Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Barcelona and their irresistible trio

Barcelona stepped on to the Camp Nou pitch last night clearly determined to prove a point against their biggest rivals, and at the full time whistle the point was well and truly proved. Barcelona beat Jose Mourinho’s Madrid to a pulp, completely dominating throughout and winning 5-0. It was a complete masterclass in pressing and keeping possession that was way too much for Real to handle.

Real Madrid have spent heavily over the past couple of seasons with the aim of besting Barcelona in the league. They shelled out €70m and €95m on Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively in 2009. Jose Mourinho has improved the squad even further with the signings of Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Sami Khedira. Before last night Real Madrid were a point ahead of their rivals, unbeaten in all competitions and had the best defensive record of all Europe’s top teams. However, Monday night’s game at the Camp Nou may have shown the world that there are some things that you cannot buy.

Last night the Barcelona team were superb all across the pitch, with David Villa proving that he is a perfect fit for this team as so many predicted before the season, but three certain individuals were simply unplayable. Andreas Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi gave Real Madrid’s superstars a lesson that they are unlikely to forget for a long time. Barcelona’s philosophy and style cannot be replicated with money alone, and the apparent telepathy that this trio possess can only be achieved with time and care.

With the home crowd’s chants of ‘Ole’ ringing in their ears, the Real Madrid midfield could barely maintain their balance as they watched Xavi, Iniesta and Messi run rings around them time and time again. One touch, two touch, twisting, turning and impossible to stop, this trio left the Madrid players dazed and confused, desperate to go home long before Jeffren grabbed the fifth goal. Messi and Iniesta jinked passed challenges all night, while Xavi gave his World Cup winning team-mate Xabi Alonso a masterclass in passing and keeping the ball.

Barcelona were wonderful with and without the ball, constantly pressing and forcing Real into making mistakes and giving the ball away. A pressing game however is only effective if you can retain the ball once it has been won back. This is of course no problem for Barca’s irresistible trio, they could have kept the ball all night if they so wished. Some may argue that Real Madrid were poor last night, but I would say that Barcelona were unplayable and Jose Mourinho’s team did well to only concede five.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Champions League Match Day 5 - Brief Analysis

A few snippets of interest from this week’s round of Champions League Group matches:

Luka Modric and Denilson

Luka Modric had a wonderful game last night at White Hart Lane, scoring a beautiful goal and dictating the rhythm of Spurs’ play. In his new deeper role, Modric gets more of the ball than any of his teammates and is continually looking to get the side moving. In a similar role on Tuesday night was Arsenal’s Denilson, who also had the majority of the ball.

A quick glance at the comparison above could lead one to believe that both players had a similar influence of their sides. However, a closer look shows that despite Denilson’s passing being accurate and slightly higher up the pitch, it is too often short, sideways and non-threatening. Modric played balls in front of Bale, Lennon and the full-backs, starting lots of attacks down the wings where Spurs are so effective. This lack of ambition is not entirely Denilson’s fault however, as Arsenal like playing short, sharp passes in front of the opposition’s defence sometimes to the detriment of their wingers.

Barcelona’s passing masterclass

Away from home in a potentially tricky tie with Panathinaikos, Barcelona won in the most comfortable way possible. Even by Barcelona’s standards, the diagram below is astonishing.

Barcelona completed almost 700 more passes than their opponents last night, with full-back Dani Alves completing 110 of them. Xavi and Iniesta also completed over 100 passes during the match, with 95% accuracy, and Xavi was substituted after 70 minutes!

Valencia and Inter - Shooting Comparison

I admit that Bursaspor are a poor side, but the below comparison is still interesting nonetheless.

Internazionale had almost twice as many shots at goal compared with Valencia, but had to settle for a measly 1-0 win, while the Spanish side netted six times.

Diagrams courtesy of the excellent Total Football - Champions League iPhone app

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Van der Vaart and Bale give Spurs a new edge

Over the last few seasons Tottenham have bulit up a talented group of players which rivals the depth of any squad in the division. Harry Redknapp has had many injuries to deal with this season, particularly in defense where Gallas and Kaboul are working well together despite both not being first choice. This large squad means that Redknapp has viable backup options in all positions, in stark contrast to David Moyes’ situation at Everton. Even Roy Hodgson does not have the squad depth that Harry enjoys, and has publicly stated that Liverpool need to strengthen in order to manage the strains of a full season. Spurs proved their quality last season by finishing fourth, but this season may be the one where they gain the belief.

The top teams in Europe do not just have the best players, they also have the belief that they can win any game against any opposition. Manchester United currently do not have the most potent squad of players, yet remain unbeaten in all competitions. The mental strength that they display is both impressive and demoralising for opponents, who often lack the belief themselves. United’s comeback at Villa a few weeks ago is a perfect example of how this belief can destabilise an opposition team. If a team reaches a point in a match where they no longer believe that they can get a result, then the match is as good as over. Tottenham’s comeback at the Emirates on Saturday indicates that the players are beginning to believe in their own quality a little more.

This belief is stemming from the emergence of genuine world class ability at White Hart Lane. World Cup finalist Rafael van der Vaart has arrived at Tottenham with the right mentality already in place. He inspires his teammates by never giving up and revels in taking responsibility. His class is beyond doubt and he is at the centre of everything Spurs do at the moment, with a goal and two assists at the weekend. Stepping up to take the penalty at 2-1, Van der Vaart fixed a determined and inspiring stare towards goal, the jeering Arsenal fans faded into an insignificant background, there was no doubt. Van der Vaart wants to take responsibility and enjoys absorbing pressure and Tottenham benefit hugely.

A player with the determination and quality of Rafael van der Vaart needs outlets on the pitch who are willing and able to take advantage of the opportunities that he creates. Spurs have lots of quality in their squad, but in Gareth Bale they have a superstar in the making who is currently enjoying world class levels of form. His touch and finish at the weekend for Tottenham’s first goal were masterful. Bale looks as comfortable and assured in front of goal as he does when bombing down the left wing. His ability to manipulate the ball is extra impressive because he can do it at top speed. In the last year Bale has bulked up physically and has become an immense athlete. His speed and strength is intimidating to play against and his final ball is of such quality and pace that he is a striker’s dream to play with. On top of his wing play, he is now becoming a proven goalscorer.

Together, Bale and van der Vaart give Spurs that extra class which is often so crucial in key moments of games. An accurate final pass or a perfect first touch when in on goal can be the difference between winning and losing. Spurs have a new edge and are growing in belief - the Premier League’s power structure of old is increasingly looking over its shoulder.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Season so far: Magic Madrid

Europe’s top four leagues are a third of the way through, and quite a lot of change is currently in the air. Of the current reigning champions, only Chelsea are top of their respective league, and the two teams who contested last year’s Champions League Final are far from having things their own way this time around. Having lost the Milan derby at the weekend, Inter are 5th in Serie A, six points behind their great rivals AC. In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich are having an even harder time of things, twelve points behind leaders Dortmund, they sit in 6th.

Lets take a look at the statistics across the four leagues.