The following is a translation of Johan Cruyff’s weekly article in ‘El Periodico’. The original can be found here.
Johan Cruyff’s key points.
In London, the one that makes the least mistakes won, but it is a setback that has a solution. Now we have to concentrate on the League. There will be a time to think about Arsenal.
The original Champions League [called European Cup prior to ‘92], a straight knockout competition (where one team goes through and the other out), tested my football to its fullest [Winner as an Ajax player ’71, ’72, ’73 and Barca coach ‘92]: this is a game of mistakes as it is played with the feet. And in London, the one that won made the least mistake. When was the last time Valdes got caught out? I don’t remember either. What about Messi, who already has 40 goals and 20 assists, not being able to score – he’s marked, okay, but not even deserving at least one…? The goal that Valdes lets in and the goal that Messi didn’t score are facts but not the only explanation for the defeat at the Emirates.
Football is a game of mistakes, certainly, but normally these errors have no consequences in 9 out of 10 matches. But in one, yes. And it was against Arsenal. Take the second goal by Arshavin, for example. We already know that, in addition to being good, they also have pace, and they possess the art of counter-attack. A long pass, into a space, and they can break your line of defence, twice. Way of defending against it? Use the offside trap. What for many is only a defensive weapon, for me, is both defensive and offensive at the same time. Offensive, because it compresses the field [due to the high defensive line], and defensive, by negating the need to make an interception. And without having to commit a [possible] foul, you manage to nullify the move. But to succeed everyone must act as one. Everyone must be attentive.
It took one step, two at the most, half a meter forward, not backwards, that the defenders must make. They may be the only one or two, maybe three, but all of them have to coordinate with each other, gauging with an eye on where the most advanced rival is, and following with other [eye] who has the opportunity to give a long ball, anticipating that move. If one of them fails in this regard, if one gets confused, they all pay. Exactly what happened in that move: Cesc’s long ball for Nasri, and the French striker breached the offside trap [because he was played in] not by the defender close to him but one that’s further away.
When two very good teams face each other, ones that can play short or long balls, the differences between them are small. For the spectator it is a bonanza. For the coaches, it’s a duel that goes beyond what’s drawn up on the chalkboard as everything is evolving by the minute.
From the outset Barca plays with three midfielders, one defensive (Busquets), two unconfined (Xavi and Iniesta) and connecting freely with all three of them, a forward (Messi). As do Arsenal, playing with three midfielders from the start, but two are defensive (Song and Wilshere) and one with the freedom to move forward (Cesc). In defensive mode, they increase their effectiveness by playing with only one forward (Van Persie), three midfielders (Nasri, Walcott and Cesc) and two more behind them (Song and Wilshere).
That’s why Barca managed to put them under pressure early in the match but I don’t see it that way. And I’m not talking about the steal [balls] they made (the two early occasions of Van Persie: the one that Valdes caught and the one that Abidal broke), but of proper losses of balls. They had it tough but nothing more. Because after overcoming this initial phase, they maintained this game-plan and chased after every ball as soon a pass is made by a Barca player. The movements made were so obvious that Song even flirted with an expulsion because he always came in late [with tackles]. As did his teammates.
Barca could have finished Arsenal off in the first half but it didn’t. And come second half, Wenger made a good move. Out goes Song, a player that has the least ball skills of them all, and enters Arshavin. He was looking for a goal and went on to get an extra one, first and second prize at the same time.
His script did not take into account the surprise Van Persie gave Valdes, but instead he was looking for the goal that secured the 2-1 [result for them]. And it so happened just when Barca seemed to have decided to strengthen its possession game by introducing one more midfielder (Keita) at the expense of a forward (Villa). And without depth, the control that they usually exercised loses its pressure as this [control] is no longer used to feed the ball to this player [Villa] but is now merely an extra man on the pitch, set further back, defending against the opposition.
Time for everything
We have three weeks separating the away and home legs of the eighth-finals. In between, including yesterday, four la Liga matches. I would not worry if Puyol is available or not for the return leg or if Arsenal will once again play like that. In the coming days, the English team, at most, will deploy its observers. As for the rest [of us], we should focus on what matters, and for now it’s the League. And in the 10 months of the season they’re playing for 38 (Liga) + 13 (Champions League) + 9 (Copa) matches: 60 matches if you count the two finals down the line. And as we have seen before 8 out of a possible 10 titles won – [and even if they are out] the real consequences are minimal considering the lean years that this club had gone through before them.