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Match analysis: Athletic Bilbao - Barcelona (cup final)

Match analysis: Athletic Bilbao – Barcelona

Man marking didn’t stop Messi

By Athanasios Terzis

In the Copa Del Rey final Athletic Club faced Barcelona in Camp Nou. Bilbao tried to deal with Messi by man marking him but the plan failed as the Argentine was again unstoppable.



1st Half: Barcelona dominated and despite the man marking Messi was unstoppable   

Athletic Bilbao: Ernesto Valverde started with a 4-4-2 formation. However during the defensive phase Williams dropped a few yards deeper to keep an eye on Busquets, so there were times that the formation looked like 4-2-3-1.       

Barcelona: Barcelona started with 4-3-3 and the usual first eleven.  Mascherano was next to Pique while Alves and Alba were on the right and left respectively. Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic were the three midfielders and Messi together with Neymar and Suarez the three forwards.

Bilbao attempted to restrict the available spaces for Barcelona. In order to achieve this they tried to retain a compact formation and to keep a high defensive line. Valverde tried to prevent Barcelona from building through Busquets and Iniesta. So both Bilbao forwards used to take up central positions. Williams tried either to put Busquets in his shadow and prevent the direct passes to him from the defenders or stayed goalside. So in cases that Barca’s defensive midfielder received a pass, Williams put him immediately under pressure. On the other hand San Jose was very close to Iniesta and followed him even when the last one moved close to the side line.  

What was interesting with Bilbao’s tactical approach was the way they attempted to deal with Messi. Valverde wanted to restrict Messi’s available space and time on the ball. So not only did he use a compact formation with a high defensive line, as Guardiola did in the matches of Barcelona against Bayern, but also used a man marking as Balenziaga stayed close to him all the time. By this way he tried to avoid situations that the Argentine had a few seconds available on the ball, before someone of his players managed to close him down. However when Messi took up central positions and Balenziaga followed him this tactical approach created a 2 v 1 situation on the left as Rakitic many times moved towards the side line and M. Rico had to deal both with him and Alves.


2 v 1 κατάσταση

Furthermore as Balenziaga moved away from his zone of responsibility, space was created on the left. Valverde tried to deal with it by the shifting mainly of M. Rico who dropped back into a left fullback position   


and sometimes by the shifting of Benat when M. Rico was in advanced position.


During the attacking phase Athletic didn’t want to be exposed by Barcelona on the counter, so they preferred to play in a safe way by using long balls towards Aduriz. Bilbao’s forward took up positions on the right and within Mascherano’s zone of responsibility to take advantage his heading ability against the Argentine. So when the long ball was hit, Williams took an advanced position to receive the forward header, while Iraola and Rico made diagonal runs. However Barcelona dealt with it successfully by Busquets moving deeper to mark Aduriz. The main aim for Athletic was to take advantage of the positive transition but Barca was balanced at the back and very effective in negative transition. So except for Williams’ scoring chance (during positive transition) at the end of the first half, Athletic looked unable to threaten Barcelona.  

As Bilbao didn’t press high but waited within the middle third and deeper, Barcelona didn’t have problems during building up from the back and they easily dominated possession. As in the beginning Messi looked very well marked, they tried to take advantage of: a) the space on the right and b) to expose Athletic’s high defensive line.

In order for Barcelona to exploit the free space on the right, Rakitic made several diagonal movements behind M. Rico and one of these ended with a great scoring chance by Suarez who took the shot on goal but Herrerin made the save.



Furthermore Alves attempted to take advantage of the space by moving forward behind M. Rico in order to receive. 


As regards breaking through the high defensive line this time it was mainly done through the well timed runs of Neymar and Suarez. The two forwards tried to stay on side and take advantage of Messi’s through balls.

However the solution was given once again by Messi. The Argentine despite the fact that he had to deal with three or four players and limited available space, he managed to score a wonderful goal.

Barcelona continued to dominate possession and use combination play both on the sides as well as in the centre.

The second goal came after a quick passing combination in the centre between Messi and Rakitic which ended with a through pass to Suarez and a low cross towards Neymar who scored an easy goal.


2nd Half: Bilbao pressed high but Barcelona was comfortable on the ball

Not many things changed during the second half. Bilbao tried to press high up by applying ultra offensive pressing


but Barcelona found the ways to break through the pressure and build up from the back.

The Catalans continued dominating possession and didn’t leave Bilbao a chance to threaten them. Their aim during the attacking phase was again to exploit the space on the right. Rakitic and Alves were the players that tried to do it. A combination play between Alves and Neymar ended with a low cross for Messi inside the box. The Argentine didn’t miss the chance to make it 3-0.

combinantion play

Bilbao managed to score with a header from Williams but nothing changed until the final whistle.

Conclusion: Barcelona deservedly won the Copa Del Rey. They were the better team as they carried out effectively all phases of the game. It is for sure that Messi was once again outstanding but this time it wasn’t only for the three forwards. Enrique’s team dominated completely and played attractive style of football while at the same time Bilbao didn’t cause to them serious problems.      


Last Updated on Monday, 01 June 2015 01:34

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