By John Cartwright
A strange title, especially when concerning football, however, because I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen the game played as I have always believed it should by the present Barcelona club over the past few years, I am concerned that their ‘obsession’ with perfection may become more of a hindrance than an asset. … opposing clubs have decided that they cannot compete against Barca using normal tactical methods and have resorted to playing an ‘ultra-defensive’ style against them. This problem has been developing for several years but has now become a major tactical situation that Barca must confront if they are to stay as world leaders of the game.
In major games’ over the past few years in which Barca’s opponents have ‘parked the bus’ they have continued to play their possession football with huge statistical advantages – but have failed to win! These games have displayed a major fault in Barca’s game-style ……they are ‘blinded’ in their search for perfection. It is generally agreed that perfection is a ‘fleeting target’ and although on many occasions Barca. have achieved never before seen standards they now need to make a serious appraisal of their present playing style and to ‘tweak’ it to introduce even more variety to their attacking play.
I have never seen any team retain possession of the ball around the oppositions penalty area so brilliantly as Barca. Their ability to remain patient and to create penetrative openings has been truly magnificent, but as time has gone on their opponents are limiting the spaces available for them to exploit by increasing the number of players to defensive duties; Barca’s perfect penetrations are being denied and goals-scoring chances made more difficult.
To overcome this increasing tactical barrier Barca must be prepared to ‘tweak’ their game-style in two ‘imperfect’ ways: (1) They must be prepared to play longer passes forward more quickly to turn opposing defences around before they collect sufficient numbers back to defend. (2) They must introduce more diagonal crosses from positions around their opponents penalty area…..although spaces may be denied on the ground there is still space available in the air ! In both of these situations there is a possibility that possession may be lost and this is where Barca, must compromise — reduced possession stats. but an increase in attacking options. A loss of possession should not be too much of a problem to Barca as they are superb at winning the ball back from opponents quickly. In conjunction with the deliveries for both of these aspects of play there must also be a co-ordinated team awareness to support positive or negative outcomes quickly, but as already mentioned, Barca are already proficient in both.
The use of diagonal crossing from areas around an opponents penalty area should be a particularly important addition to their game-style. Both the delivery of the ball and movement to receive it along with the support play by colleagues must be all recognized. The ball delivered in the air in these situations may be successful or not but whether perfect or imperfect players must react quickly to either circumstance. Receiving the ball from diagonal crosses will require intelligent runs and most probably the use of the head – sometimes there will be success, other times failure, but whichever is the outcome the players must be ready to act decisively.
I believe Barca. have the quality of players that can adapt their present game-style and make it even more difficult for teams’ to compete against them. I hope this is the case, for it will underline the importance of individualism being able to respond quickly to tactical changes occurring in the game. In Barca’s case they will be able to show that at times in the game perfection can follow in the footsteps of imperfection.