Simplicity in football is genius

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Barcelona v Sevilla - La Liga

I was fortunate enough to get to both Arsenal and Man City’s Champions’ League games during the week; City welcomed Barca on Tuesday, with Arsenal hosting current champion’s, Bayern Munich, the following evening. The stage was set for the Premier Leagues’ strongest, versus, arguably, Europe’s elite, as both English clubs had the unenviable prospect of facing opposite that have a share of nine European trophies.

Strains of the Premier League

Whilst we consider the Premier League to be the major league in the world, you cannot help ignore the factors that contribute towards it being such a entertaining league; such as the constant mental and physical challenges that make it so appealing worldwide, yet it also creates a hinderance on our team’s progress in such competitions as the UCL.

A couple of things struck me about both European superpowers. Firstly, how little they seemed to run compared to their English counterparts. And secondly, how simply they passed the ball. It’s easy to make a case for the physical data; less possession equates to more running, therefore increasing the distance both City and Arsenal covered. In addition to this, they both went down to ten with plenty of time still to play; even more running to cover the positions left by those players dismissed.

Just pass it simple!

The second point is difficult to make a case for. Short, simple, accurate passing. Why is it English sides cannot do this as well as the stronger European sides? As a player, I certainly fall foul of this, particularly getting the ball forward far too early. If you think of the British mentally towards passing, you only have to think of the unfair criticism aimed at Michael Carrick. Carrick never risks the ball, he’s often considered a negative kind of player as a result – which I strongly disagree with – because if he was a foreign player, particularly Spanish, he’d be seen in a different light. He’d certainly be honoured and appreciated for his role within the national setup, think of him as a Busquets – if anything Carrick possesses better attributes than the Spaniard in my opinion.

Curious to find a correlation between how Europe’s top sides passed the ball, I spoke with friends over at @Prozonesports and here’s their findings.

UCL-Passing-Analysis.xlsx

The data above, supports what I saw during both games:

  • More passes per minute from Barca and Bayern
  • A higher percentage of successful passes between Barca and Bayern
  • Fewer forward passes, but more successful forward passes from Barca and Bayern in comparison
  • However, I didn’t notice the increased number of touches per possession (2.55 vs 2.00)

In summary, Barca and Bayern passed the ball quicker, more often, shorter, simpler and more accurately than their English counterparts. I’d argue the success of both these teams is partly due to the manner in which they tire out their opponents, because the likelihood of making a mistake increases when you’re fatigued. People may argue that this data is biased based on the fact both English sides where reduced to ten men, and whilst I agree both English sides had spells within each game, in a competition over two legs, I think the percentages favour the stronger European sides.

Look at the City Barca stats here in detail. Pre and Post, Demichelis seeing red.

Barca v City

Lets focus on Barca. Most of their passing stats remain roughly the same before and after the red card for City. The only significant difference is the amount of passes before a shot is taken by Barca players (401.0 vs 145.4). The data also suggests Barca weren’t forceful in playing the ball forward (6 shots post sending off, we’re inside City’s area!).

Believing in your ability

The data helps to support Barca’s beliefs in their own philosophy – that keeping the ball is key to their success. There were no dramatic changes to their tactics after the sending off; other than they became more accurate and had slightly fewer touches per possession – a likely indication they were moving the ball around faster as a result of the extra space.

For me, as a player, it was a privilege to see Europe’s elite. Not once did I see players attempting to dribble past 3-4 players, doing lollipops and nutmegs. What I did see was players passing and playing simply, supporting the player in possession and not being afraid to play backwards in order to keep their team in control of the ball. It will certainly effect the way I approach the art of possession going forward as a player, now, and a potential coach for the future. Short, sharp, accurate passing is an admirable playing style that captures the essence of how football should be played, and that’s why the likes of Barca and Bayern play some of the world’s most entertaining football.

Simplicity is genius. It was my pleasure to watch these modern football genii at work.

A special thanks to everyone over at Prozone Sports for providing this week’s data.

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14 comments
ArthurDent
ArthurDent

>  Not once did I see players attempting to dribble past 3-4 players, doing lollipops and nutmegs

Yes but even in the great Barca, we see Messi often do slalom through 3-4 players because he can.

Balance is the key as is timing when it comes to 1v1.

Too many teams take the Barca thing to the extreme and believe that doing technical moves is a bad thing yet even Barca doesnt play that way.

Extremes and this is the only way to play mentality is what gives us crab football:.

if you have a top notch technical player that has 1v1 skills, you have to use them.... at the right place on the field, at the right time.

The year Real beat (the latest greatest team ever) Barca to the title, they proved that tikitaka-ball control to the utmost isnt the only way to win. Real didnt park the bus but scored more goals than anyone ever did in Spain and they did it by playing the equivalent of the famed NBA Phoenix Suns 7 Seconds or Less offence (the great Steve Nash years), ultra quick counterattacks.


I liked Heynckes Bayern team last year more than this years because it found a perfect balance between ball control and allowing the Ribery's and Robben's to use their 1v1 skills quickly and at the right moment.


alfi
alfi

Just to add to my comment earlier, here a quote from Franz Beckenbauer, stolen from the BBC's football gossip site: Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer says the club's tactics are becoming unwatchable.

The former captain and manager, known as Der Kaiser, was unimpressed with their performance after the Bundesliga club knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League.

"In the end, it'll be like Barcelona, unwatchable," he said, referring to Bayern manager Pep Guardiola's previous team and their tiki-taka passing game. They will pass the ball back even on the goal-line".

May we look to him as an expert?

MattyCook
MattyCook

Great website and great topics. 

JimBritton92
JimBritton92

Learn how to punctuate properly, it's not that hard.

 

Frank_amod
Frank_amod

I'd like to see some data on Bayern last year under Jupp Heynckes vs Peps Bayern this year. Although both have quality which you would expect. Heynckes Bayern seemed to be more direct and more lethal. The tiki taka is all good in theory but for me is incomplete and has been surpassed. If you look at the Bayern & Dortmund of last season they played more direct football. A mixture of possession, incisive counter attacks and a more direct at times, high intensity/tempo passing... Personally this is the way forward. Another example would be Liverpool which have adopted this style more than just the tika taka. Given a better squad, a few of Bayern's defensive minded players perhaps they would be in l leading the EPL. Also the fact of the matter is that City before the red cards looked to be settling into the game and like they'd more then hold their own. Arsenal on the other hand looked for majority of the time the better side. Added to the context the fact that their lone striker was Sonago- inexperienced and far from world class.

Then again I'm just a football fan... not like it's an expert opinion

Clydefrog
Clydefrog

Didn't Swansea try play that way under laudrup, with average premiership players they're still finished in a average position in the league whilst dominating opposition in possession in most games.

I think Swansea played this possession game at a higher speed and tempo than barca, and this is coz of the premier league crowd does this. We are louder and want excitement unlike the Spanish crowds we love the physical game side to it also,, if a player does a great sliding tackle the crowd will cheer like its a goal in some cases.

All in all like Alfie before me just said barca have kinda spoiled the game and made it boring to watch, thank god for Dortmund last year in the champions league who was a breath of fresh air. That's how you play the game in the correct manner.

alfi
alfi

Interesting article; dare I say more interesting than watching Barca play? They do not, for me, play attractive voetbal. It's too slow, too laboured. It feels negative.

After Ajax's debacle thursday, there was an article in Holland about posession and passing, compared to american football. If those statistics were applied to the dutch league, Ajax would be 14th judged on the amount of yards gained.

Give me a good attacking team, and not one that takes 20 minutes to complete a series of passes which eventually leads to 3 shots in a half in which they faced 11 men!

It's not football, its ballet. It is technically brilliant and impressive, but does not belong on the football pitch. 

Give me a Man. city, as they have been playing in the premier league this year, anytime above boring Barca. (And I'm not a City fan!)

damm123
damm123

I remember growing up playing we were always thought 'if in doubt put it out' or if any pressure came on us get rid of it and never roll the ball into midfield. I lived in Argentina for a couple of years and at underage level all they play over there is futsal and they are nearly murdered for aimlessly punting the ball away , I remember no scores being kept and they received a penalty if you nutmeged your opponent (which was quite comical) all things aimed at improving technique and ability on the ball and not aimed at parents trying to live through their kids and win at all costs mentality of British underage football .being able to play passing football you need all players including the keeper to be confident enough in their ability to make and receive passes which is inexplicably drilled out of youngsters in this side of the Europe and I can't see any improvement on the horizon unless drastic changes and youth level are made here.

MJTaiza2004
MJTaiza2004

Clear observations, but will this approach (the Guardiola way) work without a superior team? He had it with Barcelona, and now perhaps even more with FC Bayern?

mattgwilson92
mattgwilson92

I would be interested to see the stats on Arsenal v Bayern Munich up until either the Gibbs injury or the red card. Very interesting article though, particularly coming from someone within the English game.

mattyoung1990
mattyoung1990

Good article.  However, first paragraph, last sentence... who was playing Chelsea?

RamyBenKemla
RamyBenKemla

@alfi sorry 4 u dude , barça are kings , find another team to support

alfi
alfi

@RamyBenKemla @alfi  Never did believe in the monarchy!! For me (and there lies the emphasis) what they do, as clever as it is, is not football, certainly not football the way I like it to be played. They are artists, agreed, but I want athletes, sportsmen.