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[av_heading heading=’Barcelona beyond the “MSN” trio’ tag=’h1′ style=’blockquote modern-quote modern-centered’ size=” subheading_active=” subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=’custom-color-heading’ custom_font=’#ffffff’][/av_heading]

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Author: Daniele Lo Monaco

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Praise galore has been heaped on Barcelona’s star trio, Messi-Suarez-Neymar, also dubbed MSN. Their phenomenal results speak for themselves. The fact is though that many observers believe, perhaps rather simplistically, that they alone are behind Barça’s success.

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The strength of Luis Enrique’s team is, however, more than the sum of this trio.

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So with that said, when we sat down to watch Sunday’s Villareal-Barcelona match (final result 2-2) the aim was to look past the flair, prowess, talent and unpredictability of the triple phenomena in attack and see how the League leaders perform as a cohesive team.

The first thing of note is the way in which the team is constantly aiming to move in perfect sync when they have possession of the ball.

Rallying or long range movements are aimed at ensuring at least two players support the carrier but also the breadth of the pitch is covered for the ensuing development of play. So if, for example, full-back Sergi Roberto receives the ball on the wing, the wing-forward in the ball area (Messi in the example) prepares to receive the vertical shot after making a long-short counter movement while Busquets moves through two opponents towards the ball and Rakitic further forward, is flanked by another two opponents.

Conversely, if Messi is midfield, Rakitic is ready to go wide to give him a better passing shot and the full-back might overlap. Then there is always Suarez to ensure depth and Neymar who stays out wide on the opposite wing, moving continuously and incessantly, at times alternating and other times simultaneously.

These are systematically organised and worked-out moves which are not reliant on the talent of individual players.
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Playmaker Busquets almost always instigates the action, ducking between the two midfielders, but if the opponents open up the pitch, number five advances and sets up the two central defenders in the opponents’ half.

The passes are continuous (there will be 633 at the end of the Madrigal challenge), with a lead time often comparable to the average and almost always on the feet. If the lines were mapped out they would show numerous triangles, thanks to the continuous positioning between the opponents’ lines.

Constantly moving the ball, at times drawing in the opponent is a tactical play which coaches across the world would love to employ, but only Barcelona excels at it time and again and with such precision. They are skilled, of course, but they are also the most advanced tactically.

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Another case in point – no Barca player ever makes a cross which doesn’t have a precise technical target.

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The majority of players from other teams around the world cross without even lifting their heads when they get to goal, perhaps through tiredness. The Blaugrana keep their eyes on the ball and if they can’t find a safe solution they stop and turn back.
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Even when they don’t have possession, all eleven Barça players (keeper included) remain alert.

Every opposing back-pass, for instance, is met by an immediate return to a tight-knit and solid line of defence. The team’s length should always stay within 40 metres (35.6 metres with Villareal according to Wyscout’s final report).

Such is Barcelona’s reputation in regaining possession of the ball, skill-full and aggressive in attacking spaces and opponents in possession, that it is studied by technicians the world over.

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It requires much courage and the ability to shorten the field.

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How is it done? The line of defence comes out strongly, leaving no opponent free to receive the ball and the midfield must be as dense as possible. If the ball is back in possession, fantastic, otherwise they will withdraw and focus on the individual tactic of the defensive phenomena (with Piquet and Mascherano on everything).
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What sets them apart, in the end, is the composure of the players.

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No one ever dares blame a team mate, no one gets angry with the referee or an opponent, at the most they may smile mockingly. And you will almost never see them protest against the referee, even when the decision is blatantly unfair.

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In the 16th minute against Villareal for example, the ref gave Pique a warning for a non-existent handball (he touched it with his chest), after an initial protest Piquet listened to the ref’s explanation and then walked away without further histrionics. It turned out to be a productive choice since six minutes later the defender rather brusquely intercepted Denis Suarez’s shot at goal. If the referee had whistled for the foul he would have sent him off for a second yellow card. Unsure, he was lenient and didn’t intervene. Even so, he still comes out on top, even if the headlines still feature Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
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Daniele Lo Monaco
Journalist and UEFA B Coach

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