My Top Three Games To Watch In Isolation
Similar to picking your best team of all-time, this is a very difficult task (based purely on personal opinion) but nonetheless a fun exercise. Before selecting them, I thought about the games that should be automatic selections in there and looked a little deeper at them. Immediately, Brazil versus France in 1986 springs to mind, but in the heat of the Guadalajara was too slow for me. As much as the Manchester United versus Bayern Munich had the best finish to a game of all-time, the 89 minutes before were somewhat forgettable. With a little more time to do some homework, there probably would have been a place for the 1970 Brazil team of Pele, Rivelino, Jairzinho and co. So I've decided on a set criteria below:
1. Tactical Diversity: Two contrasting styles of play
2. Tempo: Fast and intenste
3. Individual Players: World class talent on the pitch
Above all however, I've chosen games that have either inspired me as a player or a coach. Players that made me want to go out and practice for hours. Coaches that make me think a little more how we can play this game. If you haven't watched any of these games, I suggest you do. If you have, sit back and enjoy!
Game One: Athletic de Bilbao versus Barcelona (2011)
This was an easy one for me. Marcelo Bielsa versus Pep Guardiola. The Barcelona team that changed the game in so many ways. How would a coach like Bielsa shape up against them? The rain and half water-logged pitch probably didn't do Barcelona any favors, but just adds another bit of entertainment to the match.The most enjoyable aspect for me personally, is Bielsa's ability to adapt between zonal marking and aggressive player-to-player marking. This clip below was done by Footy Analytics (a must follow on Twitter) and shows Bilbao's commitment to aggressive marking and how fluid it was. It was not a problem for a center back to follow a forward back into midfield or for a full-back to track all the way inside. Just like his Leed's side today, it's all or nothing when it comes to carrying out tactical instructions.
Guardiola said after this game, "We've never played against a team who were so intense, so aggressive, and denied us so much space." It's rare that you sit down and watch a game for defensive reasons, but this is one where it is well worth it.
Game Two: Brazil versus Italy (1997)
I fell in love with this Brazil team during the 1995 Umbro Tournament in England. Although they won the World Cup in the previous year, they played a very conservative style of play under Carlo Alberto Perriera and the traditional 'Samba football' was replaced by a more European approach. However, this 'new' Brazil (ironically under legend Mario Zagallo) was more about attacking youth and the Nike airport commercial symbolized both their creativity and their rise as the highest profile team in the world. For this game, the two forward lines alone would make you sit down and watch: Romario and Ronaldo versus Christian Vieri and Del Piero. Although Romario and Ronaldo were polar opposites in terms of their movements, they will both go down as two of the greatest Brazilian forwards of all-time. In addition, a young Denilson was breaking through at the same time on the left wing, destined for the same road as Ronaldo, but it never seemed to workout for him at the following year's World Cup. Three of the four full-backs being Maldini, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos made the battle of the wide spaces fascinating to watch as well.
Game Three: Spain versus Chile (2014)
Quite possibly my favorite game of all time. Peter Drury's commentary after the first goal should take you right back to this tournament: "The irresistible Chile have the lead, and the champions are on the brink." Before that tournament, it was the Spanish team that had set the bar on both sides of the ball. During tournaments at that time, there were few countries who could deal with the tempo and the quality of their play and, even if this was not the best version of that Spain, the defensive work rate of Chile was on a different level. To rewatch this almost six years later, it's still an absolute masterclass in pressure. The bravery and belief to press against a midfield of Busquets, Iniesta, and Xavi Alonso was what made that Chile team so special. In terms of tactical diversity, this wasn't a case of possession versus counter, or caution versus risk, it was more different ways to do the same thing. Both teams continually looking to apply and break pressure, always on the front foot, and always wanting to dominate the ball. Chile's back three against the positional play template. The contrast in coaching styles is also very entertaining. Sampaoli kicks every ball, while Vicente Del Bosque rarely changes his expression. Again, it wasn't the Spanish team at their best, but it was a side that Xavi couldn't get into. The atmosphere in the stadium seemed to symbolize the energy of the Chile team and the tempo is on another level.
Alright, I'm sure I missed a few.... let me know your thoughts on Twitter!