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FC Barcelona: Highlight Clips Worth Watching
November 8, 2011 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Allas creates surprisingly novel highlight clips of FC Barcelona, perhaps the most talented football/soccer team of the moment. This fifteen minute video illustrates Barcelona’s tactics, and serves as an introduction to aspects of the beautiful game that were previously invisible to novices like me.

[Note: Those sensitive to maudlin music may wish to mute some of the following youtube clips]

Barcelona is known for a passing-intensive game that relies on possession and control of the ball. As an example, here’s a 32-pass interchange from a couple of months ago that leads to a goal. Here are two compilations of this tiki-taka style of play. This one-touch football is the end-result of much practice.

Barcelona’s most famous player – and arguably the most talented player of this generation – is Lionel Messi. Messi has a non-flashy, but brutally effective technique of misdirection. Allas focuses as much on Messi’s running and dribbling, as his extraordinary goal scoring skills. Here’s a short compilation which shows how the combination of precise short passes and Messi’s dribbling skills eviscerates defenses.

Other players, particularly in the midfield, get Allas’ love. Here is an analysis of passes primarily between Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets which sets up a goal. Here are compilations of Iniesta’s assists and Xavi’s assists. And finally an appreciation of Xavi’s seemingly 360 degree vision.

Defenders also get the love, both Barcelona and opponents, particularly when pressing high up the field. Victor Valdes, the goalie, is admired for his role in distributing the ball in addition to brilliant saves.

Over 100 additional videos here and here.

FC Barcelona discussed previously and previously.
posted by ferdydurke (35 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
This had some interesting points. That being said, many of these were presented as if FC Barcelona is the only team to employ these tactics. Granted, they are the best at possession and understanding "space" on the field, but almost every successful professional team has adopted some form of the triangle/possession game.

Also, I would say that Barca sticks with short corners, short goal kicks, and a high defensive line is mostly due to the fact that most of their defenders (with the exception of Pique and possibly Puyols) are not strong and tall, effectively eliminating the aerial game.
posted by kuanes at 11:30 AM on November 8, 2011


I think the point is that he's tracing how tactics have evolved since the 70's and since FCB is always state-of-the-art (and the guy's a fan), they're a good one to use to illustrate. Plus they've been the game changers several times. Most notably, putting their best player, Messi, at center mid.
posted by cmoj at 11:34 AM on November 8, 2011


More analysis specific to Barcelona at ZonalMarking. It's not just their passing. Their pressing game is a major part of what they do.

As far as goalkeeper distribution is concerned, my understanding is that Mancini has been working with Hart on that a lot. The difference between good distribution and a Robinson hoof up the field is desperately obvious once you start looking for it.
posted by idb at 11:52 AM on November 8, 2011


Plus they've been the game changers several times. Most notably, putting their best player, Messi, at center mid.

Hold on - Messi plays somewhere around the trequartista position - almost in a supporting striker role, with license to drift deep and to the right - doesn't he? Whereas Juventus were playing Platini in central midfield, from which he was still regularly top scorer in the team, in the 80s.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:10 PM on November 8, 2011


Those sensitive to maudlin music may wish to mute some of the following youtube clips

Uhm, but then they would miss out on Ray Hudson. And that can never happen. You can thank me tomorrow when you wake up singing that.
posted by yerfatma at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2011


very cool - thanks!
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 12:41 PM on November 8, 2011


Messi plays somewhere around the trequartista position

Yeah, whatever you call it. The guy who controls and distributes (or holds back) attacks from the midfield. I don't know much about 80's Juventus. Was Platini widely considered to be the best all-around player on the team?

I don't keep up with everyone in the world the way I know a lot of people do, but the center mid or supporting forward or tequartista being the tactical star of the team is a relatively recent development as far as being an increasingly widespread requirement as far as I know. Messi, Donovan, that guy on the Mexo team. Scandinavian play.
posted by cmoj at 12:50 PM on November 8, 2011


It's a solid analysis, especially for less than knowledgeable footballers...I'd say that if we all understood what's going on and how, it's a great video. Great post! My other thought was...Man, I would not want to go to war or play chess against this guy...The adaptability, fluidity, and focus on controlling the engagement is, IMHO, the most beautiful part.
posted by Donkey_Unicorn at 12:52 PM on November 8, 2011


Barcelona’s most famous player – and arguably the most talented player of this generation – is Lionel Messi.

Arguably?
posted by inigo2 at 12:54 PM on November 8, 2011


... here’s a 32-pass interchange ...
... that adequately demonstrates why watching Barcelona play makes me want to find a proper football game. Boring, pointless ball shoving for the first 20 passes or so. I much prefer a more direct, aggressive style of play.
Was Platini widely considered to be the best all-around player on the team?
Er, yes. [W]idely regarded as one of the best passers in football history as well as one of history's greatest free kick specialists and finishers.
posted by brokkr at 12:56 PM on November 8, 2011


I'm not so much a football fan as a World Cup fan, when the excitement of a truly international competition adds enough interest to make it compelling even for those of us for whom televised sports aren't a primary entertainment choice. The initial video showed me lots of things I didn't know about the game, and while there were several points that went completely over my head (I didn't get much out of the formations section), on the whole it was a really enjoyable way to spend 15 minutes and learn something about the game. Thanks for posting.
posted by layceepee at 1:05 PM on November 8, 2011


It does make some well known points, and some not so well known, like the special kind of keeper valdes is, the special kind of sweeper busquets is, and that the whole point of barcelona's tactic is to create space. But this is not total football, as it's claimed in the video. This is a mental focus, high pressing, first touch pass game. Their motto should be "we think faster than you". In this context, Iniesta is maybe the only player in this team that can create space by himself, and the reason many intelligent people believe him to be the best player in the world.

brokkr, I get it, some people like rock and roll, some people like jazz. But seriously, Barcelona is anything but boring. Most of their opponents are though, because they think that's the way they might get away with a tie.

messi is a beast, but he desperately needs his team; how it saddens me that Argentina can't provide for him the key to become the greatest player ever.
posted by valdesm at 1:29 PM on November 8, 2011


I haven't watched the whole thing. Where does it talk about taking on massive amounts of debt in order to manipulate the transfer market before the UEFA restrictions kick in?

#bittergooner
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:50 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Allas' stuff is great. If you're interested, watch it now, since his channel has already been deleted twice by YouTube for copyright violations, and maybe next time he won't go through all the work of recreating it.

But for a Yank/culer like me trying to learn how football works, the best analysis by far (even more enlightening than Zonal Marking) comes from Euler.
posted by fuzz at 2:01 PM on November 8, 2011


Arguably?

This saves you having to argue with that one weird guy at the end of the bar who likes Ronaldo just a little too much.
posted by yerfatma at 2:04 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cmoj: I think I see what happened there. You're using "centre mid" to mean a withdrawn forward - someone playing behind the main striker. Germany did something like this with Andreas Moller, and Manchester United with Eric Cantona - and, actually, Southampton with Matt le Tissier, who started out as a straight striker and really came into his own when he was withdrawn.Although at the level of

Platini - considered the best European midfielder of his generation - had a more withdrawn role than Messi; he was a more orthodox midfielder. So, I think we're just using different terminologies.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:12 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


valdesm: "But seriously, Barcelona is anything but boring. Most of their opponents are though, because they think that's the way they might get away with a tie."
Also because the Primera is the most skewed of the four big leagues.
posted by brokkr at 2:39 PM on November 8, 2011


Primera División Champion & Runner Up

2004–05 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2005–06 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2006–07 Real Madrid | Barcelona
2007–08 Real Madrid | Villarreal
2008–09 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2009–10 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2010–11 Barcelona | Real Madrid

Deloitte Football Money League 09/10 global revenue ranking in millions of €.

1st: Real Madrid 438.6
2nd: FC Barcelona 398.1

Occupy Camp Nou.
posted by Winnemac at 3:11 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Barcelona primer is a lovely video. Great find, ferdydurke.

The Barcelona style is an evolution of total football, but it is definitely in the same family. One quick correction to the video. Rinus Michels did not invent total football on his own, though he was one of the principal architects (I suspect Allas, who made the video, knows this but didn't have time to go into it). Total football was developed in Holland in the 60s and 70s. Rinus Michels was a coach at Ajax Amsterdam at that time. Another very important coach in that era was Ernst Happel, who was from Austria, which had been an area of tactical ferment during the pre-WWII era. The Austrian national team was known as the Wunderteam and played a radically different style to other teams at the time. Matthias Sindelar was their Messi, playing as a withdrawn forward, a false nine in today's lingo, or simply as a playmaker, creating opportunities for other forwards. I have never seen film of the Wunderteam in action, but from what I have read it was considered to be very mobile, which makes me think they placed a lot of emphasis on running off the ball, which is very important for the creation of space and makes it harder for defenders to focus on the man with the ball, since they have to pay attention where the other players are going.

Happel was not in the Wunderteam, but he was raised in the same footballing culture and did play in the Austrian national team, though it's questionable whether there was any institutional memory of the old style of playing still present. Happel started coaching in Holland in the 60s, ADO Den Haag at first, and Feyenoord later, who won the 1970 European Cup (the EC is now the Champions League). Happel brought a lot of ideas into Holland, and Michels certainly had his own. That said, the rather radical organizational structure which took hold in Dutch teams of that era contributed even more. Instead of players being simply told what to do by a manager, the players started sharing their experiences and arguing about how best to play. Michels and Happel filtered this information through their own particular intellect, as well as learning from each other. They were also blessed with a great group of players and a superlative individual each, Johan Cruyff at Ajax and Willem van Hanegem at Feyenoord.

The principal aim of total football is to manipulate the space of the football pitch. When attacking you want to create space. The more space you have to maneuver with the ball, the more time you have to act and the more possibilities you have. When there are more possibilities, it is harder for defenders to predict what the player with the ball will do, giving the attacker an advantage. When defending, you want to deny your opponents space, for the very same reasons. When there is less space to maneuver, it is easier to predict as a defender what the player with the ball will do, therefore likelier that you will regain it before your opponent has a chance to score.

Barcelona's constant passing of the ball is only a part of what's going on. Players off the ball will run around, forcing their opponents to move around as well. This results in gaps where there is space to exploit for Barcelona to create chances and score goals. There are plenty of teams who are just as skilled in terms of passing and shooting, Barcelona's advantage lies in how good their players are at moving around when they don't have the ball.

This is something of a thumbnail sketch of total football, but it should give you the basic idea.
posted by Kattullus at 3:12 PM on November 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


That was very nicely put Kattullus. I think tiki taka shares the goal of total football but has enough fundamental differences in its means to be considered much more than an evolution of total football.

The goal is to play into spaces, but in total football players linger with the ball, and wander without it. In tiki taka positions are fixed from a tactical point of view, and movement is focused first on the ball. Position switches are very specific, and the team moves together with a sense of deliberateness.

Tiki taka is closer to standard football than it is perceived to be. Players without the ball run to lock defenders on them and create spaces, precise passes break defending lines, forwards switch positions to create temporary confusion. The point is to do all this fast enough to deny reaction time to the oposition. Only very skilled players are allowed to stall the game swarming players around them to create space, ie, xavi, silva, iniesta.

To all the comments about the player maket, it is only fair to point out that barcelona only has three starting players not raised in their junior teams. Which is not anecdotical since this kind of game requires automated moves that are better developed playing this style from an early age.
posted by valdesm at 3:53 PM on November 8, 2011


Also, I would say that Barca sticks with short corners, short goal kicks, and a high defensive line is mostly due to the fact that most of their defenders (with the exception of Pique and possibly Puyols) are not strong and tall, effectively eliminating the aerial game.

Actually, I think it's a mistake to think of these things as deficiencies. Barcelona intentionally plays fast, technical defenders in a high defensive line (instead of a slow, big, deep defense) because these qualities make possible their pressing game and ability to play out from the back. A high defensive line is employed with the intention of compressing the area of play—in this situation the advantage goes to Barcelona's fast technical players who have the skill and training to play one touch football in tight spaces. It also help them win the ball back very quickly—something almost as important as the ability to keep possession—because the other team has no time or space to carefully pick out or receive passes.

In a pressing game it's important for the entire team to pressure the opposition. For example, if the midfield is pressing without the help of the defense, which is sitting deep, then huge gaps open up between the lines for the opposition to exploit.

I probably haven't explained it very well here but the impressive thing about Barcelona is that the every aspect of the club, youth academy, pressing, high line, Dani Alves, tika taka, etc. is like a puzzle piece which locks into a greater whole and enables other elements to function. The pieces by themselves have little value. The Barcelona style of play is a reinvention of football with its own criteria to determine the strengths and weaknesses of players.
posted by quosimosaur at 4:14 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Primera División Champion & Runner Up

2004–05 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2005–06 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2006–07 Real Madrid | Barcelona
2007–08 Real Madrid | Villarreal
2008–09 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2009–10 Barcelona | Real Madrid
2010–11 Barcelona | Real Madrid

It's worth remarking though that three out of these 7 years Barcelona won the Champions League. That said, I preferred it when you could also expect a left-field team like Valecia or La Coruña to make a name for themselves internationally.
posted by ersatz at 5:15 PM on November 8, 2011


With due props to Kattullus and his thoughtful and insightful response, it's hard for me to read through this link without thinking of the joyous elástico of Ronaldinho. According to my Brazilian husband this is what gets him out of bed early on Sunday morning for the local pickup game (me: learning about futebol).
posted by pipoquinha at 11:05 PM on November 8, 2011


But seriously, Barcelona is anything but boring.

Barcelona are boring. They've found a way of reducing risk in their game. They create some moments of great beauty and Messi is a genius, maybe the best ever, but there are fewer moments of incident in a Barcelona game than in most games.

I know the EPL is crap (the defending is a joke, IMHO) but I prefer it because there is more incident and less chance of knowing what's going to happen next.

And I don't like a jazz either, which may be significant.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:36 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess finding them boring or not is a matter of opinion, but being conservative? I don't think so. A way to reduce risk is to field two defense lines of 4. I get that the media is fixated with barcelona's long possesions when they're ahead by the end of the game, but that's not what their game is about.

Barcelona's (and Spain's) defensive shape is daring to say the least. And they don't renounce it, have a look at this. You see this kind of back play a lot, any other manager in any other team would be cursing at that constant horizontal play in inferiority. They do it because that's the way to have superiority in the centre. But were they (specially Busquets) to lose the ball when starting an attack, their defense would be overwhelmed. They get away with it just because they're too good, but it's hardly "risk reducing".
posted by valdesm at 4:05 AM on November 9, 2011


devious truculent and unreliable: I know the EPL is crap (the defending is a joke, IMHO) but I prefer it because there is more incident and less chance of knowing what's going to happen next.

Last weekend's Athletic Bilbao - Barcelona game was the very definition of "what the fuck? what the fuck? who the what now?!" You would've enjoyed it. The Barcelona games I've seen so far this year have been very entertaining, though none offered the drama of the Bilbao clash.

I will agree that Spain's procession to the World Cup was hideously boring, though. Too much tiki, not enough (a)taka. Spain played with a 4-5-1, while Barcelona plays with a more attacking 4-3-3. Also, Barcelona's style requires roving, attacking fullbacks to work to its fullest, and Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila are no Eric Abidal and Dani Alves. Spain couldn't overwhelm a packed defense like Barcelona do, because they didn't have as many attackers, essentially. It also didn't help that instead of Messi that Spain played mostly with a misfiring Fernando Torres. Though, to be fair to Torres, Villa wasn't much better when playing up top. Tiki taka might not to work with a 4-5-1. Heh, though I suppose it works well enough to win the World Cup :)

And to be fair to Spain, they won the 2008 European Championship in some style.
posted by Kattullus at 4:48 AM on November 9, 2011


Barcelona are boring. They've found a way of reducing risk in their game. They create some moments of great beauty and Messi is a genius, maybe the best ever, but there are fewer moments of incident in a Barcelona game than in most games.

I know the EPL is crap (the defending is a joke, IMHO) but I prefer it because there is more incident and less chance of knowing what's going to happen next.


I don't think Barcelona are boring, at worst they are a neat or slick operation but I certainly agree that this season's EPL has been an absolute dramatic spectacle + hilarity from Balotelli and Tevez.

Anyway, yes, Barcelona are a team built to control games but I think they have enough talent in their side to produce amazing moments. I've heard football being talked about as competitive ballet and I think that comparison is definitely most valid when Barcelona is on the pitch. Their passing is amazingly fluid and pacey, and in Messi they have a player who is unbelievably quick, nimble, deft and also surprisingly strong. Apparently David Foster Wallace wrote about how, seen in the flesh, Michael Jordan's dunking seemingly defied laws of physics—even just on TV it looks to me like Messi is sometimes haxxing through defenses with 'noclip'. Some of his achievements seem less and less plausible the more you watch the replay!
posted by quosimosaur at 5:57 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


hmm i just repeated what you wrote, except from a more enthusiastic perspective. I suppose it is a matter of opinion.

Also, I want to add: I hope the EPL teams settle down a little as the season progresses. I find the sport entertaining because goals are a special event that cannot be taken for granted. If the spectacle continues as it has so far, I feel that would cheapen the sport in some way.
posted by quosimosaur at 6:06 AM on November 9, 2011


I'm not sure how impressive the 32-pass goal is, given that: a) it was a friendly and b) the right wing-back hardly moves at all towards the end of the move, instead of tracking his man.

cmoj: I don't keep up with everyone in the world the way I know a lot of people do, but the center mid or supporting forward or tequartista being the tactical star of the team is a relatively recent development as far as being an increasingly widespread requirement as far as I know.

It's not, but I can see why you might think this. In football, as in other sports, tactics and styles of play go through cycles. What works today will be nullified tomorrow, and because both sides have theoretically equal resources, that nullification exposes a weakness elsewhere.

For instance: England is not the most tactically advanced country. 4-4-2 is considered the 'default' formation and most other formations are thought of as negative, either because they don't have the two forwards, or they don't have the two wide midfielders. In the early-mid 2000s, teams started playing a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 hybrid, taking away a central striker and adding an extra midfielder, with the two wide players pushed further forward in possession. That midfield three typically had a defensive midfielder - a 'destroyer', the 'Makélélé role' - with two midfielders given licence to go forward. This system works well against a 4-4-2 because one of the centre backs in the 4-4-2 is not marking anyone, and the two advanced central midfielders of the three can past their counterparts without worrying so much about defending, because of the holding midfielder. So then the holding midfielder is critical, because they have to build the attacks from the back, so man-marking that player can disrupt the rhythm of the other team, meaning that perhaps you need two deep-lying midfielders, the double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. This in turn has its disadvantages, though, and so it continues ...

So the trequartista, like other developments, will go in and out of fashion. If the centre of the pitch becomes more crowded with the tactics of the day, then players who are most comfortable in that position might have to drift wider (becoming a narrow winger, like Steed Malbranque), move forward (becoming a 'second striker', like Dennis Bergkamp), or drop deeper and either dictate play from there (Andrea Pirlo) or learn to tackle (Anderson, Mikel John Obi). And some players will even do a combination: at Tottenham, arguably Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modrić are both natural trequartistas. However, Modrić generally plays deeper in midfield - and has played on the left wing in the past - while van der Vaart plays off the striker.

But then when the cycle turns, the trequartista comes back. I don't think it's entirely accurate to describe Messi as one, though, as the main feature of Barcelona's forward play is the fluidity of movement. Kattullus gave a great explanation of this above and you can actually see it in the videos from the post.

At 2:19 in the first tiki-taka video is as good a place as any: from 2:19 to 2:39 the ball does not move far from its position near the right touchline. Villarreal have all four defenders behind the ball at all times - however, the centre backs do not have anyone to mark, as Barcelona don't have anyone in a traditional centre forward position. The Barcelona players aren't sprinting around the place but you do see players either moving towards or away from the ball when they think they might be needed. At 2:39 Messi is the furthest right of all the Barcelona players and by 2:46 he's taking a shot from the middle of the penalty area as the team suddenly bursts into motion. Is he playing as a centre forward or a winger? Also, the left winger (Afellay?) hasn't been involved in this move at all and is now all on his own because the rest of the team have drawn the defenders to the centre.

They don't score, but it's an example of how creating the space for movement make a big difference, and of how sometimes positions don't tell the whole story.
posted by smcg at 6:14 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to rep somewhat for Claude Makélélé - he wasn't just a destroyer, although obviously his main value as a player was in being able to break up attacks - his passing was generally short and lateral but it was also accurate and quick. As Zinedine Zidane said when Claude M. was sold and Beckham brought into Réal Madrid:
Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?
(Ironically, Beckham ended up getting a central midfield role at Réal more than he did at Manchester United; in a way, the tragedy of Beckham, if that's the right word for one of the most famous, wealthy and successful players in modern sport, is that he had the pace of a creative playmaking midfielder but the positional instincts and crossing of a world-class winger.)

The best Claude Makélélé I've ever seen, I think, was Dieter Eilts of Germany, who managed to turn in at least one man-of-the-match performance at international level without making a single pass. Admittedly, this was helped enormously because as soon as he closed in for the tackle Matthias Sammer, operating as sweeper, started moving forwards, so would generally sweep past him in time to pick up the ball and move forwards with it. By the time Eilts was standing up the ball would be heading for the other half of the pitch.

Man, Matthias Sammer.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:41 AM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Very true - here's Makélelé scoring a great volley against Spurs. And Real Madrid later bought Thomas Gravesen, believing him to be a destroyer, when that was actually Lee Carsley (or Stig Tøfting for Denmark). Gravesen just looked scary.
posted by smcg at 6:59 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


smcg - Gravesen and Carsley were separated at birth. They both looked scary.

Don't forget also, people, that Barca have Javier Mascherano in midfield. Not exactly your Beautiful Game tiki-taka sort of chap. I'm still pissed that Liverpool let him go.

Now that we're on the subject of world class ex-Liverpool midfielders let go by the deluded Rafa Benitez, don't even bring up the subject of Xabi Alonso in this establishment!
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:51 PM on November 9, 2011


I was always more of a Jan Mølby fan myself.
posted by brokkr at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2011


brokkr - Me too, he has a better scouse accent than Didi Hamann. Calm down, I'll drop a Steve McMahon or Ronnie Whelan reference in a minute, alright?

I'm so glad we're not talking about Barca anymore.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Molby vs Mascherano is sort of the clash of Anfield ideology, isn't it? Passing against commitment, style against fitness... that said, Mascherano isn't exactly chopped liver. An in-prime Molby playing ahead of Mascherano, with McManaman roaming in the hole, would have been an amazing spine to the team.

(Something else that I find endlessly delightful about Dieter Eilts is his nickname, "the Alemao of East Frisia", which is presumably a humorous lift of "the Maradona of the Carpathians", the name applied to the mercurial Georghe Hagi, a player who literally could not be less like Eilts without having a different number of heads. It's such a great in-joke - especially as Alemao, a relatively minor Brazilian international, was so called because of his Germanic looks.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:28 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


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