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.
Madrid’s problem is neither the calendar nor that they are playing earlier or later than Barca. Their problem is that they are running more than necessary, and the players end up exhausted.
Two matches a week, a dynamic in which Barca comes off better than Madrid. So where is the difference? It is in the way how the two teams are playing, and not so much about the line-up. Where Barca dominates and sets the rhythm thanks to its possession game, Madrid wears considerably more because it is always, always, trying to recover the ball far from its opponent’s area. And that means having to cover more kilometers by running, and with a lot more pace, both going forwards and backwards – to attack, and if that’s unsuccessful, having to defend.
Could Madrid have won it at the Riazor? Sure. Madrid, packed with good players, will always be able to create chances, but they are paying a premium in the form of excessive wear for not controlling the match.
This competition has been going on for six months. In the first stage of the season it was the poundings coming from the League and Champions League, and after Christmas, the League and Copa. And now, we are back to the League and Champions League. Playing with the same line-up – except for the inclusion of Adebayor and Kaka, the number of games begins to take its toll, especially when the schedule calls for two games per week. Mourinho complained about that – at not being able to have an extra day off between his team’s match against Lyon and La Coruna. I get it when he talked about exertion, fatigue and of recovery. Of course that is partly right, but everything depends on how you look at things.
The trade off
While [it’s true that] last week they had one less day of rest, the week after that they are sure to have an extra day in-between matches. They did play on Saturday [Deportivo] but [after that] they will only get to play the next game on Thursday [Malaga]. That means they will have one more day of rest compared to Barca, who also plays on Saturday against Mallorca but instead will do so again on Wednesday in Valencia.
And what if los Blancos were to play against Deportivo last night [Sunday] and to play again on Wednesday against Malaga? With two games a week, if you lose one day you are certain to gain another [after that]. Even though rest and the kind of trainings conducted in-between matches are important, for me, it has more to do with how the team plays. And it is in this respect that Madrid will always be far off worse than do Barca. If both qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, this will become more evident. And this week, it’s another two League matchdays, and fatigue is certain to rear its head again.
In Barcelona’s case, missing several key players go from being a problem, in theory, to a blessing, in practice. The first-choice player may be very good, that it is, but he is not able to play forever, for thousands of reasons. This is where a balanced squad, always playing the same way, defined by a philosophy, happens to have a better chance of winning. Because be it by choice or forced upon it, they can always introduce a series of changes that give a break to some and make others feel important, and ultimately it reduces the workload and increases its chances of winning. Not just for one match but for the long run. And that means titles towards the end of a long season. In 10 days we’ll have the Barca – Arsenal Champions League second leg, and I watched the final of the Carling Cup with a keen eye. Arsenal’s defeat will surely make them a more dangerous side for Guardiola’s team, and the chance of winning over them will be harder to achieve. And the defeat, being the favourites in yesterday’s final at the Wembley, despite missing Cesc Fabregas, sums up Arsenal’s good and bad. Not just what they have now but of recent years: great quality, able to play a good game, but when it loses control of the pitch, it no longer holds sway over its opponent.
In a way, Arsene Wenger’s players suffer the same problem that Madrid has. That is to say, they find it hard to cope with playing two matches a week. Like Madrid, they find it difficult to control the match. And like Madrid, they also have to recover balls far from their opponent’s goalkeeper. And against rivals in the Premier League, there will be a lot of long balls, and racing up and down the pitch. As in the 2-1 final against Birmingham, one mistake and you’re dead. And this is what happened to Arsenal.
Even if you have, as is the case with Arsenal and even more so Real Madrid, many chances to score, if you do not dominate you will end up exhausted and be a spent force. Dominating the match is what you want, playing to your own rhythm, always controlling the capabilities of your opponent.