BBC BLOGS - Football Tactics
« Previous | Main | Next »

Barcelona provide a coach's dream

Post categories:

Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 12:48 UK time, Monday, 30 May 2011

Having witnessed the Champions League final at Wembley on Saturday seemingly powerless to alter its course, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will not be the only coach who came away warming to the challenge ahead.

Barcelona's invigorating display against the English champions will have got many people buzzing, but none more so than those in the coaching community, who will now spend the summer considering their methods and how they can improve further.

When Ferguson said, "we all have a challenge with Barcelona, not just Manchester United", he could have been speaking for the entire football world from elite level to the grass roots.

In the final analysis, there were many tactical questions about the game itself: should Ferguson have played five in midfield? Did switching Park Ji-sung with Ryan Giggs in the second half help United's attack? And would Paul Scholes' passing have helped maintain possession?

Yet it is arguable whether those alterations would have made any difference in trying to stop a team splendid in its awareness, control, passing tempo and movement. The passes to Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney during the game show how much more integrated the Argentine was compared to his opponent.

Passes to Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney during the game show how much more integrated the Argentine was compared to his opponent.

If you want to simplify what Barcelona did more successfully than United, it is merely that they kept the ball better. The end result is a football style so uncomplicated that it makes you wonder why so much fuss is given over to tactics, formations and the rest.

But if it looks so straightforward, then why isn't every team doing it?

The answer is that it is the result of superb technique and intelligence honed over thousands of hours of specific practice. And, it is also Barcelona's dedication to remain true to its principles from the bottom up, where six-year-olds are taught the same fundamentals as the first team.

The premium of always looking over your shoulder, a good first touch, the ability to play with both feet and teaching different passing rhythms are aspects which have been in place for years at the Nou Camp, having taken root during the years when the club had a Dutch influence.

They are facets which have been slow to be valued in this country, however, although it should be said that the state of coaching is improving, it is just that more quality is needed at a younger age.

Former Manchester United coach Eric Harrison is well aware of the differences in the game and said that recent displays by Barcelona only highlight them.

"About 90% of the coaching I do now is about awareness," he told me recently. "When you are in the right position in space, in between opponents, that means when you receive the ball you are nice and relaxed.

"The control, general technique and passing, are all good in English football, certainly in the professional game. But the selection process of where to be before you receive the pass I think is generally poor.

"Foreign teams just add that awareness and decision making that is better than ours."

Ferguson argues that more time is needed to work with youngsters, although students at Barcelona's La Masia academy do not receive more than two hours training each day.

"People have to understand the mechanics of the industry we are working in," he said. "We are only allowed to coach youngsters for an hour and a half [each day], Barcelona can coach every hour of the day if they want to.

"That's the great advantage they have got. It is a fantastic philosophy. We hope that in years to come our coaches will be able to spend more time with young kids, to teach them the basics, the technical abilities and the confidence to keep the ball all the time.

"We are good at it, but not as good as Barcelona at this moment in time. It is a wonderful challenge and we should always accept a challenge."

Take Xavi for example. 97% of his passes at Wembley were under 35 yards or less. Which half-decent footballer couldn't do that?

But would that player be sufficiently aware to take up the correct position, a skill underlined by the fact that Xavi covered nearly 12km, the most of any player in the final?

Could he decide who to pass to before the ball had reached them, control the ball with any part of his body, turn in any direction to shield it and then fizz or delay the pass according to the speed of the attack, all in an instant?

The fact that Xavi completed all but seven of his 148 passes, a record in the Champions League this season, shows how intrinsically his success is linked to that of the Spanish champions. Nowhere in football is there a conductor like him.

Xavi was at the heart of everything that Barcelona did on Saturday at Wembley

Not that the 31-year-old is on his own, of course. Behind him he has Sergio Busquets and alongside and ahead of him there are Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Between those players they have the talent to take basic principles to an unprecedented level.

It is a measure of how interlinked the quartet are that Busquets found the other three with 44 of his total of 77 passes. Michael Carrick, on the other hand, found Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez on 17 occasions from his total of 29 passes.

The first half was littered with incidents of Iniesta and Xavi picking the ball up behind Carrick and Giggs and running at the United defence. And it was evident in Barcelona's first goal, where Xavi looked over his shoulder to see this space and then received the ball from Iniesta.

As Xavi ran at Rio Ferdinand, ahead of him both Pedro and David Villa cut into the middle from wide positions, while Messi cleverly checked his run as Pedro ran into his space, meaning that Patrice Evra did not recover to a goal-side position.

The best was yet to come as Xavi bore down on goal. Pedro re-adjusted to a wider position where Evra should have been, allowing Xavi to slip the ball to him with the outside of his boot, where the 23-year-old coolly finished.

It was a goal so smart, so fluid, and so simple in its execution, it is worth watching again, and from behind the goal, if you can.

United simply could not cope with this. Would a five-man midfield have made any difference? Maybe, but they did that in the 2009 final and Barcelona found a way to win that evening too.

At least Ferguson took a different approach this time, and in glimpses they looked like they might be able to compete, especially when Rooney tucked away his fine equaliser after 34 minutes.

But even the Scot admitted afterwards that his team had been outclassed.

For someone approaching his 70th birthday that might be a daunting prospect, but Ferguson is in no doubt that the challenge to match Barcelona in the coming years is one that he, and other European clubs, will relish.

"Finding a solution is not easy but that is the challenge," he said. "You should not be afraid of the challenge. Maybe this could be the kind of stepping stone we had when we lost 4-0 [to Barcelona in 1994]. We improved from that. We want to improve. Next season may see us improve even more.

"It is not any consolation to say you are the second best team. We don't enjoy that. Any club with the history we have - Real Madrid, AC Milan - would say the same."

The challenge for United and other European clubs is that with Barcelona having set the bar so high and having players who are fully integrated into their style of football, the type of fundamental change we are talking about may take years to accomplish.

In the meantime, the hope is that coaches and young players will look at the 2011 Champions League final as a textbook example of how keeping the ball can look so simple, yet prove so effective.

Of course, you need some special players to deliver such a devastating performance but at least there is a higher ground to aspire to and Ferguson and the rest of us have all been witness to it.

This is no time to lambast Manchester United or the English game. United are a fine club and have had a good season. The state of coaching in this country is improving.

But a lesson like Barcelona's is always a good reminder to those in football how far they still have to travel.

You can also discuss more tactical issues and follow me on Twitter


Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    It just comes down to different cultures and a different attitude toward football. English football is all about kick and rush, ''get in their faces'' and ''put it in the mixer''. There is no patience in the approach of the average English footballer. Coaches here need to concentrate on the 8-10 year olds coming through and change their coaching philosophies accordingly.

  • Comment number 2.

    Strange things. In pre-match discussions involving English and Spanish teams the emphasis is always on the superiority of the EPL and English teams over their Spanish counterparts. In post-match discussions it's about how England could learn from the Spanish. It's always the case. A nation as old as England should be smarter, or at least it's media.

  • Comment number 3.

    The point has been made before about the different approaches to the game, as well as the fact that Barcelona starts training players in these techniques from the age of 6.

    As AW says, the Engilsh approach is about physicality, size and strength.

    Messi was so small as a kid (still is really) that in England he wouldnever have been selected in any team as a kid. Coaches would have looked at his size, and sent him to the "reserve reserves" before even seeing what he had to offer.

    How many of the Spanish Barcelona players would have made it through the ranks of English Junior Football? I would bet that not all of them wouldhave come through.

    None of those who did make it would have had their skills and techniques honed to current levels. They would have been forced to play a different style of football.

  • Comment number 4.

    As a United fan I have to hand it to Barca. Their ability to keep the ball and excite is second to none. As a resident of Canada, it is intriguing to see the varying degrees of 'patience' in sporting cultures, where a large segment of the US and Canadian populations finds football boring, but are excited by ice hockey, American/Canadian Football and basketball all of which are high scoring games providing immense stimulus. As a sport football requires more patience and build up. English football seems to be of similar attacking nature, however while watching Barca it seems like its more along the lines of cricket (requiring insane amount of patience).
    As a spectator while I enjoy Barca attacking and am intrigued by their passing and ability to keep possession, I do not think that Uniteds and Chelseas game is punt the ball up the pitch and score goals. I for once have no qualms with United and Chelsea style of play. While everyone does constantly talk up Barcas footballing style, I for one think two Barcas playing against each other would not be intriguing to watch by any means. In fact, it would possession football with very little attacking intent.

  • Comment number 5.

    I dont think it has anything to do with different cultures. The reason Barcelona (not Spain) from what I see, have so much success through the academy is they have a defined philosophy, put their kids in an absolutely fantastic footballing environment who then spend thousands upon thousands of hours developing within this philosophy and environment. Thats one academy, one talent hotbed that has defined a countries success. You take La Masia out of the equation and you could argue as to whether Spain have actually produced a significantly better group of players than England has

  • Comment number 6.

    Its not just Barca. Teams like Villareal, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Espanyol put an insane amount of emphasis on their academies. This is partly due to the fact that they don't have enough financial muscle to compete in the transfer market.

    Another thing the la liga teams do is, going after promising talents of Real Madrid Castilla. They know that these players won't get enough opportunity in Real's main team to flourish and so they recruit the players relatively cheaply. Mata, Negredo, Soldado come to mind.

    Barca's players are the best of an awesome generation of Spanish players. Players like Negredo, Mata, Soldado, Cani, Cazorla , llorente, Callejon, Canales, Muinain are good enough to walk into any top national sides in the world.

    The next generation looking very good as well. Thiago Alcantara has been tipped to replace Xavi in future. Real's Castilla has players like Sarabia, Morata, Jesse Rodriguez who can become true world class talents if given proper opportunity.

  • Comment number 7.

    No. 5 That's a fair point, La Masia is the main hotbed but I can assure you there is an abundance of young technically gifted footballers in La Liga with a bright future. Culture definitely plays a part. British players have no patience, they will pass it around the back a couple of times and if there is nothing on, they hit a hopeful Hollywood pass. Barcelona will wait as long as it takes, biding their time. A British footballers approach is about getting the job done, Barcelona's approach is to put on a show. I think that's the difference in cultures.

  • Comment number 8.

    5. At 17:03 30th মে 2011, LeeroyMcQueen

    Dont you think its a little hard to break into the starting 11 of Spain when you have these magnificiently talented Barca players? Take Spain's 08 Euro triumph for example. It didnt have the Barca monopoly it has now. Players like Pique, Busquets , Pedro werent there. The other players in the Spanish top 24 are really good. But how can you not choose players from a team which has won so much.

    Fabregas and David Silva are the best examples of plyers who are unlucky to be not playing in the starting 11 of Spain

  • Comment number 9.

    In the always key battle for midfield, we had Giggs (A 37yr old former winger) and Carrick (Who Gareth Barry keeps out of the national team) up against Xavi and Iniesta.. the two best players that position has to offer at the moment. It was always going to be footballing suicide. Unfortunately when you look at all the other key battles on the pitch Park vs Alves.. Valencia vs Abidal.. Pedro vs Evra.. Villa vs Fabio.. not one of the United players came out on top.

    Essentialy the Barca onslaught stemmed from midfield.. it was a brave decision to play 4-4-2 by SAF.. but also a very naive one. In terms of sheer physics and body mechanics Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are all small, light, agile players that can turn on a sixpence or drift past opponents like Carrick and Giggs at will due to their lower centre of gravity. I'd liked to have seen Anderson in the mix to try and disrupt them and Scholes on the pitch to give us somebody to set the tempo in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

    In the 90's United had their golden generation with Giggs, Scholes and Beckham becoming both household names and some of the players to have recieved the most accolades from their opposition. Barca's holy trinity of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi have surpassed that.. and I'd quite confidently say they are the 3 best players in all the world at this moment. Only C. Ronaldo, and a handful of others come even remotely close the the ridiculously high standards that these guys have set.

    To compete with the likes of Barca over the next 5 years United need to completely revamp the midfield.. it has been our achilles heel since Hargreaves injury troubles and age started to catch up with Scholesy. If I was SAF, Sneijder or Modric would be top of my summer wishlist to add some creativity and he need to find ourselves a genuine ballwinner to add some steel to the midfield.

  • Comment number 10.

    valencia villarreal, sevilla all like to keep the ball, its not just barca.

    If people in england continue to dismiss the need to improve the technique of players, insist of priorisitising Physique over skill, pace, then we'll continue to be dissapointed.

    If germany can embrace some tiki-taka, why cant week, why is is blasphemous.

    The PL is a great league, but it doesn't lend itself to possession football, fans would be doing their nut if their team played keep ball.

    If people claim english technique is good enough, then why when you press and englishmen, his passing accuracy goes to hell, do it to a spainard they can deal with it.

    Please sort out the coaching of our kids, big and small!

  • Comment number 11.

    It is simple really. Barcelona do not do tactics, they do talent. If you are an EPL watcher, take your time and study Fabregas. He always instinctively glances to the left and then to the right before he receives the ball. He passes the ball when the opponent has closed him down and thiks 'I am getting the ball'. Why? Because he is confident in his passing, and he already saw who he is passing to when he glanced at both sides.

    Having said that, the one time I saw Barcelona do tactics was during their CL semi against Mourinho's Madrid. They knew that they would never have the chance to play football against Madrid because they were going to get knocked off the ball at every opportunuty. What was their tactic to counter it? influence the ref to dish yellows to every aggresive Madrid player. Madrid were then fored to play football, and the results were what they were..

  • Comment number 12.

    As a resident of Barcelona I can tell you that all of these values are evident on every pitch and square in the city. Watch any game on any public square or training session and the paragraph below could not be truer across the entire grass roots and upto Messi.

    As an example, most 6 yr olds play their first games on sqaures in small spaces with Dads sat at the cafe in the evening. For the game to continue there is really one rule - 'dont knock over dads drinks'. So all the kids learn close control and how to keep the ball at feet early and young. This is replicated across any local team where all you see and here is small space 5 a-side practice sessions and coaches shouting 'pass, move into space and prepare to receive'. You never ever see kids playing on the whole 100m pitch..

    'where six-year-olds are taught the same fundamentals as the first team.....The premium of always looking over your shoulder, a good first touch, the ability to play with both feet and teaching different passing rhythms are aspects which have been in place for years at the Nou Camp..'

  • Comment number 13.

    To beat barcelona you need to use catenaccio:
    5-4-1 formation
    -Sit deep and absorb the pressure to tire out barca as possession football is more calorie draining than otherwise.
    -Ensure centre forward and last defender are no more than 25m apart to reduce spaces in between the lines
    -Counterattck in no more than 3 swift 1 touch passes.
    -Long balls up to a target man to offer an aerial threat.
    -Send accurate crosses into the box with at least 3 players waiting for delivery.
    This technique doesnt have to permanently used but being a coach is all about being flexible and having a squad of players capable of beating all opponents. The beauty is barca are predictable and therefore this will be their downfall.

  • Comment number 14.


    Good post.

  • Comment number 15.

    lets's look at the facts, this man utd team/squad is pretty poor and can't really play any other way, they have been extremely lucky this season to have won anything. the barca team would be good in any generation but with messi they are a great team. messi makes the difference to the barca team and he gives them the confidence to play the way they do, if they had played like an english team they still would have torn apart man utd. the future should be about creating footballing brains and technical skills, obviously.

  • Comment number 16.

    I watched this match with one of my friends here in the US. I told him that if MU fields Rio Ferdinand, that would guarantee their defeat. That was exactly what happened He was tormented my Messi. He was virtually absent. MU is a geriatric team, very old players. It is also a one man team - Wayne Rooney. The MU is symptomatic of the Englang team. Kick a long ball forward and start chasing the ball. Soccer has gone beyond that.

  • Comment number 17.


    Catennacio would be a nice way to, you know, commit suicide. Firstly, catennacio traditionally involves the deployment of a sweeper (or in Italian parlance, a libero). The sweeper is pretty much a dead position nowadays - it's much too difficult to have any kind of offside trap with a man standing behind your back line all the time who has to have the presence of mind to step up at just the right moment.

    Secondly, catennacio involves man-marking, which is just asking for all kinds of trouble against any modern football team.

    Almost nobody uses catennacio anymore - for very good reasons; the problems of deploying a man-marking system post-total football revelations, for example, or the dangers of a sweeper in the modern offside rule era.

    Also not sure why exactly you suggest an approach heavy on direct and/or long balls forwards while simultaneously wanting accurate crosses into an overloaded penalty area; how exactly are your three players (plus winger[s]/wide midfielder[s]) getting forwards at the same speed as the ball, whilst simultaneously not exposing the team to counter-attacks should the move break down in the transitional phase?

    And how on earth do you get the notion that having the ball costs more calories than not having it? Just about everyone knows that keep-ball takes much less energy than chase-ball; that's why Barcelona put so much effort into regaining possession as rapidly as possible - it allows them to dictate the tempo of play. Even better, while you're in possession, only three of your players need to be moving at any kind of pace at one time in any phase of play. Sans possession, almost the entire team needs to shift position rapidly during the transition from attack to defence - doing this repeatedly is far more exhausting than simply keeping the ball as high up the pitch as possible.

  • Comment number 18.

    SAF packed his midfield playing a counter attacking football against arsenal last season. We know what happened to Arsenal against Barca.
    Over the last 10 years the culture of football has been set by experts like Andy Gray and sky sports news 'experts'. These 'experts' liked an EPL culture which is more of a gung ho football than possession football. Wenger is grudgingly acknowledged by these people as having brought possesion football to EPL. Where was the voice for EPL to adapt this type of football?

  • Comment number 19.

    There's plenty of talk here about the "impatience" of our footballers, and the tunnel vision of our coaches, but #4 illustrates another major problem, the "culture" of fans in this country, and I include here media pundits and commentators. How often do you hear comments such as "It's a contact sport for heavens sake" as yet another player has his career cut short by a reckless tackle, or shouts of "Get at them" from the crowd as skillful players like Fabregas and Nasri conjure with the ball? A Premier League game is a gladiatorial contest with spectators revelling in speed and physical violence rather than artistry and intelligence. Thank God for the Arsene Wengers of this world and to hell with "trophies" won by brute strength and spoiling tactics. And by the way, I'm a Norwich fan, not a Gooner.

  • Comment number 20.


    Actually, both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both put in pretty good performances against Barca, making key tackles. The problem is that nobody quite knows how to deal with attacking diagonal balls into the channels: whose job is it to mop those up? The fullbacks? The centre backs? Particularly deep balls into the channels even tempt the goalkeeper forwards, complicating matters even further.

    Further, Man United do not typically play "the long ball". Nor in fact do England. What both sides do however do is play quite direct football at times - but although somewhat similar in theory (very rapid shift from defensive phase to attacking phase), the long ball depends on the ball played in to a target man's head. The direct ball depends on that same long ball played in to feet, or just ahead of the attacker to run onto.

    Absolutely every professional side on the planet plays the direct ball frequently (although the further down the league scale you go, invariably the long ball begins to become more frequent with more aimless random balls chucked over the top), because it is a major part of counter-attacking play.

    Think of it this way: the long ball depends on relatively unforced defensive errors, with a forward taking advantage of a mistake. The direct ball on the other hand depends on an exquisitely crafted forwards pass, usually at a diagonal to force wide players and more central players to encroach on one another's marking zones, forcing errors.

    England - and Manchester United - do use the direct ball, just like everyone else (including Barcelona). The problem is that we're not very good at it, as it involves a level of technique - passing ability for the man playing the ball and great first touch for the recipient - that just doesn't seem to get taught to our young players.

  • Comment number 21.


    Reading your post, I find I wish I'd grown up in Spain - I might be playing football still!

    One of the things which always eroded my determination to play the beautiful game was this: when playing, kids clump together into a small space. The space where the ball is.

    Those kids not found in that zone of the pitch are then completely unnoticed by everyone else. They are uninvolved, perhaps uninterested, and coaches seem to ignore them - even while pleading with the rest of the kids to "spread out" and "stick to position".

    It was very disheartening for me as a child to constantly try my hardest to stay in position and move into space (of which there was so much to choose from as a result of aforementioned clumping that my tiny kiddie brain used to occasionally want to explode with glee) only to be told that my lack of involvement in the game was a problem - as was my failure to listen to instructions. Since I could never understand what instructions I hadn't listened to - surely staying in position was listening? - my game never really got to progress in the way I'm sure it would have almost anywhere else in Europe.

  • Comment number 22.

    For me, the way Barca play is almost the stuff of dreams. It makes life that much easier making the ball do all the work. I just wish i was born in Barcelona. Its so simple isnt it? Keep the ball? But so hard to execute if you dont know share the philosophy. I play a lot of football and wish it could be like this with most of my players. Quick passing, not a moment to lose, triangles, support, doesnt matter if you pass it backward JUST KEEP THE BALL.

  • Comment number 23.

    Re: NO.13 -

    You have made 1 (all be it just 1) very good point and that is

    "-Counterattck in no more than 3 swift 1 touch passes"

    This is the Valerij Lobanovsky way of playing, our famous, now alas deceased, Ukrainian coach.

    Indeed it was the RVP goal that was scored in this way when Arsenal beat them 2-1 this season.

  • Comment number 24.

    As a neutral (Leicester CFC fan) I look forward to the Arsenal matches than other teams in tghe EPL. Epl academies must teach young players to play good passing possesion football. EPL refrees should do more to protect skillful players like Febregas, Wiltshire, and Yaya Toure.

  • Comment number 25.

    i have alsways argued that the English approach to football, while it has its merits, relies too much on the physical abilities of the players who execute it. while that has its place, it is alot more important for players to be taught how to think while they are playing (even in pressure situations...especially in pressure situations) rather than revert to type by booting the ball forward!!

    this will encourage players to actually reason during a match why they play certain passes and not the English game a much better standing in tune with the rest of the world!

  • Comment number 26.

    5. At 17:03 30th May 2011, LeeroyMcQueen wrote:

    Spain would struggle(as they were, in the past) to become European and World Champions if you take away Barca Youth Academy.

    Spainish side who played in WC and Euro 2010 are exact Carbon Copy of current Barca side, except Messi's ingredient was missing. but this proves that there philosophy is awesome describe.

  • Comment number 27.

    What was their tactic to counter it? influence the ref to dish yellows to every aggresive Madrid player. Madrid were then fored to play football, and the results were what they were.
    Slow motion pictures show busquets running into the back of Marcelo then throwing himself to the ground holding his face there had been no contact. Pedro, Alves, Masceroudo used similar tactics until Pepe was sent off. The only real bad contact came from Adeybayour who made several clumsy nowhere near the ball challenges but by then they were two up. How would Barca cope with the treatment Shawcross and co would give them?

  • Comment number 28.

    #27 " How would Barca cope with the treatment Shawcross and co would give them?"

    Says it all doesn't it? "Barcelona play football, so give them the treatment ....."
    Did someone say that Big Sam is in line to manage West Ham?

  • Comment number 29.

    At 17:25 30th May 2011, Sakibtheman wrote

    True, very technically quality players, but exceptional through some very talented Barca midfield players

    Look at a country the size of England and see it has produced Gascoigne, Scholes, Wiltshire, the 2009 U17's european champions. All from a country with a culture that suppossedly doesn't allow it. Take a closer look at Spain and see the other factors, like perhaps Basketball being the nations second most popular sport, Futsal and Handball also being quite major sports. All small sided games, all based around quick decision making, hours upon hours of playing practically what is in essence the same game. getting the ball in the net. Barca's kids then spending something like 20 hours a week doing sessions all based around decision making, problem solving. I actually had the chance to go and see Real Madrids Under 14's coach in action and it wasn't anything I dont see at my club, they just spend more time doing it.

    Why harp on about our culture when we cant change it. EMBRACE IT, we're tough, competitive and never give up. Lets keep that identity and just perhaps emphasis on exactly what Eric Harrison and John Peacock have been harping on about. Coaching sessions where the emphasis is on decision makers and athletes, and spend thousands of hours doing it.

    I'm English, FA & UEFA trained and my sessions and philosophy are all centred around this, my coaches, parents, kids (all english 'culture') understand it, promote it, embrace it. So maybe we're not all as stubborn as some believe. You take a look at the Brazilians when it comes to producing players, they're much more ruthless than we are when it comes to winning games at youth level, they too however have other factors going for them

  • Comment number 30.

    If football was a complicated equasion that has baffled experts for over 100 years, then surely Barcelona have just solved it. How can any team compete against another when they cannot get the ball, and when they do they are cruelly hunted until they make a mistake and give up possession? The beauty of Barcelona is that Messi aside, they very rarely rely on individual skill to beat a man. Why expend time and energy trying to beat a player with skill when you can just pass round him? Barcelona have asked some tough questions which the big European clubs need to find an answer to. So far the two greatest European coaches of modern times, Fergie and Mourinho have utterly failed to find the answer.

  • Comment number 31.

    If football is 'coming home' dream is to be achieved than the whole philosophy of training, coaching, punditing and refreeing needs to be looked at and changed. Without such fundamental changes I cant see the national teams having much success in major competitions.

  • Comment number 32.

    Barcelona and Spain are years ahead in their ability to play posession football. England was becoming heavily influenced by direct play strategy in the 1980's when Johan Cruyff was doing the opposite, not to mention then realising what kind of players fit the system. In England the tall, physical players are still the popular mold dictating our style of play.

    How does one beat Barcelona? How would Barcelona beat Barcelona? We shouldn't forget how well they deploy pressing from the front. It looks very much like the standard pressure, support, cover system of old - perfected. Compact in defence? Barca are compact in the middle first.

    How many side's this year have pressured from the front or filled out the midfield? It's what Barca would do...

  • Comment number 33.

    This is another reason why i think that barcelona are the best side i have ever seen, because they have completely changed the game again and taken it to a new level. Their awareness is unbelievable, they know where there teammates and the opposition players are so when they receive the ball they know what to do with it in an instant, they can therefor maintain possession and in one movement they can completely cut the opposition open. They basically do in an instant what i would take another player to do in three seconds resulting in them losing the ball. But everything is perfect from the weight of pass to the pass angle and the timing of the pass so that their teammates can run onto, they make everything easier for their teammates so that they do not have to break stride. But it is the small 5 yard passing in the middle that really shifts the opposition about and creates gaps. and with busquets they have a player who does the defensive side of the game and wins possession back but is not appreciated enough in britian because of his play acting. But if people actually took that out of the equation and looked at his game then they would see how valuable he is to barcelona. He is just as good on the ball as xavi and iniesta and is constantly able to turn his marker but iniestahas quicker feet and xavi's range of passing is un-matched. I mean the spanish coach must just be licking his lips at his options with alonso xavi iniesta busquets fabregas all going for 3 spots at the most because all of those players would get into most international sides.

  • Comment number 34.

    The game to watch is the 2009 Club World Cup final, especially the first half. Estudiantes was a few minutes away from beating Barcelona.

  • Comment number 35.

    How does one beat Barcelona?

    Well, that's easy. When they have the ball: Mark space, don't rush into challenges, don't give up on marking space when it isn't instantly effective.

    When you have the ball: Always have at least two players dropping off at diagonals to the ball carrier, with a third exploiting the space that Barca inevitably have to yield in order to mark those two "obvious choice" players. Keep your play calm where possible; if under too much pressure, ease it with a series of quicker passes, then return to nice, slow football to probe space.

    Playing a quick passing game outside of the final third plays into their defensive style far too much.

  • Comment number 36.

    Credit to Alex Ferguson for trying to play a "normal" game against Barca and not attempting to park the bus. That said, the only real hope that one has against the machine that is Barcelona is to take them out of their comfort level. Zonal marking such as that employed by United...while perhaps familiar and comfortable for the Red Devils..simply allowed Barca the normal freedom of movement necessary for their match-winners to shine. I've been waiting to see someone implement a tactical approach that upsets the Xavi-Iniesta-Messi trident by man-marking one of the three out of the game. "Out of the game" is perhaps an exaggeration, but to disrupt an attack that is as telepathic and natural as Barcelona's one must make them uncomfortable and uncertain regarding their passing options. The only way to do this is to limit the access of one of those three to the ball (better yet, you could periodically rotate the player you chose to man-mark, which would force them to continually adjust their point of attack). Sounds simplistic...and perhaps it is...but against a team of such brilliant technical ability playing in such a rhythmic way the only chance one has as an opponent is to challenge their ability to adapt to playing in a manner to which they are unfamiliar or uncertain.

  • Comment number 37.

    I completely agree with posts #3, 10 and 19

    How anyone can think that the technique in the English game is anywhere near that of the Spanish is unbelievable and it’s is true that this deficit is a result of diabolical grass roots philosophy.

    In Britain the emphasis on physicality even from a young age is alarming. When I was young I played for a number or representative teams and academy teams and one fact was obvious even at that age, the biggest and strongest kids were always reigned supreme. Indeed, even when someone has exceptional talent or dribbling abilities the verdict was simple, “snap him”. Also, this tactic was not abhorred by the “coaches” but indeed chanted from the touchline. I doubt very much whether such expletives would be tolerated on las ramblas.

    This ‘impatience’ of British football philosophy is not only evident in the epl but in grass roots development. For example at young age groups British teams are quite successful but once they are no longer ‘big kids’ their alarming lack of talent is evident. For example I recall playing against Inter Milan in the Gothia Youth World Cup and thinking they were all tiny. We beat them 4-2, however, only two people from that team are now playing pro and at a low level (not me), but I imagine there would be a greater number from their team now gracing the elite level.

    Impatience is not a quality that breeds success.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ 16, ovictor

    you say "Soccer has gone beyond that." Soccer? Enough said about your post.

  • Comment number 39.

    I had a friend at school, who, from the age of seven or eight could do fantastic things with a football. He played for Sunderland all the way through to full trials when he was 15/16 ish I think, was taken on as an apprentice, but eventually got dumped out, pretty much because of the fact he was much smaller than the rest of the guys in the trials. I spoke to him a couple of years afterward (he tried some other clubs but all were the same) and he was OK with it, saying that they needed the strength which he didn't provide, and so he obviously believed what he had been told. I look back now, and would have loved to see him play, it really was like watching a ronaldinho or a messi (Actually the guy he reminded me most of was Peter Beardsley probably but I'm going for maximum effect here). So gifted it was just not funny, but thankfully he was also ludicrously clever and the club made all of it's apprentices continue in education, so I think he's done alright for himself but how much talent have we lost as a country because of our coaching methods and ideas about the game.

  • Comment number 40.

    Alistair, you've completely ignored how good Barcelona are WITHOUT the ball. As a Utd fan, to me that's their greatest strength. I've never seen a team make it so hard for Utd to keep the ball and play our own game. When we had the ball, it felt like Barca had an extra player - no matter where on the pitch.

    It's like their whole team plays in midfield. Their pressing is phenominal, we just couldn't live with it. Clearly Barca's ability to keep the ball is second to none, but without any pressure coming back at them (due to their press), let alone sustained pressure, it already put Barca on the front foot.

  • Comment number 41.

    Good article. Barcelona are quite simply the best in the business at the moment. No shame in losing to them and good to see Sir Alex magnanimous in defeat. Going to be an interesting summer. But please please not ashley bloomin young. Let the scouser have him. Finally I reckon about 90 per cent of us would have taken a record 19th title at the start of the season so let's nt all be getting too greedy now. Can be spoilt by success. Need to take some time out to stand back and admire what we have achieved this season. Sir Alex living legend. Van der sar, red nev, scholes.... Thanks for the memories

  • Comment number 42.

    it's all about intelligence. . . . and indeed awareness. . . .
    every single Barcelona player, all the time, knows exactly what they'd do with the ball if it came to them that second. . . .so they are constantly alert and sharp and hungry. . . no passengers, nobody hiding. . . . (compare that with the Premier League or Championship!)

    even our best players are too often jumping up and down demanding the ball without much idea of what they'll do with it. . . . beyond relying on their limited skill to see them through. .
    we need a total shift in what we value in our players . . . and yes, that means much more skill but also far more energy, commitment, passes, kms covered, and above all thought from them . . .

  • Comment number 43.

    well to be frank the reason why man utd couldn't beat barca was simple down to the fact that they did not have a last seasond drogba , no offence but if your going to long ball it you need your st to bring it down not try and header it on like rooney did constantly . Even though you may not get a specimen like drog everyday , you still need a midfield unlike park and valencia what is the point of running all game if when you finnaly have it you dont have a clue to use it. Before tactics come into the equation you need a team good enough to use it. what is raw pace without control , and as for anyone who mentioned anderson your sadly mistaken as I dont think you realistically thought it over . Let us put to bed that barca can't defend aswell because on saturday evening everyone clearly saw they could.

  • Comment number 44.

    Some interesting posts particularly the one about long ball tactics. I think the amazing thing for me was an incident in the first half when Valdes was caught out of his goal and was chased down. Rather than put the ball out or hoof it up field which would have been the natural "English" way (the "no one scores from Row Z" argument) he instead played a short pass to his defender who did a fantastic body swerve to fool Rooney into thinking he was passing it back and then passed it forward along the ground. They trusted their skills and retained possession and used it to move upfield.
    I don't think there has ever been a side that is unbeatable, but I do think this Barca team is one where normal tactics won't work most of the time because they do play differently. You have to adjust your game and maybe used spoliers to mark them out of the game.

  • Comment number 45.

    Read to #5, and was pleased to see LeeRoy McQueen make the point I had wanted to. It's all right kids practising for hours, but it's a lot of wasted energy if they are practising the wrong things. Before you get them to play, it's important to have the, clearly, "defined philosophy" LeeRoy talks about. Those Barcelona 6 year old kids are already in the senior team mind set. While I'm very happy with Man City's season, I suspect the U-18s, EDS and first team don't play in the same way (I'll hold my hands up, if i'm wrong!).

    What I fear is, English football is working on skills with youngsters, because see what the results are in Spain, or more specifically, Barcelona, but we have a suspect philosophy, if one exists, or even philosophieS. I think I'm right in saying Johann Cruyff was instrumental in Barcelona arriving where they are now. I have serious misgivings if former FA technical Directors like Howard Wilkinson are defining our philosophy. We need people like Glenn Hoddle doing that job.

  • Comment number 46.

    Great article.

    Many youth coaches have now adopted the practices which have brought Barca so many fans and so much success. It will take years and I hope that as a nation of football-lovers, we have the patience to wait for the talent to come through. I have no doubt that there are supremely talented Barca-type youngsters out there, but as HotdogSalesman wrote, they are not going to progress with our current culture.

    To be honest, I think there are too may teams in the EPL who rely on "penalty box-pinball-mayhem" to score. Of course these are teams who arguably cannot attract the gifted players, and I cannot blame their managers for focusing on the safest route to EPL survival. But look at our national team. Regularly humiliated. Only scoring really from penalties, corners, mayhem-in-the-box, etc.

    I am an Arsenal fan and so have eventually come to appreciate what Arsene is trying. Granted it may or may not work. Granted it is taking a while! But if the results reach the beauty of Saturday night, it will have all been worth it.

  • Comment number 47.

    Nobody has mentioned that if your main striker is constantly caught offside (Hernandez 5x offside) it is pretty difficult to create or sustain an attack. Not even Adebayour manages 5 times a game.
    (I'm not saying it would have made a difference but it would have been five more possible shots on goal).

  • Comment number 48.

    #27 mentioned that England won the 2009 under 17 Euro championship. Think about it. At that age the England team will be physically bigger and stronger then the opposition. This is the problem. They won't have the technique of the continental players at that age but will win due to brute force. 5 years later when the more talented technical players have also developed the strength then the outcome would be very different. It will be interesting to see how many of that U17 squad become top players in the big leagues.

  • Comment number 49.

    The trouble is we face a potentially insoluble contradiction, one the one hand we all appear to view as the way forward the patient, technically superior foootball played in counties such as Spain - with Barcelona being the its ultimate embodiment - but it's not the football we want to see at our grounds or on TV week in week out. In truth we (and many others) prefer to to watch the English Premier League precisely because of its pace and sustained excitement, even if that comes with reduced technical excellence. And perhaps we should bear in mind that while watching Barcelona playing keep-ball is still a thing of beauty, played by lesser teams it can easily become duller than dull. In short, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

  • Comment number 50.

    The problem is two-fold, Barcelona played more efficient football, and all of Barcelona's players with the exception of 1 or 2 are currently at the pinnacle of their careers.

    For Manchester United, Giggs and Valencia simply didn't play, or were stopped playing the way they normally do, the way which won them the league. And pretty much all of United's players are either passed their prime Giggs, Scholes, VDS, to some extent Ferdinand. Or, still a bit young and finding their feet Hernandez, Rafael etc. Only really Evra and Vidic you could say are peaking.

  • Comment number 51.

    My beloved United got a well-predicted thrashing at the weekend. I hand it to our opponents. But I find this article disturbing. I had always consoled myself that the game they play was so difficult to achieve that it was unlikely that others would be able to replicate it in large numbers. If, however, it really is all about coaching and that there is nothing intrinsically difficult about Barca's style of play, then the game which we love to watch is in trouble. I would very much dislike to watch Barca v. Barca every week. I hope the frenetic and exciting game I love to watch does not succumb to possession-fests of this kind. There is a simple solution - bring back the tackle. I wonder if anyone will.

  • Comment number 52.

    Watch any group of kids having a Kick about in a park,(if you can find them having a kick about in the first place) . And it soon becomes very apparent what the trouble is over here. You will not see one of them using their left foot,and if they are not using the left foot,they are obviously,not using both feet. So straight away at a very early age,they are lacking behind. Several times on holiday in Spain on Holiday,i have watched youngsters in the park,or on the beach,and it is a total different ball game,no pun intended.
    Until youngsters are taught that the left foot is not just for standing on,then the British game,will always be A poor second to our continental Neighbours.

  • Comment number 53.

    I think there is a lot of nonsense here. Barca are a fantastic team but it is simply (and as SAF said in his press conference) that they have 3 amazing midfield players in the same team, same era - Xavi, Iniesta and Messi along with good players to support them - Villa, Pedro, Alves etc. No different at MU in the Kean, Scholes, Giggs, Beckham era. It is cyclical and Barca won't reach the same heights after these players have gone. I do wonder if Giggs and Hernandez (the former who was invisible during the game and the latter who couldn't get past the offside trap) should have been replaced by Fletcher and Anderson at half time when it was still 1-1. Might have made a difference and it would certainly have made us more competitive in midfiled. Barca don't have the squad depth that Man U have. Could they play a 'reserve' team in the semi like we did? I doubt it.

  • Comment number 54.

    @2 "A nation as old as England should be smarter, or at least its media."
    Ha, ha, ha, ha. No seriously, I mean, ha, ha, ha, ha!

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm an Arsenal fan, but what a sad day it is...Scholes was one of the best players I have ever seen. He was beginning to run on empty it seems. What a player - so understated. A true pro.

    Now the kids will look to Nani and co for their heroes...shall we call it a day?

  • Comment number 56.

    this blog is a couple years too late no?

  • Comment number 57.

    Lorus59, I saw that U17 final (was actually last year) and there was no brute force about the win. I know it´s unfashionable to say it about Spain but England won fair and square. Those U17's would have been with a professional club since 11 years old so they probably been coached probably. I think England got to the final this year too. This is a tournament normally won by Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland. England U19's got to the semi finals of the U19 version and this team will play in the U20 World Cup which Spain didn't qualify for or for that matter get anywhere near the final stages of the U19 euro championship. So the future is bright for English football. To say otherwise is unfair.

    Spain was not much different to England until they failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup as in they were happy to qualify for tournaments with ease then fail miserably in tournament. When they failed to qualify the Spanish government, football federation and top clubs ripped up the coaching manual and started again and the result is that they have players of the calibre of Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas, Ramos, Llorente, Villa, Torres etc and even Messi who is a product of Spanish coaching. What's more Spanish teams didn't win the Champions League for years until the mid 1990's (Barcelona's first was in 1996).

    The same happened in england when we didn't qualify for the 1994 World Cup but they are slow learners in English football. In my opinion English football is about 10 years behind Spain but catching up fast. There is a new breed of coaches who are more intelligent than the dinosaurs of the past who were closed to any new ideas especially in the lower leagues and we now have quality players like Jack Wilshire getting in to the england team.

  • Comment number 58.

    "It is not any consolation to say you are the second best team. We don't enjoy that. Any club with the history we have - Real Madrid, AC Milan - would say the same." AF

    I think AF is an excellent manager but like MU fans and large parts of the media he continues to delude himself that MU share the same level of 'greatness' as Madrid and Milan. Trophies aside, in recent years both Madrid and Milan have had the upper hand in most encounters with MU.

    Furthermore, whilst I agree Barcelona are amazing, it is presumptious to assume that the Milan teams of the nineties or even the more recent Madrid teams would have been beaten with such ease. I do not think Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo would have been mere spectators to the Catalan outfit, nevermind Baresi, Van Basten & Co.

    In summery, the 2011 final not only confirmed Barcelona as world class but reinforced my view that United are over-rated and their 'greatness' has been very much self-proclaimed!!!!

  • Comment number 59.

    When Barcelona play it reminds me of a bullfight with Xavi as the matador and Messi as the sword. The midfield pass the ball in the midfield testing the midfield and the defence of the opposition looking for the forward pass. If it doesn't arrive the are content to pass the ball backwards to keep the possession. As soon as a midfielder or defender loses discipline and lets himself get sucked out of position the ball goes through the neck in to the heart of defence for Messi to put the ball in to the back of the net.

    Though I have to say that if Roy Keane was playing as he was in his prime I don't think Xavi would have made all those passes as Keane would have made his personal mission to remove Xavi's legs.

  • Comment number 60.

    To beat Barcelona you need to do what Arsenal did and didn't which is defend narrow with no space between the defence and midfield so Barcelona can't pass the ball through the middle of the defence and Messi is unable to receive the ball. This forces Barcelona wide to cross the ball which they don't do well due to the lack of height up front. Then once you have the ball counter attack with width and pace. Arsenal failed because the defenders panicked when they had the ball in the Nou Camp giving the ball away.

    On saturday Barcelona for the first time for me changed their tactics. They weren't getting a huge amount (less than normal I should say) joy with their usual tactics so they took shots from distance as the United defence wasn't pushing forward. They won the game with 2 quality goals especially Villa's. Messi just hit his but Villa placed his in the top corner.

  • Comment number 61.

    Spain would struggle(as they were, in the past) to become European and World Champions if you take away Barca Youth Academy.

    You make it sound like Barca Youth teams are dominant in the Youth tournaments I think you will find they are not. Last year Real Madrid won the World U 16 tournament. Barca Youth teams do not dominant like the Senior team.

  • Comment number 62.

    Yes, nice article, much nicer than the pre-game analysis that was simply too...analytical, with heavy emphasis on formation and position...which of course is what makes for a regular game of football.:) - but Barca plays no regular game.
    Congratulations to Sir Alex, who even though losing the game, kept his class and dignity... he proved he's a true winner both on and off the pitch (and if you think this is easy, please look at what happened to Real Madrid while in the same situation). Also, let's not forget that he got the EPL Championship with this very team, which many say it's not as good as his previous ones, and this speaks volumes. Having not given in to the temptation of dirty play, stall tactics and trying for an ugly win - which Mourinho proved is not good for football, Sir Alex and his team are part of the win-win equation of merit vs. fair-play. The other type of equation - the lose-lose one, to which Mourinho succumbed this year, pitches interests (money, ego, etc) vs. unfairness. (This is another way to say that "cheaters never really win" - they play the second equation, in which there is no true winner).
    Otherwise, I do not agree with those pitting Spanish football vs English football. Barcelona is unique even in Spain on one hand, and on the other I personally enjoy watching good EPL games more than other leagues. It is ladden with respect and character, and these are essentials of fair play, in the country that invented and defines it. Bundesliga has also fairness, but sometimes it gets quashed under the weight of the collective organizational ego (and this is one reason we haven't seen in a while superstars like Muller, Rummenige, etc). Spanish and Italian football are great also, but they truly have not achieved the status of football in Great Britain, where some fans had come to identify it with life itself - and although misguided, how much more serious and solemn can you be about something without the actual no-no of life loss - having proved that point in the 80's may God help us that it won't happen again!?
    Should English football do an 180 and prioritize small, talented players over stronger, technically less gifted ones? No, extremes are never good, but I think there should be a place for both in a great team that has both character and talent.
    So how to beat Barca? Firstly, it is possible. Secondly, games with Barca need to be played differently, for Barca is about the only team that plays constantly more than the sum of its player's role (position on the pitch). Other teams manage to glue together and play like a true team 5-10 times a season, while Barca does it more than 60 times a season, and the team (togetherness) is their 12th player. Their best asset is not any individual player (as the transfer of Ibrahimovici - one of the best attackers today - proved it) but the team spirit, and for this they deserve a special place in football history and in team sport history - the best case I know where indeed the players, coaching, management, everything come together in a optimal way. As for Messi, he is indeed top 5 all time, but look what Argentina did while employing his services. There should be a "true team" award named after this organization that chose UNICEF as the other name on their shirts.
    Maybe Barca is a good opportunity to allow changes in the rules of the game that can make the game more dynamic and attractive. Allowing more than 4 changes a game (like in most other sports, where players can be rested and put back in the game repeatedly so they can play more effective and allow tactical changes), allow for timeout by coach once a period, allowing the ball to be played by foot or hand after an out, more technology (and fairness) available to the referees (eventually real-time video review by UEFA observers)

  • Comment number 63.


    Are you serious, two player who haven't shown much during the season (and for Anderson, during a career) were going to make the remaining 14 player Man U all of a sudden prevent annihilation? Get grip on you self...

    As for the semis...(laugh laugh), you mean the one against Schalke? (laugh laugh)

  • Comment number 64.

    Your opponents can't score if they don't have the ball. It's a simple ideology but one that requires enormous amounts of discipline, patience and skill. I think Premier League sides have the skill but are lacking in both the discipline and patience categories.

  • Comment number 65.


    True True

  • Comment number 66.

    Just a few corrections for post 57. Spain did make the World cup in 1990. In fact they won their qualifying group and won their group in the group stage. They lost in round two to Yugoslavia. That part of your posting sounds very much like what happened in France, when they failed to make the 1990 World cup.

    Also Barca won their first european cup in 1992.

  • Comment number 67.

    I am not sure that the comments about different coaching tactics are as valid as they would appear. Barcelona had about 7 spanish players on the pitch, compared to 3 english players in MU. Anyone coming into Barcelona is given time to integrate, even David Villa was given time, and he had a head start as he is part of the Spanish squad. MU players are expected to produce from day one, and the manager has to make a team out of what he has, rather than integrate players into a team ethic.
    Acadamies are great if the players continue to play together, not so good if they are used as a profit centre.

  • Comment number 68.

    Barcelona's football culture also shows itself by the fact that it's second team, all younsters, go third in the second leage, in theory giving them the promotion to the spanish first leage and compete with the big boys, but alas not allowed by the rules.

  • Comment number 69.

    Good to see that the majority of comments simply accept Barcelona's superiority and congratulate them on their continued success.

    There are however still a few straws being clung to by some. The idea that Fletcher and or Anderson might have made a difference to the outcome is pretty short-sighted and fails to acknowledge Barcelona's dominance in the centre of the pitch.

    I also liked the comment about Xavi not being able to make so many successful passes if he was playing against Roy Keane in his pomp. Keane didn't manage to stop every passing side he came up against and he certainly didn't ever face a side that keep possession as well as this Barcelona side. Xavi and co. have passed rings round so many excellent defensive midfielder, they've overcome carefully constructed tactics and they've played their way round numerous double-pivot formations. I think it's fair to say that Keane (and Scholes for that matter) would be more likely to be sent off than contain or dominate this Barcelona team

    I broadly agree with the concept that football is cyclical. This is an excellent team, a once in a generation team and I suspect that it is knowledge of this that frustrates Ferguson to the point of erupting in rage when asked how his team failed to cope with Barcelona. As a footballing great, Alex Ferguson knows full well that he will never be able to make his Utd side reach the level of this Barcelona team. The frustration stems from the fact that he knows this. Barcelona will lose the odd games here and there and fail, as they did last year, to win every trophy on offer but it doesn't detract from their overall superiority. The best hope for Ferguson et al is that this Barcelona team starts to lose some of it's shine as older members of the team start tot need to be replaced

    Also, to the person who suggested that the treble winning Utd side was worth mentioning in the same breath as this Barcelona team - it was not even close. This Barcelona side are up there with the great Milan, Inter, Madrid and Ajax teams

  • Comment number 70.

    Just a note about Spain struggling if it wasn't for Barca players. Just remember David Silva, Juan Mata, Javi Martinez and Fabregas were all on the bench during the World cup 2010. Also consider that Arteta has never being called up to their squad.

  • Comment number 71.

    magicDarkshadow, thanks for the corrections. Probably should have done my research first. Anyway my point was Spain (not just Barcelona) made a lot of changes the way coaching was done whereas nothing changed in England despite continued failure due to the dinosaur attitudes of English managers. Facts completely wrong but I stand by my point.

    Real Madrid in 1966 to Barcelona 1992 (got confused with 2006) is still a longtime for a major league like in Spain. It is amazing how few teams have won the competition and it is still the same teams getting to finals.

  • Comment number 72.

    Cruff_14, that was a tongue in cheek comment at the end of my main point.

  • Comment number 73.

    lol are people blind, dont people see how easy it is for barcelona, peopl are calling barcelon the greatest team ever, wow! and calling messi the greatest do actually people know what there talking about.

    firstly barcelona right now are the best team in the world and would beat any team anyday apart from chelsea if you look over the years barca always find it hard to beat chelsea like 2009, the ref handed barca the tie, and barcelona spend so much only second to real, they spent near 200 million in three years,
    and if messi is injured barcelona cannot win or win just

    and secondly they have 11 world class players on the pitch compared to man utd where they had about 4 rooney, van de sar, evra and vidic thats about it

    and thirdly the "english football" is so bad, they like hard tackles, kikc the ball about, shoot from any where, apart frm gerrard and rooney and wilshere all the other english players are no way good enough.
    and for messi's case, when he goes to a average team and wins the championhips with them than i'll say his the greatest ever, that is marodonna did

  • Comment number 74.

    #58 is spot on.

    For SAF to compare his club to Milan and Madrid on the European stage is laughable. It's only recently they passed Nottingham Forest, and they still lack their achievement in retaining a European Cup.

    No, United are distinctly 2nd tier when it comes to European pedigree.

    There is one English club who are acknowledged to be of similar stature to Milan and Madrid, albeit a few trophies behind, but it would have been stretching his realism to have mentioned them, wouldn't it?

  • Comment number 75.

    English teams will be back, whether they change style or not (concede change may be required from youth level up),

    The fact that the style, despite inspiring less awe from the punter, remains more exciting, thus the league is worth more, the players will come,

    I am sure an English club will find a way and win the CL again, whether a dramatic change in style is needed or not,

  • Comment number 76.

    I have been reading the pre and post analysis of the CL final. I was surprised to see some BBC analysts saying that Man United had a chance. Some comments were on supporting them. There was a comment saying 'United had 2 threats upfront and Barca had just Messi'. I am sure he is hiding his face now. The fact that Barca is a class apart from any other team on the planet was forgotten by analysts ( I dont blame United fans becuase everbody knows what a fan is ). ManUnited didnt lose anything. Because it was United the score was at least 3-1 not 5-0 or something like that. United has no shame out of it. But the real losers are the analysts and the people who spent hours and hours before the final discussing how United could win it

  • Comment number 77.

    ok, barca play great football but if everyone tried to play like barcelona football would be boring. it would also ruin the game as the long ball and crosses would no longer be used. barcelona don't cross the ball at corners or shoot from free kicks unless they are forced to by their opponents. the majority of their play is down the middle.

    English teams must stick to their own games for e.g. utd must stick to the counterattack, arsenal must stick to their passing game. That is what they do best. However, coaching should become more focused on what they do without possession. This is where barcelona win football matches. If the top english teams worked as hard off the ball as barcelona do, i think barca would have a much more difficult time winning the cl.

  • Comment number 78.

    I have been watching soccer since 1986 world cup. Before that TV facility wasn't there. Maradona's second goal against England was superb. One can enjoy it even now. Messi has more variety than Maradona. Messi is the anchor for Barcelona. Spain in 2010 world cup, played Barcelona type game and won. Portugal, Germany and Netherlands were tormented by the soft ball possession tactics. The momentum in those teams were taken out and the players, especially the forwards, were made pedestrians. How to evolve tactics to break those tactics and win against Barcelona. Deep analysis and research are needed.

  • Comment number 79.

    SoriaSaint. I think should've expanded a bit more than being just pedantic. The point you were making was actually right. Spain did as you said change the coaching system. Because as much as they made the World cup and won their group, they weren't convincing. And were beaten by the first decent side they played. Which pretty much sums up the Spanish team for about 34 years until they won Euro 2008.

    And you're right England are still stuck in their ways. The dinosaur tactics of some of our coaches may work in some games against the current Arsenal side. But against the best of europe at international level, that type of play just isn't effective. Because they don't only match us in physicality, but they can play the ball too.

    And yeah, I'm still shocked by the gap between Real winning in 1966 and Barca in 1992. Especially as Barca and Real had some very good players during those years.

  • Comment number 80.

    we are seeing a new change in the style of football being played , germany have adapted , portugal did a few years ago

    the two nations that are struggling are England and Italy , why because we still believe the power , aggression , will get us everywhere

    When Guardiola states Paul scholes would of got into this Barca team it explains everything about our culture in the english game , We ask him to play left midfield for his country so we could fit into the side box to box players
    no wonder he got hacked off

    This Barca team keep it simple , make pitch as big as possible when you have possesion and always make sure there is an option , when your not in possesion just squeeze the game but the doesnt really matter as they always have that little thing called a football

    well done barca ,

  • Comment number 81.

    #27 " How would Barca cope with the treatment Shawcross and co would give them?"


    I think they'd cope rather well. Teams have time and again tried to kick Barca out of games and failed. Mainly because people forget that Busquets, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Keita and Mascherano aren't exactly angels for 90 mins a game. Every great team has a dark side. Otherwise they'd just get battered every game.

    The great Brazil side of 2002 had Gilberto (how much do Arsenal miss that guy these days?) and Kleberson holding their midfield. Both very talented, but Shawcross et al wouldn't last too long messing with those guys or their team mates.

  • Comment number 82.

    #40 is spot on. Barca close down so quickly that opposition players can't settle.

    I remember reading that Barca players are told that no opposition player is allowed the ball for more that 3 seconds before being closed down or challenged.

    They force opposition teams into making mistakes high up the pitch meaning that their deadly players are quickly in amongst the opposition defenders.

    If my son learnt one thing watching Barca it was that what you do when you haven't got the ball is just as important as what you do when you do have it.

  • Comment number 83.

    As I anticipated, some people will think being more patient, more space-oriented and moving would amount to playing exactly like Barça.

    Whether you cross or shimmy into the box like a bullet down the Gunners' muzzle is beside the point. These are just options. What matters is: do you keep the ball long enough to do damage?

    In martial arts, there are numerous styles but all insist on hitting openings. Who hits an opponents' blocks unless as decoy? The basic sense is finding space and using it. This is why Musashis philosophy's the best, it focuses on essentials.

    I remember that when Ronaldo was around with Berba, the team played a lot of this space finding; switching around, popping up in holes but it was quick and direct, it was full of crosses still. However, the elemental matter was: keeping the ball and finding space so the opponent is farther from you, more time to think, you draw them from their positions, you can initiate attacks better. Passing back to defense is not bad, it keeps possession. But, not every space is useful, it must be space which has potential, with a clearer route to goal. This means better awareness of the field as Barça always demonstrates.

    One thing Barça also has is Courage. Never fearing to try the untried esp in big games. You thwart em, they come back with something new. Even if they're beaten, one sees that their plans were genius. Rooney is not a genius for what he does, no no, he is for what he wishes to do, those brilliant moves which would have opened the opponents wide apart or completely outfoxed them that don't work; it shows his creativity easily

    Football is for foxes, Roald Dahl knows that

  • Comment number 84.

    You read correctly Saint in Staffordshire. Also note the popularity of Handball in Spain, a sport in which you cant have the ball for more than. . . 3 seconds

  • Comment number 85.

    #40 is spot on. Barca close down so quickly that opposition players can't settle.

    I remember reading that Barca players are told that no opposition player is allowed the ball for more that 3 seconds before being closed down or challenged.

    They force opposition teams into making mistakes high up the pitch meaning that their deadly players are quickly in amongst the opposition defenders.

    If my son learnt one thing watching Barca it was that what you do when you haven't got the ball is just as important as what you do when you do have it.


    A good post, but I don't think it's as simple as that. As has been mentioned on this site before (perhaps by Steve Mclaren of all people!) the reason Barca can close teams down so effectively is that they rarely pass the ball more than 10m and pass so often in triangles. If a pass does go astray, there are automatically 3 players within 10m who can close down the opposition player within 3 seconds as you mentioned.

    The style of play in England makes it impossible to do that. If you try a 40 yard "hollywood pass" and it goes wrong, the ball either goes out of play, or you hand possession to someone 40 yards away who you have no chance of closing down within 3 seconds.

  • Comment number 86.

    Amazing, if Arsenal had lost the final on Sunday against Barca or any other top flight EPL team the general consensus would be that they lost because they where rubbish, defunct, terrible, on the verge of collapse or any other direct negative one could make up. But, because it is the great and almighty Manchester United that lost, the excuse is that the entire EPL is at fault, the entire EPL is outdated and in trouble, rubbish! It was simply because Barca where the better team on the day. Simples…

  • Comment number 87.

    Get stuck in..
    What are you playing at?.. ( as kid trys to dribble )
    Get rid of it..
    Square ball..
    Hit it long..
    Get up yer big girl..

    All comments from the 'coach' and proud dads at a 10year olds kids game in Esher Surrey.

    Future looks bright doesnt it...

  • Comment number 88.

    I'd like to respond to the original comment from AW and address the erroneous idea that Man. Utd's defeat somehow reflects badly on the English game.

    First of all, English teams have reached the champions league final in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, so they're not doing too badly actually. Who's better?Barcelona are obviously very good right now, but they can be beaten (see Inter last year, and Chelsea's near miss the year before). Barca will be favourites next year, but who's betting against Man. Utd or Chelsea being their opponents in the final?

    IMHO English clubs have been the most consistently successful since 2005:

    Spain: 3 wins
    England: 2 wins and 5 runners up
    Italy: 2 wins and 1 runner up
    Germany: 1 runner up

    Also, on the other side of the coin, what makes people think that these teams reflect the stereotypical English kick and rush game? Most of the players are not English, and neither are the managers. Rafa Benitez, Arsene Wenger, Avram Grant, and even if we claim Alex Fergusson only understands kick and rush that's still a minority.

    Read and absorb:

    There have been no more than 6 English players in an English team in the champions league final since 1982.

    EPL is world football.

  • Comment number 89.

    its all down

  • Comment number 90.

    Obviously this is written in hindesight but if the game were to be played again tomorrow the formation I would play is as follows

    Brown Vidic Evra
    Rafael Fabio
    Valencia Rooney Nani

    I think it's too easy to say that the world's footballing philosophy needs to adopt the same tactics/style - what makes sport fun and competitive is the difference between players and teams and the beauty lies in adapting when a team, like Barcelona, surge ahead. Therefore I would argue that Ferguson would do better to make drastic changes to his formation when coming up against a team of the qualities of Barcelona rather than the club changing its philosophy.
    The formation I have indicated above seems risky but if you think that Barcelona barely pose an aereal threat from crosses or long balls then I think you're wasting a player on on what is essentially a CB for the premiership games. Instead I would have a second bank of defenders in front of the back line, filling the gaps that Messi/Xavi/Iniesta/Pedro exploit so effectively - note that they are the type of defenders that are quick on the turn and harriers. I would have Carrick as the man on duty to intercept the Busquets pass - Barcelona's main outlet from defence - but to provide the link between defence and the wingers/forwards and the two wingers helping their respective fullbacks and Da Silva brothers whenever necessary.

    Effectively, it's a massively, solid defensive midfield that would squeeze Barcelona out to the edges of the park which is not within their comfort zone

    I know this means Utd are going to be defending most of the time but they were effectively doing that on Saturday anyway and if you can do a better job of it then it allows your counter-attacks to be more explosive when they do happen,which is why I would have Nani on the left instead of Park as he provides more unpredictability to deal with for Barca's defence and Utd wouldn't be overly dependent on him having to help Evra as Fabio could do that

    Just an idea

  • Comment number 91.

    I am in no way taking any credit from Barca on Saturday, they were phenomenal and deserved to win. But if you look back at the Semi final, if Pepe had not been sent off, I reckon it would have been a Real Madrid vs Man Utd final. Barca were great against Man Utd but Real Madrid ran them close and beat them so the gap is not as big between Barca and the rest of the world. If Madrid continue to gel under Jose, I reckon they will have a cracking double next season.

  • Comment number 92.


    Arguable, but the fact is that Real Madrid would have omfortably beaten United as well.
    Real Madrid are not representative of "the Rest of the World".

  • Comment number 93.


  • Comment number 94.

    I think the things Barcelona are to be congratulated for taking "to the next level" are work rate, teamwork and team unity. the rest of the noise about them, I don't care much for myself. I don't believe the way of football they champion is the way "football is meant to be played" as it's not my personal preference and I get tired or fatigued watching the most part of Barcelona matches. For them, it works because their priority is to win, but the belief that it makes for a greater spectacle is fantasy in my own opinion, because the best football SPORTING contests...are about differing styles clashing head on. Case in point, the Inter display of pure defending last year was a refreshing change, and I also would much rather see shots on target and goals than keepball around the back.

    Whoever posted that second opinion on catenaccio...all I would say is catenaccio is a culture, not simply a tactic, like any other footballing culture it develops with time. You've seen Mourinho adjust modern catenaccio when needed to great effect against Barca. He's already beaten them directly to one Spanish Cup and one Champions League with two different teams in two seasons. And the common demoninator shared with Barca? The work rate, teamwork and team unity needed to do it. As soon as other direct teams like United, Chelsea and AC Milan up their work rate they will have an honest shot to win things again.

  • Comment number 95.


    That is a very simplistic view of many many tricky variables whilst ignoring creativity from very creative players.

    You forget to mention how they regain posession?
    Forget to mention how they pressure to win the ball back

    Barca will lose games, they have done and in those games teams frustrated them and hit them on the counter as this is the only way to play them so what you say is pretty much basic understanding with out getting down to it. We know you gotta be tight and compact against them,Fergie didn't, everyone else did. They played 451 last time but Ronaldo Rooney Scholes were dead weight defensively and when you dont have the ball and they are not working it is 7 against 10 as al 10 barca players are working hard, and as a result of Rooney Hernandez not sitting deep and filling gaps when united didnt have posession cutting out passing lanes ect to help out, Barca again and again got to run at vidic and ferdinand, also because of the suicide of giggs carrick in the centre of a 4 it meant park and valencia always had to come infield to help out completely nullifying the reasons they were selected.
    Job for hte day, win hte ball in midfield any way you can and break in 3s n 4s from that. Then you have a slim chance because if you play this way and go one down as with real, you are done.
    Arsenals win was missed chances by barca and a denied penalty and a good goal disallowed so it is not a blueprint for beating them, Jose has beaten them three times CL twice with Chelsea and Inter and the spanish cup, y'all need oyt talk to jose and he will tell you, you need the right staff on the pitch before you make the planand that is what united just didnt have, players good eough or the right plan from Alex Fergeson.

  • Comment number 96.

    The great Bill Shankley said this years ago.....

    "Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes,
    of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass.
    It is terribly simple."

  • Comment number 97.

    I watch alot of chelsea's matches and this match has put pay to my aguement about Mikel. He his the only player that understands the usage of space. The often complain about him is that he passes back too often but have they put into consideration what other players are doing whenever he has the ball? they keep running forward into the opponent players instead of creating space. Rameres wins the ball or gets a pass and he just start running forward aimlessly with the ball which fustrates the whole concept of football.

    Xavi bearly played a shot at the goalkeeper and u can arguably say he was the best player on the pitch. Essien plays better with Mikel on the pitch because instead of running forward like Rameres he simply picks a comfortable position to place himself and make himself an option incase Essein runs out of option.

    I wish Mikel leaves Chelsea and their fans for their love of crapy football, move over to Spain or Germany and have a fuitful career.

  • Comment number 98.

    I am impressed that there are so many people supporting the "Barce Way"! Hopefully Barce's utter domination will change the view of most Plonkers coaching and playing football in the UK. I doubt it tho because its boring if no one is diving in and breaking some ones legs!
    The simple style can be applied at any level and at any age which is the beautiful thing about it...just take swansea and blackpool and then again down to u6's! The other great thing is that it makes football more inclusive to more people because physicality is less important.

    About the Final ...I think SAF got a few things badly wrong starting with his selection! I would have picked the following ..
    same keeper and back 4!

    Def Mid - park and fletcher
    Rooney - just playing infront or where ever he thinks is best (he understands the game)

    Wide - Hernandez and Nani - tucking in when without the ball

    Upfront - Berbatov - Holds the Ball up well and needs very little to score!

    Why cant Rooney and Hernandez play deeper?

  • Comment number 99.

    A few years ago it was the Galacticos of Madrid that were too good for Ferguson. Then it was Ancelotti's AC Milan. Now its Guardiolas Barcelona.
    Lets face it, Ferguson is great at beating Wigan and not so hot at reaching the real summit.
    Alos most of the players playing for United were not English, and all of them who were English are supposedly the best passers we have, so lets not pretend the guys out their did not have the technique.

  • Comment number 100.

    I know this is entirely out of context, but this just shows how deluded Alec Ferguson is at times:

    "It is not any consolation to say you are the second best team. We don't enjoy that. Any club with the history we have - Real Madrid, AC Milan - would say the same."

    I really hope he means domestically rather than on the European stage, as to compare himself with two teams who have won Europes top trophy 9 and 5 times respectively to his club who have barely managed to win it 3 times, is just ludicrous.


Page 1 of 2

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.