It would be safe to say that Barcelona weren’t their usual selves on a cold Wednesday night in Milan during a scintillating and historic Champions League tie. Averaging 3 goals a game so far this season, the Spaniards shocked the footballing world when they finished the 90 minute thriller against the resilient Italian side without a single goal to their name.
While many may dismiss Barca’s failure to show up at the San Siro as a once-off, this is most certainly not the case. Time and time again the Catalans have carved their way through weak Spanish defences all too easily, and putting 3 or more goals past their opponents is almost a weekly fixture for football fans watching across the globe. Tiki-Taka is undoubtedly one of the most successful mediums of football used today, and Tito Vilanova’s side pass opposition to death with relative ease in La Liga. Their ruthless run of form in the Spanish league has seen them claim the best ever La Liga start in history, after they had claimed 55 points out of a possible 57 at one stage in the season. Have a look at their 24 results domestically so far this campaign. Astounding to say the least. 80 goals in 24 games is utterly emphatic. This is the sort of form that has earned this star-studded side the right to be crowned as one of the world’s best ever teams.
But the Champions League is a whole different ballgame, and while the Spanish League leaders seem to have faced the unpredictability of the outcomes on those fateful European nights, they still seem as if they haven’t learnt from their previous misdemeanours.
Last season, Chelsea pulled off two monumental results against the ‘La Masia’ crowd. Many criticised Chelsea’s unappeasing method of play, yet if it wins you the game, surely you must be doing something right?
There is no right or wrong way to play football, although some ways are simply more effective than others. Chelsea’s use of ‘Parking the bus’ was one of Roberto Di Matteo’s most inspiring additions to a side deprived of the same quality as their Spanish opponents, and it worked a treat.
Pep Guardiola’s mesmerising ‘Tiki-Taka’ football is widely described as the most aesthetically pleasing style of football, and it allows players suited to the unique system to realise and reach their full potential. But all good things inevitably come to an end, and Pep Guardiola’s seemingly unflappable system was found out by an unsuspecting London outfit. Chelsea unearthed Messi et al’s achilles heel, and starved the Spaniard’s of time and space in every last inch on the Camp Nou and Stamford Bridge turf.
This ingenious implementation by the former Chelsea manager meant that his whole team had to double up on almost every one of Barcelona’s players. The Pensioners essentially defended with 11 men for much of the game, and in doing so they frustrated Guardiola’s side so much so that the Londoners would eventually prevail, and claim their first ever Champions League trophy, an accolade which has eluded Abramovich and his disciples for the whole of his and Chelsea’s illustrious career.
Milan decided to take a leaf out of Chelsea’s book, and Massimiliano Allegri implemented an almost identical tactic of ‘Parking the bus’ when the Italians met the Spaniards.
Possession is the most prevalent component in Barcelona’s much-loved Tiki-Taka football, but what’s the point of having the ball if you can’t put it in the back of the net? You would think that after last season’s fall at the merciless hands of Chelsea, Barcelona would have learned their lesson. Yes, small, ball-monopolising players are more suited to Barca’s system, but there is a gaping flaw in the Spanish side’s system. There is no plan B. Evident against Chelsea, even more so away to Milan.
After all, passes don’t win you games, and neither does possession. They may lend a huge helping hand in some aspects, but there needs to be some sort of adaptation by the sometimes one-dimensional Catalonian outfit. Vilanova’s side play passes over-the-top and in-behind for fun most days. But when the going gets tough, they seem to lose their way, sticking to the only way they know how to play football. How often do you see Barcelona score from a cross or a header? Seldom. Sometimes a gritty goal is needed, and when Messi is in the box, he simply cannot beat the majority of centre-backs with any sort of aerial presence.
Milan’s composure in front of goal proved to be crucial in their monumental win against Barca, and they didn’t need an awful lot of possession to win the game. Just a perpetual, unfaltering work-rate along with a huge scoop of luck, and the Italians ran out the victors. Two majestic goals courtesy of former Portsmouth players Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari put the Italian giants 2-0 ahead on aggregate, leaving the Messi and co. with a massive mountain to climb.
Call it what you will. Ugly, distasteful or boring. But in the end, sometimes parking the bus is the only way to get one over the Tiki-Taka loving sides, and in these two instances, it has proven to be more than just a mere fluke, but rather a stroke of genius by Allegri and Di Matteo.