High defense lines resulting in some beautiful runs
I am always fond of matches between Barcelona and Valencia in recent years because we are guaranteed of some exciting attacking football throughout the match. Valencia had demonstrated in La Liga and also in the first leg of this clash that they are capable of getting a positive result at Camp Nou. Barcelona turned out to be the better team, both in terms of score-line and also performance. However, it was Valencia who found their golden chance first:
Valencia’s chance: blind-side run
Here we can see Barcelona was employing a relatively high defensive line (just about 15 yards behind half-way line) as Valencia had the ball just across the half-way line. The important technical detail is that the Valencia player with the ball was under no immediate pressure and was able to look up for a runner.
If we take a look at Barcelona’s defense line’s shape, it is far from satisfactory because Pique was out of position and pressing the ball with Mascherano taking his place as CB for now. However, he’s not providing any cover nor depth to his colleague as you can see, he’s the highest defender now.
Furthermore, credit to Valencia’s forwards. While the one nearer to the ball did his job and made that run that took all the attention (and his markers) away, the one on the far side was doing a good job lurking behind Abidal’s blind-side (we have witnessed this season how vulnerable he is on his blind-side).
Worst still, the run from the Valencia forward split Barcelona’s defense badly (helped by Mascherano and Abidal’s poor positioning) and created that big gap for the ball to be played in. Valencia did everything right to take advantage of Barcelona’s defense line until the last bit. To be fair, the first touch from Sofiane Feghouli could be better with all those space in front of him. Nonetheless, this was a piece of great attack.
Barcelona’s first goal: running from deep
Valencia failed to score by taking the chance presented by Barcelona while Barcelona pretty much created their own from scratch.
There’s no way you can stop this team of Barcelona from scoring and the reason is Messi. With his dribbling ability, teams can only try to overload him if he’s in dangerous area; but as teams overload him, spaces are given away for his teammates and he can always deliver that pass at the right split second. Moreover, even if you surround him with 5 or 6 players, it’s still possible he can dribble his way out. Here, he demonstrated his tremendous passing ability.
Valencia was deploying a high defense line with 1 defender dropping a bit to provide the depth and cover (whether this was part of the defensive plan is unknown but whether he should be the last defender is questionable; usually the defender on the far side should drop deeper as he’s in a better position to cover central area and if the ball is played over his head, it’ the less dangerous area). Everything else seemed alright at that moment except Messi had the ball on his feet comfortably and was looking up. Fabregas, staying in a relatively deep position also saw that and started running into that huge space.
The pass from Messi was perfect and landed exactly in front of Fabregas who out-ran all the Valencia defenders. (That’s why I question the positioning of the ‘last man’ because he had to turn and run in this case; and as you can see, he failed to catch Fabregas) Valencia’s keeper Alves had no chance to rush out because the ball landed outside of the box and Cesc was close to the ball. Alves hesitated a bit which helped Fabregas to finish by lobbing the ball over his head sweetly.
These 2 examples could best demonstrate to players ‘when, where and how to make forward runs’ and the opposite theme: ‘when, where and how to drop as a defensive unit’. At the highest level, when a good passer is off pressure, even only for half a second, that is the cue for both attackers and defenders to react swiftly. More importantly, be always ready by adopting good body stance and checking the environment all the time because that ‘window of opportunity’ can come any second.