Posts tagged ‘Total Football’

June 28, 2012

Why Spain look disjointed at times

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The Spanish side can’t perfectly be divided into Barcelona and Real Madrid players as we sometimes oversimplify, however it can be divided roughly into these two groups. Of course, having a squad consiting three quaters of the two best teams in the world is something of a miracle for any national coach, and something which very rarely occurs. However the side clearly does not destroy and annihilate sides as well as either of the club teams. However, this is less to do with the conventional wisdom that the side ‘lacks Messi’ and is more to do with the greatly disparaging styles of play the players are accustomed to.

When Spain retain the ball in their own half the defenders can be pressed into giving the ball back to the goalkeeper, a universal fact about football. For Barcelona this by default sees the centre backs spread wide either side of the box whilst the full backs push wider and further ahead, and the central defensive midfielder, often Busquets, drops deeper as well as Xavi to provide further link up. This means Victor Valdes becoming effectively another outfield player, and his good footwork will distribute the ball out to the defenders and continue the carousel, until the pressing opposition are disheartened or are exposed for having come too far out of position.

Yet at Madrid their ideology is the polar opposite. Mourinho instills a directness into their play that uses Di Maria and Ronaldo as outballs circling Benzema, whilst Ozil provides link up. The build up play is much more simplistic, with Ramos and Pepe encouraged to launch the ball forward and the side to capitalise on opposition mistakes with their pace and power. Casillas hence has a very different role, as any pressure on the centre backs sees the ball knocked back to the keeper who will take a touch to adjust himself, the centre backs push forward to squeeze the play and make space tighter, whilst Casillas thumps the ball in the direction of the attackers. This approach, though more primitive in it’s make up can be as effective as Barca’s total football, however the polarisation of these two styles is clear, and gives Del Bosque a difficult task. Throw in the other players that make up the side; David Silva and Jordi Alba used to more possession based styles and Torres more familiar with direct play and Del Bosque has a difficult job fitting these players into a cohesive style.

Del Bosque to his credit has chosen to emulate the Barca style of ball retention and tecnhique above power and opportunism. However recreating this is not entirely easy with players that have spent the past two years contesting headers, playing with aggression and putting balls into dangerous areas. The result is as strange hybrid that sees the aforementioned scenario become a convoluted one. For Spain, Xavi if pressed will lay the ball off to Alonso who for lack of options would switch the ball back to the centre backs and himself move forward in anticipation of the ball being delivered long. Ramos will play the ball back to Casillas then, instead moving wide to create space to keep the ball he will jog forward. Casillas is clearly the most unsuited to the tika taka style, and as a goalkeeper this is no real surprise, as he will often hesitate to play a pass, being much more comfortable bashing the ball forward and as far away from his goal as possible. Xavi and Busquets will sigh as their purist hopes of keeping the ball under all circumstances are dashed and the Madrid players will continue unknowingly. Similarly, Xabi Alonso, an epert exponent of the long, accurate pass and the switch to the flanks, will do this without consideration to how it will stretch Spain, and see the reciever of the pass vastly outnumbered by opposition players.

The consequence of this is a side that preforms with neither the ruthlessness of Real Madrid or the possession obssessed approach of Barcelona. Remarkably though, the Spanish players are so technically adept that possession at around 65% is still almost a norm. Thus, the opposition rarely sees sight of the ball let alone goal scoring chances, whilst the individual creativity of Iniesta, Silva, Xavi and Fabregas usually leads to an opening at the other end, meaning that, depsite lacking cohesion from time to time and appearing disjointed, they are so absurdly good that they are still coasting towards winning this tournament anyway.

Cruyff’s ideology is indoctrinated into Barca players from grass roots level

June 24, 2012

Why Xavi rarely plays a cross field pass

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A number of times against France, Spain would win possession in the middle of the pitch, or in their own half and after a few interchanging passes between the Spainish midfieldiers the ball would often fall to the feet of Xavi with Arbeloa breaking down the right and in an abundance of space, barely being tracked by Clichy, who either hadn’t yet covered from a push on of his own, or had tucked inside too much when he was defending, which would happen frequently as Spain’s control of the ball is often in such tight and concentrated areas. However, Xavi would look up and see the option, yet sparingly use it. Often he’d play a short pass to Xabi Alonso, who would be much more likely to do it himself, but Xavi almost couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The reason for this is a nod to Barcelona’s fluid system, where Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola have conditioned this new age Barca into moving as a team collectively, rather than relying on individuals to further attacks. The small passes ensure that the team, step by step, move cohesively towards the opponents goal. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly, it is the total football vision of attacking, every player interchangable and every player working as one unit, one unit with the shared understading of moving the ball with short passes until a player is presented with the easiest shot possible. The second is that it contributes massively defensively. By moving the ball such small distances, the ball is never far away from the mass of players, where the players are grouped. This means that if possession is conceded, or even if it is retained, the shape of the team is never stretched and so attacks are more fluid, and defensively they never lose possession in an area where there aren’t a large group of players that, by pressing hard, can get the ball back as quickly as possible.

There are a few exceptions to this. Firstly, if the ball is a final ball that puts a striker in, then it is a more risky ball that cuts through the defence perfectly to put an attacker through and will be taken even if it stretches the side, as it will result in a goal scoring chance. Secondly, Dani Alves is used in a kind of cross field pass for Barcelona. However, the crucial difference is that the Barca entourage quickly move over towards him to regain that shape, whilst Spain on the other hand are not as quick to do this or as understanding of this concept, and so a cross field ball isolates the wide player more and loses that fludity and cohesion.

Hence, when Xavi looks up and sees Arbeloa 20 yards away to his right, where Xabi Alonso would slice a ball perfectly out to the flank, there is a response in the Barcelona captain, conditioned by hours and hours of training for the past 21 years, which tells him the pass should be a short one, to keep the side’s shape and honour the idea of fluidity above all else.

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