Jan 16, 2012
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Started a save with Real Madrid and my biggest, and probably only challenge for the La Liga will be Barcelona. My minimum expectation from president Lopez is to win the title first time, presumably I can't finish second and avoid the sack, making the El Classico's all the more crucial. I shouldn't have any problems sweeping aside most of the other 18 teams in the league - except maybe Atletico Madrid - and neither will Barca. It could then come down to who prevails in the games between us.

My regular starting tactic for pretty much all the other games is an attacking one. It involves direct, precision passing, playing at a high tempo, pressing high up the pitch, aggressive tackling and mostly man marking.

This will obviously never work against Barca. Because they're so good, I've decided I need to try and create a new tactic designed entirely for matches against them.

The hypothesis

Barcelona are at their best when teams try to close them down quickly and go hard in the tackle. They always just use their touch, passing and mobility to play around you and they make you look like fools.

So my plan is to do the opposite. Get 11 men behind the ball at all times, stand off them, until they reach the final third. Then try to get 2 or 3 players to swiftly close in on the man with the ball, them hit them on the counter.

Defend from the front

What I'll try, is instructing Benzema to man mark Xavi (not tightly). If you ask a midfielder to do this it'll end up creating more space in front of your defence, but if its a striker then you can assert the extra pressure, whilst not giving Barca more room to maneovre. As a side effect, hopefully it'll mean that Benzema can be more involved in build up play, rather than isolated up top.

Wingers, not inside forwards

In most cases, Ronaldo is best as an inside forward on the left, cutting in and curling shots. But for this game I'm moving him to the right side, and giving him the role 'defensive winger - attack'. I've got him to mark Iniesta. Because di Maria is left footed, I'll use him as a winger on the left flank.

The reason I've done this is to increase width. Whilst it partly means we can isolate their full-backs 1v1, it's also an indirect defensive plan. It means that if Barca do win the ball back, it's further back down the field in the wide areas, rather than further forward centrally.

Therefore, our defence will have more time to reposition/organise itself and Barca have more work to do to create a decent goalscoring opportunity.

Two defensive midfielders

As my 2 DMs, I've got Essien and Alonso. Essien as a regular defensive midfielder, Alonso as a deep-lying playmaker. Both with a defend duty and on zonal marking. These players need to be behind the ball pretty much all the time. Alonso will be key to the counterattacking system, I've got his passing as 'direct'. Because of his great passing range, his high diagonal balls can take out the entire Barca midfield and distribute the ball to Ronaldo and Di Maria on the flanks. It means we can move onto the front foot quickly.

Khedira to tightly man mark Messi

This may be a controversial plan and I'm not so sure how this will pan out, but Sami Khedira will play as 'ball winning midfielder - defend' in the centre, and man mark Messi.

My thinking behind this move is that although Messi will play as a forward, if I instruct Pepe/Ramos to stay close to him, he'll just draw them out of position and create space for onrunners, which suits his game perfectly.

But by having Khedira sticking to him, the zonal marking structure of the team is still there and Khedira acts as that extra man to block Messi's path. That way, effectively there will always be 2 people marking Messi: Khedira and whoever's zone he's in. I reckon Khedira can cope with the constant tracking back as well, because of his high work rate and stamina.

Arbeloa and Ronaldo to man mark Iniesta

Ronaldo won't mark quite as tightly as Arbeloa, but will just track back to boost our numerical advantage. This will also get him immediately on the ball when we do get a breakaway. Otherwise Iniesta may have enough intelligence to play around Arbeloa on his own, and CR7 could be wasted staying far up on the right flank anyway, if we have little of the ball.

Aim - Force Barcelona into 'ineffective possession'

With such a defensive tactic, I accept that we can expect to have very little of the ball, and that Barca will dominate the majority of the match.

However, if with this zonal marking system I can make us very compact and centralized at the back, then it could be difficult for Barca to score goals.

It may force them to harmlessly pass the ball around halfway inside our half, without being able to shoot with much danger. Or, they could pass the ball out wide to try to work their way inside, but any cross we can easily block and close them down if they get too far in.

If they consistently pass the ball around in the harmless areas, then this tactic should work. It could eventually force them into more direct passes, that we'll have the best chance of defending due to our big numerical advantage in our box.

Barcelona's tiki-taka style so far has been very effective and dangerous, but it won't be dangerous if we can force them to play it in the safer areas.

Put to the test

Because the Spanish Super Cup will have no bearing on the title race, I thought that was a good opportunity to try this tactic out.

I've played the 1st leg at Camp Nou, with the results frustratingly mixed. The first half worked an absolute treat. Barca had 73% possession (90% in first 10 mins!), but created very few, and limited chances, and we actually scored from a set piece.

For the second half, Barca changed to a regular 4-4-2 and scored straightaway. But it was partly a technical error from me that led to it. Because I initially had Arbeloa man marking Iniesta, Barca's half time change of tactics meant he was now man marking Jordi Alba, who played deeper, that created space for them to attack. We continued to defend well after their goal, although some of my late attacking substitutes didn't have much of an impact. Right at the end, we lost to a brilliant Xavi free-kick.

Although we lost that game, it was due to a tactical mistake and a sublime free-kick, and throughout the match the game plan worked quite well. I am still tempted to keep it in, any thoughts?
Why can't you just use your regular tactic? You have players that are more than capable of going against Barcelona without having to be on the defensive. Seriously, the AI doesn't even make Barcelona play possession correctly, most of the times.
Why can't you just use your regular tactic? You have players that are more than capable of going against Barcelona without having to be on the defensive. Seriously, the AI doesn't even make Barcelona play possession correctly, most of the times.
I don't think my regular tactic would work, because it would leave us too exposed. So far the tactic has done ok, 1 win, 1 loss + 1 draw with 2 clean sheets which is decent, and we've won the Super Cup against them over the 2 legs. The trick is
*to have two defensive midfielders, and have them and the defence on zonal marking. And having the more attacking players man marking their best players. Seems to have worked ok.