Barcelona ought to be in crisis. What is happening?

Just fresh off a terrible summer of contractual lies, disappointments and scatter gun approach to transfers, motion of “vote of no confidence”, chants of #BartomeuDismision; Barca’s on pitch performance has been nothing but encouraging with a few improvements needed . Led by a false 9 Messi, the Catalan outfit has scored 12 goals in 4 games and conceded nothing in that period. Almost as if there was good planning in the summer, right?

As Enrique departed the dugout, one thing was almost unanimous – there needed to be a change to the tactical setup of the team. In the 3 years of the Asturian, the team played for the attacking trio – Neymar, Suarez, Messi – and the results was fantastic mostly.

With Messi on the right, Ivan Rakitic (right sided central midfielder) had to move to the RW position when Messi drifted inside – each game making it more permanent –and was also tasked with manning the right side when the Blaugrana defended in a 4-4-2 shape. The RB position changed from specialist Alves to versatile Roberto; the strongest side became the weakest side in 2 years. The emphasis on MSN also meant the build-up went mostly through the sides rather than the middle – which would have required more patience.

Ernesto Valverde had to find a way to make the right side stronger, give the midfield more control and still retain the firepower and the maverick of his forward line especially Lionel Messi. Barcelona missed out on all midfield targets except for Paulinho and failed to offload the unwanted midfield players but the plans for the right side came through in the transfer window. Semedo (a proper RB after the Roberto experiment), Dembele and Deulofeu gives the right wing dynamism, pace and specialty.

The biggest tactical change again has to do with Messi; restoring him to his false 9 has ripple effects on almost every facet of the Valverde set up. Luis Suarez has to toe the path of Villa and Henry in assuming a starting position from the left wing and then drift inside at the final third to link up and finish off chances. His injury in the second leg of the Spanish super cup paved way for the tactical switch as Valverde didn’t trust Paco Alcacer to lead the line in the first two Liga matches.

The midfield still has the same trio from the Enrique period but roles are being adjusted a bit. Rakitic doesn’t have to cover the right wing or the right back as often. As a result he spends more time in the middle of the pitch doing proper midfield work spreading play, controlling the tempo and breaking lines with passes instead of his workhorse tactical role under previous management. Iniesta has his old channels to himself to drift between lines as a direct consequence of Suarez being less interested in dominating that area of the pitch.

Jordi Alba gives the width to the left side. His pace and runs are so vital for Barcelona going forward evidenced by the lovely cutbacks he has given Messi already this season. There is a reasonable risk of the left side turning into the right side of last season. Valverde will be keen to make Alba utilize his pace for recoveries and Suarez to press adequately.

The current Barca boss was in charge of one of the best pressing outfits in Europe; Athletic Club, so he has changed the defensive shape into a 4-5-1 that ensures better defensive transition and midfield compactness. It is one of the first things he highlighted as he took over.

It will be revisionist to say pressing under Lucho was non-existent but it has assumed a different dimension under Valverde so far. Messi has frequent spells where he isn’t interested in pressing of any sort and he just strolls, leaving the pressing disjointed and the defensive transition a bit without structure. Lucho set his defensive shape in a 4-4-2 that did many things well but was guilty of handing the opposition midfield the initiative when the first line – Messi and Suarez – had been beaten.
No team exploited this more than PSG last season at Parc de Princes. Busquets and Iniesta – who played centrally in the first line of four — were too deep to put any pressure on the little maestro and when they attempted to press higher up, the ball had moved into Di Maria’s feet between the lines.

Barcelona has been good on the field with the thrashing handed out to Juventus still fresh at the Camp Nou but off field there are four stands around the stadiums where members “socis” are putting signatures together to enable a referendum that will sack the current board.

Jose Maria Bartomeu, the president of FC Barcelona will be more than grateful that the sporting side of the club doesn’t add fuel to the socio-political fire. Barcelona is four points clear of eternal rivals in the liga and put three unreplied goals past the old lady who had a not so young keeper in post.

Whilst things can still change very quickly on field in terms of performances and results, Bartomeu can smirk cheekily and ask;

Crisis? What Crisis?

Article By: David Uti, @daviduti_