Barcelona – Cordoba 5:0
Barcelona put on a dominant display with some tweaks to their offensive strategy. Cordoba played defense nearly the entire game while Barcelona used their best players in the best positions for this particular defense. Messi had a unique role from the right flank moving in towards the central midfielder positions. This is ultimately what led to Barcelona’s best chances in the match.
Messi in central midfield and Cordoba’s man-marking
This match was largely about Lionel Messi. His interesting role is what lead to Barcelona’s most successful scenes in the match. Similar to how Guardiola wanted a striker to occupy the defenders when Messi dropped deep in the false 9 role, Rakitic occupied the right flank while Messi moved into central midfield.
Due to Cordoba’s deep and passive 4-1-4-1 block, Messi found most of his freedom in deeper areas. Cordoba’s near-side wide midfielder would man mark the fullback, while the far side wide midfielder left the fullback and man-marked the far side central midfielder of Barcelona. This provided enough players in the immediate areas to avoid being overloaded by Messi coming inside. Though it left Alba and Pedro in a 2 vs. 1 situation on the far side, which Messi managed to find multiple times. Cordoba’s passiveness is actually what led to a quick go-ahead goal by Barcelona at the beginning of the game. Rakitic received the ball wide and his marker did not feel comfortable following him there. This gave him the opportunity to play a diagonal ball over the defense into Pedro making a far side run and score a goal.
Iniesta and Rakitic drifting wide is something we’ve become accustomed to with Barcelona this season. These specific movements helped open the halfspaces for Pedro and Messi to play in. Pedro had a good game overall, and especially in combination moments. In a specific scene he received a ball inside from Iniesta and he played a no-look Cruyff pass on the return to Iniesta running through the defense and into the box.
If there was a rating for “potential energy” for an area on the field, the rating for the center of the field with both Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets occupying it would be off the scales. This is exactly what was occurring in this match. Most everyone should be familiar with Messi’s abilities by now. He played some excellent penetrating passes through Cordoba’s midfield and even some nice diagonals to Pedro and Alba through the defense. He consistently used his dribbling ability to beat his marker in midfield and create from the center. Surrounded by players like Iniesta and Busquets boosts the value of his already great combinational play. He is maybe THE most dynamic player in football. It was particularly impressive to see his positional intelligence, as him playing in central midfield was exactly what the game required – even though it seems he had a free role inside.
Cordoba’s 3rd central midfielder would consistently join the striker in pressing the back line, especially when Busquets dropped into the defensive line to provide stability in the first line of possession. Mascherano had a particularly impressive game in these phases. He played some nice vertical passes and made runs into the midfield frequently. Whenever he could expose the 2 vs. 1 or 3 vs. 2 match-up out of the defensive line, he drove the ball into midfield and caused an overload.
In the second half Messi seemed to play even more direct. He made more vertical runs as well as trying to dribble his markers in a direct manner rather than freeing some space in order to play passes. Barcelona’s 2nd goal on the day came from a Messi combination with Iniesta where he played Iniesta through Cordoba’s midfield. From there Iniesta played Pedro through the defense and Pedro setup Suarez for the tap-in.
In the end Barcelona won 5:0. Barcelona remain just a point away from Madrid in first place while Cordoba remain in the relegation battle. Messi’s role in central midfield produced some nice results and could be a strategy Luis Enrique’s goes to more often in the future. We will see if Barcelona will be able to catch up to the high-powered Madrid offense in the remainder of the season.