Sunday, 29 May 2011

Barcelona dominate Man United in 3-1 victory

Barcelona totally dominated Manchester United on the first Champions League Final at the new Wembley.
Barcelona started with probably their first choice eleven, other than Javier Mascherano coming in for Puyol at centre back. Manchester United started with the team that has been their main side for their big games in the last few weeks with no room for their most destructive attacking forces in Nani and Berbatov, the latter of whom didn't even make the bench.

For the first 5 to 10 minutes Man United were on top, pressing Barcelona high up the pitch and causing them to be sloppy in possession. In the first 10 minutes, Barcelona were tackled 7 times and gave the ball away 12 times, a far worse statistic for them seeing as most of this took place in their half. This meant that United had a good amount of possession early on and they passed it around quickly with Evra notably high on a couple of occasions and a couple of shots on goal early on.

However, the pattern of the game turned out to be similar to the 2009 final between the two sides. The first 10 minutes United were aggressive and had Barcelona mainly penned back in their half but Barcelona soon settled into the game and United were soon chasing shadows.

United's centre midfield on paper, Giggs and Carrick, didn't look able to deal Iniesta and Xavi with a lack of ball winning skill, so it was no surprise to see Valencia and mainly Park moving inside to help out in the middle and only going out wide when the full backs had the ball. Park's energy was good early on, setting the tempo for United's early dominance with a tackle on Dani Alves and was generally lively. Unfortunately for him, for a lot of the first half he spent his time in the middle helping track Messi's runs from deep and cover for Carrick and Giggs, so much so that on a number of occasions he ended up closer to the right flank than to the left flank. Valencia meanwhile wasn't as good positionally and didn't look as comfortable in the centre, committing 7 fouls.

A notable feature of Barcelona's play was not only Messi dropping deeper than usual but also David Villa's positioning when Messi did drop deep. Villa was far more central than we've been used to seeing and at points when Messi dropped deep, Villa seemed to take up the normal position of a centre forward, occupying the centre backs while Alves stretched the play high up on the right. Only when Messi moved further forward or ran at the centre backs did Villa move out wide to the right. This is easily identifiable when you see the average positions taken up in the first half:

45 - Here are the average positions for both sides so far in the CL final. Graphic #championsleaguefinal

A lot of Man United's attacking features came from long balls, testing out particularly Mascherano and Alves in the air against Wayne Rooney, a clearly deliberate tactic. This was successful when United got bodies forward, especially early on, but as the game went by and United had many bodies back defending, the long ball was not really a threat with Javier Hernandez being unable to make much of it against the two centre backs while Rooney couldn't do much to support as he was tracking Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield. Rooney didn't do a great job here because he wanted the ball and this shows as Busquets started a lot of the moves, making 82 passes with a 94% success rate. This meant that as United got the ball clear it came straight back at them just as fast and Barca tired them out with their lengthy periods of possession and brilliant interchanging of positions. Hernandez himself was quiet for most of the match even though his positioning was mainly between Mascherano, the midfielder playing centre back and Alves, who left lots of space as he went forward.

The main attacking feature from United when they had the ball in Barcelona's half, was to attack the flanks. One of United's main strengths this season and indeed under Ferguson has been their dominance out wide. The fact that Nani, who has 18 assists in the league this season (the highest in the league), didn't even make the starting eleven shows their strength out wide and it was a tactic that caused no surprise for Barcelona. The energetic Evra and Fabio looked to get forward when United had the ball and with Valencia and Park on the wings this was always going to be a key point of the game for them. Indeed even when Park cut inside, Giggs often interchanged with him, causing no real damage to United's structure - both players are happy either in the centre or on the left hand side so can play very well there. However this didn't particularly work out for United with Barcelona blocking out the space for the wide players with clever use of the full backs and centre midfielders.
The tactic used by Barcelona to shut out Man United's wide players on the ball.

Messi himself was brilliant and his movement from the deep was excellent, often catching out United's midfielders and defenders and in truth they couldn't deal with him. Even for the first goal his movement caught out Evra who followed him into the centre leaving space on the right for Pedro to score.

Man United it has to be said showed great spirit in getting back into the game because they were being completely dominated at that point. From the throw in Barcelona had been sucked in to the left hand side meaning there was a lack of defensive cover on the right and Rooney had plenty of space to finish even though it was a great strike. Ryan Giggs who had drifted into the box was probably offside but it was tight and it's hard to be too critical of the linesman for that decision because it was a tough one.

At the start of the second half Barcelona came out and penned United back on the edge of their box causing them a lot of trouble. Messi was becoming more and more influential in the game and in the Barcelona moves and in truth he had too much space with which to work. United mainly played a zonal marking system with him meaning that different players picked him up in when he was in different positions. However they often weren't compact enough in the middle and players often either gave him too much space or got too tight to him allowing him to turn and run. For Barca's second goal, he wasn't really closed down and had too much space with which to work. The centre backs didn't want to close him down because of leaving space for Pedro and Villa to run into from out wide and maybe weren't even expecting him to shoot but to pass instead.

In terms of positioning for United in the second half, Ryan Giggs moved over to the left hand side with the energetic Park moved into the centre to try and put Iniesta and Xavi under more pressure than had previously been given. In the end though Man United were sat so deep at points that Barcelona could just play it back to Busquets or the centre backs should they be put under any real pressure and Park himself left too many gaps in pursuit of the Barca midfield.

David Villa was a lot more wide on the right than he had been in the first half, leaving Vidic and Ferdinand with no one to directly mark. This meant that Barcelona played a more straight up 4-3-3 that they've become known for with no one playing as a centre forward. Xavi and Iniesta were again brilliant, running the main of the possession game, Iniesta making 115 passes with a 93% succession rate and Xavi making 148 passes with a 95% possession rate. Meanwhile the player with the most passes for United was Ferdinand who made 47 passes with an 85% succession rate. Barcelona's average pass completion rate was an extremely high 90% with United's being at 80%. (stats got from

David Villa's great strike finished off United and meant that Barcelona could just kill the game off by keeping the ball. They therefore sat back deeper and passed the ball around with seeming ease against an ever tiring United side. Nani came on for Fabio just before Barcelona's third and didn't show much going forward nor defensively while Valencia who moved to right back because of the change and got the yellow card that really should have been given earlier after a number of fouls. Barcelona didn't properly test out Valencia in the right back slot but they didn't need to and they didn't have any problems late on as United couldn't really open them up. Scholes came on for Carrick and sat deeper trying to control United's possession but in truth they didn't have much of the ball anyway and were thoroughly outclassed as Barca comfortably won the Champions League.
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