Champions League passing stats

Doesn’t need much comment from me…but to pass the ball 148 times in a Champions League Final and complete 141 of them. Unbelievable. If you add up the completed passes of United’s top five passers in the game, it’s still not that many.

See passing stat graphic courtesy of Total Football Apps, after the jump.

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16 Responses to Champions League passing stats

  1. cutleron says:

    Reflects three things, and only the first is about passing accuracy:
    2) Being in space to receive a pass in the first place, and in enough space to be able to consider options and make an accurate pass.
    3) one’s teammates always doing the same: Looking for a few yards of space.

    But the chart also reflects a certain style. It happens to be the best in the world right now with these players. But remember when that style went down in flames when France beat Brazil in 1998.

  2. Gregor says:

    Good points but I’d say the ‘down in flames’ part is more fitting for when Brazil lost to Italy in 1982. For me the 1998 Final was an anomaly that had more to do with Ronaldo almost dying the morning of the match and his teammates consequently not being in the mood to play.

    • cutleron says:

      Fair enough. You’re right that in 1998 they didn’t create chances like Barca has been lately, France’s back four were better than Man U’s today (Evra and Vidic looked like they’d never played together on two of the goals), and Brazil’s defenders then looked like they’d never seen a cross in their lives.

      Anyway, a treat to watch the diamond of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. Wow.

      Best team ever? Easily. Even with Mascherano.

  3. K says:

    Unbelievable match. We are truly fortunate to be able to be around and watch these guys play – which is what they do, play. Very well. For me the most fascinating isn’t how much they keep the ball and enjoy keeping it, it is how hard all of them work as a unit to win it back as quickly as possible.

    I challenged my team to get 600 passes the other week – we managed about 500….I’d be fascinated to know if any of them had stats anywhere near even Messi’s 100 attempted passes, or Busquets’ 80.

  4. Colin Elmes says:

    Truly mesmerizing. The two top Clubs in Europe and one makes the other look like Scunthorpe Utd for long patches of the game.

    First 10 mins it almost seemed that Barca let United have the ball to see what they could come up with. There was a clear and definite point between 10 and 11 mins where they snatched it back and rarely gave it up again for more than 5-10 seconds at a time.

    These players play passes (successfully) into areas and players where opponents have no expectation of them. Not seeing the ball for 60 seconds at a time and next thing you know you and your supporting defender are within a handshake of each other and there are channels down either side of you to exploit…… There are no patterns of play, nothing to prepare for regarding tendencies.

    The only thing these guys are not proficient at is dead balls(probably by choice). I bet if you charted all their goals this season they have the lowest percentage of goals directly off dead balls. There is no one willing(because I am sure they can) to smash the ball in from distance.

    There was a point where they won a free kick in the centre circle only to play 3 passes in a very tight area with United players all around them. Unbelievable. I could watch them play for days. It was the Harlem Globetrotters vs the Washington Generals!

    I have not seen that type of flamboyance and confidence since the 82 Brazil team with Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Junior….


    • Gregor says:

      I think the key point you raised is that the constant ball movement by Barcelona does have an almost hypnotic effect on defenders. By changing the point of attack constantly, even if it’s just 8-10 yard passes, you force the defenders to adjust and adjust and adjust.

      A centre back’s natural tendency is to to have an eye on the ball and use peripheral vision to track their mark’s movement. Then they will still peeks to see their relative positioning to their other defenders and whether to adjust their line.

      Defending against Barcelona means it’s very risky to take your eyes off the ball because the ball movement is constant and you know at some point the dagger pass is coming from Xavi or Iniesta or Alves or Messi and you need to be ready for it. Ironically, this ball watching, as Colin says, means that relative positioning for defenders goes out the window and channels open up (Vidic and Evra getting pulled out of position on the first goal when Xavi slid the ball to Pedro).

      What I would disagree with is that while there may be no patterns of play (gk to outside back, lump to striker, lay back to mid, etc) there are definitely tendencies in Barcelona’s play. There are definitely strengths they play to.

      The first and most obvious is to bring the ball through the middle to get it at Xavi’s feet and play with three central midfielders in tight spaces. Their comfort on the ball means they either kill teams 3v2 in the middle of the park or they suck in another midfielders and shoo the ball wide to Alves or (not so much) Abidal. That’s another tendency: outside backs who truly get forward on the overlap and put crosses in (usually on the ground).

      Another tendency is for Messi to pull back into midfield to get the ball at his feet to the right of the goal he’s attacking and make a diagonal run to get the ball on his left and strike the ball from the top of the box. He had loads of those goals this season and I’ve no idea why United were slow to close him down on his goal yesterday. They would definitely have known that’s bread and butter territory there.

      Defensively, as K noted, teams know the pressure that Barca put on when they lose the ball is both unprecedented and constant. They want that ball back. While their ability on the ball means they’re always going to have more possession than opponents, their work rate in quickly winning it back means the possession will not be just a slight majority, it will be dominance.

      I think I said here or on Twitter that watching Barcelona play is truly one of the joys of modern life. I’ve caught a lot of their games on Gol TV this season and I still marvel at the overall ability, the fact they’ve developed most of these players in-house and that they’ve turned the modern game on its head by raising the bar technically and showing you can win with a team full of 5’6 players who are almost always physically outmatched by their opponents.

  5. Outsider says:

    The real question is– when we are going to teach Canadian players to play this way?

    • Gregor says:

      I’m guessing we are just one of 200 odd countries saying this! What I want to know is how can managers like Sven Goran Eriksson command the salaries they do and the coaches running La Masia toil away in relative obscurity (and for for far less $ I’m sure)

  6. Outsider says:

    1. We should be one of few of the 200 to do something about it.

    • Gregor says:

      Just waiting for that CSA Long Term Player Development (aka Wellness to World Cup) Curriculum to be translated to French and then once it’s released we’ll be shooting up the FIFA rankings in no time…

    • Phil Hernandez says:

      As my daughter (and yours) has risen through the ranks of youth soccer, I have noticed a great many ‘parent’ coaches [I am not a coach but I find the derision associated with that term both unfair and in many cases, unwarranted] from about U6 to U9 taking a skills-first approach to practice which I think is good. During games, things will often ‘ramp up’ and coaches will begin to try to win games through player manipulation and play instruction. Still, they hold off a little because in the backs of most of their minds they realize these are 8 year olds and its not about winning. Around about U10, things noticeably change. Some coaches, still volunteers, have taken their CCY (or higher) certification. It’s as if they have suddenly been given a license to hunt down and kill the opposition by whatever means necessary. Some go the strategy route and gather their troops around little hand-held whiteboards with pre-drawn soccer fields, furiously scribbling instructions like an NBA head coach during a 30 second time out in a tied playoff game. Others yell. Yell, yell, so much yelling. And not the good yelling (“nice pass Hanna!” or “good decision Pete”) but the other kind (“What was that?!” etc.). This often lasts for about three to four years. Once the players are about 14, the select team coaches all assume that the players know how to play because they’re….14. They get evaluated in a try-out that lasts 60 minutes – in many cases the first time they have ever been seen by the evaluators: …good dribbler, nice passer, big foot, “Congratulations!”, “Thank you for trying out…”, “…let’s go with the players from the club for the last three spots…”, hope they’re this good in a real game…

      And even fewer parents get it:
      “why would they sub out Johnny – he’s scored three goals?” “I wish they would kick it out more when they’re in trouble…”, “her club team would destroy her academy team – they play a much more direct style of play…”, “…well at least we finally won one…”

      But then there are the few who do:
      “We’re trying to be thoughtful with the ball, to not aimlessly kick the ball to no one whenever we’re pressured. We’re trying to move the ball around the field quickly and intelligently.”

      “…so many teams…in our soccer community…kick the ball forward and apply maximum pressure in the hope that the opposition will make more mistakes than them. In my view, this is a bankrupt approach to the game and, more importantly, it’s an approach that doesn’t develop players.”

      “Teams that don’t try to possess the ball in any meaningful way [have]touches [that don’t] have the same type of purpose or value.”

      “Trying to play good, skilful soccer is hard. If it wasn’t hard, every youth team would do it. And it’s particularly hard if no one has demanded it of you before. It’s even harder when you’re only 10-11 years old and haven’t spent years working on your technique yet. Invariably, playing that type of soccer will create many mistakes and many of those mistakes will be costly. So be it. It’s a price we have to pay in order to get better.”

      “While it’s perfectly understandable and valuable to take pleasure in the competition, we also need to take pleasure in successfully executing components of the game. For example, penetrating through the midfield in 4 one-touch passes as we move forward off the ball can be a beautiful thing. We need to value those accomplishments as well.”

      “That’s the direction we’re heading with this group of players and even if we never get to the final destination together as a team, it’s a path worth taking.”

      As you may discern, this coach was addressing a U12 team. I could probably dig up some similar comments from when he coached the U11 team last year. And to my knowledge, he has always coached this way (15+ years).

      So to answer your question, there are already pockets of this type of approach to the game. The issue is not “when” but rather “why is it not more prevalent?” The answer is not simple but it boils down to culture and the importance placed on winning at a young age. Here’s hoping Barcelona helps turn it around.

  7. Mitch says:

    It was a great demonstration of ball control, skill & movement. But is it duplicatable? How do we duplicate Messi, Xavi, David Villa………Or is this a once in a lifetime team. Don’t you think every team, club and country hasn’t studied them for years and still no one has come close to duplicating them. Man. U was out classed in every way.

  8. Rob says:

    The way Barca plays every player on that team are trained to be very patient. They are not running down the field pounding balls forward like most teams. Kodo’s to Barca’s academy.

  9. JoeR says:

    Had the pleasure to sit and watch the game with my daughter on Saturday (her in her Pique Barca jersey) and we like others were amazed with the passing that the Barca players we able to do in the game. To hear my daughter say “dad that is what is wrong with Canadian football they don’t teach us to pass enough, but it is not just the passing it is always having an option they are always connected” made me such a proud father. My daughter is becoming not only a player but a student of the game. I have to agree with her there are far too many coaches that teach the kick and gun style of game, yet when you see the players actually able to string together pass after pass it becomes a much more enjoyable game to watch and play. She spend a whole season last year with her metro coach who preached long ball and kick it out, which drove her nuts, and then she watches (we download all the Barca games for her) a team like Barca and it shows her what the sport could be like. It is interesting to hear from her how much she hates playing for , as she calls them, “old fashioned coaches” vs playing for others who preach possession( pats on the back to Colin and Gregor for not being “old fashioned”) . Perhaps we need to sit more of our players down and show them parts of the Barca or other teams games and tell them this is what we want to see from you. I said this to my daughter and her response was it is not the players, it is the parents that need to see it because she hears too often all the parents at the sideline saying great kick, as the ball goes to no one, or kick it up the field…so I guess the saying “from the mouths of babes” is true

    • scott says:

      First of all this Barcelona team is pure magic. Why don’t we see more of this style? In my opinion it is poor officiating. Too much leeway is given for “honest” challenges. Why do coaches pick bigger stronger players with less skill and vision? Because they know smaller skillful players will get run over and hacked down and “muscled” off the ball.

    • K says:

      Your daughter should switch teams. Or she should start getting her coaching licenses!

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