Another trophy for the well-oiled Barcelona machine. Another irrefutable victory due to their superiority and competitiveness. Pep Guardiola and his lads again imposed themselves against a good team, whatever the scoreline says, in the final of the Club World Cup. The 4-0 win in Yokohama leaves no doubt that the Spanish team again go right to the top of world football. Two Messi goals, one by Xavi Hernandez and another from Cesc, in more of an exercise in football, handed the trophy to Barcelona. Seeing Pep and the boys receive it brought back a host of memories from last year when we won the tournament with Inter compared with those I had when we lost with Liverpool in 2005, two different sides of the coin. So straightaway I would like to congratulate them.
Let’s look at the match. FC Barcelona persisted with their three man defence of Puyol, Pique and Abidal with more players in midfield and Dani Alves very wide on the right, Busquets as central pivot and Xavi Hernandez towards the right. Initially, Thiago Alcantara was to his left and Iniesta was wide on the left almost as a winger. But they immediately switched places. As for Cesc Fabregas, he played at the head of the midfield diamond, with Messi in his role as a ‘false striker’ but constantly changing position with Cesc.
In opposition, Santos played 1-4-3-1-2 with Bruno Rodrigo, a centre back, playing at right back, the position normally occupied by Danilo (attacking full back) but who in this match played in the midfield rather than in the back line. So their defensive line, with Cabral in goal, consisted of Bruno Rodrigo, Edu Dracena, Durval and Leo at left back. They had three in midfield with Danilo, as I said, on the right, Henrique in the middle and Arouca on the left, Ganso as a second striker or the link with the strikers and Neymar and Borges as more out and out strikers.
Barcelona’s game plan was, as usual, to keep the ball and switch the play from side to side to look for the penetrating pass and Santos’s plan was clearly to defend with 8 men behind the ball and allow the three forwards to have freedom to break forward quickly on the counter attack.
The game was changed after 16 minutes after a spectacular, top quality control by Xavi and a no less brilliant finish from Messi. A brilliant goal thanks to the dominance and superiority of Barca. 2-0 followed quickly coming on 23 minutes. A Dani Alves attack on the right, a penetrating run by Messi looking to get behind the centre backs to create space in the centre where Xavi could receive and find the net from near the penalty spot.
It was obvious that Bruno Rodrigo, normally a centre back, tended to come inside leaving Thiago free and open to receive the ball as the game opened up.
As the first half was coming to the end, they made it 3-0 with Fabregas pouncing on a rebound in the six yard box. He had given a warning earlier with a shot against the post after a diagonal run behind the Brazilian centre backs, despite the fact that there were three of them, in a back line that was too vulnerable through the centre because there was no pressure on the ball from the midfield.
Meanwhile, for Santos, there was only a shot by Borges (26 mins) that stood out but it was easily dealt with by Valdes after poor covering by the Barcelona defence. The substitution of Danilo by Elano, a more attacking player, didn’t alter the shape of the Brazilians.
After the break, a minor change by Santos with Neymar moving out more to the left and a bit deeper, but then as the game went on, having more freedom to attack. As for Elano he was the left central midfield player and Arouca as the right centre midfield. But in fact the game did not change much with Barca still making chances but not adding to the score until towards the end.
However, the Brazilians had their chances. Almost all of them coming through Neymar, one with a combination with Borges, mostly at the start of the second half. They were damp squibs though because, when Barcelona composed themselves again, there appeared to be only one team on the pitch.
Pep Guardiola withdrew Pique for Mascherano. This was clearly not a tactical change in my opinion but a gesture to Javi, as reward for his excellent performances and sacrifice for the team and the philosophy of the coach. It is not easy for one of the best defensive midfield players in the world, maybe the best, to constantly play as a centre back in the interests of the team.
Although the tempo of the game dropped, the tone was the same. 71% Barcelona possession with 29% left to the opposition is a hallmark of this Barcelona, especially against a team like the Brazilians, always characterised by taking care of the ball.
Messi again finished the scoring, his second, with excellent touches at pace to take advantage of a good Dani Alves pass. An excellent performance on the world stage to win another trophy shows the inexhaustible hunger of Barcelona.
My general impression of Santos, with a more defensive approach than usual, knew that Barcelona would dominate. With 7 players, plus a goalie making 8, behind the ball and hoping for a counter attack and a piece of luck, they didn’t show us much more.
Barca on the other hand, if anything, showed total trust in their style. Ball possession, player mobility, switching positions…. Alves as almost a right winger and Thiago practically a left winger gave them width, opened up the defence and allowed the little guys with their enormous quality to unbalance the opposition in the centre.
A competitive victory, another trophy and the chance to present it on behalf of David Villa in Spain waiting to undergo surgery. He deserves it. Oh and another thing, the Messi – Neymar duel didn’t materialise simply because of the enormous superiority of the Barcelona team. Congratulations – enjoy it.