Are Things About to Get Real for Barcelona?

It’s funny how long a week can be in football. Just 7 days ago, Barcelona was in contention for 3 trophies but in the days that followed, they were dumped out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and then lost to Granada in La Liga to seriously dent their chances of retaining their title. Their misery could be compounded when they face the old enemy, Real Madrid, in the Copa Del Rey final on Wednesday at the Mestalla Stadium. Lose that game and they will be in serious danger of finishing the season empty handed (Spanish Super Cup aside). In honour of the upcoming final and a make or break for both Barcelona and surely Gerardo Martino’s future as manager, we dedicate this post to the big game.

In all our previous posts, we generally focus on the big issues and the main talking points of that particular game/team/player etc. We thought that for this post, and seeing that we have already discussed in length both Barcelona and Madrid and their respective styles, we would focus on the little things.

Football is not just about the big things like creating chances, taking shots and, of course, scoring goals but more often than not, it’s the little things that turn a game on its head. When preparing this post, we looked at all of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s games in La Liga this season.

The first thing we looked at was how the two teams did when they were in possession of the ball but with there being a minimum risk of a shot on goal being taken. As can be seen below, there is nothing to separate the two teams in this regard.

They are also extremely similar in the quality of their respective dribbling when in possession of the ball.

When it came to how the two teams reacted when under pressure, we saw that 37.8% of Barcelona’s actions managed to relieve the pressure whereas Real Madrid were slightly better with 42.5%. As for their actions in general when under pressure, 39.9% of Barcelona’s actions were good with Real Madrid pulling slightly ahead on 47%.

Now what do we mean by actions that relieve pressure? Let us look at the last time these two teams met when Barcelona triumphed 4-3 in a game of end to end stuff. In the picture below, we can see Real Madrid applying pressure to Barcelona, just outside of the Barca penalty area with Barcelona midfielder, Cesc Fabregas in space and calling for the ball.

Javier Mascherano spots him open and passes him the ball. As the Madrid players converge on Fabregas, he, thanks to a clever back heel, releases the pressure by passing the ball onwards to Jordi Alba.

Thanks to Fabregas’ clever bit of trickery, Barcelona were able to open up some space and begin attacking the Real Madrid half.

So we can see that in two quick moves, Barcelona have taken the game from being advantage Real Madrid to swiftly moving up the field and now it being advantage Barcelona. A simple mistake by Barcelona, would have put them under greater pressure and with players like Ronaldo and Bale waiting to pounce, they could ill afford to give the ball away in such a position.

Cup finals are generally tense affairs with both sides usually adopting a cautious approach. When you have a cup final between two rivals and evenly matched sides such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, the game will, more than likely, be decided as a result of a small mistake by one of the players when put under pressure.

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