***Editor's Note: We will occasionally promote (and edit) outstanding FanPosts on the main page. I've deemed this post sufficiently interesting to merit front-page status. Enjoy! -Gabe***
Perhaps more than anything, the overdose of Clasicos in the past year, have been a battle between two of the best coaches in the world in a classic chess match. Despite our bad record, these matches have been advantageous for us in the sense that they have allowed us to test various formations and tactics against a -though I hate myself for admitting to this- sensational team. It's hard to picture how many years we would have had to go through without beating Barcelona or winning a trophy if these numerous clasicos were to be played in their usual time frame (5 years?).
Mourinho and Guardiola have constantly tried to cancel out each other's game plans. Despite Mourinho being the better tactician, Guardiola has come out the victor in almost all of our encounters with the team in blue and red. The reason for that is the fluidity of Barcelona who constantly switch their positions and try different ways to score. Real Madrid, on the other hand, have been one dimension much like Netherlands were against Spain in the World Cup final.
What's going to be Guardiola's next plan? It's hard to tell, but I'm betting my money on a counterattacking style that will incorporate their passing. I'm sure many can remember Fabregas when he was wearing the Arsenal jersey and the way he opened up the defense with his over the head passes, putting the ball behind the defenders. He has not been doing that a lot in Barcelona because of the way that Xavi and Iniesta are given control of the game. However, it isn't hard to imagine that against Madrid, Barcelona can deploy themselves as shown below, with Messi playing (almost) as a midfielder, drawing out our defense (which would be high anyways if we are pressing), leaving tons of space for Fabregas to exploit. Iniesta could then be pushed up to the wing along with Alexis. Playing Messi ahead of the defense will give Fabregas and Xavi the time and space that they need. So effectively Barcelona would be playing a 4-3-1-2. They will keep the ball in their own half the way they like to do, and get men behind the ball, asking us to pressure them, at which time they can quickly counter attack, perhaps switching to 4-2-3-1 (sound familiar?) with Fabregas and Busquets as the defensive midfielders.
Why would this tactic work for Barcelona? For one thing, it is not very different from how they usually play. But the full answer to this question can be found in the World Cup 2010 final between Spain (Barcelona) and Netherlands (Real Madrid). Netherlands used a high-pressure system, disrupting Barcelona's passing, and creating chances for themselves. They also played a very physical game and used counter attacks involving Van Persie (Ronaldo),Sneijder (Ozil), and Robben (Di Maria) as their main weapon. Although this worked for the majority of the game, the introduction of Fabregas into midfield and moving Iniesta higher up the pitch seemed to have solved their problems.Guardiola does not need to look much further from that game to see a possible solution to our current plan. IfMourinho is to outsmart Guardiola, he needs to introduce fluidity (and a few surprises) into the team while conserving what has seemed to work best against Barcelona.
Before discussing Mourinho's possible tactics, there are a few issues that should be pointed out with our team in last week's "el clasico". Although Coentrao was a solid defender, he did not add much to the attack. In addition, not only did Arbeloa not defend well, he had close to zero influence on the attack, which added pressure to Ozil. This raises an important question...is Arbeloa our only choice? Maybe not, considering we have Sergio Ramos on the squad.
There's a chance to resolve our defensive problems as well as the lack of input from our fullbacks. What Marcelo adds to this team is sometimes overlooked; he has great chemistry with Ronaldo and Di Maria (something we saw in the Copa final last year). Yet because he leaves too much space behind he cannot be used as a left back against Barcelona. Moving Marcelo to the CB position on the left, using Coentrao as the LB, and Pepe as our other CB can be a possible solution to this problem. As can been seen above, Ramos can now push up the field as RB to help out with the attack. Marcelo can also run up to join the midfield. Essential to this formation is the inclusion of Khedira (orAltintop) in the midfield, once Marcelo or Ramos run up and Barcelona counterattack, Khedira can quickly insert himself into the defense allowing Marcelo or Ramos to take on the defensive midfielder role (they have enough speed to recover to that position quickly). This would work best with the inclusion of Di Maria as CAM who would both attack and defend, thereby giving Alonso more space.
There are several advantages to this tactic:
1. Real Madrid would not be as predictable as they are right now.
2. Our better attacking defenders can actually lend a hand in pressurizing Barcelona.
3. Once, we are ahead and want to defend our lead (or if Marcelo has a yellow card), he can be substituted forArbeloa, pushing Ramos to the centre back position.
4. inclusion of Marcelo would allow Ronaldo to move the centre forward position (where he has been most efficient) and Karim Benzema to the left wing. Ozil can then do his magic on the right wing, using Di Maria's assistance to cause havoc.
5. Conversely, Ozil can run inside and Ramos can run up the right wing enabling Ronaldo to form a partnership with Marcelo and Di Maria (just like in the Copa final).
6. We would have more control over the midfield, essentially having Di Maria, Alonso, Marcelo, Khedira with help from Ozil to defend against Messi, Xavi, Fabregas, Busquet (as described above).
7. Players such as Kaka, Sahin, Altintop, Lass, or Granero can easily be introduced from the bench without jeopardizing our attacking or defensive powers.
Thankfully, the depth of the squad gives us many options with regards to our team selection against Barcelona, but in case of injuries to key players like Di Maria, Khedira, and Ozil, this system could be one possible option to cancel out Barcelona's counter attacks.
What do you guys think? Do you see this as a possible formation? Could this system work? Should it be tested out in other Liga games?