FC Barcelona – Manchester United: Dominant Barcelona stroll into Champions League semi finals (3-0)
Despite very brief hope for Manchester United with a promising first five minutes, Barcelona would go on to completely dominate this second leg. Two first half goals from Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a comfortable cushion, and they went on to give a lesson in controlling a game with possession.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
After a somewhat off-colour performance at Old Trafford, Barcelona made just one change from the first leg. It was one of the better performers from the first leg, Nelson Semedo, who was replaced at right-back by Sergi Roberto. Ernesto Valverde’s side still nominally lined up in a 4-3-3 starting formation.
After fielding a 3-5-2 formation in the first leg, Ole Gunnar Solskjær decided to return to the 4-3-3 shape he has used in various games during his spell at United so far. The formation could also be interpreted as a 4-3-1-2 depending on one’s interpretation of Jesse Lingard’s role as the central attacker who drops between the lines when United are in possession.
Lingard was flanked by Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial on either side, although the three forwards were relatively interchangeable. Behind them was the midfield three that also started the first leg. Meanwhile in defense, Victor Lindelöf found himself filling in at right-back, while Ashley Young moved to the left side of defense.
Barcelona in possession.
United start quickly
United were outclassed for the vast majority of the game, but it was not obvious that this would be the case from the start. For the first five minutes or so, it looked as if the game might resemble in some ways last week’s game, in which Barcelona looked nervous against an intense United team.
The highlight of this very brief spell of pressure from United came very early as Rashford hit the bar after a slick passing move from United. The run Rashford made leading to this chance, off the shoulder of Gerard Piqué, was one that he tried to repeat later on in the game, but with less success.
Fred linked play well from a single holding midfielder role.
Barcelona able to escape United press
At Old Trafford, Barcelona had found themselves handing United momentum in the game through their inability to play through United’s high-pressing 3-5-2 shape. This was not helped by the individual errors from Barcelona players, several of whom did not play up to their usual level.
In this game, Barcelona again built up with somewhat of a 3-4-3 shape as Sergio Busquets dropped between the center-backs and the fullbacks pushed up. Naturally, the three forwards of United would try to pressure Busquets and the center-backs. Meanwhile, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba would look to stick close to Ivan Rakitić and Arthur.
In the last game, Barcelona’s fullbacks were matched up by United’s wing-backs in their 3-5-2 formation, who would push up to pressure Semedo and Jordi Alba. In this game though, United’s fullbacks Lindelöf and Young found this less viable. In the 4-3-3 formation their starting position was deeper and they had less cover behind them with one less center-back.
As a result, Barcelona could play out of United’s high pressure on the wings thanks to the space their fullbacks found themselves in. Barcelona also had more success in playing longer passes into the feet of the forwards than they had in the first leg, where the forwards struggled to win duels when receiving with their back to goal.
A very nice Barcelona pass map with all players linked strongly throughout.
Barcelona dominate with possession
Once United were forced into their medium or low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. defending by Barcelona, they struggled to get near Valverde’s side. This pattern changed relatively little throughout the game as Barcelona teased the away side with the ball.
When Barcelona had the ball, United faced some of the same problems as they did in the first leg of their clash against Paris Saint-Germain. In that game, United had struggled to deal with the halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. positioning of the inside forwards of PSG’s 3-4-3 shape, who occupied spaces between the lines, combined with the forward runs of PSG’s wing-backs stretching the pitch.
They found similar problems here, as the tireless forward running of Sergi Roberto and Alba to try and get behind United’s defense created awkward situations for the fullbacks of United. As the likes of Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suárez floated into pockets in the halfspaces behind McTominay and Pogba, United’s fullbacks had trouble dealing with the threat in front of them and the threat running in behind. United’s wingers would rarely track Barcelona’s fullbacks all the way as they bombed forward.
This combined with the stable base of press-resistant players in the center such as Arthur and Busquets gave Barcelona the platform to dictate the game and remain in control for essentially the whole ninety minutes.
Despite this possession, Barcelona’s opening goal came from their own pressing, which forced a mistake from Ashley Young. Messi pounced on the loose ball in United’s final third, nutmegged Fred before finding the bottom corner from around twenty yards out with a precision finish on his left foot.
Not long after, a mistake from David De Gea allowed Messi’s right footed shot to squeeze underneath the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. Barcelona went on to add a third goal from outside the box with a beautiful trademark effort from Coutinho in the second half.
Barcelona did everything that was necessary, effectively ending the tie with Messi’s two first half goals and giving a lesson in ball retention to see a game out. Barcelona now look ahead to a probable semi final clash against Liverpool.
United were somewhat powerless to resist as Barcelona made the difference in class between the two sides painstakingly clear. This served as a reminder of the rebuilding United need to do to compete at this level as they now direct their attention to salvaging a top four spot in the Premier League.
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