Hercules stunned the Nou Camp by defeating Barcelona 2-0 in the home opener this season. Barcelona lined up in their usual 433 and Hercules lined up in a 4411, very similar to how Inter Milan lined up against Barcelona in last season’s Champion’s league. The two shapes are shown below.
BARCELONA DOMINATE POSSESSION.
As expected, Barcelona dominated possession, at one time having 77% of the ball. Hercules had clearly prepared for this and instead of chasing the ball they kept their shape, defending deep and narrow. Like the Inter game, Barcelona dominated possession but only had 2 shots on target in the first half. Due to Hercules narrow shape, the Barcelona fullbacks saw plenty of the ball but they were often crossing to the tiny Bojan, not a good formula for success. The only times Barcelona managed to open up Hercules was through quick one twos and off the ball movement but this did not happen often enough as Barcelona seemed to think they could pass their way through the crowded defense. Mourinho has confessed to intentionally giving the ball away against Barcelona so that it is not won in dangerous areas, leaving his team open to counter attacks. Hercules employed a similar strategy, with their fullbacks and holding midfielders not trying to get forward at all and simply hoofing the ball up to Trezeguet.
DOUBLING UP ON BARCELONA’S WIDE FORWARDS
Barcelona’s used David Villa on the left and Messi and the right, both looking to cut in on their stronger foot. Again, Hercules were prepared for this and always doubled up on these two players, preventing them from cutting in. Both Messi and Villa were guilty of not trying to run through 2 or 3 defenders instead of passing, perhaps as a result of under-estimating the opposition. The two Hercules holding players, Aguilar and Fritzler, were quick to converge on both Villa and Messi, not leaving their fullbacks in a one on one situation. The Hercules wingers would also drop back to help out the fullbacks, forcing Barcelona into the crowded middle. Instead of trying to tackle Messi and Villa they just guided them into traffic were they are not as dangerous.
As can be seen above, there are three players around Messi preventing him getting into the penalty box and guiding him into the congested center. Messi has passing options to his left and right but chooses to shoot from distance instead. This was the overall pattern of the game. The two center backs could sit deep and only had to worry about the lone forward who could they could easily out-muscle.
SUBTLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 451 AND 4411
One of Barcelona’s key weapons is their holding player, who doesnt just perform defensive duties but is always available for a pass, helping the team recycle possession and playing short sinple passes to the fullbacks or one of the other midfielders. When playing against a 451 Barcelona retain this advantage and can easily switch the point of attack very quickly but against a 4411 this is much more difficult. Hercules used Nelson Valdez as a withdrawn forward and his defensive responsibility was to shadow Mascherano so that he was not available for the pass, as shown below.
In the yellow we can see Valdez shadowing Barcelona’s deepest midfielder.This robbed Barcelona of one of their key weapons and the passing game was often too predictable. Sergio Busquets has actually learned to counter this by moving forward and daring his marker to follow him but Macharano was mostly static, making himself easier to man mark. Again, this is similar to how Inter used Wesley Sneijder to deny the Barcelona holding player the time and space he is used to. Valdez also played close to Trezeguet, making their counter attacks more effective. Barcelona’s very high defensive line makes them prime candidates for counter attacks and Hercules could have scored 3 or 4 if it wasn’t for Barcelona’s goalkeeper.
Without Ibrahimovich Barcelona have to know that lumping crosses into the penalty box is a low probability strategy. In the second half Pique was their biggest attacking threat because he was an aerial target for all the crosses coming from their fullbacks but the current Barcelona team are just not built to play this way. They must focus on creating space for Messi, Villa and Iniesta with quick one twos and off the ball movement. Even when Xavi came on he had no passing angles because the attack was too narrow and static. This is not to take away from Hercules who were brilliant and stuck to their game plan perfectly. Barcelona have shown a weakness against teams who defend deep and narrow so Hercules followed the Mourinho strategy and frustrated them until they became desperate and resorted to pointless crosses.