Friday, November 11, 2011

Man Up!

Upsidedown 1
Photo by Dariuszka on Flickr

give you Columnist Ed, on one of his all-too-frequent rants.  Apparently, he's under the mis-impression that the standard in Spanish Football this season is still being set by a certain side from Catalonia.  Before I point out to him that the most dangerous squad in La Liga this season hails from the Spanish Capital -- a side which has come fully into its own in this, the Special One's second season in Madrid -- I'll let Ed offer you an entertaining side show of sorts:

First off, if your not reading, there's something wrong with you.  Seriously.  Don't even look at me if that's the case.  Turn away.  I can't take the sight of you.

Okay, with that behind us, let us speak of the darkness growing in the South, and by that I mean Barcelona.  How are we in the EPL to deal with their dominance?  Is it personnel or tactics?  I think it's both, but let's look today at tactics.

In his latest review of the Barca v. Athletic Bilbao (unedr the tutelage of Coach Marco Bielsa) match, Zonal spoke of how Bilbao was able to achieve a draw against the powerhouse by playing man defense rather than the zone.  This is along the lines of what I've believed has been worth a try for some time. 

The traditional defense In football is, of course, the "zonal marking" we see time and time again.  Getting eight or nine players behind the ball in two straight lines.  Tweaks occur by tightening in the middle or on the outside against certain players.  To be short and clear, this defense is widely used because it is very effective.

However, the Barca method is the counter to the zonal mark.  It takes advantage of the "zone" in the zonal mark by taking what the zone allows -- quick one touch passes horizontally or backwards are almost always open. Then Barca rests in possession, only to let fly their energy to reclaim the ball on those few occasions when they lose it.  Offensively, they also have trained to take advantage of the smaller cracks in the zone at the condensed top of the box, almost always with a few quick one-twos.  It's amazing to me how many times defenses get caught ball-watching as Iniesta passes to Messi and then takes two steps forward and receives the pass back from Messi, his marker dusted and still looking at Messi's feet where the ball once was.  Oops!

Anyhow, the point is that Barca have perfected a system for use against the zonal mark.  Which is why I think changing a defense to more man coverage could be effective, and apparently was used to great effect by the Basques.  Put a body on Xavi and Iniesta.  Beat them up when they get possession.  Follow them around the pitch.  Deny them the possession they love.  I suspect these two players, as well as many others on Barca, are not much faster than the top players at other top teams and yet are much smaller -- sheer athleticism should win the day, meaning big and fast is always tough to beat.

I find watching Barca mesmerizing, but I remain surprised that all of these high priced coaches do the same thing against Barca no matter how many times they fail.  While comparisons of soccer to American football are often obtuse, I think running the same defense against Barca would be like an NFL team using the same system every week against every team -- a tactic that would be disastrous in that league.

Try something new, guys.  Go man to man.  What do you have to lose, really?  Man up!  I'm talking to you, United.

This is farlieonfootie for November 11.

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