Attack minded in every sense of the word, we all know about the stunning capabilities of the strike force of Barcelona. Messi, Villa, Alexis, Pedro assisted by the more than capable Fabregas and Xavi score the majority and steal the plaudits in the process whilst the likes of Pique, Puyol, Abidal and Dani Alves stay out of the TV frame for 75% of the match.
Various scoring and passing feats are challenged but this season another aspect of Barcelona has caught the attention of statisticians; their misly defence. Just the 8 goals have been scored past Victor Valdes as Barcelona pose the tightest defence in the league unsurprisingly.
No goals have yet to be conceded in the Copa del Rey (having only played L’Hospitalet once with the second leg on Thursday), neither during their recent World Club Cup triumph and just 4 have been let in in the Champions League; AC Milan scoring all of them.
It makes for fascinating reading when a team so comparable to Brazilian teams of the past can boast a defence which rivals its phenomenal attack. And its easy to see how hardly anything squeezes through the gates too, midfield being the key.
The emergence of Busquets has enabled Xavi to roam forwards more and contribute extra towards goalscoring, 7 already this season. Busquets may not be the most eye catching of players and is certainly painted as a pantomime villain in the English press for his play acting shenanigans, but by doing the dirty work and tracking back, he frees up the rest of the team.
And once he has won the ball back, his simplistic passing style means that possession is the best form of defence in Barca’s case. Along with Keita, the two of them create almost a barrier between the defence and forwards, like two mini teams working together. This means that the opposition have to deal with not only nullifying Barcelona’s goalscoring threat, but they also have to be able to penetrate the backline too.
Commonly referred to as the greatest team in the world, the Brazil team of ’82 often comes up. The difference is that Pep Guardiola hasn’t just forgone one aspect of the team over another, he’s moulded that aspect to formulate the complete set-up for his side in his quest for perfection. His midfield, the one he played in previously, is the reason Barcelona are so great.
As the saying goes, ‘attack is the best form of defence’. In Barcelona’s case you could argue that ‘defence is the best form of attack’ due to the sliding scale of the midfield that they currently possess. These players track and bomb forwards, almost reducing the centre backs and centre forwards to statues because they don’t have to range around the pitch because they’re the last line. The middle of the pitch is where Barcelona are winning the games be it defending, creating or by passing the ball around and taking the game from the opponents.
It begs the question then, who comprises Barcelona’s midfield? What is a midfielder? It appears that Barcelona are made up almost completely of midfielders; Alves and Abidal bomb forwards while Fabregas and Alexis can track back on the rare occasions. The fluidity of Barcelona and versatility means that players can swap and run and alter their positions in the knowledge that their slot will be filled in the meantime. As mentioned before, the only two static positions are the central defensive and attacking slots.
So if there are 4 positions that are defined with Valdes, Pique and Puyol at the back with Messi alone up front, then are the other 7 players midfielders? The full backs, perhaps not, but the point is that they both defend as well as attack in the centre of the pitch, the definition of a midfield. In this way they can tighten and constrict the opposition freely to win the ball and stretch play to create space in sync.
Footballing perfection isn’t just having the best players, it’s when the best players know exactly what is to happen and can work themselves into the perfect positions. The fluency and tenacity goes way beyond the attack minded sides of the 70s and 80s and ensures that Barcelona are far from boring to watch. The modern day Barcelona are capable of blending 7 players into 1 position or 1 player into 7 which encapsulates everything about a world class team, tactically and aesthetically.