It was Jose Mourinho’s return to the Camp Nou. But this time it was not for a single match but as the boss of arch rivals of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid. After Mourinho’s success with the highly defensive Inter Milan, the Real Madrid president chose Mourinho as the man to displace Barcelona’s reign at the top. The El Clasico first leg for the 2010/11 season saw Barcelona host Real Madrid in a heated rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
Barcelona had won the previous four El Clasicos in the league and looked to extend the streak while Mourinho visited the Blaugrana to stop the Catalan club from making further strides forward. It was also the second season for Cristiano Ronaldo and after a decent first season, he would’ve wanted to prove himself given his rivalry with Lionel Messi.
It was a very heated match and was touted to be a close one as it included many mini rivalries in itself. However the score-line was not so close and it was just dominated by one single team who again proved why they were the best team in the world.
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Barcelona (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
1.Valdes // 2.Dani Alves – 5.Puyol – 3.Pique – 22. Abidal // 6.Xavi – 16.Sergio Busquets – 8.Iniesta // 11.Pedro – 10.Messi – 7.Villa
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1) | Manager: Jose Mourinho
1.Casillas // 4.Ramos – 3.Pepe – 2.Carvalho– 12.Marcelo // 24.Khedira – 14.Xabi Alonso // 7.Ronaldo – 23.Ozil – 22.di Maria // 9.Benzema
In his first visit in La Liga to the Camp Nou as the Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho opted for the structure which was so successful for him in Inter. The 4-2-3-1 used by Mourinho in his time at Inter Milan is even analyzed now by defensive minded managers to apply for their team. This team saw Casillas started in goal for Madrid as the back four of Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro and Marcelo were deployed.
In the middle, the double pivot of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira were used. The attacking trio of Ronaldo, Ozil and di Maria were used behind the striker Benzema. Ronaldo occupied the right wing while di Maria was set in the left with Ozil just behind the striker.
For the home team, the home manager Pep Guardiola went with his customary 4-3-3 as Valdes started in between the sticks along with the four of Alves, Puyol, Pique and Abidal in defense. In midfield, Busquets was used as the central pivot as both Xavi and Iniesta played as the 8s. In attack, Villa and Pedro were used in wide areas with Messi playing centrally. In most instances the former would often cut in to play as the striker partner of Messi.
Real Madrid’s conventional wingers
Jose used his wingers opposite to that of usual positions. Usually both the wingers would be used as inverted wingers in Mourinho’s game plan with Ronaldo in the left and di Maria in the right. But in this game, they were used as conventional wingers as the right footed Ronaldo played in the right and the left footed di Maria played in the left. This tactic was used to negate the threat produced by Dani Alves due to his attacking movements forward.
Di Maria in particular was deployed in the left as he was quite better in defense than Ronaldo and here we can see the Argentine falling deep from his zone to mark the high flying Brazilian full back. This usually became their defensive shape as Real defended in a back five with di Maria joining the back four.
On the other hand, Ronaldo often stayed up the pitch to attack on the counter. In attack the structure became an asymmetric 4-3-3 as both the wingers moved into the line of Benzema. Off the ball, the structure shifted to a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid with Ronaldo almost joining Benzema as the second striker and di Maria stationed slightly behind his line along with Ozil.
Here in the image above we can see Madrid initially starting in the 4-2-3-1 shape and moving out from their positions to act in the hybrid 4-4-2.
Barcelona’s basic structure
Barcelona fielded in their customary 4-3-3, saw Abidal take the place of the left back’s role. This often helped Barcelona to play out from the back with a back three as Alves would often join the midfield. Abidal would fit in with Pique and Puyol while Sergio Busquets would sit in the midfield ahead of the three. In the next line, Alves would’ve joined the line of Xavi and Iniesta and Messi would drop deep to complete the midfield numbers.
In other cases, the back three would be formed by Busquets splitting the defence and allowing both Abidal and Alves further up the pitch. In this case, Xavi would drop to hold up and orchestrate the play from the middle.
Here we can see the basic structure in the second phase of build up from Barcelona. When Xavi drops a bit deep or moves into space, he can receive the ball and conduct play from the back as he has almost four passing options in front of him and 2 wide players waiting for a long ball.
In the same phase, Barcelona looked to be more spatially occupied.
The image below shows how Barcelona dominated the field with their occupation of space and through overloads. By creating an overload in defence, they were able to gain advantage in the midfield especially in the half spaces.
Real Madrid defended in a 2-1 shape at front with Ronaldo and Ozil defending off Benzema. Here we can see the case where the front three have been lured to Barca’s play at the back which required both Xabi Alonso and Khedira to sit tight with Xavi and Iniesta. This left Messi to roam freely in the middle and he occupied the half spaces pretty well. The midfielder near Messi couldn’t mark him as his duty was to stay with the Barcelona central midfielder. If he moves, it would create space and more time on the ball for either Xavi and Iniesta.
By filling into the empty half space Messi entered one of the most dangerous areas of the pitch. Now this situation often forced the likes of Carvalho to move out from his position to mark Messi which created a hole for David Villa to run into, who often drifted inside to play as the second striker.
These movements can be seen in the image below as it is Busquets who now has the ball in a situation favourable for Barcelona. We can see Iniesta and Alves providing support in the wide areas as free men while the presence of Messi and Xavi in the right place has opened up the gap for Villa so that a good Busquets pass could come by.
Barcelona’s success and Mourinho’s mistakes
Though it should be said that Pep Guardiola got things right and Mourinho got it wrong by not playing an out and out defensive midfielder to mark Messi, Barcelona had won the game through years and years of playing at the highest level game in game out. This game showed how they were able to put all their success stories of the past together and win a comprehensive game as they capitalized on Madrid’s errors.
Mourinho made a mistake at the start of the game by fielding a creative player in Ozil and using his 4-2-3-1. He could’ve switched to his 4-3-3 for his game to gain more control in the centre and negate the threats posed by Messi who would drop in between the lines.
Also Mourinho might have played the game into the hands of Pep Guardiola by instructing his players to play a high defensive line against a quickly moving team like Barcelona and they were certainly punished for that.
As seen from the image above, Madrid defended in a high line that was not necessary and it is one of the most important reasons why they were killed off in that game.
Going in at half time with a 2-0 scoreline, one would expect any team to adopt an attacking approach to fight back in the second half. The problem here for Madrid was that they showed much indiscipline in carrying out their tasks and a further skewed high defensive line made them a liability in counters against this efficient Barcelona line. Furthermore, the presence of Messi in between the lines gave Barcelona the upper hand in the final third as defenders could not close him down or take the ball off him to prevent him assisting goals (3-0). All in all, it was a great performance from the Barcelona side and they ran out deserved winners.
One may say that things would’ve gone differently had Barcelona not scored the early goal. Mourinho’s plan might have worked out and Madrid might have picked out Barcelona with their counters. But this Barcelona side were really that good and their counterpressing made it very difficult for any team to get a strong foothold in the match.
This was an outstanding result for Barcelona and catastrophic for Madrid as the Catalans moved to the top of the table replacing their rivals with this thumping victory. This brilliant win extended Barcelona’s dominance in the El Clasico to five consecutive wins in five games having won both the legs in the previous seasons.
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