La Liga is nearly over. After the consecutive draws in the past weeks, Barcelona were put in serious trouble with Atletico Madrid breathing down their necks winning against their opponents by big margins. A win against Barca would’ve put Atleti extremely close and actually having a chance to run away with the title; but a certain Argentinian by the name of Lionel Messi had other plans.
In a game so carefully played between the two sides, there was no option but to score from individual quality, and that’s how this game played out. Let’s dig into the details.
Made using TacticalPad
FC Barcelona (4-4-2) – Manager: Ernesto Valverde
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Umtiti, Pique, Alba; Coutinho, Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez.
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2) – Manager: Diego SImeone
Oblak; Vrsaljko, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Saul, Gabi, Thomas, Koke: Griezmann, Costa.
Three instances to look at in the above picture:
1. Busquets and Rakitic being close to each other to facilitate ball circulation and open up space on the other side.
2. As a result, Messi drops deep to become the central midfielder attracting Atleti’s attention.
3. Iniesta stays wide outside the defensive block to attack in a diagonal manner, this resulted in Iniesta having a shot on goal, or to put in a more brief manner, have the chance to advance with momentum towards the goal and lay off the ball for a runner off the ball when the space opens up.
Whenever Messi positioned himself on the right side, he found Filipe Luis following his footsteps, aggressively. Coutinho is seen in the image above running into the now vacated space but Messi only saw the goal after breaking through the above seen deadlock.
That’s why Messi can unlock the tightest of defenders, his opposition involuntarily gathers around him knowing that he’s the most dangerous player, leaving space for others to run into.
If the ball went to Roberto’s side, he would push up to press, Pique would slide to cover space, and Busquets would cover the half-space between them knowing that Atleti are dangerous in the wing-play as their 4-4-2 naturally creates a triangle on each side with the winger, full back, and striker. Rakitic does the same whenever the ball is on his side. However, it is not set in stone who takes which side, it all depends on the game and the situation in play.
To further emphasize the point on how Atletico usually have a clean possession game playing in a 4-4-2, this thread here offers better explanation.
Ahead of today’s crunch game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, we present a small breakdown of the tactics employed by Diego Simeone with his Atletico Madrid side
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) March 4, 2018
This is one of the main reasons Atletico failed to threaten Barcelona in the first half. Valverde really drilled his team in covering spaces and closing down all options.
Because we are detail-oriented, I bring to you what happened before the freekick was taken by Messi. Busquets instructed Pique and Rakitic to stand beside him and directly in Oblak’s field of vision to somehow block his view. If anyone reading this has doubts as to what is going on here, feel free to contact me so I can supply the video, it is all over Twitter.
And no, I’m not disregarding Messi’s insane talent!
Personality, you can’t buy that. 5 minutes after the goal and Barcelona are seen pressing Atletico like a pack of wolves. Winning back second-balls was Valverde’s key in big matches, recently it wasn’t seen as much due to fatigue, but this side surely can switch it on and cause mayhem to the opposition.
Another sequence of high press, whether it was at the wings or in the center, Barcelona were looking for pressing traps whenever possible.
Before the ball reached Messi, Atletico were trying to win the ball on the wing. Busquets and Rakitic were close to each other on the wing, attracting Atleti’s midfielders towards them, leaving space in the center to Messi. That’s how the Argentinean found such space.
Towards the end of the game, Atleti were desperate for a goal, with SImeone fielding 4 strikers leaving only two in the midfield. But Umtiti and Pique gave a performance to remember, closing down Costa and Griezmann perfectly. This lead to Atleti looking for crosses into the box for any mistake, the goal was ruled offside and Barcelona managed to finish the game 1-0.
Despite taking the defensive in the second half, Barcelona never endured spells of being pegged back in their own area, largely down to the fact that they did not drop off too deep while ensuring that they could play out to an extent, pretty well. The defensive organization was top class, while the occasional counter was always on with Messi being a constant outlet in this ploy. Nevertheless, due to the pragmatic nature of how both teams set out, clear cut chances were hard to come by and the home side were content to play it safe with the lead already in hand.
Barcelona are yet to be beaten under Valverde in La Liga. What a turn of events the last few weeks witnessed. From Atletico having the chance of closing down the gap to two points off the Catalans, Barcelona have ensured that they are runaway leaders, almost, with an eight point gap.
History says that no team had lost La Liga with such point difference, and if Messi and Co. put in weekly performances with such grit, determination, and focus; La Liga will be theirs once again.
Things are looking fine for Barcelona, with a thrilling encounter against Chelsea closing in, how will Valverde emerge victorious?