How Can a Manager Prepare to Defend Against Barcelona?

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How Can a Manager Prepare to Defend Against Barcelona?
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The story goes, allegedly, that a video made its way from Spain to France last week. From Madrid to Paris. From Jose Mourinho to Carlo Ancelotti.

If the the video does indeed exist, we're led to believe that it contains some tips from the Portuguese coach on how PSG can beat Barcelona in their upcoming Champions League tie.

Presumably this includes weak points in Barca's defense, how to stop Xavi dictating the game and how best to defend against the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa.

It begs the question, is there a surefire way to defend against Barcelona that Mourinho feels will always lead to success? After all, he's had the monopoly in recent El Clasico meetings.

Chelsea and Celtic have both beaten Barca in the last year—the former over two legs—and both used tactics that were similar.

Both sat deep, both had behind the ball and both had a sign up which read "closed—back in 90 minutes."

The problem with this is that you invite La Blaugrana forward. You're basically saying "have the ball if you want it so much, now try and break us down." Although Chelsea and Celtic both prevailed using this tactic, they are the exceptions.

Stu Forster/Getty Images
Celtic rode their luck against Barcelona

Many teams—domestically and in Europe—have tried it, but when you welcome on so much pressure, it's almost impossible to maintain defensive concentration for the whole match. You end up relying on luck.

In both of these cases, the British sides rode their luck. Against Celtic, Barca created 25 attempts on goal, eight were on target and two hit the woodwork while they dominated 84 percent of the possession (via WhoScored.com).

Similarly against Chelsea in the second leg—which was drawn 2-2—Barcelona had over 80 percent of the ball and created 23 attempts on goal, including six on target and a Lionel Messi missed penalty (via The Guardian). The Stamford Bridge club certainly rode their luck.

They're not tactics Rayo Vallecano's attacking coach, Paco Jemez, thinks should be employed to get a result against the Catalans. After Celtic narrowly lost at Camp Nou, he said “I could play like they did, but I would drop my head in shame when I looked in the eyes of my fans."

Instead his approach was to take to the ball to Barcelona. Unsuccessfully. They lost 5-0 and 3-1 to Tito Vilanova's men this season.

So it seems the blueprint to defend against Barca does lie somewhere in the Real Madrid approach, but also in the way AC Milan carried out their wonderful win at the San Siro in March—"a great defensive performance that was not necessarily defensive," as Susy Campanale put it on football-italia.com.

Barca's average action zones this season (via WhoScored.com)

In their three recent defeats to Real Madrid (twice) and AC Milan, Barca, as always, bossed between 60 and 75 percent of possession, but their creativity in the oppositions defensive third was, at times, completely nullified

Neither Los Blancos nor the Rossoneri felt it necessary to man mark Messi, a tactic so often thought necessary in the past. Instead, they reacted to him when he was on the ball and—bar the league game at the Bernabeu—managed to prevent him scoring by crowding him out at the right time, rather than chasing him like bees to honey.

The idea is roughly to concede possession in certain areas but get tough just before and in the final third, while counterattacking—with exhilarating pace in Madrid's case.

"If [Mourinho] wants to give us advice," said Ancelotti in reference to Tuesday's match, "I would be happy to accept it." Although if Barcelona decide to press with the intensity that they demonstrated in the second leg against Milan, it won't be that easy to defend against them at all—despite any tips from Mourinho.

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