Three short observations on the Barcelona vs AC Milan game last night.
3 Man Defence
Guardiola has used a three man defence on occasion at home this season particularly against weaker opposition but this was the first time they have used it against a strong opponent. It allowed an additional man to play in the midfield area which is important against a narrow Milan side who strength lies in the central midfield area and gave Alves the freedom to start very high up on the right.
The three man defence still provided Barca with a spare man against the Milan front two of Robinho and Zlatan.
Guardiola talked at the press conference afterwards about the flexibility of Alves and how this assist’s the team.
Both Alves but especially Cuenca played high and wide, staying on the touchline to stretch their opponents. In the first game at the San Siro, Barca were far too narrow probably a combination of line up and pitch quality (remember Arsenal had also struggled to gain any width at the San Siro).
Cuenca had little influence on the game but by being permanently stationed on the touchline it pulled Milan’s back 4 across the full width of the 18 yard box. The success that Milan enjoyed at the San Siro had been forcing Barca narrow.
With the back four stretched, the midfield dropped deeper to prevent Barca exploiting the gaps in the defensive line.
Recalled to the starting eleven after injury, Cesc alternated between playing in and around Messi often moving beyond him on occasion but also dropped deeper than Messi to collect the ball. This led to Messi being isolated on occasion with Alves and Cuenca very wide. This was the exact problem Barca faced in the clasico last season early on when the role of Cesc was confused and he strayed too far from Messi but too close to Xavi.
Perhaps there is still a little bit more work required on the training pitch to iron out the small problems on how Messi and Fabregas should link against better opposition.