Tag Archives: Messi

Spain – Barca Style is Not Just about the Pass

What do you think of when you think of Barcelona or Spain?  I assume it is passing.  Movement of the ball in small boxes – combination play in tiny areas and domination of possession.  All of that is true and beautiful to watch.  Gary Williamson, an instructor in the National Youth License course and technical director of North Texas Youth Soccer Association (and an incredible teacher), demonstrated their system without saying a word:  he used his hands to demonstrate how a cobra attacks (sway, sway, sway, sway, strike).

While the Spaniards and their training schools excel at teaching passing and movement, to reduce their philosophy to just passing and movement is a disservice to the wonderful ball players and teachers in their system.  To me, what they excel at his ball mastery.  Here is quote from the book Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub: ”Their (Barcelona) Academy coach Carlos Rexach reveals … ‘Above all what we are after is a boy who is good with the ball and then we hope he becomes strong physically. Other academies tend to look for athletes they can turn into footballers. Most coaches, when they see a kid who dribbles a lot they tell him to stop and pass the ball.  Here (Barcelona) they do the opposite. We tell them to continue so that they get even better at dribbling.  It’s only when the kid develops that we start teaching them the passing game.’”  (Page 68).  How about that!

It makes sense, though.  Think of players you know who excel at ball control, trapping the ball and passing.  Are they also you best dribblers?  In my opinion, dribbling is a great way to learn to catch and pass.  Dribbling is a great way to learn “mastery over the ball.”  So, then, according to my theory Barcelona players or Spanish national team players should be great dribblers too.  Well, they have a stat for that.

I have been largely unsuccessful at finding a database of dribbling stats for European players, but you can find things here and there.  If you go to the site http://www.whoscored.com/Statistics, you can find a wide range of statistics.  I share this with you as a gift – it took me hours to find a site that had dribbling statistics, etc., for all players.   Anyway, just google dribbles/game and Messi or Iniesta or Villa or Silva or even Xavi.  Here is what I found:

Successful Dribbles/Game

  • Messi 4.8
  • Joaquin 2.9 (Malaga)
  • Iniesta 2.2
  • Iker Munian 1.8
  • David Silva 1.1
  • Fernando Torres 1.1
  • Cessc Fabregas 1.0
  • Xavi (less than 1)

Cristiano Ronaldo, by contrast, averages a little more than 1.5/game.   Now, these stats are based on the 2011/2012 league games, not international games.  Interestingly, of the top 50, 11 are Germans!  Here they are:

  • Mario Gotze (6) 3.5
  •  Andrea Schurrle (9) 3.1
  • Marco Reus (10) 2.9
  • Sidney Sam (13) 2.9
  • Aaron Hunt (17) 2.6
  • Daniel Caliguiri (19) 2.6
  • Ashkan Dejegah (20) 2.6
  • Julian Draxler (23) 2.5
  • Ilkay Mundragon (33)  2.3
  • Marko Marin (39) 2.1
  • Lars Stindl (49) 2

You do have to consider the position they play when looking at this, but it is interesting considering all leagues in Europe are represented in the stats.  And, if you are following signings this time around, the top of the list above is a who’s who of of European players.  Eden Hazard, by the way, comes in at (30) with 2.3/game.

Great site on the stats.  Have fun with it.


Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part III (El Clasico thoughts)

If you watched El Clasico, you witnessed Barcelona concede a goal in the first 23 seconds.  Real Madrid decided to press high, knowing that Barcelona rarely hoofs the ball up the field.  In an effort to frustrate Barca’s rhythm, Madrid pressed all the way to the keeper, disrupting Barca’s attempts to play it out from the back.  In the first gasp of the game, the ball was played back to Valdes (Barca GK) who played it back to Puyol (Barca back) who played it right back to Valdez.  Then, Valdes tried to switch the field but angled the pass right to Di Maria for Madrid – 3 touches later, goal.

Some will point to this as evidence that Barca plays possession ball to its detriment.  Surely, when a team as skilled as Real Madrid decides on a course of pressing, including pressing the keeper, the keeper should just hoof it up the field.  Did Barca alter course after the Valdez mishap?  Were his teammates frustrated?  No and no.  I think Barca’s response to the early hole showed its commitment to its system as well as a team spirit that Madrid lacked.

In regard to its system, after the game interviews revealed that Captain Puyol told Valdez immediately after the event to “Carry on, Victor.”  Guardiola said:

The perfect image of this game was that after the goal Victor Valdes continued playing the ball. Real Madrid steamroll[ed] you. Most goalkeepers  would boot it. But Victor kept playing the ball. I prefer to lose the ball like that but give continuity to our play.

Xavi called Victor’s conduct as “brave.”  Sid Lowe, writer for The Guardian, says “a brave player is the one who loses the ball three times and still wants it; who keeps attacking. The goalkeeper who makes the biggest mistake on earth — and doesn’t take the easy, if short term, way out. The team that have the courage of their convictions.”

Lowe notes that Barcelona passes to their keeper more than any team in La Liga.  He also notes that Valdes attempts fewer long passes than any player in La Liga.  At the same time, Valdes has the highest league passing accuracy at 85%.  Lowe concludes:

So Valdes passed the ball. And so did Barcelona. Even as Madrid pressured high, Barcelona continued to take risks — not taking them is riskier yet; for Barca, a big hoof just means the ball comes back again, at the opposition’s feet…Valdes’s mistake threatened to change everything but it changed nothing. On Saturday night, Barcelona did what Barcelona do. They won. (with emphasis)

Lowe doesn’t mention attitude in his post, other than to say the Barca players supported Valdes after the error rather than blame or cuss.  Madrid, on the other hand, seemed to lack that team spirit.  I noticed several times during the match that players were upset with each other.  Go back and watch Di Maria’s body language when Ronaldo attempted a shot well wide.  Di Maria was unmarked.  He was clearly, demonstratively upset.  There were other instances too.  On the other hand, Barca, playing from behind from the first minute on, rallied around each other.  Just something I noticed.

Information for this post was taken from a great post by Sid Lowe from The Guardian.  To read the post, click Victor Valdes epitomizes Barcelona’s bravery as Real Madrid falter.