FC Barcelona are off and running in their quest for UEFA Champions League glory with a 3-2 victory – but they made life difficult for themselves by allowing Belgian opponents Club Brugge KV to stage a late rally at Camp Nou last night.
For all of their neat possession play and quick movement of the ball, Barcelona carved out very few clear chances. At the other end, Brugge rarely threatened. The Catalan side's slow build-up play allowed their opponents to snuff out any danger and restricted them to only four goalscoring opportunities.
The early goal meant that Brugge were caught between the need to press forward and yet be vigilant to the danger from Barcelona, and as a result, the Belgians failed to apply consistent pressure. “Brugge put ten men behind the ball and left only one up front, which is a credit to Barcelona,” said home coach Louis van Gaal. “Maybe we showed too much respect, we gave easy goals away and we were too passive,” was Brugge coach Trond Sollied’s frank assessment of his side.
Van Gaal’s new-look Barcelona - same old faces, different system - means a change in playing style from his first spell at the club and from last season’s coach. The Dutchman opts for three at the back, with two pivotal midfield players, two wing-backs and two forwards behind a lone striker.
The early goal forced Sollied into an impromptu change, with Brugge moving from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, using the wings to hit Barcelona on the break, a zonal marking system and plenty of men behind the ball, particularly in central midfield, so as not to hand the advantage to the opponents.
“We had a good period in the middle of the first half, but after their goals early in the second half, they could play with confidence,” said Sollied. Twice Brugge were punished for their failure to pick up players in the area, when first Luis Enrique’s opportunist strike opened the scoring, and then when Javier Saviola was allowed to weave into the penalty-box to shoot home.
At half-time, Sollied brought on Milan Lesnjak for Sergiy Serebrennikov in order to incorporate a pair of fresh legs and keep an eye on the rampaging Gaizka Mendieta. “We had big problems on the left side and that’s why we changed things. I wanted some speed,” explained the Brugge coach. With 20 minutes remaining, Nastja Ceh replaced Sandy Martens to give even more width down the left.
The introduction of Brugge golden boy Alin Stoica eleven minutes into the second half saw the visitors move to a three-man defence in a 3-4-3 system, in order to give another attacking option. However, Barcelona only looked threatened at the death, when they had - for the first time - more men behind the ball with the front three waiting to break. “In the last 15 minutes we suffered, we failed to exert pressure,” explained Van Gaal. "We generally play compactly and the players only have to run 10-15 metres, but at the end, we failed to play in a compact manner.”
For the first time all game, Van Gaal, who had not altered the shape of his side after making direct player-for-player substitutions, was visibly nervous and kept coming off his bench to approach the touchline. “I wanted to signal to my players that they should keep up the pressure until the end,” he said. Ultimately, Barcelona earned the points, but not without a late fright.
KEY PLAYER: Luis Enrique (FC Barcelona)
An inspirational figure who works tirelessly for the cause. His opportunist’s goal gave Barcelona a welcome early boost.
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