Barcelona continued their form from last week’s El Clasico and scored six times against Luis Enrique’s former side, Roma. For Raul Garcia, this defeat was in line with the 7-1 thrashing by Bayern Munich last season. Enrique, in his 4-3-3 system, brought back Lionel Messi and Thomas Vermaelen to the starting lineup and rested Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano. Garcia also lined up his squad in a 4-3-3 system.

Line ups
Starting lineups and formations of both the teams.

Man-marking and poor defensive shapes of Roma

Roma deployed man-marking approach like Bayern Munich did in the first 15 minutes of the first leg of Champions League semi-final last season. Like Bayern, Roma too maintained a high-defensive line. Much like Bayern, Roma too was ragged by Messi-Neymar-Suarez’s runs into the space behind the defense.

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Roma man-marking.

Nainggolan marked Rakitic, Keita marked Roberto, Maicon and Lucas Digne marked Neymar and Messi respectively. Wingers Florenzi and Flaque marked Jordi Alba and Dani Alves.

Due to this, the visiting side was losing its shape during defending leading to grotesque structures. As an impact of this, the transition to attacking phase was very tough and not smooth. Roma players were all at sea when the ball was being won back from the home side.

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Roma in a 7-0-3 ish shape. Even if the ball is regained, it is not possible for Roma to launch an effective attack.

The man-marking scheme was resulting in the opening of gaps in the lines of formation and the widening of the space between the lines. Here’s a case in which Busquets, after receiving the pass, has the choice of playing the ball into either of the half-spaces with angled passes or lob over the defensive line to connect with Suarez. The angled passes have the ability to release Messi and Neymar into the space behind the defenders.

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Gaps in the midfield and defensive lines indicated by the white strips.

Barcelona’s second goal showed how poorly Roma pressed. The final set of passes leading to Messi’s goal was played in the left half-space. Twice Roma had the chance of aggressively pressing and closing down the passage of play and both the times, the players remained passive.

Roma’s high defensive line and poor pressing

Roma kept a high defensive line. Coupled with man-marking this proved to be disastrous for Garcia’s team. The backline was usually being stretched and spaced were being created in front of it. Barcelona’s players found it easy to attack the spaces in front and behind the defenders.

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Uncovered spaces around the high defensive line.

This kind of made it easy for the forwards of Barcelona to run riot in these spaces. The high line was exploited by playing long balls from deep.

Roma rarely pressed with intensity and even when they did it was not in a planned manner and so Barcelona players at the back were escaping it quite easily. With Busquets finding space and time in the middle, launching long balls was not a problem.

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Poor pressing after the ball is lost. Opens space in the midfield.
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Poor transition due to poor pressing. Alves and Messi have the choice of playing the ball to midfield or playing long passes.

Barcelona’s attacks: Half-spaces and diagonal passes

Barcelona played to its strength by altering its formations depending on its needs to force Roma into different shapes. Barcelona played with 2-3-5 when it needed to pull Roma’s tightly marking central midfielders out of position. This was resulting in 5v6 at the back for Barcelona, helping them in playing balls over the defence. It also provided space for Messi to drop into the midfield and support the build-ups.

2-3-5
2-3-5 formation of Barcelona.

Barcelona played with a 3-4-3 to draw the man-marking wingers of Roma out of deep positions. This was allowing Barcelona to concentrate on overloading one half-space and attacking the underloaded one with a diagonal pass.

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Barcelona in a 3-4-3 shape.

 

Barcelona built the attacks by concentrating on the half-spaces. Given the fact that Garcia had sent out his central midfielders – Seydou Keita and Radja Nainggolan to man mark Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic, this task of targeting the half-space became more easy for the home team players. The widespread attacking shape of Barcelona was opening a gap in the middle through which Roma was being exploited.

With Miralem Pjanic moving up to play alongside Edin Dzeko in pressing Barcelona during build-ups, Roma was changing to a 4-4-2 system without the ball. But due to this Sergio Busquets was becoming free to move sideways to pick angled passes in half-spaces from Gerard Pique and Vermaelen.

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Busquets is again free.

Positioning in half-space provides an upper hand in dislodging defences. In Dortmund’s win over Schalke, Shinji Kagawa by positioning in left half-space created confusion amongst Schalke midfielders. The two possible passes and the accompanying passing sequences opened up the space between Schalke’s defensive and midfield lines.

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This picture illustrates the advantages of playing the ball in the half-space.

Similarly, Busquets was finding space and time in the half-spaces to put pressure on Roma’s defenders. Here’s a case from the fourth minute of the game.

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Busquets in left half-space picks out Messi close to the right half-space.

Here, Busquets has left behind five Roma players and has placed a pass to Messi, who along with Rakitic has 2v3 situation in the right half-space. Due to superior quality over Roma in that 2v3 zone, Messi shoots and is denied by Szczesny.

This picture also depicts Roma’s defensive problems. They are not having compactness and the defensive positioning doesn’t have a proper structure. The lump of five players in the first half can clog Barcelona’s pass through the left half-space, but it is of no importance elsewhere. Busquets’ diagonal ball to Messi beats those five players easily.

 

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Barcelona switching to the under-loaded side using a diagonal ball.

 

Hybrid pressing

To recover the ball, the Blaugrana adopted a hybrid of two pressing styles – man oriented, space oriented and passing lane oriented pressing. Here we can Messi blocking the passing lane while Rakitic pressuring from the back. Suarez is marking a player out and considering blocking a potential pass. Four other Barcelona players have man-marked, for a small period, four potential pass destinations.

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Hybrid pressing – man and passing lane oriented.
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Hybrid pressing – man and space oriented.

Barcelona’s crescent shaped pressing structure. Positioned in such a way so as to maximize access to the ball. Also, there are two forwards to pass to and continue the attack after winning the ball.

 

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Barcelona’s crescent shaped pressing structure. Positioned in such a way so as to maximize access to the ball.

 

Conclusion

Although, Roma changed their style a bit in the second half, the damage was already done by Barcelona in the first half. Also, changing from  non-pressing to high pressing scheme disrupted the coordination between the players. This allowed Barcelona more space in the middle in the second half. Overall, it was a poor defensive performance by the visiting side.

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