It’s no lie that Barcelona are the envy of the footballing world right now. Apart from their contingent of world class players, renowned youth set-up and decorated history, their unique brand of attractive passing football is what has made Pepe Guardiola’s men such a pleasure to watch in recent times.
Intense pressure, high possession and fluid short passing have become trademarks of their game and Sir Alex Ferguson amongst others have already acknowledged that their cerebral style of play is indeed the future of football. So with the world seemingly ready to adapt to the Catalonian’s style of play, where does that leave the teams who aren’t quite blessed with the skill and drive to compete on the European stage week in-week out? What happens to the Hope and Anchor Inn FCs of this world? Or the Woseley Wanderers and Pilgrim United’s of ‘Chiswick and district League division two East?’ Well fear not because La Liga Blog will offer it’s advice on how any team can begin to implementing this unique brand of sexy football.
Choose the Right Formation
So where do we begin? Well the key to any successful footballing side has always been a consistent tactical formation and Barcelona’s set-up is a massive part of how they’re able to hold on to possession with such ease. Guardiola more often than not fields a 4-1-2-2-1 formation for his side’s matches leaving much room for Barca to orchestrate their extensive passing game. We’ve conveniently used football manager’s tactical match engine to visually demonstrate how Barcelona line-up each week.
Because Barcelona’s players are so evenly dispersed across the field, this provides Barca many more passing options whilst formulating an attack making it so effective. Argentine defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano sits just behind play-makers Andreas Iniesta and Xavi whilst guarding his side’s back 4 and wingers Pedro and David Villa occupy either flank in an attacking midfield position leaving Lionel Messi to fight it out alone up top.
This, one assumes is why in recent times the 4-4-2 formation has come under much scrutiny for it’s lack of flexibility and rigidness. In order for this style to work at a lower level of football, a side needs to be used to playing at a very high tempo in confined spaces as the accuracy of ball delivery and movement here is crucial.
Teams should be accustomed to how their team-mates move across the pitch during games and regular practice using one and two touch passing games in training is necessary.
Employ Intelligent Movement
Lionel Messi’s movement off the ball is just phenomenal. The Argentine has a real knack of dragging entire defences out of position leaving every team he faces hopelessly exposed. Take Barcelona’s 5-0 El Clasico win over Madrid this season; countless times Messi would drift seemlessly in and out of the middle of the park taking the whole of the Madrid back four with him which is why Iniesta and Villa were able to exploit so much space out on the wings.
It’s impossible to say whether Barcelona’s playing style is wide or narrow because it changes all the time keeping sides on their toes and making them almost impossible to beat. A team adopting this style of play needs to be clever and not be afraid to let wingers play very loose position-wise.
Perfect the Barcelona Passing Game
Here’s an interesting statistic for you. In this year’s Champions League final at Wembley, Xavi averaged a total of 141 successfully completed passes out of 148 with a whopping pass completion rate of 95%! Michael Carrick from opponents Manchester United on the other hand managed a measly 17 passes out of a possible 29 which equals to a completion rate of just 59%.
It just goes to show that Barcelona’s game is all about accuracy and patience. Trying to be too direct whilst in possession usually leaves attackers isolated and as has been proven all season, no matter how defensive a team a go, Barcelona will always find a way through in the end.
Utilise Lionel Messi’s ‘Fake Number 9’ role
We touched on the impeccable movement of Lionel Messi earlier in this article but his role as the ‘fake number 9’ is key to Barcelona’s attack. The term ‘fake number 9’ has mainly come into popular domain this season and has been used to describe how the Argentine ghosts in and out of a fake number 9 strikers role to drag defenders out of position during a match.
Whilst we’re not expecting teams to possess a player who moves the same way Messi does, a team’s centre forward needs to be very creative when moving into space and possess a canny footballing brain to force defenders out of position and open up space behind.
Defend High Up The Pitch
Whilst most teams at all levels have a habit of retreating frantically back to their defensive trenches whenever they’re caught in possession, Barcelona tend to do the exact opposite and push deeper up the pitch exerting even more pressure in an attempt to win the ball straight back.
It’s no coincidence that Barcelona conceded an average of just 0.55 goals a game last season in La Liga thus proving that defending from the same position you lost the ball can work wonders if you have a team with the fitness and commitment to adhere to such a physically draining tactic.
Especially at amateur level there is a burning desire for most players ‘to get rid’ when under pressure in possession and hoof the ball aimlessly away to safety but watch Barcelona for 90 minutes and you’ll rarely see them play the ball over waist height. What has made Barcelona so successful in recent years is their will to win but in the right way.
No longer is the result the most important aspect of a game and the belief that playing the correct way first and caring about the result second has now been firmly been embedded into the Catalonian club’s culture forever. Barcelona would rather play attractive football and lose as apposed to winning in an ugly way and this is a huge pyschological barrier for teams to overcome if they wish to model their game on Barcelona. Coaches of sides wishing to adopt this style of play need to emphasise that for the short-term winning isn’t important and that teams should always look to play the short simple pass instead of trying the too often unsuccessful long-ball hoof up-field.
So there you have it – the six main ways any side can start to employ Barcelona’s winning formula.
Please be aware the list above is merely a guide on how teams far and wide can begin to model their style of play on Barcelona. If Pepe Guardiola’s men play football in supposedly the correct way, there is no reason why all teams no matter how good shouldn’t begin to do the same.
Teams need so much more than the points mentioned in this article but by sticking to these few principles all sides can begin to emulate Barcelona’s much sought after style of football.