El Centrocampista

BUSINESS AS USUAL – Barça brush aside disappointing Atletico

Sometimes it isn’t the formation, but the personnel. Pep Guardiola stuck with his three-man defence against Atletico at the Camp Nou tonight.

Unfortunately for Atletico Madrid however, this time he managed to place each of his players in positions that best suited their individual strengths. The result was a masterful first half, and a second half switch in tactics that created even more goals for the Catalans.

Moving Dani Alves all the way back from the front three to the right of defence made perfect sense, and the consequences were plain to see.

With Alves covering any potential danger in Barcelona’s right back area, Javier Mascherano was free to roam the middle of the park and mop anything up that came his way, which he did with aplomb.

In a game where Barça’s attacking talent once again shone, special mention should go to Mascherano. The Argentine dealt admirably with anything that came his way, whether in the air or at the feet of his opponents, and his distribution helped to keep the ball moving.

Quick and precise distribution from the back is vital to Barcelona, and when they do it well, they tend to win. Mascherano banished any horrible memories of his time at the right of defence in the Mestalla, and once again proved to be a capable deputy to Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.

Atletico were pretty poor though, and didn’t live up to their own standards from this season. Falcao looked like Clint Eastwood as the man with no name; stranded up front with no support and left to try and do it on his own.

If Atletico hoped to get anything from this game, Falcao was going to need assistance. As it was, he didn’t get any until the second half, and got little luck as a result.

Pep Guardiola isn’t someone who needs vindication, but it is evident that he has faith in his 3-4-3, and tonight it came off.

The real dilemma will appear when Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol are both back to full fitness. The two defenders are likely to be available within the next couple of weeks to play a full 90 minutes, at which point Guardiola must consider his options.

Pique and Puyol are still the most stable defensive partnership Guardiola has available, so it’s safe to assume they will be playing regularly when they return.

At that point, the 3-4-3 will become an option, or more specifically, a useful tool for both rotation and breaking down tricky opponents, rather than a necessity. What a nice luxury for Guardiola to have.

Indeed, Guardiola’s decision to revert to a 4-3-3 in the second half coincided with increased pressure from Atletico and the introduction of Gerard Pique.

Perhaps this suggests that, against teams who press Barcelona effectively high up the pitch, Guardiola will continue to use the more traditional four man back line.

Guardiola seems to have learned his lesson from Valencia in that regard. A word of warning though: if el Centro Campista readers think that when Puyol and Pique are fit, I’ll stop blabbering on about defensive options and three men versus four at the back, you can all keep dreaming. Nothing personal, I’m just a stickler for detail.

At this point, I was going to mention that, beside a wonderful goal, Lionel Messi had actually given away possession a couple of times in the first half, and Barça may have been punished by a better organised team as a result…..

That’s a clear example of the dangers of pre-writing an article before a game ends, then!

Messi added two more sublime goals to his night, and any of the three are worthy amongst their predecessors in the Messi hall of fame. David Villa’s role in Messi’s third is worth mentioning too.

A great chipped through ball from El Guaje set Messi up brilliantly, and he finished in an equally as great manner.

When they hit this kind of form Barcelona are a frightening force. Atletico will be disappointed by their first half performance, and despite conceding more goals in the second half, they generally performed much better in the second 45.

As is often the case against Barcelona however, it was too little, too late.

What’s more frightening is that Barça still have Iniesta and Alexis to come back from injury, along with the aforementioned Pique/Puyol partnership to call upon.

Business as usual at the Camp Nou then, and long may it continue.

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