Barcelona in Defense

By Stevie Grieve

This post is the first of two looking at Barcelona’s methods and tactics from the Champions League Final versus Juventus. This week we look at Barcelona’s defending process.

Set Pieces; Pique the spare man in mixed marking system

Barcelona have only conceded one goal from set pieces all season while Juventus are a dangerous team from them, so this may have been a game where Barcelona may have been legitimately worried about conceding from a set play. With Barcelona’s lack of height in comparison to Juventus, Gerard Pique’s role in defending set pieces would be key – the only player other than Sergio Busquets and GK Marc-Andre Ter Stegen above 6ft2 and capable of competing in the air.


As the ball is delivered, we see Pique is the spare man with nobody close to him and makes an easy header away to launch a counter attack from a defensive set play.


When Barcelona set up at corners, they defended the front zone with Luis Suarez, Pique spare on the edge of the 6yard box and the rest of the team man-man, making their best efforts to disrupt the movement of the Juventus players and protecting Pique to allow him access to the ball to win the header as the spare man, front zone, centre or back – Pique was to judge the flight and win it.

Juventus won a couple of headers at the back post in the 2nd half, Pogba in particular had a good chance but overall, Barcelona defended set pieces relatively well, Suarez launching a counter from one corner at the front post resulting in a shot from 15m from Suarez in the opposition box.

Defensive positional rotation; Rakitic covers Alves

Often, Alves would push forward into right wing or into central midfield as he and Rakitic often rotate positions in attack, but as a result, Rakitic will often have to cover for Alves in defence if he is too far away to cover. Sometimes, Alves would follow his direct opponent; Pogba – into the centre when he drifted inside, and Rakitic would rotate outside to right back and cover Alves.


Alves has drifted into centre midfield then moves to help in possession, and is drawn over to the left side, here, Rakitic is the right back position as Suarez reacts late to cover the right hand side in almost a 4-2-3-1 defensive shape, Suarez is too high as he is not natural player in this position.


As Alves drifts inside with Pogba, Rakitic drops back into the right back position to cover Evra. If Alves lets Pogba cut inside, he can be free to shoot, or find an attacking pass. Rakitic dropping into right back while Alves man-marks works well as Alves becomes a defensive midfielder and both positions are covered, albeit by rotating positions defensively.

Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic move out of line to close down the space of the central midfielders

With 4 v 3 in central midfield; often 2 of Messi, Suarez or Neymar would drop onto the lateral central midfielders, as Rakitic, Busquets or Iniesta would press high to close off the space and passing angles available to each player. This forced play back and allowed Barcelona to organise.


Rakitic pushes forward v Pogba as Suarez drops onto Pirlo from the kick off, Messi blocks the passing lane to Evra as Neymar pushes forward to close down the far side space.


This time, Busquets presses onto Pogba as Alves is in central midfield (covered by Rakitic) with a clear 4-4-1-1 shape being formed with Busquets pressing out of zone.


As the game wore on, the pressure Barcelona put onto the midfield of Juventus in deep positions forced mistakes and turnovers inside the Juventus half, the pressure giving less time on the ball and as a result, misplaced passes into players who were ready to press quickly onto any possible receiver based on the body shape of the player with the ball, being able to read the next pass before it was played.


This pressure from Iniesta was constant throughout the game and eventually led to a goal from Neymar, which was given as a handball (correctly) in the 71st minute. Jordi Alba intercepted the wide pass then drove quickly towards goal on the attacking transition, before crossing into Neymar.

Juventus sometimes could by-pass the pressure when the body shape was open and the midfield were connected, but after Barcelona went 2-1 up, the midfield started to get closer to the forwards for more direct passes and this made it more difficult for the deep midfielders to find team mates in safe positions away from pressure, resulting in interceptions such as this one.

Wide forwards cover lateral central midfielders to overload midfield 5v4

When Barcelona couldn’t exert quick pressure from someone in midfield pushing high, often we would see the wide forwards drop onto the lateral central midfielders of Juventus. This was to create a 5v4 advantage in central midfield with rough man-marking duties to discourage passes to the midfield 4 of Juventus and marking by Busquets v Vidal, Messi v Pogba, Neymar v Marchisio and Suarez v Pirlo. This left Iniesta and Rakitic free to cover spaces, press higher and shift to the man left by a ‘marker’ to press the wide pass.


We can see the front 3 of Messi, Neymar and Suarez all dropped to mark the midfielders as Rakitic and Iniesta are free in the centre to block direct passes through the middle, and to shift from zonal to man-marking when the marker ie Messi presses Evra on the touchline, Rakitic marks Pogba.


We can see here that When Pirlo is safe in possession, that Iniesta have covered the pass to Marchisio while Messi blocks the pass to Evra as Pogba drifts high into the Alves zone (out of image), we have the 2 spare central midfielders covering the centre spare and able to change role with each pass and change of marking responsibility between zonal or man-man depending on the ball position, team mate position, opponent position and where the space is.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics and From Futsal to Soccer

Attacking Barcelona

By Stevie Grieve

This post continues our look at the Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona. This week we look at Juventus’ attacking process.

Isolate the centre backs 1v1 in wide areas

When playing with 2 centre forwards in a defensive based system, the natural idea is to isolate the centre backs 1v1 in transition, and to try and take them on and go direct to goal. For Juventus, both strikers are quick and good in 1v1 play, so isolating the centre backs in wide areas would be a natural way to play with 2v2 at the back.


Mascherano is dragged wide by Morata who takes 1 touch and knocks it past Mascherano and enters the final 3rd with Tevez and Vidal in support, which results in Vidal blazing a cutback over.


Morata this time in a wide area against Pique on the left, with Tevez and Vidal again the 2 supporting players, this time a cutback is made towards Tevez but Mascherano blocks it.


This time, Barcelona block forward passes but Pogba is capable of running with the ball past players. As this happens in the centre, Vidal and Tevez break wide with Morata deeper with again, 3 players in the attacking phase.

Attacking from the left side

When Juventus won possession, they tried to attack quickly and direct to the goal, looking to isolate the centre backs 1v1 but if not, attacking behind Alves down the left side, often with the dribbling ability of Tevez and Pogba, but more often in the 2nd half through Patrice Evra on the overlap.


Tevez dribbles at Dani Alves then enters the box from the left side, drawing over Pique from the front zone and looking to cross to Morata v Mascherano with Marchisio arriving late on the edge.


Evra could occasionally get forward once Pogba drifted inside with the ball and Rakitic (who would often rotate positions with Alves) and find himself in a crossing position with Morata and Tevez 1v1.


Again, Evra is the player attacking on the left with Vidal and Pogba towards the back post, Tevez and Marchisio towards the front zone.


In the 2nd half, we saw more of Evra attacking from deeper positions in possession as Juventus opened up to attack Barcelona while 1-0 down. This was to help force back Alba and Alves who has been the spare players in Barcelona’s attack in the 1st half, so spending more time attacking the Barcelona half could potentially limit the influence the full backs could have in attack.

Note: Liechtsteiner in the centre next to Iniesta, both full backs in the midfield line but Liechtsteiner staying close to Iniesta to cover him in transition.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics and From Futsal to Soccer

UEFA Champions League Final – Part 3

By Stevie Grieve

Vulnerable to the switch of play especially Messi-Neymar or Alba on the left

Barcelona exploit this via switching play to Neymar / Jordi Alba
The biggest problem with Juventus playing closer to the left side (Messi’s side) and compacting the space is that the defensive and midfield chains get dragged across to cover for each player moving across, resulting in a lack of protection on the far side.

Often Neymar would drag Liechtsteiner inside, while Jordi Alba made late runs from deep and exploit the space 2v1. The 1st goal comes from this, resulting in Bonucci being drawn across to deal with Neymar while Vidal failed to track Iniesta who passes to Rakitic for the opening goal.


Here, we can see the

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UEFA Champions League Final – Part 2

By Stevie Grieve

Evra pressing out of the defensive line to close down Messi, Rakitic or Alves at RW

As Messi plays the deepest of the Barcelona front 3, Patrice Evra was tasked to push out of the defensive line and play close to Messi, usually with Paul Pogba but often with Vidal close to Messi (Pogba moved to RM on 30 minutes for 6 minutes then back to LM).

When Evra pressed ahead of the defensive line, it often would leave a large space for Suarez, Alves or Rakitic to move into, which would draw the Juve defensive line over and leave them ‘over compact’ and vulnerable to a switch of play, particularly from Messi to Neymar or Jordi Alba.

Messi has been closed down but not enough to impact where he will dribble into and release the ball as the exit diagonally hasn’t been sufficiently closed enough as the

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UEFA Champions League Final – Part 1

By Stevie Grieve

Juventus v Barcelona

In what proved to be a fantastic game of football both technically and tactically, the team with the most flair in attack proved to be the winners, but it was a game of defensive organisation in both teams, particularly in defensive transitions where both teams were incredibly quick to get back into position form an attacking phase, then become organised. Some clever tactical implementations where used, such as Ivan Rakitic and Dani Alves rotating positions defensively when the right back zone needed covered, and Gerard Pique playing as a single ‘defensive target’ when Barcelona defended.

We also saw Massimiliano Allegri block the influence of Lionel Messi in a penetrative way, not stopping his influence completely as he was able to open up the play with his range of passing and be a danger even 40m from goal, instead of the position we have become accustomed to seeing him in recent years as a false 9 and being the

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4-2-3-1 Defending Numbers Up Against 4-2-3

This article is an excerpt from our new best-selling book, Coaching the 4-2-3-1 by Stevie Grieve.

The Blacks play 4-2-3-1 v the Yellow 4-2-3 formation. The Yellows play 9 v 10 and when they win possession, look to counter attack quickly over the line with passes and dribbles. Players must not go chasing the ball and remember the distances between players are important, and moving forward to close down passing angles while closing off passing lanes into midfield are a crucial element of the defensive strategy. Above, the right back is in possession. The full back plays close to the winger, leaving a back 3 as the far side full back tucks in. The 2 holding players cover the spaces making an ‘M’ formation, playing close to the attacking midfielder and stopping passes into him. The 3 attacking midfielders press the ball and closest passing options, with the far side player playing almost in line with

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