FC Barcelona vs Espanyol- First Half analysis

Except for Fabregas’ header (his 5th this season now) the first half was not up to Barcelona’s lofty standards.

As good as Alexis was against Real Madrid, he was that bad this game. Tentative with his shots, unable to control passes into him, and seemed confused with his placement and runs. Many times he froze on the ball and it took Messi signalling him where to pass.

Messi himself was non existent in the first half and lost the ball easily several times. Also picked up a yellow card for a handball which negated a Fabregas goal.

Valdes, usually a footnote on the clean sheet, did some up with some huge saves, but his defense was getting run over most of the time.

Tactically, playing the 3-4-3 relys on Barcelona keeping the ball, and in the first half their midfield was awful and gave up possession relentlessly. Not even against Real Madrid do I remember seeing so many counterattacks and breaks into the Barca half. Probably not in any game this season. The back three were over-whelemed and if it werent for the masterclass of Puyol and pique the score could be 4-1 easily.

The only saving grace was Puyol. The captain left no doubt that he is still the anchor of the Barca team, and put on a defensive performance of legends in the first half. Flying all around the field like a ravenous lion he was making game saving tackles, sliding in front of shots, clearing balls from the box, and coming out deep into the midfield to cut off passes and win the ball. He has been getting better and better as the season goes on, and shows absolutely no sign that his career should be ending, even at 35 years old.

Barca vs Santos – Notes on the game

After re-watching the game I think there were a few main reasons why the finals turned into a Barcelona monologue.

First and foremost, Spanish midfielders are the best in the world. Some of the best ever may be on the field right now. Barcelona has an emphasis on their youth program and their home grown players like Xavi, Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol and Pique all are indoctrinated with the Barcelona way of possession and midfield dictatorship. Against a Brazilian side that lives for the quick break, Guardiola stated all midfielders and 3 defenders. Santos had never seen anything like it and the speed of the game and passing mesmerized them.

On the attack, Barcelona became a swirling mass of midfielders orbiting, all exchanging positions and depths and hunting for that perfect pass and run into the box. A cloud of Barcelona shirts hung just outside the area just waiting to strike at the sight of any weakness as the switched the ball back and forth. Barcelona’s goals were scored as players eventually found those gaps and were released behind the defense. The rest was just impeccable finishing.

Finally, as teams trying to figure out what to do with Messi, Guardiola continues to frustrate them. The predicament is that Messi really plays like a midfielder in terms of his distribution to players around him and using them in clever combinations to breeze around defenders. The only way to stop that is to clog up those passing lanes by sitting back with alot of defensive midfielders, which of course hurts your attack and is partly the reason Barcelona has let up zero goals at home this entire year.

But if you sit too far back, and Messi is allowed to run at you with pace, no defender in the world stands a chance 1v1 with Messi at full speed. So the option is to send a central defender (as Real Madrid did) out to meet him early so he cannot turn. Guardiola’s response has been to have Messi drop deeper and deeper, so that if the center defender does follow him, he is so out of position that Fabregas and Sanchez can exploit the space behind him, and the result is the slew of goals we have seen in recent weeks.

The final reason why Barcelona crushed Santos was Dani Alves playing so high on the right wing that Messi always had an outlet. Their combinations were better than perfect, a result of them staying for hours after practice just passing to each other. Alves-to-Messi was at the genesis of 3 of the goals, and is just one more element of their attack that seems impossible to defend.

 

Santos FC vs. FC Barcelona (preview)

What an exciting game this promises to be- two of the most famous, storied teams hosting all time greats that (from what I can tell) have never met before in an official competition. Santos has been brilliant recently and all the talk is about Neymar, or as some like to call him, the “next Lionel Messi.” (I don’t want to rain on this kid’s parade, but with a tag like that he better get working because he only has about 5 years left to grab 3 Champions league trophies and 3 FIFA world player awards if he wants to be like Messi.)

Exaggerated comparisons aside, the kid is a great player. Maybe the next Ronaldo, depending on if he chokes in this Final or not (zing!). He comes into the game in great form though, having just scored this stunning goal in the semi-finals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S84zGyvs6Fo

Normally, I would expect a comfortable Barcelona win. If they can crush Real Madrid at home, its realistic to assume that they should beat any team in the entire world. However, with the recent David Villa catastrophe and Sanchez injury, it will be interesting to see how the team responds. This definitely gives Santos the edge and if they can somehow capitalize on an early mistake by the defense, they could very well pull off a huge upset.

KEYS FOR BARCELONA:

As always control the ball. If Neymar doesn’t have chances, he obviously wont score. Also they have to be safe in possession out of the back. Neymar is of the caliber where if he can get a quick turn over and get 1v1 with a defender, there is almost no situation or distance he cannot score from. Watch his highlights, he’s good. But really none of this matters as it all comes down the number 10. Messi is the key to the rest of this season, as always, and his performance will either lift or bury Barcelona in the final. Last Club World cup: he willed Barca to victory with a sensational game winner in extra time. I expect him to be sensational on Sunday as well.

KEYS FOR SANTOS:

High pressure at the top, try to force a mistake like AC milan and Real Madrid were able to do. If Guardiola starts Maxwell there is a serious weakness on the back line that they can attack. Barcelona also have been very weak off set pieces, particularly late in the game, and have looked vulnerable on early mishaps before their midfield settles down. Santos will need to strike quickly before Iniesta and Xavi bend their minds into submission from the midfield.

Always watch out for Chameleon eyes.

Santos vs Barcelona 12-18-2011 KICKOFF at 1030am GMT, 530am EST