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Evolution in action: Barcelona use four strikers to destroy Getafe
- Updated: 10 April, 2012
AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE
Last week, in my column previewing Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, I highlighted how the stagnation of the London side meant they have little in their arsenal to surprise Barcelona. In other words, Chelsea could only bowl straight balls whereas Barcelona are more likely to throw a curved effort and surprise their opponents.
Little did I know that Pep Guardiola would use tonight’s clash against Getafe to prove my point. Had you been listening to the radio in Spain, or indeed, had your eye on Twitter around 8pm Spanish time tonight, you would have witnessed a wave of excitement only matched with disbelief. Barcelona’s lineup was leaking its way around the world an hour before kickoff, as is traditional. Apart from that, there was nothing traditional at all about how Guardiola set out his team.
I was so surprised to see that, in light of their defensive injury list, the Catalans were lining up with what appeared to be three at the back (with one of the defenders being the incredibly attack-minded Adriano), that I completely overlooked the real point of focus.
After checking again, it became apparent that Guardiola was setting out with what are ostensibly four strikers in Pedro, Messi, Alexis and Cuenca. Guardiola has been bold before, but this was something else entirely.
To clarify, in Barcelona’s starting lineup tonight you will find only two out-and-out defenders. Even at that, Javier Mascherano is a man who has spent the majority of his career as a midfielder.
Then there’s Adriano, a player so versatile you can play him virtually anywhere, but who few people would call a defender by nature. Elsewhere were Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets as are traditional in the middle, then the four pronged assault I mentioned earlier. Minds boggled and brains fried in an attempt to guess how this team would line up, including my own!
My initial thought was that Alexis and Pedro would play on the wing and be asked to track back frequently. Both players can count their work rate and ability to win the ball back as a strength. Yet that left a clear question over where Isaac Cuenca would play unanswered.
Cuenca has been used predominantly as a winger by Guardiola, and although I feel he has the balance, skill and ball retention ability to play in the middle, few would agree. Would this be the protegé’s night to shine?
What about Messi? Would he, as some suggested, be asked to play at the tip of a midfield diamond in the ‘Cesc role’, or, as others guessed, would he form a front two with Alexis? If we couldn’t figure it out, imagine how Getafe coach Luis Garcia was feeling upon receiving Barcelona’s lineup. Coming to the Camp Nou is difficult at the best of times!
In the end, Pedro and Cuenca played like orthodox wingers, with Alexis as a number 9, and Messi playing just off his shoulder as a second striker. Messi was given his usual freedom to roam and would often drop deeper, but in general was more or less level with Alexis. In other words, Barcelona indeed played with four forwards.
The result? A very effective and, at times, un-Barcelona like Barcelona. Two headed goals via crosses from out wide are the proof. Of the other two goals scored, only Lionel Messi’s strike after an intricate interplay with Andres Iniesta was the most typical of Barcelona’s usual play. As for the first goal from Alexis, it came via a thunderous strike from outside the box. Again, not exactly Barcelona 101.
In setting his team out so unusually, Pep Guardiola has killed two birds with one stone. A stubborn Getafe side intent on resisting through the middle was stretched wide open and hammered as a result. At the same time, Barcelona prepared perfectly for a Chelsea team likely to adopt a similar tactic.
Should Roberto Di Matteo’s men rely on congestion to avoid defeat next Tuesday, as many think they will, the Blues will find that Barcelona are much more capable of readjusting to such tactics than they were last time they met.
Clearly, Getafe and Chelsea are very different prospects. However, knowing how much of a perfectionist Pep Guardiola is, you can guarantee he has watched Chelsea’s draw at Craven Cottage from Monday night and was heartened by what he saw.
One evident weakness that emerged from that game on Chelsea’s behalf is that they defended poorly on set-plays and from high balls. It sounds crazy, but should they want to, Barcelona could cause the London side problems with a more direct, width-based attacking route.
That’s only if cutting them open through the middle doesn’t work, of course. What tonight’s performance against Getafe proved beyond a doubt in any case is that this Barcelona side continues to challenge any assumptions we dare make about them and their style.
Will Pep Guardiola be bold enough to try to surprise Chelsea the way he did to Getafe tonight? If needs be, you can guarantee it. Tuesday couldn’t come any sooner for the Catalans.Follow @icentrocampista