El Centrocampista

The Philosophers Collide – Bielsa and Guardiola go head-to-head: Tactical Preview

A cup final against mentor Marcelo Bielsa has to be the perfect ending for Pep Guardiola’s managerial reign at Barcelona. The clubs invade the Spanish capital as political outsiders and have some similar qualities. They come from distinct Spanish regions, take pride in youth development and play exciting styles of football.

With almost two weeks to prepare, Guardiola and Bielsa will be burning through terabytes of match film. They will study their opponent to try to find any minuscule vulnerability. So, instead of dreaming up hypotheticals we can examine the key factors and matchups that will determine which side will lift the cup.

Will the Vicente Calderon pitch hold up?

The stadium hosted a rock concert on Saturday and the pitch could be soft or torn up, potentially interrupting passing speed and accuracy.

Can Barça deal with long balls and crosses into Llorente without Puyol?

Athletic will feel that they can exploit the back line of Barça. Most likely Gerard Pique, who has been out of form this season will start alongside Mascherano and Adriano. This pairing has been rarely utilised and could struggle to operate as a unit. Athletic should feel like they could score on a header from a set piece or a cross.

Will Athletic see any of the ball?

One of the main movements for Athletic has been the long ball from Martinez into Llorente or out wide. However, Athletic’s defense should attempt to play the ball through the midfield on the ground. This is easier said than done against Barça’s pressure. But, the Basque Lions should insist on the short pass to relieve the tension that the Blaugrana put on defences by keeping the ball.

Will the Athletic fullbacks be able to get forward?

Due to the injury of Dani Alves, Barcelona will most likely have three at the back with a narrow diamond midfield. If Athletic can play through the Barça pressure then attacking width from the fullbacks could stretch their opponents defence. Alternatively, without the fullbacks getting forward and crossing to Llorente, the middle of the pitch will be congested.

Will Amorebieta hold up against Alexis and Messi?

He had a woeful time against Falcao in the Europa League Final and Soldado in the league, who bagged a hat trick. Since he seems to struggle with athleticism and pace, Guardiola should start Alexis and Messi to make Amorebieta’s evening a lengthy one.

Will Iturraspe get stuck deep defending or will he be able to get forward?

There is no doubt that the attacking roar of the Basque Lions originates with the talented midfielder. However, the impact of Iturraspe maybe lost if he is forced to defend deep against the Barcelona possession. Athletic need to either strike quickly on the counter or build up slowly so the fullbacks and midfield can support the attacking players.

Can Athletic hold their nerve?

While the scenes of Iker Muniain crying on the pitch after the Europa League loss were endearing, the uncontrolled outpour displayed that Athletic failed to keep their emotions in check. Llorente admitted that the team was nervous and rushed against Atletico and will have to be poised to compete against Barcelona.

Possible Setup

In defence, injuries will most likely force Pep to start Piqué, Mascherano and Adriano. The four in midfield will most likely be Busquets, Xavi, Cesc and Iniesta with a front three of Messi, Alexis and Tello or Pedro.
However, this is only a guess based on the 3-4-3 Barca has been utilizing quite often this season.

For Athletic, nobody knows how El Loco will align his team. He has mostly played a 4-3-3 in the Europa League. But, he could try to surprise Guardiola with a radical change.


With each side well rested, Barcelona have to be considered overwhelming favourites. The atmosphere will be simultaneously celebratory and intense. I think Athletic will start much better than in their earlier cup final but will wilt inside the Barcelona passing cauldron and fall to a 1-3 defeat.

One Comment

  1. petr

    25 May, 2012 at 19:47

    I think Bilbao should play 2-1-2-2-2-1 with Muniain in the centre just behind the front 3. Ibai can play as well as he has been in good form lately. The left-side of Bilbao’s attack isn’t as important with Alves missing for Barca and Aurtenetxe. Make Barca narrow without Alves and man-mark them all over the field as they did in the 2-2 draw earlier this season So I would play:

    ———-Martinez Amorebiata—–
    ——–Herrera—-Dos Marcos—–

    I predict Athletic 4 Barca 2 (:
    Enjoy the game.

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