It is always interesting whenever Barcelona and Real Madrid play each other because they are two of the biggest clubs in the world, both teams are full of world-class players, they both score lots of goals and play attractive attacking football. The most recent match had everything a fan could ask for and Barcelona finished up winning 4-3.
Early on in the match it looked like Barcelona were going to be in for a tough time because Real Madrid had a number of chances, even though Barcelona had taken the lead against the run of play. The equalizer came from a header by Benzema, who was marked by Javier Mascherano, who is really a midfield player and not a centre-back. Mascherano has been playing regularly as a centre back, which raises the question, how have Barcelona not conceded more goals due to his lack of height?
Several reasons come to mind. In order to score goals from headers the attacking team has to get possession of the ball and players in the final third, which isn’t easy against Barcelona, who dominate possession and press opponents very quickly in their own half of the field whenever they lose the ball there. Opportunities for crossing would therefore be quite low for most teams but not Real Madrid. The reality for most teams, when playing against Barcelona is that attacks are often quick breaks from their own half or a result of a long ball forward where possession is retained, few of which would finish with five or more players in the final third. So Barcelona is rarely exposed for having a relatively small guy playing in the centre back position. Few teams pressurize Barcelona in their half of the field and even when they do press, Barcelona rarely lose possession, so generally opponents drop off to conserve energy and regroup.
Mascherano is a good defender because his normal position is the holding role in the centre of midfield, where he would often drop into a position between the central defenders to initiate an attacking move, so it’s easy to see why he has been used as a centre back.
One has to ask why Busquets, who is 189cms and plays in the central midfield role, doesn’t play as a central defender in place of Mascherano to make them less vulnerable from crosses? Barcelona have quite small players in the whole team; Alvez, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Alba, Pedro, Neymar, Sanchez and Mascherano are all 174cms or smaller, only Fabregas, Busquetts and Pique are over 180cms, which makes their achievements all the more remarkable because they have to be vulnerable at Set Plays against teams with taller players.
Barcelona is an exception to the rule, with so many small players but their technical abilities and speed allows them to keep possession and dominate opponents territorially. It’s not surprising therefore that Barcelona do not score many goals from headers or crosses from wide areas, but rely on their collective ability to pass and dribble in congested areas around the penalty area.
The reality is that size doesn’t matter unless the ball is contested in the air. Barcelona protect their vulnerability from aerial attacks and Set Plays by dominating possession and playing in the opponents half of the field, most teams protect their vulnerability from aerial attacks by having a balance of tall and short players in key positions. The good news is that no matter how tall you are as a player, if you are good enough you are tall enough.