Monday, 20 December 2010

Pressing and Pedro the secret keys to Barca’s success

During Barcelona’s 5-1 demolition of Espanyol on Saturday one of the Champions’ many fabled characteristics shone through – the pressure and pressing they put on the opposition backline.

A point often missed amongst the eulogising of Barca’s passing and movement is that the one of the cornerstones to their philosophy of dominating possession is how quickly they can win it back. This tactic has been employed by Pep Guardiola from his first match in charge and has been highlighted as the major difference between his and Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona that similarly shone between 2004 and 2006, winning two consecutive league titles and the 2006 Champions League.

Such intensive pressing high up the pitch does have its drawbacks. In particular it forces the next two bands of midfield and defence to push up and deny space between the lines. As a result Barca’s defensive line is often preposterously high for a team so often in control of the game – as demonstrated by Espanyol’s goal on Saturday when the visitors were leading 3-0.

However, by pressing those that are generally more uncomfortable in possession (defenders) so vigorously it also allows Barcelona to win back possession in dangerous areas of the pitch. As Sid Lowe remarked at half-time on Saturday, what was most impressive about this Barca side was its aggression and character.

One player who has demonstrated these qualities more than most this season is Pedro Rodriguez. Pedro’s brace on Saturday took his tally for the season to 11, his ninth in nine games, yet it was his all round play that caught the eye.

Playing in a more central position as Leo Messi dropped deeper to receive the ball in a ‘false nine’ position. Pedro’s link-up play, running in behind and closing down was exceptional. His first goal was made by a sublime first touch from an uncharacteristic hoof out of the Barca defence. Once it was in his stride, he laid the ball back for Messi before spinning in behind the defence, running onto Messi’s perfectly weighted through ball and finishing clinically. His second demonstrated his hunger and striker’s instinct. In a remarkably similar movement to his goal against Real Madrid, after again exchanging passes with Messi, he streaked past two defenders to tap in the rebound after Carlos Kameni had parried Messi’s original attempt.

Last season he scored 22 goals, including the amazing achievement of scoring in all six competitions Barca took part in, and important ones too. The one that sealed the title at the Bernabeu, the one that rescued the World Club Cup in the 90th minute against Estudiantes, the away goal in the San Siro against Inter in the Chmapions League semi-final. Yet, somehow it always felt that he was ignored and overshadowed in a team of star names. Many saw his success as merely a by-product of playing alongside Messi, Xavi, Andres iniesta, Dani Alves et al. He only just sneaked into the Spanish World Cup squad but, once there, proved pivotal when he got his chance to play in the latter stages, particularly against Germany in the semi-final.

Summer transfer rumours linking Robinho, Juan Mata and David Silva with an arrival at the Nou Camp also seemed disrespectful to a young man who, Messi apart, had the most successful debut season of all of the current first team’s La Masia graduates.

So far this season though any lingering doubts have been categorically dispelled. With Messi operating more and more as a deep, central forward and David Villa using his intelligence to break the defensive line from a wide-left position, as he did to such devastating effect with two goals against Espanyol and Real Madrid, Pedro’s exceptional pace offers a different dimension. As he plays narrower on the right his contribution to his side’s tight interplay around the box has developed remarkably, as shown by his involvement in the first two goals against Real Sociedad last weekend, and by playing slightly infield he allows the rampaging Alves more space to bomb in to.

Ultimately, the crucial point is that the 23 year-old from Tenerife is no longer a weak link in a devastating front five, comprising Villa, Messi, iniesta and Xavi. Rather he is a key component in that devastating quintet. 42 goals in the last 10 games is testament to that. An aggregate score of 34-2 in the last eight is even more so.

At the moment there is no stopping Barca at home or abroad. Whether any Mourinho magic can stop them come May remains to be seen but my Christmas bonus would definitely be on Barca.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post. Can't wait for your next Forza Futbol post. :)