Jose Mourinho has fashioned Real Madrid into the best counter attacking team in the world, and in doing so, he has designed a team that may be far more adept at winning the league than Barca. Barcelona will always be better in competitions like the Champion’s League because they’re hard to beat, but they struggle to see off lowly but well-organised La Liga teams – as evidenced last season. Seeing off those stubborn minnows is the art of winning La Liga; so does Tiki-Taka have its limitations when pitched against counter attacking play?
Mourinho plays with Alonso as a quarterback, firing quick 30 yard passes to Ronaldo and Di Maria – Di Maria, a left footer on the right, and Ronaldo a right footer on the left. Ronaldo is the finest exponent of counter attacking football in the world and if you can get him one-on-one with the oppositions full back, he’ll cause havoc. Di Maria is also an underrated
force in this area, direct and lightning quick.
The statistics, mined from whoscored.com are remarkable. In 2010/11 Real Madrid scored 24 goals on the counter attack, Barca scored just 8 (only 1 at home!). Conversely, from open play Barcelona were dominant scoring 72 goals to Real Madrid’s 51. These stats may have been somewhat predictable but not many could envisage them being that emphatic.
Last season the gap narrowed with Barca soring 78 from open play and slightly more creditable 6 on the counter; Madrid scored 77 from open play and 15 on the counter – still a wide difference but an indication that the ideal way of playing lies somewhere between the two methods. For a team the calibre of Barcelona to score just one counter attacking goal at home in 2010/11 shows exactly how much value they put in retaining the ball above all else.
The possession statistics are naturally and comprehensively in Barca’s favour: In 2010/11 Barca enjoyed 72.1% of the ball per game, as opposed to Real’s modest 56.3%. In 2011/12 Barca had 69.3% of the ball, compared to Real’s 58.8%.
These stats prove Real do still tend to dominate the ball due to the fact that their forwards press the oppositions defence mercilessly when they lose it – but lose it they often do when trying to exploit gaps.
The main problem for Real’s counter attacking style is highlighted by what happened in the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sevilla. Sevilla scored first and shut-up-shop which meant that Real couldn’t get behind Sevilla’s midfield and counter attack to
So perhaps we should judge the merits of one style of play against the next in terms of what it can achieve. Real Madrid may find it harder to win a knockout competition due to their propensity to concede untimely or unlucky goals (Real concede 10.2 shots per game, Barca 7.4). Barca don’t tend to leave as many gaps or take as many chances so they’ll always find a result, even if they’re playing badly e.g. Spain at the Euros. League football is about constantly securing the three points whereas knockout football lends itself more to teams that are hard to beat.