Two Worlds Collide

Tomorrow is finally the day of the most anticipated match (so far) of 2013.  One of the most fascinating features of the UEFA Champions League is being able to witness two teams from two very different leagues compete on one field.  The EPL and La Liga feature very different styles of play and require different skill sets for success.  Tomorrow we’ll get to see two powerhouses in Europe and their respective leagues meet.  Managers worldwide learn a lot from these matches when it comes to what works, what doesn’t work, and what is the future of soccer?  And I really hope this isn’t the future of soccer.

The “Spanish style” of soccer has been the most influential and successful style of soccer for a few years between a World Cup title, Euro Cup title and the strength of Real Madrid and Barcelona, although this record is certainly marred by both Spanish sides losing out in the semi-final round of last year’s Champions League competition.  In any case we’ve witnessed a migration towards this Spanish style: more short passing, triangles all over the field, and a narrower approach to goal (as opposed to whipping tons of crosses in).  Manchester United has adopted this style, highlighted by signings like Kagawa.  For some spots of the field, I’d say Manchester United and Real Madrid are very similar (Keeper, outside backs, strikers). However even with this migration towards the Spanish style, Real Madrid and Manchester United still have variations which stem from their roots.  Here are a few points where the Spanish and English sides differ:

Center backs – Manchester United still have the typical combination of strength and size in their central defenders.  Although there’s still a bit of coolness on the ball, I wouldn’t compare it to the common control found in Spanish center backs (case and point).

Defensive midfielders – Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira,  and Michael Carrick are similar, but Real Madrid has no player like Tom Cleverley. His role tomorrow will be very interesting.

Wingers – In what I’d characterize as an English motif, Manchester United, with the exception of that clown Nani, has more defensive wingers in Valencia and Welbeck where the Spanish side opts for offense over defense in guys like Ozil.  This will be a major factor tomorrow.  Will the more defensive style suit Manchester United or will that be their downfall?

Formation – United have become comfortable with a 4-2-3-1 style compared to a Real Madrid side more accustomed to a 4-3-3 formation.  Who strikes first in this scenario is paramount.  If Madrid strike first, United are forced out of their “shell”.  Should United strike first, Real have to continue to push without falling further behind.  Tomorrow is only the first leg, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any dramatic changes.  But I’d be surprised if we see the same strategies in the second leg as we do in the first leg.


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