whole or in part is non-sense.

  3. Another great post from Obi John Cartwright! Thank you once again. HOWEVER I think that you over exaggerate the problems at Barcelona. They have had quite a few major injuries to key players this season which has upset their natural rhythm. They do produce crosses when needed but do not have anyone the size of, for example Andy Carroll so naturally play to their own strengths. The brilliant David Villa; notably not home grown(which proves that Guardiola does think outside Barca) had a stress fracture then nasty break of the tibia. His club and international record speaks for itself[See Sid Lowe]. Sanchez was out early on. Their one very penetrative winger Pedro has missed a significant part of the latter part of the season. Arguably the best overall defender in the World, Gerard Pique[he can do anything that Vidic, Evans, Ferdinand can offer] has had that mid-career dip and coincidentally missed those most recent huge matches. One of their other key defensive players has had a liver transplant this season. The way the players reacted after Patrice Muamba collapsed shows how much strain their whole squad has been under. This will have substantially reduced their potency on & off the pitch!!
    It was a truly fantastic finish from the effervescent Ramires last night. Also a very solid team performance without the errant Terry. BUT STOP IT – let’s face facts, Chelsea were fairly ‘rubbish’ for 120+ mins. They also played dirty and dived around even more than the Catalans. Barca played at ~80% but still hit the post 4 times in the tie! Pique got injured and he would have snuffed out any counter attacks if fit. You can’t really get much more luck than that..? Chelsea will be missing 4 of their best players for the final…That is a disgrace in itself which they can’t complain about; everyone knows the rules. Their football was excessively defensive given the quality of their own players and was not a great advert for European football. In my opinion this is far more of a worrying trend than Barca’s over reliance on short passing. By celebrating Chelsea’s ‘victory’ we all end up promoting rubbish and perpetuating the English backs to walls, “fightball” myth which you so much deride..!?
    Guardiola is no mug and certainly not a religious fanatic. I am sure he understands a lot of the issues you have identified and inevitably chooses his priorities. If he follows your advice they will surely be even more formidable. BUT note as the mercurial Xavi’s engine starts to stutter(like his role model Paul Scholes), Guardiola like SAF may find it a bit tricky to adapt without him….

    • Hi Mark. i have sent a reply to your previous post. I realize that Barca. have had a series of injuries to important players this season, but the trend we are seeing now with teams’ defending in depth agaist them is becoming a mounting problem . It is one that needs confronting and not simply ignoring. Barca. have all the necessary ‘tools’ at their disposal to become an even more dominant football club:and i don’t believe they will miss the opportunity to make some changes to their present playing style.
      Players produced at the club, plus carefully ‘scouted’ intakes will ensure the continuation of the Barca brand but — with an improved and enlarged ‘recipe’ !

      • OWC
        Quite correct to repeat your point is about Barca’s opposition.
        Adding “tactical variations” a la Gen Monty – is what you preach.
        Not change the “brand strategy”
        Not add a tall forward (Ibrahimovic fail)
        But keep fluid, keep true, – adapt around the edges, find new ways through
        We all want to see Barca football continue
        In his birthday week, we ask “what would Cruyff say?”
        I suspect he’s agree with you Obi Wan – he is Yoda after all…

  4. This post was the open waiting to be written and John responded in remarkably quick time.

    I was waiting for the Barcelona players – outnumbering Chelsea – to look to make runs around Alves and Tello – to ineffect overlap and create situations near the byline to pull.

    I was waiting for Barcelona to vary the penetration into the penalty area in attempt to ‘fix’ the makeshift centrebacks. Perhaps use diagonal balls or little clips such as the one Fabregas lifted into Sanchez in the first leg.

    I was waiting for Messi to get down the sides – as Maradona presumably would have done in his pomp. I wanted Messi to – at some point join Sanchez and split the centrebacks and get into the heart of the Chelsea box looking for the ball into his feet.

    I wanted Iniesta to double up with Alves on the right.

    I wanted more shooting from outside the box.

    I expected these GREAT PLAYERS to be GREAT.

    Players can chose to overlap, shoot more often, vary passing possibilities.

    Guardiola could have instructed them to do so. He could have pushed Messi in to the box, he could have shifted Iniesta’s position.

    The players on the pitch DIDN’T DO ENOUGH; did Guardiola???

    Movement variations are part of the ‘development coaching process’ – I assume the Barcelona players learnt this.

    Perhaps they need a LLorente type to head the ball, a Torres ( ex Portugal) a Kocsis, a Shearer a Toshack to mix it up; HOWEVER, however much they need a good header of the ball, Chelsea need infinitely more the qualities of the players Barcelona produce.

  5. Barcelona had the same problems with Chelsea this week as they had in 2010 in the 2nd leg of their Champions League semi final with Inter Milan.
    Both matches followed a similar pattern. Both Chelsea and Inter had a player sent off after about half an hour and on neither occasion did this prove a problem to either of Barca’s opponents.This is because both Chelsea and Inter adopted similar tactics. They both retreated to the edge of their penalty areas when Barca had the ball and defended the 18 yard line. They held their positions and not having much possession, and being a man short, was, if anything, actually an advantage.When they had the ball, both Chelsea and Inter had to pass to a colleague. This meant players having to move out of position to receive and pass and go towards the Barca goal.They wanted to stay solid, compact and in position. They could do this better with 10 men rather than 11.
    I have heard that in the 2010 semi final, Mourinho, on the bench, was actually shouting at Inter players to give the ball back to Barca when they won it!
    Clearly, this is the extreme of negativity. But with a mixture of resilience,organisation and great character,(admittedly vital components of a successful team), both Chelsea and Inter held on to reach the Final of Europe’s premier club competition. The difference is: in Inter’s case in the 1st leg in Milan, they had played some fine, attacking football to win 3-1. Chelsea had prevailed in both legs largely through physical and strong mental qualities.
    I agree with John Cartwright that Barca must develop other sides of their wonderful game to solve these problems which, to be honest, have also been evident in la liga matches for a little while now. There needs to be more movement in the penalty area to enable players to get on the end of a variety of well struck crosses which i know that Alves can deliver. You rarely see a barca player making a run and checking out to create space for a team mate to run into to produce a glancing header or volley on goal.
    From what i have seen, the Bayern Munich striker, Mario Gomez, would be a good addition because his movement is very good. But the problem for Barcelona is that they must produce their own players to play the Barca way. This was the problem with Ibrahimovic because, although the Swedish striker had some good qualities, he could not play the Barca way.I think that there would be the same problem with Gomez.
    So the the work must begin at La Masia with the players of tomorrow.

  6. I think soccerpurist makes a decent point about dropping off somewhat to entice Chelsea out when they had the ball.

    Or, when Barcelona had the ball to play their possession based game further out from the penalty area again to entice Chelsea to try and press higher thus opening space nearer to the goal

    Also, I agree with Brazil94 (!) mentioning more penetration down the sides.

    I thought Chelsea did a decent job, especially in the second half, of preventing Barca penetration down the sides; but I feel playing possession further out from the penalty area and, more significantly, the wide players in possession looking to play 1-2s with midfield to try and entice Chelsea defenders to steal the ball and then get in behind for the dribble and shot or pull back or the pass across the second six yard box.

    The point is made above about Barca’s arial power, or potential lack of it, but a “cross” is just a pass by another name and if you play the pass (cross) for the strengths of your team you can undo the opponent; accurate ground passes rather than aerial passes.

    So, playing from a slightly deeper position and looking to work 1-2s with wide players especially, I felt watching the game would have generated even more chances than were created as mentioned above.

    With reference to the title of the post, then, I think it is only variations from the central theme that would help to yield the result that probably would have been deserved, rather than dramatic alterations to the style.

    • Hi Steve. Teams’ are not coming out to force pressure on Barca, they’re sitting back with 10 and sometimes 11 players in their own defensive third. The denial of space in the penalty area is becoming an increasing problem to Barca’s present game-style. Because of this they must begin to introduce additions to their normal playing style. In crowded situations there is always space available in the air and Barca’s game-style must introduce more use of clever movements and aerial deliveries of the ball from diagonal positions that they occupy around the box so much in games. Heading and crossing of the ball, although unmentioned in the FA ‘s book ‘THE FUTURE GAME’ , are extremely important playing ‘weapons’, with Heading being a vital skill in both attacking and defending situations–BUT GOOD HEADERS OF THE BALL MUST ALSO BE EQUALLY PROFICIENT WITH THE BALL ON THE GROUND.—– FA, PLEASE NOTE!!
      Because of their ability to regain possession of the ball so quickly Barca. must also be prepared to ‘gamble’ more at times when placed under pressure close to their own goal and play forward passes over longer distances —- they must, when necessary, ‘counter attack the counter attackers’! Long passes does NOT mean a ‘hit and hope’ type of delivery, but longer, forward passes must become a ‘Benchmark.’ addition to their present game— PREMIER SKILLS already has this playing alternative in its level 5 Program.
      Barca. have a ‘cultural’ playing problem to overcome; they believe in ‘playing the beautiful game in a beautiful way all the time’, and one must admire their ‘guts’ in doing so. But the time has come where necessary variations must now be introduced to facilitate even better opportunities for them to continue in the main with their recognized playing brand.
      As Gen. Montgomery said, ” plan for the battle ahead, but be prepared to make tactical changes when necessary —- and never dance to the enemies tune”.

  7. I thought that last night we had a good example of the kind of centre forward play which Barcelona lack with Llorentte’s performance for Athletic Club against Sporting Lisbon in the 2nd leg of the semi final of the Europa League. Scoring one and making two others, he displayed a fine example of the all-round qualities of a centre forward, good in the air and skillful on the ground. Intelligent, but big,strong and fearless you feel that he wold solve a lot of Barcelona’a problems.
    As I have said before, a big problem at Barcelona during Guadiola’s management period has been that very few players who are signed from other clubs have been able to adapt to the Barcelona method, hence the need to promote from within their own youth structure.This has not been an experience unique only to barcelona. During the 1960s, West Ham United’s team which won the the Fa Cup in 1964 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 was almost entirely made up from home-produced players. Only keeper Jim Standen and Johnny Byrne had been signed from other clubs, and Manager Ron Greenwood had a lot of problems signing players from other clubs during that period who he felt confident could adapt to the ‘West Ham Way’. When he was more or less forced into buying players towards the end of that decade, when it was clear that a number of the players from the earlier years were not going to fulfil their promise, for a variety of reasons, (in a number of cases due to unfortunate injuries),then a number of players arrived who proved to be flops. It wasn’t that they lacked talent or ability, but they could not adapt their game to what Ron Greenwood wanted and it’s the same with players like Ibrahimovic who Guardiola has brought into Barca.
    Reports in the press seem to suggest that Guardiola is on his way out of the Nou Camp. It’s a great shame, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if Athletic’s coach, Bielsa, got the job. His approach very much mirrors that of Guardiola but he mixes in more long passes and, of course, his attacking play revolves a lot round Llorrente, who, you would expect, he would want at Barca if he got the job.
    But best of all, i hope that Guardiola stays, if his health permits. The people who run Barcelona are really just the same as those who run all other football clubs around the world: they have to realise that the coach is not a magician. Guardiola has delivered endless success and trophies to the Nou Camp in recent years, so now he must be given time to make the necessary adjustments in playing style to recapure this former glory.
    40 – 45 years ago Ron Greenwood was given the time, but West Ham was a much different institution then than what it is now, and today he would never be granted that time.
    Barca must show a different mindset.

  8. Goodbye PEP. and thanks for the memories. Hello TITO, here’s wishing you every success in your new position with Barca.
    I for one are looking forward to watching this great team take a further step up football’s ladder of excellence under Villanova’s direction. It will not be easy, he will need the full cooperation from many to take the club forward; staff-players-dirctors press and fans must allow him to introduce the necessary variations to Barca’s regular game-style.
    I fully appreciate Guardiola’s desire for a rest from the pressures of heading such a big club as Barca. however, the challenge of change that is required at the club is one that many would have preferred to have ‘taken a shot at’!! I hope he rests well, but i’m sure he will have ‘itchy feet’ sooner rather than later. In the meantime, Tito, what a fabulous opportuity now lies ahead of you — to work with and for the best in the game.

  9. I posted this on the IMPATIENCE BLOG in response to Steve Seagull but this is the best place for it.

    Interesting ideas Steve. When I have some time I am going to watch the second half again of the Barcelona -Chelsea semi final now devoid of the emotional impact. Watch it in the cold light of day as it were. Barcelona moved the ball forward and kept it there.

    I think a little tinkering – and I have read John’s post on variations and the suggestion of adding heading to their repertoire – albeit MAY NOT require a great header of the ball if they can find ways to make chances with the ball on the floor; when confronted with a Chelseaesque opponent.

    For a Guardiola/Villanova; can he devise a method that does not require aerial crosses?

    Can we put on hold any ideas that suggest a need to do something so specifically British? That is not to say, it might not come to that; but I want to see Barcelona defeat the Chelsea-types without having to using POMO in any form , now that would be something!

    Before I am derided, I do appreciate the near post ball, the angled cross/ or bent into spaces between defenders or the use of the Torres ( Portugal 66) knock downs; yet I wonder that as Barcelona are so conditioned to play THEIR WAY that they continue to be the TOTAL ANTITHESIS OF THE CHARLES HUGHES METHOD; if one can call it that.

    They can of course play on the counter and slice through teams, better than anyone, when space allows. Mostly they can force you back and play in the front play-rounds as Johns states. Can they now incorporate, greater intricacies of movement and link up in almost non-existence spaces around the box; without resorting to air balls to be headed NOW THAT WOULD BE SOMETHING!!!

  10. John Wrote:

    ” Teams’ are not coming out to force pressure on Barca, they’re sitting back with 10 and sometimes 11 players in their own defensive third. The denial of space in the penalty area is becoming an increasing problem to Barca’s present game-style”

    Hi John, I agree with what you say, but my thought was that Barca should have tried to retain their possession further away from the goal. Their continual pressure, paradoxically, added to their own problems, Chelsea retreated and Barca advanced, thus making the area of play as crowded as it could have been (with the man sent off !).

    My thought was that they could play more from the midfield third than the attacking third.
    Even with Chelsea’s defensive mindset, I would think they would be sorely tempted to come out if Barca had kept the ball away from the penalty area.

    I also thought, whilst watching the game, that playing from further out would have aided the use of 1-2s to get behind Chelsea, especially in the wide positions

    ” Heading and crossing of the ball, although unmentioned in the FA ‘s book ‘THE FUTURE GAME’ , are extremely important playing ‘weapons’, with Heading being a vital skill in both attacking and defending situations ”

    Again, I agree. However, I think this would have been aided again by my thought that had Barcelona played from further out, hopefully to entice Chelsea out, it would create more space for any ariel threat.
    As it was, I felt that Chelsea would always have had the advantage in the air had Barcelona played more ariel passes in the position they were – everyone except Valdes camped on the edge of the penalty area.

    ” Because of their ability to regain possession of the ball so quickly Barca. must also be prepared to ‘gamble’ more at times when placed under pressure close to their own goal and play forward passes over longer distances —- they must, when necessary, ‘counter attack the counter attackers’! Long passes does NOT mean a ‘hit and hope’ type of delivery, but longer, forward passes must become a ‘Benchmark.’ addition to their present game— PREMIER SKILLS already has this playing alternative in its level 5 Program.

    I don’t disagree with this. I think you have to be prepared to make adjustments to your style of play primarily to become less predictable. It’s the same if you always play ‘direct’ as a team. The opponent knows what to expect and prepares for it. If you are less predictable, they have a harder time defending against you.

    I am aware of the ‘benchmark’ concept from reading the material I have from the courses, your book and the website and hope to be able to progress to the Level 5 to see it in action.

    ” Barca. have a ‘cultural’ playing problem to overcome; they believe in ‘playing the beautiful game in a beautiful way all the time’, and one must admire their ‘guts’ in doing so. But the time has come where necessary variations must now be introduced to facilitate even better opportunities for them to continue in the main with their recognized playing brand.”

    I think what you say about variations is the key. My suggestions above I believe are also merely adjustments to the style and I would be interested in what you think about playing from further out?
    Would it entice a team out or would the defensive team be ‘brave’ enough just to sit on and in the edge of their box without making any attempt to win the ball? Although I know the scoreline is also a factor which cannot be ignored….

    As regards your reference to Gen. Mongomery and the military analogies, I think my idea of palying from further out, effectively allows your team to make its battle “on a ground of its own choosing” (which I think comes from a military perspective though not sure where I read it)

  11. Brazil94 – do you have a Twitter account? I could send a direct message to you there with my e-mail or if you are on LinkedIn?

    If you use any other message boards, let me know as they will also allow Private Messages where I can give you my e-mail address. I just don’t want some spyware picking up my e-mail address from this website and then getting Spam !


  12. There is no reason why a player who is a good header of the ball should necessarily be poor when the ball is at his feet . To be a good header of the ball you must be able to move your feet. I read somewhere that when a young Tommy Lawton arrived at Everton in the 1930s he was informed by that legendary goal-scorer, Dixie Dean, that he would never be a good header of the ball until he learnt how to move his feet. Dean meant that you have too move and adjust your feet to get into the best position to meet the incoming cross, rising above big, strong defenders and the keeper. At the moment, Andy Carroll is having a poor time at Liverpool since his transfer from Newcastle because he gets caught under the ball too much. He does not pull away from defenders so that he can attack crosses which he would do if he adjusted his feet quicker. Carroll is about 6ft. 6in. but he gets beaten to high balls by smaller defenders because they get themselves into position where they can attack the ball but Carroll is trying too often to get his headers in from a standing jump. Uwe Seeler, Hamburg and West Germany, was small for a centre forward but scored from many headers because he got into good positions to attack the ball by moving his feet. so did ‘Pop’ Robson at West Ham, who also was of small stature. I recall that his father-in-law was a dance teacher, and when he was at his first club, Newcastle, Robson got his to teach him various dance steps which helped him quickly adjust his positions in the penalty area and led him to score many goals at top level.
    So i do not think that an adjusted playing style for Barcelona, incorporating methods of attacking the ball from a varied assortment of crosses, would be any great culture shock. The body and feet adjustment which they display in many other aspects of their play could easily be brought into their penalty area work.
    Although I am very sorry to see Guardiola depart i do think that perhaps some of Barcelona’s problems may actually lie the area of strong management. There is some evidence that certain players have allowed off-field distractions to effect their on-field performances and Pique, for one, has certainly been sloppy in some of his play.His off-field activities have been well documented. Even the great Messi seems a problem because I see similarities between him and George Best. Like Best, Messi must understand that when his brilliance attracts defenders towards him like bees round a honey-pot, then consequently other team-mates will be unmarked. He must see and recognise those situations and, when necessary, release the ball for the benefit of the team.
    I am not suggesting that Guardiola was not aware of these problems but perhaps a new Manager can quickly iron them out without detracting from the brilliance of Barcelona’s play.

    • Hi Steve. The ‘fear’ that exists within the mind of football’s ‘perfectionist’ with regards to Heading is their apparent concern that having an ‘aerial target’ provides a ‘one brand’ easy playing option for their players thus reducing the game to ‘fightball’ version. I have always said that ‘Direct Play’ tactics, if correctly used are an important part of attacking play. The problem that has occured here is one of laziness in inroducing the full range of playing ability resulting in an over-dependence on simplistic tactics to ‘camouflage’ both poor individual skills.
      Villanova, has a great opportunity to take Barca’s game forward to new playing heights. He must show an appreciation of the need for variations to their present playing style. Being a part of a well-organized club and having such talented players to work with will, i believe, make the necessary adaptations easier to insert and quicker to achieve.

  13. The contrast is odious and somewhat obvious that while the English Premiership player is ‘keen’ to put the ball in the air, a Barcelona player is ‘schooled’ to play the ball on the floor.

    I agree it will be possible for them to adjust and vary the final pass because of the talent at Villanova’s disposal, yet crucially, SO MUCH HARDER for the mindset and the cleverer ball to be developed in the English game; although that being said Rodgers worked some sort of Miracle at Swansea.

    Hopefully, the adjustments will be minuscule, such get the goal, ensure superiority and then PLAY OUR WAY will be the mantra.

    Why, oh why, did Barcelona going 2 up just keep the ball heading into half time?
    That is the question.

    • Im still in mourning one week later Brazil. I think when the 2nd goal went in Barca went for the jugular and the rest is history but as bored as I was by yesterdays “biggest premiership game ever” man city did get in some good overlaps one of which led t the corner they ended up scoring from. I think Messi could have done that with Alves and Iniesta on the other side to get to the byline. In fact their first goal was from a cross. I felt they could have played more tiki taka in the wide positions and eventually sucked the Chelsea defence out of the centre to switch it or play a cross to 2 or 3 players running onto it.

  14. Hi Fletch. Take off the black and put on some colour, Barca. will have ‘hurt’ from this defeat and will look to modify their playing method. I expect them to ‘raise football’s bar’ yet again.
    In the meantime let’s hope that Roy Hodgson gets the support he deserves as England’s new Manager. Question: can England produce a successful game-style that is different from our domestic ‘huff and puff’?

  15. Hi Brazil94.
    “…although that being said Rodgers worked some sort of miracle at Swansea.”
    It hasn’t been a miracle what has happened at Swansea, it is the result of good coaching and Rodgers’ belief in his methods and the abilties of his players to be able to carry them out. I recall that in the early nineties, a little while after his sacking at West Ham United, John Lyall was appointed manager of Ipswich Town and he made the comment that the majority of players wanted to play the game correctly.That is, keeping the ball on the floor and building up the play from the back. I remember seeing Ipswich play a few months later and the evidence of what he said was clear in the quality of


    play. This was in the old Division 2, (Championship),with largely journeymen players,but the fruits of his work was already apparent.
    In my experience of,ad mittedly, mainly greassroots football, most players would rather play constructively, but too often they have been let down in their ‘learning journey’ by various people who set greater store on results and short-termism methods.
    It is very encouraging to see how Swansea and Wigan have set out to play in this country in recent seasons, and I am hopeful that john Cartwright will be proved right in his anticipation that the new Barcelona coach will lead the Catalans on to even greater achievements with a more varied game style.

  16. Steve you misinterpret my hyperbolic ‘Miracle’ comment. Indeed Rodgers football is the result of belief and good coaching.

    We have discussed ‘Barcelona’s varitions’ on here and my belief is that to be a complete team they need the whole gambit of attacking weapons. They possess the ball so well that whatever method they select In each attack, surely the ball will be in their possession quickly once again to have another go. All the great teams have been able to play short, pass long, play directly on the counter, and cross aerially.

    One is reminded of England’s first foreign nemesis the Magyars of 53 and the golden head of Kocsis, the Brazilians had Pele scorer Of a header in both 58 and 70. Nanninga came on a sub against Argentina for the Dutch in the 58 final and scored with a powerful header; so this approach has not just been the domain of the English. One thinks of Gullit and his goal against the Soviets in the 88 final. The list will go on and anyone reading this blog will have some historical knowledge.


    • Brazil94 – do you have a Twitter account? I could send a direct message to you there with my e-mail or if you are on LinkedIn?

      If you use any other message boards, let me know as they will also allow Private Messages where I can give you my e-mail address. I just don’t want some spyware picking up my e-mail address from this website and then getting Spam !


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