Monday, 26 August 2013

FC Barcelona and the game at Malaga: The good the better and the best

"You don't get it! I'm yelling of pain, not joy! I got injured! You are not listening!"

Lend me your imagination, and allow me to take you in a short tour to another yesterday, unlike the one you had.

- Martino starting a midfield of Song, Roberto, and Iniesta
- First half, Adriano scores a goal, long shot, and then get injured. Because no matter how often you rerun your yesterday and how you change the sequence of events, Adriano will get injured there.
- Second half, couple of Malaga attacks and just when you thought that ball will kiss the post, it kisses the net.
- Game over. 1-1.

Now imagine the hindsight analysis here and there. SPORT’s main post about the bad impact of rotation. MARCA spice it up with claims about unrest in Barca’s dressing room. Mundo Deportivo preaching about the need to have balance even with rotation, hence the need to have either Busquets or Xavi there.

Twitter and Facebook? Echoes of the above.

Because make no mistake, it was close. Reasonably close. Close enough that FC Barcelona were forced to finish the game with four in the midfield when Cesc was added there, leaving Alexis and Neymar up front.
Lesson one, Martino knows what Mundo Deportivo thinks, and does it beforehand. Balanced rotation.
Now some may argue that it was better to start Busquets, bench Xavi, use Bartra, curse Alcantara, whatever… That’s all about opinions that anyone has the right to voice. Whether Martino made the perfect decision or not is yet to be seen. Fans think about one match; coach plans a slice of the season and decide per se. Opinions are free now, judgments are irrelevant. Only time will tell.

As mentioned on Twitter after the game, anyone who expects this team to be firing all cylinders already, need to take off the fantasy eyeglasses and get real. Maybe it is too much to join my call to consider the whole first Martino season as a transition period, but at least take a deep breath for…hm… 15 games? 10? Sigh… 5?!

We’ve wrote a zillion post and a post in the past three years about the rust that is attacking the system played, the rotten habits, and the need of change on many levels. Martino’s To-do-list is the long, longer and the longest one. Yet miracles will not happen after a game against Atletico and another against Malaga (Alright… And a friendly against Levante). Martino knows that he has to move slowly. Baby steps. No wonder he keep repeating that he is here just to continue the normal work. Worhip the system.  “And maybe… maybe…little little tinny simple .. I swear it won’t be big… changes? Is it ok?” Because you can’t join a squad like this and start behaving as the one who will teach them how to play. It has to be smooth or it breaks. That means time. So be prepared.

One of the key issues and in my opinion the most catastrophic virus Barca’s system suffered from in the past two seasons (mainly) was the sinking of the offense line in midfield. I will not elaborate here as I explained it in details in a previous post: What happened to FC Barcelona? The solution I had in mind was the need of pure nine. A player who leads the line, create an advanced outlet for the deep buildup, get the ball, hold on it for couple of seconds for the team to reposition. I still believe in the need of a pure nine (that is another argument). Yet, you (I) have to be open-minded to accept other alternatives when it feels reasonable, and I believe Martino just provided one. Compare the movement and positioning of Barca wing forwards when the team has possession now to how it was in previous years. Before, Pedro and co used to drop deep in line with Iniesta and Xavi in the midfield to contribute in buildup – thus what we call forwards sinking in midfield. Now? They play up there on opponent fullbacks, demand the ball there and go for the one on one. That is a huge improvement. And with time, it will become more obvious as an upgrade.

Another tweak to improve offense efficiency (which the team lacked – excluding Messi) is the new approach to flood opponent box with players when the team reaches the offense third. No more you see Xavi, Iniesta, and even the wings standing around the box as if it is a pool of lava. Everyone is making the run inside now. It is no more an Alexis trying to climb the towering center backs of the opponent to head a ball. More numbers, more possibilities that the ball will get to a teammate who post it to net.
Yet again, such movement can theoretically expose the team even more to counter attacks. And the solution there seems to be our lifetime demand to make sure to have three at the back whenever needed. That is why you see Adriano playing more often than before. Such an amazing player who goes unnoticed! The most balanced fullback at FC Barcelona, who knows exactly when to attack, and when to play more conservative. His good positioning sense is a plus as well.
Then of course, if the danger alert of a counter attack increases, there is always the tactical foul in the midfield. Another trick the team didn’t use enough in previous seasons. Watch Atletico match again and Malaga’s and you will see the well selected timings to make that tactical foul that stops the game flow and give some time for the team to reposition. I do believe we will see lot of that.

We should also give Martino the credit for the way he is integrating Neymar to the team. He is making sure he terminates any possibility for the young boy to get crushed under unrealistic expectations and demands. And so far, so good.

This is going to be a tough season. If you want to compare it to anything, you should compare it to Rijkaard’s start. True, not that bad as the team is better now. And that’s why FC Barcelona won against Malaga this week, unlike then.

You can always check latest rants on @FootballMood

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