El Centrocampista

Barca – Direct not dead!

The total football of Barcelona may have disappeared, but has there been a conscious change in style? Not according to Jorge Pautasso, Tata Martino’s right hand man. He claimed in a recent press conference that “we will not make any changes” to Barca’s style. Following that statement, the match that had been preceded by that press conference was a fixture against Rayo Vallecano. That night, for the first time in three years, Barca had less possession than an opponent in the league. They’d gone 136 games dominating possession. Jorge was wrong. They had changed things. There was a visible change in formation and more importantly, choice of pass.

In 2010-2011, at the peak of their powers, Barca used the same formation as today, but their tactics have changed. They had an actual centre forward in David Villa and played a narrow four-three-three. You might think not much has changed as they set up as a four-three-three this season but it’s a different machine compared to 2010 and 2011. Messi always plays central, and Neymar, Pedro and Alexis are drilled to stick to the wings to create space centrally. Dani Alves marauds forward into that wide right role just as before, but thanks to Cesc Fabregas, who breaks into the box–a tactic not seen enough before his arrival–opposing players are dragged centrally leaving the cross field switch of play as an option.

Against United in the Champions League final of 2011, Villa played through the middle switching with Messi and Pedro from the flanks.  As a result, United couldn’t live with the movement, and they were comfortably dismantled. Earlier in that season, Barca took apart Mourinho’s Madrid in the Camp Nou 5-0 on 29 November. The movement of Messi embarrassed Madrid, almost playing as a number 10 behind Villa that night, but importantly, no ball was played more than twenty feet. Tiki-taka was at its purest, and Barcelona looked unbeatable.

Compare the line-ups of those stand-out performances from the Guardiola era to that of Tata Martino’s team. Tata’s Barca have only dropped two points in 10 games in La Liga, and they were comfortable against Madrid last week. They had near identical line-ups between Madrid 2010 and United 2011 with Puyol and Mascherano switching places in what was a team of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi and Pedro. Two weeks ago, against Madrid, only three changes from that Champions League final of 2011. Abidal, Villa and Pedro replaced by Adriano, Neymar and Fabregas.

The latter two of those changes are the most significant. Watching Neymar in Brazil, it was easy to think he was greedy, but he was in a team that wasn’t on his level. He took the ball wide on the left wing and went on to beat three or four players with ease, four or five times in a game. Many thought he would take more time to adapt to Barca’s style and become more selfless, but he seems to get better with each passing game, the match against Madrid was arguably his best performance in Blaugrana.

And then we have Cesc, one of the best midfielders of his generation who was constantly written off in his first two seasons back at the Camp Nou. The La Masia graduate has really grown into his role in this team. Some say his football, the direct path, inherited from his time with Arsenal, will replace Xavi’s tiki-taka. But what we see now is a combination of the two.

Against Madrid, Cesc and co pulled opposing players into two of them just like Xavi and co did two or three years earlier, but all of a sudden, the ball would be switched to Alves or Neymar on opposing flanks who found themselves in acres of space. A 50 or 60-yard ball opened the pitch up, and crossed into the box, something rarely seen under Guardiola. Valdes was not playing short passes from the back, as there were not as many risks taken at the back, and Tata has definitely changed that.

Question marks remain over Barca, and rightly so. Guardiola once said they couldn’t afford to not have the ball because they were poor in defence. Many still believe Bayern Munich would tear them to pieces like they did last term but they’ll win the league again barring a minor miracle. If they can somehow find a way to press with 100% intensity as oppose to the 70% they do now, they may find a way to win it all again. And while we are all still hanging on to Guardiola’s Barca, we will only know how far they come if they meet Guardiola’s Munich. They have to stick to the new philosophy of direct or they will be killed, perhaps fittingly, by Pep.


  1. Sixsmith

    11 November, 2013 at 18:47

    Good article. It’s refreshing to see the change in style from Barca. Great to see cesc coming into his own in the new system as well.

  2. Miguel

    11 November, 2013 at 20:28

    Excellent knowledge and observations, Let’s hope they can avoid the Blue Brasil of Manchester.

  3. Danny Lavelle

    11 November, 2013 at 22:40

    Cheers both. Do you think they can win the champions league? I think with the best player to ever play the game in the team, surely anything is possible?!

    • Messy

      11 November, 2013 at 23:42

      Interesting read although I don’t think they are a foregone conclusion for La Liga by any stretch of the imagination. They will not live with Bayern Munich over 2 legs but if they avoid them till the final they would of course have a chance. Also, think Messi doesn’t look too happy at the moment so lots of intrigue and drama yet to unfold for the new look Barca. As for Miguel’s comment above on the Blue Brasil of Manchester, yes I’m sure Barca will be shaking in their boots at facing the team who lost to Sunderland yesterday and previously to Cardiff and Villa, lol.

    • Miguel est Lavelle numero uno

      18 November, 2013 at 08:32

      I think so, especially if they keep Toure and Silva fit 🙂

  4. Truth Talker

    13 November, 2013 at 13:27

    I think barca are one of the most overrated teams in world football. Messi isnt a patch on the complete footballer that is CR7. If they come up against Manchester United in the latter stages of the Champions League there will only be one outcome. The pace and skill of Ashley Young and Antonio Valenica will leave Dani Alves and Jordi Alba dazed and confused. Added to that,the passing ability of Marouanne Fellaini will contribute to Manchester United completely outpassing the Barcelona midfield. Xavi, Cesc and Iniesta will merely be passengers and Manchester United will progress to next round with little problem.

    • Name

      18 November, 2013 at 08:29

      Can’t believe you mentioned A Young and A Valencia in comparison to Barca midfield. I think I will invest in a pair of ‘Blue tinted specs’…..see if they will influence me to make such comments as seen through the ‘Rose tinted specs’…. Ashley Young, seriously????

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