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Possession football...handball style

Quique Setién's Barça produced more than a thousand passes during Sunday's game but looking closely at this data, more than 70% of these combinations were backwards. This brand of the possession game is also a defensive manner of playing the game. Instead of accumulating a number of players populating defensive areas, the idea is to send players higher up the pitch, retrieve the ball and hang on to it. Celebrated Basque journalist Iñaki Gabilondo voiced his dissatisfaction some time ago about this way of playing the game as it reminded him too much of handball. However, the game of handball features a rule where the team in possession can be seen be called out by the match official for "passive play", if it is felt that there is no real desire to attack the opposition goal.

Quique Setien during the training session
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Quique Setien during the training sessionMarc Gonzalez Aloma / AFP7Europa Press

Another match official?

It's certainly not my responsibility to ask that this "passive play" rule is introduced to football as the last thing we need is another official at the edge of the area trying to ascertain if the preceding three minutes have been possession for the sake of it or a determined effort for the team with the ball to attack the opposition goal. However Sunday's Barça-Granada clash was a game which prompted questions about the possession game. One thing the style of play did ensure was that Ter Stegen had a placid evening between the sticks for Barcelona which contrasts to recent games where the German has been called into action on numerous occasions. I have to admit that I found the brand of play somewhat monotonous and this was only broken up by flashes of brilliance from Messi or bursts along the flank from Jordi Alba who is an accomplished provider of assists.

Lionel Messi
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Lionel MessiXavi Bonilla / AFP7 / Europa Pre

Setién possession game

Barça managed to have 83 % possession of the ball for the match and at one point of the encounter it seemed that the Andalusian side may snatch a 0-0 draw before Pizarro Gómez left his side with ten men. The attractive proposition about the Xavi and Iniesta Barcelona side and even "La Roja" was the view at the time of playing the game with a keen emphasis of looking to play that "killer pass" quickly. Without a Xavi or Iniesta figure in his side, Ernesto Valverde looked for another method, but his to-and-fro style Barcelona team ruffled the feathers of too many nostalgic supporters and was far from ideal for a now 32-year-old Lionel Messi who will be able to stretch his career out by having to cover less ground. The possession focused Barcelona style of play has returned.