Barcelona in Defense

By Stevie Grieve

This post is the first of two looking at Barcelona's methods and tactics from the Champions League Final versus Juventus. This week we look at Barcelona's defending process.

Set Pieces; Pique the spare man in mixed marking system

Barcelona have only conceded one goal from set pieces all season while Juventus are a dangerous team from them, so this may have been a game where Barcelona may have been legitimately worried about conceding from a set play. With Barcelona’s lack of height in comparison to Juventus, Gerard Pique’s role in defending set pieces would be key – the only player other than Sergio Busquets and GK Marc-Andre Ter Stegen above 6ft2 and capable of competing in the air.


As the ball is delivered, we see Pique is the spare man with nobody close to him and makes an easy header away to launch a counter attack from a defensive set play.


When Barcelona set up at corners, they defended the front zone with Luis Suarez, Pique spare on the edge of the 6yard box and the rest of the team man-man, making their best efforts to disrupt the movement of the Juventus players and protecting Pique to allow him access to the ball to win the header as the spare man, front zone, centre or back – Pique was to judge the flight and win it.

Juventus won a couple of headers at the back post in the 2nd half, Pogba in particular had a good chance but overall, Barcelona defended set pieces relatively well, Suarez launching a counter from one corner at the front post resulting in a shot from 15m from Suarez in the opposition box.

Defensive positional rotation; Rakitic covers Alves

Often, Alves would push forward into right wing or into central midfield as he and Rakitic often rotate positions in attack, but as a result, Rakitic will often have to cover for Alves in defence if he is too far away to cover. Sometimes, Alves would follow his direct opponent; Pogba – into the centre when he drifted inside, and Rakitic would rotate outside to right back and cover Alves.


Alves has drifted into centre midfield then moves to help in possession, and is drawn over to the left side, here, Rakitic is the right back position as Suarez reacts late to cover the right hand side in almost a 4-2-3-1 defensive shape, Suarez is too high as he is not natural player in this position.


As Alves drifts inside with Pogba, Rakitic drops back into the right back position to cover Evra. If Alves lets Pogba cut inside, he can be free to shoot, or find an attacking pass. Rakitic dropping into right back while Alves man-marks works well as Alves becomes a defensive midfielder and both positions are covered, albeit by rotating positions defensively.

Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic move out of line to close down the space of the central midfielders

With 4 v 3 in central midfield; often 2 of Messi, Suarez or Neymar would drop onto the lateral central midfielders, as Rakitic, Busquets or Iniesta would press high to close off the space and passing angles available to each player. This forced play back and allowed Barcelona to organise.


Rakitic pushes forward v Pogba as Suarez drops onto Pirlo from the kick off, Messi blocks the passing lane to Evra as Neymar pushes forward to close down the far side space.


This time, Busquets presses onto Pogba as Alves is in central midfield (covered by Rakitic) with a clear 4-4-1-1 shape being formed with Busquets pressing out of zone.


As the game wore on, the pressure Barcelona put onto the midfield of Juventus in deep positions forced mistakes and turnovers inside the Juventus half, the pressure giving less time on the ball and as a result, misplaced passes into players who were ready to press quickly onto any possible receiver based on the body shape of the player with the ball, being able to read the next pass before it was played.


This pressure from Iniesta was constant throughout the game and eventually led to a goal from Neymar, which was given as a handball (correctly) in the 71st minute. Jordi Alba intercepted the wide pass then drove quickly towards goal on the attacking transition, before crossing into Neymar.

Juventus sometimes could by-pass the pressure when the body shape was open and the midfield were connected, but after Barcelona went 2-1 up, the midfield started to get closer to the forwards for more direct passes and this made it more difficult for the deep midfielders to find team mates in safe positions away from pressure, resulting in interceptions such as this one.

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Wide forwards cover lateral central midfielders to overload midfield 5v4

When Barcelona couldn’t exert quick pressure from someone in midfield pushing high, often we would see the wide forwards drop onto the lateral central midfielders of Juventus. This was to create a 5v4 advantage in central midfield with rough man-marking duties to discourage passes to the midfield 4 of Juventus and marking by Busquets v Vidal, Messi v Pogba, Neymar v Marchisio and Suarez v Pirlo. This left Iniesta and Rakitic free to cover spaces, press higher and shift to the man left by a ‘marker’ to press the wide pass.


We can see the front 3 of Messi, Neymar and Suarez all dropped to mark the midfielders as Rakitic and Iniesta are free in the centre to block direct passes through the middle, and to shift from zonal to man-marking when the marker ie Messi presses Evra on the touchline, Rakitic marks Pogba.


We can see here that When Pirlo is safe in possession, that Iniesta have covered the pass to Marchisio while Messi blocks the pass to Evra as Pogba drifts high into the Alves zone (out of image), we have the 2 spare central midfielders covering the centre spare and able to change role with each pass and change of marking responsibility between zonal or man-man depending on the ball position, team mate position, opponent position and where the space is.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics and From Futsal to Soccer

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