Football Tactics for Beginners: The Low Block

What is the low block? The low block is generally referred to a football team's defensive shape without the ball. Generally the low block consists...
Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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Barcelona Vs Real Madrid:The Dream Team vs The Galacticos

An imagining of a match between two famous El Clasico sides. The 1992 European Cup winning Barcelona team, known as “The Dream Team” versus the 2002 Real Madrid team, at the beginning of what is known as the Galactico’s period. Il Fenomeno doesn’t make the side – he signed in late summer 2002. Sadly too, Romario didn’t join until the year after Barcelona’s European Cup triumph.
First up, the team sheets.
Barcelona 1992 (4-2-3-1)
Real Madrid 2002 (4-4-2 Diamond)
Former player Cruyff’s return as manager to the Camp Nou in 1988 was the start of a resurgence in Barcelona’s fortunes, following the relatively disappointing years with El Tel and Luis Aragones in charge. Four La Liga titles in a row (1991-94) and a European Cup triumph helped to make Cruyff Barlecona’s most successful ever manager, until he was recently overtaken by Pep Guardiola. Cruyff’s team combined a core of Basque players  with outstanding foreign signings such as Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup.
Real Madrid’s Galactico’s would go on to include Englishmen Beckham and Owen, but in 2002 President Florentino Perez had been in control for two years, and had added former Blaugranas hero Luis Figo and Frenchman Zinedine Zidane, breaking transfer fee records each year. In contrast to Barcelona, Real Madrid had a fine European Cup pedigree at the time of their team featured here, in fact Los Merengues had won the UEFA Champions League in 1998 and 2000.

In the 1991/92 season, Barcelona’s Dream Team won La Liga, but failed to beat their El Clasico rivals – both the game at Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu finished 1-1. In contrast, the Real Madrid team of 2001/02 finished 3rd behind Rafa Benitez’s famous Valencia side of Canizares, Ayala, Ruben Baraja and Pablo Aimar, and Deportivo La Coruna. They did of course win the Champions League and with the purchase of Brazilian superstar striker Ronaldo went on to win La Liga in the next season.

The Match Report.
Two legendary teams took to the field at Wembley, the home of football. Barcelona 1992 “The Dream Team”, led out by captain Andoni Zubizarreta; and Real Madrid 2002 “The Galacticos”, captained by Fernando Hierro. A nice touch before the match began – both teams gave each other a guard of honour, clapping their rivals onto the re-laid hallowed turf of the Cathedral of Football.
Soon after, hostilities resumed – a match full of energy, passion, and a fair few frayed tempers. Barcelona prevailed 2-1 courtesy of goals from Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman, and survived a late onslaught from Real Madrid after being reduced to 10 men for the last 12 minutes. Real piled on the pressure, but couldn’t find the second goal to take it to extra time, after Zidane scored a goal of fabulous quality.
Real Madrid started the more lively of the two. Roberto Carlos spent more time in the opposition half during the first twenty minutes than his own – putting Albert Ferrer under pressure and restricting Goikoetxea’s attacking chances.
Barcelona began to come into it though, Guardiola and Bakero putting some lovely passes together, keeping the ball from Real Madrid. Guardiola in particular characterised his play with simple, short passes which had Real’s midfield chasing shadows.
The first goal came ten minutes before half time. A slip by Luis Figo letting Michael Laudrup onto the ball in a dangerous position, the great Dane advanced on the Real Madrid’s defence, drifting into the space vacated by Roberto Carlos who had sprinted ahead to give Figo an option. A lovely chipped ball between Hierro and Helguera put Stoichkov through who let it bounce before firing a low shot beyond Casillas.
The young ‘keeper made some amends early in the second half, pulling off a series of stunning saves to deny Stoichkov and Bakero, and also a stunning reaction save to keep a Nadal header out from a well worked corner.
Real Madrid then began to play a bit, showing their strengths. Roberto Carlos continued his tireless runs, Makelele snuffing out Barcelona attacks and distributing the ball to his more creative colleagues. The Real Madrid attack had been quiet until this point, but in the 55th minute they combined to give Zubizarreta more to do than keep himself warm. Zidane outmuscled Bakero and played in Figo with a glorious reverse ball. Quick feet by Figo found him half a yard in the area, his curled shot had Zubizarreta beaten, but the ball agonisingly pinged off the corner of the bar and left post.
Barcelona seemed to take heed of the warning. Applying more pressure through midfield, they began to press higher up the pitch and were rewarded for their belligerence with a second with just over 20 minutes remaining. Another well worked set piece found Koeman  30 yards out. The Real Madrid wall remained static as Laudrup surprised them by playing the ball laterally to the onrushing Koeman who again cemented his reputation for deadly accuracy and power from range. No keeper in the world would’ve kept his shot out; 2-0 Barcelona.
Barcelona didn’t take their foot off the gas though. They continued to play the possession game, frustrating Real Madrid. Helguera in particular began to take out his frustration on opponent’s legs. Although perhaps it was a ploy to bring out the temper of another hot-head on the pitch. In the 78th minute Stoichkov was brought down once to many times for his liking, and retaliated by raking his studs across the ribs of Helguera when both were on the floor. Helguera received a yellow for the foul, but Stoichkov got his marching orders from referee Pierluigi Collina.
Real Madrid, a man to the good but two goals down, turned up the tempo in the remaining minutes of the game, and it was then Barcelona’s turn to soak up pressure. Five minutes before the end Zidane produced the moment of brilliance his team had been looking for, setting up a grandstand finish. Receiving the ball from Makelele in the centre circle, he played a one-two with Solari, then laid the ball off for Morientes. Morientes found substitute Steve McManaman down the right wing who made the bye-line before chipping a cross to Zidane on the penalty spot. Bringing the ball down with his chest, he executed a perfect Cruyff turn, bamboozling Koeman before hammering a right foot shot into the top corner of the goal.
In the end it wasn’t enough. An injury time effort from Raul was palmed onto the bar and behind, but Zubizarreta’s touch wasn’t spotted by the linesman or referee, who blew for full time. The Dream Team 2; The Galactico’s 1; a match of scintillating football sent the 80,000 capacity crowd home happy. Everyone present in that grand old stadium will be telling people for years “that match was unbelievable”.

You can follow Tom on twitter @ffootballer or visit his blog The Frustrated Footballer

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Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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