Ancelotti Disaster or Xavi’s Magic? – El Clasico Analysis

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Barcelona destroyed Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu (4:0).  The match can be perceived both as a comedy of Carlo Ancelotti’s mistakes and as an indicator of the progress of Xavi’s team.  Let’s take a look at both sides.

 1. At Madrid, Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema missed the meeting due to injuries.  The first has recently been replaced by Nacho.  There is no second worthy replacement, which forced Carlo Ancelotti to go on a tactical search.  Back-up strikers Luka Jovic and Mariano Diaz were left on the bench, while a squad without a clean forward and four central midfielders entered the field.  When defending in the top lane at 4-4-2, as a rule, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric played.

2. Barça has a more impressive list of injured (six people) – the last one added was Serginho Dest.  But there are no full-fledged start players among them.  The key surprise in the squad was Xavi’s initiative, not a forced move: Dani Alves stayed on the bench and Ronald Araujo started at right-back (against Vinicius Junior).  Araujo’s place in the center of defense was taken by Eric Garcia.

3. The advantage of “Barcelona” is indisputable, and the score quite accurately reflects the gap between the teams, but the halves turned out to be very different, although both guests won with the same score – 2:0.

 First half: Barça has more possession of the ball and opens up the opponent in positional attacks.  The half ended with Xavi’s team holding 63%.

 Second half: a much more equal picture in terms of ownership – 45% to 55% in favor of Barcelona.  Lagging behind Madrid, he was forced to play more boldly than at the beginning.  In practice, this meant only a change in the nature of the moments – now Barca punished Ferran, Aubameyang, and Dembele in fast attacks through speed.

 4. Ancelotti’s starting plan with no attackers obviously didn’t work.  Thibault Courtois told about this (the goalkeeper gave a very frank interview after the match, which we will periodically refer to in the analysis – this is valuable evidence of Carlo’s attitudes): “We will need to discuss the tactics for this match within the team.  It did not work at the beginning of the match and at the beginning of the second half.  We will need to discuss everything, not here, but within the team.  Previously, we played with a false nine against Athletic in the Cup – and created almost nothing in attack.  The situation is repeated.”

 There was no clean striker in the Real Madrid scheme, and the options for filling this zone varied.  When defending, most often the team lined up in a 4-4-2 with Modric and Kroos in front. Sometimes the scheme turned into a 4-1-4-1 (a Real Madrid classic) – then only Modric remained in the attack:

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In positional attacks (very rare), Modric, as befits a false nine, fell into midfield, and Vinicius, Rodrigo, and Fede Valverde, who rose above, were responsible for jerks in the latter.

It seems that Ancelotti did not even manage to convey this idea, which is very difficult to implement, to the players in full.  Not to mention the quality implementation.  We can only describe the idea in general terms, realizing that it clearly did not lead to something useful.  Even vice versa.

5. For example, one of the consequences of Ancelotti’s plan was the reliance on short plays under pressure from Barça.  “We couldn’t find a free player trying to play the ball in our own half.  Without it, it is difficult to play your football,” Courtois verdict.

 In such a situation, it is logical to periodically try to pass pressure through long-range transfers.  But Real did not have an addressee – not a person who would have a fixed forward position at this stage;  not a man who could fight for riding balls.  In the first half, Madrid only won one riding duel in attack – Modric.  Most often, Real Madrid avoided this option, realizing that there was no one to fight.  As a result, they came under pressure from Barça.

 Of course, the described problem has two sides – the lack of an addressee from Real Madrid and the quality of pressure from Barca, because of which it was generally impossible to go on the attack for a short time.  Barcelona used a typical pressing model – Pedri moved to the same line with Aubameyang, the midfield four moved along the ball depending on the direction of the attack:

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In this structure, Barça under Xavi produces the most solid and intense pressure in La Liga.  It was fine yesterday too.  Compactness (including pressure support with a high line of defense) and displacement speed were on par.

6. Let’s take a look at Madrid pressing in contrast – or rather, pressing attempts.

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Here, the team cannot impose solid pressure even in the middle block – a revealing reaction from Kroos and Modric, who went into the first wave, and then realized that the partners behind them did not support them at all:

Real Madrid’s high-pressing attempt looked even worse.  The bold disposition of the whole team, including Militao, who followed Pedri all the way to the opponent’s half of the field.  Passivity instead of intensity (at such and such a high location):

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Eric Garcia will cut off seven Real Madrid players in the opponent’s half with one pass, which will organize the most dangerous 4-in-3 exit.

7. Why was team pressure so important?  It was the nature of the pressure that determined the pattern in which Barca felt so comfortable and played as if in an ordinary La Liga match.

 Both teams are good with the ball, and Real Madrid formally got four central midfielders at the start.  In their bare ability to build attacks and control the center, they could compete with Barça.  But the difference in the speed of the return of the ball led to the dominance of the Catalans – the mentioned 63% of possession in the first half.

In this pattern, the guests could confidently draw their favorite techniques in the attack.  Xavi even noted the too simple nature of the match – he probably meant exactly how easy it was to seize the initiative and impose his football. The reason is precisely the difference in pressure.

8. Having received a favorite scenario, Barca opened up the opponent in a typical way.  As usual, they controlled the center and created chances through flank interactions. On the right, conditions were created for the isolation of Ousmane Dembele against Nacho.

Moments were born from the advantage of the Frenchman in this duel.  Full-back Araujo hardly joined the attack;  the central midfielder Frenkie de Jong closest to this edge did not open to the flank – either he was located deeper or opened in the center.  With their movement, they literally took other Real Madrid players away from the individual Dembele / Nacho duel.

 The idea on the left flank was in triangles and combinations.  Alba moved forward more actively, while Pedri opened up in the near-flank zones.  Changing positions and rhythmic passing within the triangle confused the Real Madrid players and generated chances from this flank.

9. This is how examples of the Dembele/Nacho duel looked like – Ousmane turns out to be 1-in-1 against the opponent on a large section of the field (that is, the duel is individual, and there is still room to accelerate).  The ideal scenario for Barça:

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Another source of threat was episodes where Nacho went into pressure (as you remember, he was terrible at Real Madrid).  Then Dembele was generally alone in space:

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A common feature of the moments: Ousmane’s high and wide position and the ability of the team to constantly bring the ball to him.

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10. To reflect the dynamics on the left flank, perhaps the best fit is the very attack in which Pedri organized the most subtle pass of this match (you definitely remember it).  Alba took part in the promotion here, and Ferran, Pedri, and Aubameyang organized a triangle in the third.  Pay attention to what positions they lured the Real Madrid defenders into – this is a positional attack, and Madrid simply does not have a defense as a line:

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And even with tight guarding, Barca combined perfectly in this zone.  The team had a very good balance between rotations inside the triangles and openings at speed.  Rotations draw opponents into awkward positions, and openings help to use the zones that have been formed due to these tricks.

11. Barça’s shadow hero of dominance is Sergi Busquets.  Dominance formula: control the center, direct it to the flanks, open it in different ways.  Busquets was responsible for the control and direction of attacks – and he was simply phenomenal.  Perhaps Sergi’s best compliment is Real Madrid’s futile attempts to cover him during the first half.

 In the starting pattern – with Madrid 4-4-2 – Busquets turned out to be free in any attempt by Kroos and Modric to press the defenders.  He used this freedom very well and moved the ball very quickly.

By the middle of the half, Real Madrid reacted and adapted the scheme – Valverde personally played some segment against Busquets (the role of Kroos changed along the chain, who now went to play deeper):

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Busquets did not notice his guardianship, although the Uruguayan was located very close to him – and continued to swagger.  Then Madrid had to adapt once again.  At the end of the half, the best destroyer, Casemiro, was assigned to Busquets.  To do this, I had to use a categorically strange scheme – Casemiro under the attacker Rodrigo (to follow Busquets), Kroos and Modric in the support, and Valverde on the right flank:

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Perhaps even Casemiro did not become a solution – yesterday Sergi was so good that he was not even afraid of his pressure.  Busquets’ direct influence is a master class in playing as a point guard.  Indirect influence – chaos, panic and the constant search for a scheme that will still cover it.

12. One of the consequences of the Dembele/Nacho personal duel was a similar Vinicius/Araujo duel.  The nature of the moments was a little different: Real Madrid found their dribbler not in positional, but in fast attacks.  Openness went both ways.  The individual game really determined a lot on this flank.

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The high position of Vinicius carried a threat – Madrid could have taken more from this direction, but the implementation failed.  The only problem was that other sources of threat were categorically lacking.

13. Perhaps the most poignant of Courtois’s many statements was about Ancelotti’s work after the first half: “The coach tried to make changes at half-time.  We did not understand them, and already 40 seconds after entering the second half, Ferran was running one on one with me.

It turns out that no one understood what exactly Carlo wanted, but we can try to describe what his players tried to do in the first minutes of the half.  In an attempt to solve flank problems, Ancelotti completely changed the combination of defenders.  The line now consisted of Nacho, Militao, Camavinga and Alaba (from right to left):

But when defending, Kamavinga played without any regard for the fact that he was now in the last line – he pulled out and turned off.  This left an incredibly large area on Militao (who is also very aggressive) – and gave rise to regular exits to the gates of Courtois.

 Because of the egregious problems these solutions created, it was difficult to evaluate their original intent.  Perhaps Alaba would have held back Dembele better than Nacho in the picture of the first half, but such episodes did not arise anymore – Barça destroyed in a different way.

14. It was possible to lightly extinguish the fire at the beginning of the first half when Casemiro moved to play in the center of defense, and Camavinga went to midfield:

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The problem is that the score is already 0:4.  Real Madrid stopped allowing childish moments, but the nature of the match has not changed.  “Madrid” was in the position of a clearly catching up team, had to act more than at the beginning, to act as the first number – it gave reactive Aubameyang, Ferrand, and Dembele chances to run away.

15. The typology of Aubameyang’s goals represents halves.

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The first is from the positional attack of Barcelona;  separation inside the penalty area due to sharpness;  excellent understanding with another hero of the time, Dembele.

The second is from a counterattack;  the use of space behind the defenders, who now played much higher;  subtle completion of a one-on-one exit.

 Taken together, the halves and goals highlight how Aubameyang benefits Barça in different scenarios.  You play with a low line of defense – then he is the tip of the flank attacks, which Barça relies on.  You defend high – then it opens behind your back and punishes at speed.  Both do very well.

16. Madrid’s perfect storm – Barcelona’s traditional strengths have been horrifyingly complemented by Carlo Ancelotti’s botched decisions in this particular match.

When evaluating, it is important not to go to extremes.  The match definitely confirmed the rapid progress of Barça under Xavi – all the mechanisms that led to a successful series worked yesterday as well.  At the same time, the guests managed without major adaptations (except for the move from Araujo on the right) – they bet on their own football.

 Ancelotti, both at the beginning of the match and at the beginning of the second half, tried to invent moves for the opponent.  They turned out to be terrible.  Both times it was not only the peculiarities of tactics but the inability to convey it.  This was confirmed by Courtois, who said that the team did not understand the installation at half-time, and Ancelotti himself, who pointed out that after the starting segment, the team did not stick to his plan.

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