One reason for Barcelona’s disappointing form recently has been the play of Cesc Fabregas and Andrés Iniesta and how Barcelona manager Jordo Roura continues to struggle to find a way to play them together.
The chart below from WhoScored.com shows the average position on the field for the Barcelona players during last night’s El Clasico. The chart clearly shows that Iniesta (8) and Fabregas (4) are too close together.
In Roura system, Iniesta stays nearer the touchline while Fabregas floats around in a more central position. The problem is that they often got in each others’ way, and Iniesta seems unable to influence the game significantly while Fabregas is taking up his space.
In addition, because Iniesta drifts inward towards Fabregas, he takes away any natural width that someone like David Villa would give Barcelona in that position. Also, because Iniesta and Fabregas are so close together Alvaro Arbeloa was in essence able to mark both players, freeing up a midfielder to clog up the middle of the park.
That problem – two players on top of each other – would never have happened under Pep Guardiola. He was insistent on training drills involving ‘boxes’ which forced Barcelona to always cover space effectively – when one man came into your zone, you moved out into another zone. It provides the man in possession with a number of options on the ball, it stretches the play and therefore the opposition defence, and it distributes players across the pitch evenly so Barcelona can press effectively immediately (something also lacking this season). It’s far from unique, and in many ways very basic, but clever spatial distribution was a key part of Guardiola’s strategy, yet so absent here.
The problem at Barca is more a tactical one, than a player one. The challenge that Barcelona have as they look to the Milan game is that their manager is recovering from cancer, and Roura haw found himself in a job he doesn’t want.
Barcelona are missing Tito Vilanova and his tactical ability, particularly his ability to change matches in-play. It is clear that Barcelona were outcoached against both AC Milan and Real Madrid. And when was the last time we said that about a Barcelona side?