Monday, 25 May 2009

Barcelona Vs Manchester United. The Mortal Kombat!

The Mortal Kombat!
By: Ramzi Tanani

I am aware that there will be a massive number or articles about Champions league final. That’s why as a special case, I will make this one more concentrated. Tackling the tactical options and trying to find the answers for some of the most common issues surrounding this Final. Barca4life and Kamikaze are doing a great job providing thorough previews that I don’t dare to compete with. So I will do a straight forward brainstorming analysis waiting for the wide scope coverage the guys produce through the game preview, which we can expect in few hours.

Man Utd Issues:


The major questions is: will Ferdinand be fit enough to play? If Ferdinand is not there to play, the defense will be Evans–ly infected. In a good day, Evans can perform just fine, in a Bad day, he is a disaster.

Ferdinand Trained with his teammates this week, which is a sign that he will be ready on time. Leading to expect the most common defense of: O'Shea, Vidic ,Ferdinand, and Evra.

Midfield and Offense:

It’s important to analyze the two interrelated lines together. Carrick is a must, especially if Sir Alex want to control the game tempo. He may not be the most “flashy” guy for the red devils, but he is definitely one of their most tactically-intelligent midfielders. With Fletcher absence, Anderson is almost an auto select. I Believe in front of the Dual Defensive midfielders, Sir Alex will go for the horses, the ones with the highest work rate. That’s why I can see Park, Rooney, and Tevez creating the line of aggressive pressure with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in front of them. But why not Berbatov?

Sir Alex will think of the belgarian if:

1) He wants to use him as a striker who drop deep pulling the central defense out of position so that the other red Devils find a space to penetrate through. But isn’t it a very old joke? I don’t think Barcelona will fall in that trap, specially with their current defensive problems, it’s unlikely that pique will follow Berba to the midfield leaving an exposed defense behind him. Barcelona will simply create a system: When Berba plays near the Box pique mark him, when he slide deeper then the defensive midfielder keep an eye on him. So I don’t think Berba inclusion will serve this goal.

2) Being a false playmaker: He is really a good player setting up offense. He is an appropriate station where Man Utd can hand him the ball after they win it, he keep it till they do their Defense to offense transition, then he make a foxy pass. But the problem with this one is that its more suitable for games with slow tempo and where Man Utd players dominate the game . In a game where Man Utd players close the spaces to their own box while defending, Berbatov will get isolated upfront. Yaya, for example will be able to contain him. Berba proved being very productive when he is surrounded by outlets, if Man Utd can’t provide him a teammate to patrol around him even during set defense, then it’s better not selecting him in a game where every player contribution is needed.

3) Sir Alex know everything about Barcelona. If Barcelona catch their momentum early in the game, the game will be more complicated for Man Utd. Having the runners in the selection put more pressure on Barcelona ball holder. Possession is the key for Barcelona, when their possession game is in danger, the team get obsessed to control the ball more, it turn to become the objective, not the method to execute the objective. While if Barcelona felt comfortable dominating possession they start translating possession to threat, generating waves of scoring attempts, attacking like a shark. So the Scottish is aware that even if it won’t be possible to prevent Barcelona dominating possession, it’s important to keep them focused on protecting it, rather than translating it to offense. To do so, you need the type of players who can keep on running .

4) Even if Henry and Iniesta played, there is a chance that their fitness may not serve them to play for 90 minutes on the same level. So it’s more reasonable to select the ones with the highest work rate to start the game, then installing berbatov in the second half after sucking out some of Barcelona fitness, mainly Iniesta and Henry, which will make it less risky for Manchester united to open up more, offensively.

5) The Ronaldo factor: I think the need of having a striker with pace prevent Berba inclusion. My best bet is that Ronaldo will be that striker, but Tevez may also be an option.

I, by no mean, exclude the possibility of Berbatov starting the game, but for the reasons I mentioned above I believe he may not.

Regarding offense dynamics, Manchester United will not be a Chelsea. Yes I watched last season game, But this one is different. The red devils do not have the tanks of Chelsea in the midfield, so if they decided to park the bus, it will not be as successful as the one manufactured in London. Besides, they are playing against a team with no fullbacks, they have five players with excellent attributes to cause damage through the flanks (Evra,Ronaldo,Roony,Tevez and Park), why hesitation? If they master switching positions, they may confuse Barcelona Defense. Besides, we need to keep in mind that you can’t approach a Final (one game) the same way you plan for a semi Final (Two legs). Fregie will use his hairdryer techniques to boost the players enthusiasm and shoot them to the pitch. Or may be its only a wishful thinking, I can’t handle another football spoiler after “The blues”.

It will be interesting to see who will mark who? will it be a zonal marking, end of story? Or we will see a Park parking close to iniesta for example? Anderson testing his luck against Xavi, Tevez+Evra on Messi if he played on the flank?

Finally, Sir Alex may feel the need to have one of the wise uncles on the field, either Giggs (my favorite Man Utd player of all times) or Scholes. The presence of such an experienced player is vital to keep things compact and to have a leader in the midfield serving as a coach assistant. There is a high tax to handle if it happened, they are too old for such a demanding game. Yet, if things turned messy at any moment during the game, and without that kind of experience in the midfield, it may prove incurable.

Barcelona Issues:


Well… I think without Abidal, Alves and Marquez, it’s not an easy task to make the right decisions. Not because we don’t have depth in our defense as rumored. How will man Utd react if they lose Evra and Ferdinand? It’s just the injury/suspension crises, stroke us in the worst timing.

My first condition while dealing with this case is to avoid Damaging-to-Fix logic. Which means that we must not use lot of players out of position creating a tactical spaghetti. We all read about that so-called official selection against Man Utd where we use: our best defensive midfielder –Yaya- as a central Back, our second best defensive midfielder (at least based on current form) -Keita- as a left back, then using the third defensive midfielder as the key node in midfield. Spaghetti. That’s too much for my taste if you ask me. Especially that using Yaya as a central defender against Chelsea was not so inspiring. Yes, He contained Drogba in the box, but I prefer to have him in the midfield breaking down the attacks before it approach our box in the first place.

My most demanding question is: Will keita be our first surprise, playing as a central back? Theoretically, its more surprising if Pep do not think about it. And I can insure he did. If it’s a possibility, then he can avoid changing Yaya position, and he can create an initial Puyol-Pique-Keita defensive trio that will solve a big part of the problem. But does he have the qualities needed for that urgent task? Again, theoretically he does have it. Strong, with even a better pace than Yaya, and his positioning is decent. The only way to figure out the possibilities of this option to click is by testing it during training sessions. But it’s a very tempting idea for me.

I will discuss the option of no keita in defense, but first lets base our assumption on a Puyol-Pique-Keita defense. Who will be the forth defender?

There are two ways to go:

1) Using sylvinho: Don’t Panic! It won’t be bad to have him if we use something similar to the Barcetalia System I Explained in “How will Barcelona beat Chelsea?” A defense of Puyol-Pique-Keita then when the team lose the ball, we create another line in front of that one containing Xavi-Yaya-Sylvinho in the midfield while the rest of the players (Four players) do our traditional high press.

2) Sylvinho-Free: Again three backs (Puyol-Pique-Keita), then if both Iniesta and Henry played, Busquets may play as well and he will be dedicated to mark either C.Ronaldo, or Rooney, So we will have three Central Backs to contain the Striker/s, and Busquets to mark the false forward who drop deep to link midfield with Offense (Normally, Rooney). Then a midfield of Yaya-Iniesta-Xavi behind Henry-Eto'o-Messi trio.

If any of the two players (Henry/Iniesta) failed to start, then Busquets will play in the midfield with Yaya and Xavi. In this case, I don’t exclude Caceres to play the "Busquets Role" previously mentioned. It suits him. He may have a bad positioning, but he is strong and fast, a typical south American defender. So I think he can do well…till he earn his first card…

It is little bit risky to have Keita as a defender, but isn’t it a risky situation no matter what? I prefer to keep the risk in one place rather than spreading it all over .

But if-God forbids, it didn’t work. It’s unlikely happening, but let it be a Puyol-Pique-Caceres/Busquets defense, with Caceres/ Busquets man marking the forward while Puyol and Pique create depth. Then we can have Keita and Yaya as defensive midfielders trying to breakdown the opponent attacks in the midfield, keeping the defense line secure.

C.Ronaldo is the player who makes the undeniable impact. I don't see a reason why Barcelona fans refuse to admit that this guy is a quality, same as Man Utd fans underrate Messi qualities. Messi is our man! But Ronaldo is also a great talent. Yet, its not ronaldo who we need to watch mostly, its Rooney. Ronaldo is the goal scorer, no doubt. But its rooney who link the midfield with offense. If you mark ronaldo, Rooney output automatically decline 30%. If you contain Rooney, Ronaldo impact decline 50 %. So do your calculations.

Midfield and offense:

The defensive midfield options are already mentioned while analyzing defensive options. Yaya as a defensive midfielder, and Iniesta running the show orchestrated by Xavi. Then Henry, Messi and eto’o as forwards. And in that order!

First, why eto’o? And I can’t imagine that I am even wondering. But after some unsatisfying games, lot of fans suggested benching him in the champions’ final. Some suggested having Hleb, others Bojan…

In Brief there is no way to re-consider Eto’o selection. He is more than needed Specially in this game. I see him performing the same role he did two weeks ago against Real Madrid in the Classico (Smile! Smile! Classico, Perfect memories!!). Moving to the right Flank, dictating a task for evra to fulfill (Marking him), While Messi cut inside to play as an attacking midfielder in front of Xavi, Iniesta moving to the left, and henry Cutting into the box . Usually, the forward avoid the defender. But I hope Henry pick the right moments to run to Vidic, Giving him a hug (ok, not literally). If Henry managed to Keep Vidic busy while Messi penetrating to the box, that will create a one-on-one situation between Messi and Ferdinand. I like our chances if it happened!

In the other hand, Having Eto’o on the right flank serve an important defensive need. Stopping evra, which will and limit the damage of missing Alves for this game. If Eto’o succeeded in his battle against the French fullback, he will cause a big damage for Man utd offense efficiency . He is their alves.

One of the most important advantages for barcelona, is that the players regained their fitness level, something they dearly need to apply the kind of pressure they like. We missed it against Chelsea, but if Iniesta and henry will be fit as well, against a team with less physical character and more technically oriented, there is a chance for Barcelona to dominate.

But gusys...will you please please puleazzeee take your shots?! If it wasn't possible to Dribble the ball into the net as usual, its not a shame if we blast a log shot and score, Really...

Alex vs Pep

I don’t want to talk too much about it, just so I avoid making this article long,and because I am aware that it will be a material for extended discussions till the final whistle.

Experience give the Sir an edge. Pep proved being a coach to look up to, in a very short period. This season he had his brilliant touch, but he also had some flops. Specially in the Champions league. In the semi Finals we were outclassed tactically along the two legs, something I will explain in another article. I hope we will do much better in the final. When its a Pep day, we have witnessed lot of signs that tell how bright the future of this coach will be. Yet, it’s not an easy tactical battle. Specially with all the injuries and "unavailables".

Finally, I noticed how angry the fans were after Osasuna meaningless loss. So it’s important to point out that what this team achieved this year is already a miracle. Lead by a new coach who is new in the world of coaching, No team can go that far during a transition period. Ask Man Utd. I wish us luck so we get the historical treble. Yet, if it didn’t happen, I hope we understand we can keep our heads high, proud of our players, the coaches, Physios and our board of directors.

We definitely can criticize what may go wrong during the game, whether we win or lose. But I just feel it’s unfair not to give this team the credit the players and the coach deserve to get. Just remember where we were. May 27, 2008 !

Enjoy the game!

Ramzi Tanani


Anurag said...

nice analysis Ramzi. will messi break his goal draught against english sides?

and also, if barca the "home team", will we have more fans in the stand or something like that?

Anurag said...

oh yes, b4l, if youre doing the preview, please predict a barca defeat. we saw against osasuna as well!!

peter said...

Keita has said he WONT be playing as a defender. Case closed.

Ramzi said...

he also said:

"I don't care where I would play. Even if the goalkeeper would be sent off and the coach asks it, I will play as goalkeeper... Or as forward. The only thing that matters is winning."


Its pep who decide, not Keita.

Anonymous said...

i didnt comment here for ages now but i cant resist the urge to praise this article.
becos i love what you said,this 1especially:
""But gusys...will you please please puleazzeee take your shots?! If it wasn't possible to Dribble the ball into the net as usual, its not a shame if we blast a log shot and score, Really...""

its like u read my mind,thats only 1 thing i hate about BARCA.even against Osasuna,i saw where it was possible to take correct shot but never.our guys will not shoot sometimes.

I hope this will change in the final and future.

Barca for life

Anonymous said...

Great job Ramzi, but I just can't imagine that any of your predicted formations will start. It will be most probably the usual 4-3-3, with the Puyol, Piqué, Touré, Sylvinho defensive line and Keita, Xavi, Iniesta/Busquets in midfield. I understand, that you would like to see Yaya in the midfield, but I think Pep (Guardiola) doesn't share your views.

Another Barca-fan from Szeged, Hungary

ps: Hol nezitek a meccset?:)

Ramzi said...

Thanx Hungary :)

I usually avoid predicting Pep. First because he is so unpredictable, and secondly because I leave this part for the game previews. So What I mention in this article is How I believe the game should be managed, so that I can have a base to evaluate the game later. We will see if Pep agrees with some-non-all the points mentioned when the game starts.

Its the methodology I followed every time I published a pre-match analysis.

The more we keep the best players in their positions the less mess we make. Beside I prefer three men defense plus a full pitch marker to a key player (Busquets on Ronaldo/Rooney) over having a defense line of four. One of them is playing out of position (Yaya) and the other is either untested as left back (Keita) or too old (Sylvinho).

Anonymous said...

Great article! I definitely agree with Yaya in the middle. this is probably the hardest game of the season(with the injuries/suspensions and all) but for some reason im weridly very confident. I just have a feeling if we keep our 1st midfield(yaya iniesta xavi), we will dominate and it will be the same old story (possession goals win), like this whole season. I hope pep sticks to his guns

ej said...

to all who likes to laugh

Ballack dancing with refree

CR7 funny look

Anonymous said...

If i get this wrong, dinner on me guys =)). First of all, i wish barca good luck, cause they done as proud this year. A win is a bonus to a perfect year, and a loss
well we never loose in barca =)

I also prefer Yaya on the mid, spec
cause Man strikers mainly is about pace, then power (excluding Berbatov) unlike chelsea.

So pique doin the yaya jobb in chelsea, and Puyol doin the Pique jobb in chelsea is my WISH
meaning Pique handles the POWER striker and Puyol falls back


Caceres - Puyol - Pique - Silvinho
Xavi - Yaya - Iniesta
Messi - Eto - Henry

(Give Silvinho more freedom to support Henry and we mainly use 3 CB when attacking).
Put in Keita for silvinho if he gets tired late in the game.

I believe in havin right pos for every player in a final even if it means caceres playing =)

/ Bashir

Anonymous said...

Szeritni nehezni a foci sor kertben??es te??

Romyan said...

Great analysis Ramzi, as usual ;)
I do enjoy your articles, but not that one, because I know it could be far away from what Pep will do in a final match of the season. Playing Toure, Keita, Puyol out of possession seems to happen, & Busquets is supporting Man Utd in the midfield .. this is what i'm thinking about, unfortunately
I think the only hope we have is our 5 attackers playing in their pitch & forcing CR7 & Rooney to drop back, & scoring 2 goals in the first half so we can relax & find spaces in the second half

I'm looking forward to read a full analysis about Guardiola at the end of the season, you said it could be in January & since then I'm wiating ;)

sashi said...

gr8 analysis Ramzi... as usual! about Keita, he said he would play anywhere if the coach tells him to, DURING THE GAME. NOT FROM START TO FINISH. those were the his words from his interview. lets see wat happens come Wednesday!

sashi said...

also, i guess we are the "home" team wit respect to the jersey alone i guess. Barca n Man U would get the same number of tickets only. tats wat i remember from some article.

fcbee said...

I also prefer Touré in midfield. With Ronaldo probably going to play up front, Touré can be more usual in midfield and Caceres could deal with Ronaldo. Risky, but Touré at Stamford Bridge was also risky!

Damn, we could be living history now... Or not... Or yes!!!

Anonymous said...

Agree with a comment above... Kinda hoping Pique and Puyol CB and Sylvinho LB and Caceres RB... With Yaya as Defensive Mid...

But whatever happens Pep is the man to make the decision...


Anonymous said...

amazing movie

peter said...

Yet another statement from Keita expressing he won't play left-back:

"Are you willing to play as left back in Rome?
If there would be a problem at some point and I have to help out, like happened against Chelsea after Abidal was sent off, I will do that. But it's not a good moment to start experimenting, and even less in the most important game of the year. The coach knows who can contribute more on that position. I've never played there.

You seem to be convinced?

I'm a midfielder, not a full-back."

Im positive he won't start, but hey. To each their own :P

Line-up should form somewhere like this:


It all depends on whether Iniesta and Henry are seen fit to play the whole game.

I wouldn't mind Caceres as a defender either. I don't like players playing out of their position. Sure Yaya has done a good job defending, but he still is our best DM i i-d like to see him there. But given the injuries and suspensions on Alves/Abidal/Marquez and the fact that Yaya played CB against chelsea, and the fact he has rested BOTH yaya and busquets for the last games indicates that they both will be on the pitch at the same time. And if that is the case Yaya will be CB and Busquets DM. Their is no way Busquets is gonna play next to Xavi on the midfield. That position as for either Iniesta or Keita to start on.

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