Quite a humiliating defeat for Barcelona in the latest El Clásico, which saw them watch on as Real Madrid walked on into the Copa del Rey final, were they will face Atletico Madrid in a El Derbi Madrileño final special. Take nothing away from Los Blancos, they were brilliant, but Barcelona were horrid – in fact, 3 pretty much un-Barcelona like performances. They were at the end of a defeat in the Champions League v AC Milan, scraped a win over Sevilla which could’ve ended in Unai Emery’s favour and last nights El Clásico.
I noticed a similarity in all 3 goals which Barcelona had conceded against Real Madrid – all goals, with the possible exceptions of Cristiano Ronaldo’s second (Angel Di Maria received the ball in a fairly central position, but my point later on will explain my dilemma) had come from an action on the flank. Dani Alves had been in the doghouse with the majority of folks, but against Madrid, he was Barca’s best player, strangely, but wasn’t exceptional. Jordi Alba, Alves’ full-back partner, didn’t have the best of games, and could’ve been blamed for 2 of Real Madrid’s goals.
Ronaldo’s first goal, the penalty he converted in the 13th minute came via his dribble from the right flank. The right flank had been left void by Barca’s left back Jordi Alba, who in slight defence was pushing up high because Barca was on a counter attack. If Jordi Alba hadn’t been so high and was actually in a good defensive position, would Ronaldo’s run on into the penalty area been harder?
Jordi Alba (circled in orange) is miles away from where he should be. Carles Puyol is drawn in by the pass and attempts to block the pass but to no avail. Should Alba had been there, you could argue that Puyol wouldn’t have been drawn in to intercept the pass. Instead, he’d probably be more centralised alongside Gerard Pique and all danger could’ve been diverted. So that’s just número uno.
Roll onto Ronaldo’s 2nd goal, and this time Alves can be at fault. Although it was probably a misjudgement by Alves, after all Khedira had ‘hoofed’ a clearance up pitch which had completely wiped Alves out of the game, it questions me as to why, with Di Maria and Ronaldo (out of the picture below) posing an attacking threat, that Alves would leave Puyol, who in all honesty isn’t the fastest centre-half about, to deal with two of the better counter attacking players in the world.
Alves’ position in the image above isn’t the best position – in fact, mentioned just a few sentences ago he actually begin to go forwards. This leaves Puyol to deal with Di Maria, and in Puyol’s defence he had actually done a good job keeping within 5 yards of the Argentinian. It lead to Di Maria using a bit of skill to get past Puyol and take his shot which found it’s way to Ronaldo. Had Alves been marking Di Maria, a 2-on-1 situation would’ve occurred and Di Maria would’ve found it a lot more difficult to get his shot away, if at all.
There’s an orange line by Jordi Alba (bottom of the screen) and you’re probably wondering why.
Is it wise to leave Ronaldo behind you (Alba circled orange bottom)? Let’s be frank, it really isn’t. Not at any stage in the match would you ever like Ronaldo behind you. It’s hard to blame Alba in this situation, but he should really be behind Ronaldo, not in front of him. The over the top ball by Khedira causes all sorts of problems, especially for Alba who later in the sequence decides not to mark Ronaldo but to cover the goal.
Is it also wise to leave Puyol marking Di Maria? Maybe, but that’s only if you’re talking about corners – not in open play which is why it confuses me as to why Alves is pushing up high. Puyol is one of the better readers of the game, but in all honesty I find it hard to see him get in front of Di Maria especially with the latter’s pace and acceleration.
Perhaps from this Alba may have learned that it wasn’t wise to leave his marker behind him, especially if another over the top ball had occurred. Well, no. No he didn’t. Instead, Ozil capitalized, which leads to the 3rd goal.
Allbeit that the 3rd and final Madrid goal came via a corner, the build up play could’ve been prevented. Above, we can see that Mesut Ozil (circled in blue) is getting his skates on to receive the through ball. Circled in orange, Alba hasn’t turned away from ball watching. It’s quite often I hear commentators to say “keep your eye on the ball” but in this instance it really isn’t necessary. It’s quite obvious that Ozil is making a dangerous run so isn’t it common sense for Alba to track that run? Pique is already making the run to counteract Ozil’s run which allows Gonzalo Higuain a gigantic piece of space to run into.
Now Pique is fully across and is ready to challenge Ozil, but from that Higain has clear air to run into and a 1-on-1 with Pinto is in his hands. Even Puyol, at the grand old age of 34, has tracked back faster than Alba who clearly has a superior amount of pace. If Alba had tracked back faster, with more determination to catch Ozil, Higuain wouldn’t have had that space to himself because Pique wouldn’t have needed to come across to fill in for Alba. Alba realistically could’ve caught Ozil and maybe the situation would’ve come to nothing, but he didn’t so it resulted in a corner which itself resulted in the 3rd and final goal for Madrid – the game ending goal.
It’s not the first time Alves and Alba could be the blame to Barcelona conceding, and it certainly won’t be the last. A lot of teams can learn from Real Madrid’s performance in this past El Clásico in different aspects – Real Madrid dropping and not applying a huge amount of pressure, Real Madrid content with defending and counter-attacking and along with the theme of this post – exploiting the attacking full-backs.
I’ve drawn a diagram just to show in a clearer way. Alves and Alba will continue to be exposed because of their attacking nature, which will leave both Puyol and Pique exposed too, by the on rushing wingers and centre-forward. Busquets, presumably as always, will drop to make the 3-at-the-back formation we see time and time again. This is why I believe Eric Abidal is such an important player for Barca. He might not be the best full-back ever, but what he does is something Alba will never be able to do. Abidal can attack, but knows his limits. He knows his priority is to defend, and thats what makes him so valuable to Barcelona. If he returns fit and plays again for Barca, he’ll be as invaluable as ever, but I can’t see it being easy for the French veteran to push Alba out of the side – Alba fits Barca’s philosophy like a glove whereas Abidal doesn’t as well.
I may be overly harsh on both Jordi Alba and Dani Alves, but all 3 goals could’ve been prevented had they not been attacking so high. It’s in their nature to do so, and also in Roura’s/Vilanova’s instructions which they’re obliged follow but sometimes as a full-back you have to realise there is a line between attacking and becoming a 2nd winger. Defending has to be a priority, not all the time and can vary against opposition, but most of the time. It’s the downfall of Barcelona conceding – the full-backs and set-pieces are their major problems defensive-wise.