The time has come and the Champions League 2015/16 has kicked-off! The first round of the group phases in the UCL started off with the last year’s winners FC Barcelona playing away in the Italian capital against Roma. Luis Enrique and Rudi Garcia are both attacking minded football coaches, but it was Roma who proved to possess greater defensive stability throughout the game.
Roma 1-1 Barcelona
Roma (4-3-3): 25. Szczesny; 24. Florenzi, 44. Manolas, 2. Rudiger, 3. Digne; 20. Keita, 16. De Rossi, 4. Nainggolan; 11. Salah, 9. Dzeko, 14. Iago
Barcelona (4-3-3): 1. ter Stegen; 20. Roberto, 3. Pique, 24. Mathieu, 18. Alba; 4. Rakitic, 5. Busquets, 8. Iniesta; 10. Messi, 9. Suarez, 11. Neymar
Goals: Florenzi, Suarez
Both teams played in a 4-3-3 but shifted formations within the system. Barcelona easily switches positions within their style of Juego De Pocision. Szczesny started between the posts guarding the goal for the home side with Rüdiger and Manolas, the centre-backs providing a really solid game, with the full-backs Florenzi and Digne on the flanks. De Rossi played as the pivot as Keita and Nainggolan were the 2 more advanced midfielders throughout the game. Dzeko featured as the centre forward with Salah and Iago on the flanks formed the attacking trio. The Catalan side were plagued by injury and lined up as expected, except that Mathieu played together with Pique as the 2 centre-backs and Sergi Roberto played as the right-back.
Roma off the ball
To play against Barcelona might be one of the most difficult tasks in the football world. With the MSN trio back, it was supposed to be a rather easy game for Barcelona (who defeated Roma with 3-0 in the Joan Gamper), who together with Guardiola’s Bayern Munich are the world’s best at playing the ‘’Juego De Pocision’’.
In the Super Copa Final of 2015, Athletic Bilbao showed us all a very efficient way of stopping Barca, with their high pressing in a positional oriented zonal defense with some man-marking roles. This is according to me a very good way of stopping Barcelona.
But Rudi Garcia prepared another tactical approach for this game, tactics that provided a good compacted defense throughout the full 90 minutes for Roma. The tactical approach was namely that Roma dropped deep with all of their lines in defense (against the ball) and tried to basically force Barcelona to the wide zones/areas of the pitch to then try and set a pressing-trap where they could press with much more intensity.
In this deep 4-5-1 Garcia implemented, there were specific roles for specific players. One of the most important roles during this game, was that of Dzeko. Dzeko’s role was to man-mark Busquets (in some high-pressing situations too) while Barcelona tried to build up their attack. He basically man-marked Busquets until Barcelona played the ball to a specific zone in which Roma could then set the pressing-traps. Now when the ball was in these specific areas, Dzeko let go of his marking duty on Busquets to join the press, basically cover-shadowing Busquets to try and make the pressing in wide-areas more efficient.
Due to the low pressing/deep defense, Roma forced down their wingers deep to create a 4-5-1 from a 4-3-3. This was to keep good horizontal compactness which meant that the fullbacks (Digne and Florenzi) always had good support in defense.
No Busquets, No Party?
’’ If I was to be reborn as a footballer again, I would choose to be Busquets’’
– Vicente Del Bosque
As many of you have already noticed and analyzed, Busquets really is one of the world’s most intelligent players. With his great movement, technical ability and passing (short, long, vertical and diagonal), he has the ability to play through an entire line of defense, with 1 single pass and this in very tight, demanding areas making Busquets very good in offering resistance to pressing. Indeed, he is a very important player for Barcelona.
So this explains why Rudi Garcia adjusted the man-marking role for Dzeko through the entire game to basically stop Busquets from influencing the game’s tempo as he wishes. This forced Barcelona to try different approaches to play through Roma’s compact defense which meant that Barcelona lost some dimensions in their build-up (more space for the Centre-Backs to try and play passes). It did though in this game show how important Busquets is for Barcelona.
Dzeko’s man-marking on Busquets meant that Barca then had 2 central (more advanced) midfielders. With the help of Dzeko, Roma could then create a 3v2 in midfield. Keita and Nainggolan were more focused on the movement of Rakitic and Iniesta as both are more left and right positioned in the build-up. This meant that De Rossi was left as a ‘’free’’ midfielder who could press (if needed) or simply cover zones so that Barca would not be able to find passes through the midfield line.
To try and man-mark Busquets when playing vs Barcelona seems to become a common approach in stopping Barcelona. This was something that was seen being tested by Atletico Madrid and Bilbao in recent fixtures.
During the game you could see how Messi got more and more involved in the central-areas of the pitch, during Barcelona build-ups. This did occur for many reasons, but especially since Busquets was being limited in terms of influencing the game, meaning that Messi had a vital role in determining the outcome of the game, as he does more often than not.
Battle of the center
Messi is, as you all know, able to dribble in tight-areas ( the ultimate needle player), occupy and manipulate many players at the same time (meaning that he forces more players to focus on him than the movement of the other Barcelona players, such as Neymar or Suarez). Now Messi did in my opinion get more involved centrally as Barca did not want to let the central areas be numerically inferior as Roma had managed to manufacture a 3v2 as mentioned before.
With Messi’s appearance in the central area Barca now had created a 3v3 instead and could then have better ball circulation and maintain better ball-possession without losing it (not perfect though as seen on many occasions as Roma did create some dangerous counters). Messi could also be seen dropping deep (deeper than Iniesta and Rakitic) in order to have better body position when in possession (with a better vision of the play) to try and then threaten the space in front. It was in these situations that the ‘’free’’ player of Roma’s midfield, Daniele De Rossi, showed his importance for his team. It was he who put pressure on Messi as quickly as possible, and stopped him from getting time and space with the ball.
Another important aspect in stopping Messi was the situational man-marking by Digne. Digne was the one to follow whenever Messi left his winger-position to position himself in central areas. Digne followed Messi to these zones, and would then drop back to his full-back position basically leaving Messi to the position oriented zonal defense midfield of Roma. It was in these situations where De Rossi or the nearest midfielder tried then to defend against Messi.
Here is a good example of how Digne left his fullback position to put pressure on Messi who, as seen above, has positioned himself deeper than the normal winger’s position. The defensive duties of the wingers of Roma (Salah and Iago) were vital as it was in the situation above where Iago is seen dropping deep behind Digne, to have defensive balance.
It was a very solid and compacted defense of Roma, who many times did prevent Barcelona from creating anything dangerous and did also win back the ball especially in the central areas (where they were strong). These turnovers in possession allowed them to play quick counter-attacks often playing direct balls to Salah. It is also worth mentioning the performances of Florenzi and the 2 Centre-Backs of Roma, who throughout the game provided a very solid defensive front for the away side.
The above pattern shows how centrally focused Roma was, and how they wanted/tried to get Barca to play their game at the flanks. In these situations Barca did though have many different ways of playing through Roma. It was even in these zones/areas of the pitch where the 1st goal of the game did occur.
Messi + Rakitic = Goal
As I have mentioned earlier, Barca are really good at dragging opponents out of an area which would then be occupied by another Barca player. For example, the movement of Neymar into the half-space thanks to Iniesta’s movement, or Rakitic running into the winger’s position due to Messi dropping deeper. This makes it hard for the opponents to maintain focus on both the ball and the flexible movement of the attacking team.
In this situation Messi has dragged the left-fullback Digne, with him into the penalty box. This run forces Digne to follow Messi, meaning that the former leaves his fullback position. This is a very intelligent run of Messi as he notices the run behind from Rakitic, who instead of standing in the ’’traditional’’ midfield position starts his run into the space that Messi has now opened up for him. Iago Falque is caught out here as he is way too focused on the ball, thus forgetting to follow Rakitic. Mathieu on the ball plays a diagonal pass to Rakitic who then crosses the ball to Suarez who heads it in, making it 0-1 to Barcelona. This is an example of how Barcelona drags defenders out of position with their movement to create space for one another.
Something worth mentioning is the different attacking combinations of Barcelona, to solve the different situations during the game, on the flank or through the central areas. In this game it was also clear to see how Iniesta and Rakitic tried to stretch out the centrally compacted Roma by occupying each half-space (Iniesta the left and Rakitic the right), during build-up. It forced the midfielder of Roma closest to the ball to follow this movement, which was intended to leave De Rossi isolated centrally. Roma did though move positionally in their zonal defense, which made it easy for them to still keep good vertical and horizontal compactness without getting exploited through the appearance of big gaps between the line(s).
Written by Albin Sheqiri
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