Barcelona Tactics: Why they are the best in Europe

Pep Guardiola has applied the philosophies of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ to his Barcelona side as the Catalan club were crowned Champions of Europe.

RE: Edited following Barca’s treble triumph.

“The secret,” says Guardiola, “is that they are very good players.” Like the mask magician, Pep Guardiola is reluctant to spill the beans but ends up gradually revealing all. But he is right; behind all the tactics and the finely dressed exterior, his individuals determine the success of his work. “No matter how effective the performance of the team may be or how well the tasks, functions, and strategies are executed, everything rises and falls with the individual qualities of the players,” says the late Rinus Michels. “I can not repeat this enough. His technical, tactical, physical and mental baggage is the determining factors.”

However that doesn’t mean it is none of Pep Guardiola’s own doing, because it is. “Pep’s almost got a sickness for football” says Xavi. “He never stops or drwas breath. He just works, studies, researches and then he’s on the players like a hungry hawk.” The triplet has never been done by a Spanish club before and as a “son of the Dream Team”, it is natural that Guardiola has applied those tactics and more to a team which is potentially even better.

Arsenal Column looks at the tactics which made Barcelona European champions.

The Formation

Johan Cruyff gave Barcelona more than success on the pitch; he gave them an identity that runs through the club till this day. The 4-3-3 he adapted from Rinus Michels’ Total Football Holland side has been brought back by Guardiola. The idea was that it offered more angles allowing for triangle passes (i.e. more options in the pass) and the changing of positions.

The formation is not a glorified 4-5-1; the wide men of Henry/Iniesta and Messi are detailed not to engage in pointless tracking back unless forced to, instead looking to pressure the opponents high up the field and rob the defenders of the ball.

The central midfielders are the heartbeat of the side and their ball retention, intelligence and creativity unparalleled. Eric Abidal is unadventurous and almost acts as a left sided central defender hence why Henry says he ‘runs more’ on the left wing as opposed to in attack at Arsenal. On the other side Alves is more disciplined now and a very tough competitor. He will provide the complementary threat, linking up with Messi with such pace, stamina and intelligence. The defence have an equal role in the build up to attackstoo. No team have defenders who are required to pass the ball as much as the centre backs do.

The Tactics

High and Early Pressure, Denying Space

By playing Henry, Messi and Eto’o they can pressure early and high up the field starting at the defenders, making it hard for the opposition to pass. This will squeeze them of space and try and force a mistake. Getting the ball early is clearly part of their strategy and taking advantage of it is stressed.

As the wide men pressure high up the pitch, the opposition full backs are aware that if they get forward they will leave them unmarked. The doubts it causes are great and when Barca do get the ball, getting caught out of position and being hit on the counter especially against players with such pace and quality is too big a threat.

Using the whole width of the pitch, they suffocate the space and the opposition team is penned back. Facing the countless Barcelona attacks is like contending with a team attacking in the last ten minutes of a game but and it may be a further ten minutes till you get the ball back.

Support and Movement

It’s all about quick and constant movement, short, one-touch passing, intelligent positioning and making the correct runs at the right time. As mentioned getting beyond the striker, providing options and interchangeability are examples of this. The three words drummed into every kid in the academy of La Masia best typify the approach; “receive, pass, offer” is

Balance, Close Control and Passing

Part of good ball retention other than great passing and awareness which Barceloona have is balance and close control. The ability to shield the ball and keep it close runs through the team and makes it hard for the opponent to get it. Coupled with these tactics and good organisation leads for a difficult team to beat. Barcelona made 442 successful passes against Real Madrid in their 2-0 win at the Nou Camp to their 171, while only 44 bad passes to Madrid’s 33. They even had a 90% pass accuracy to Madrid’s 75% even though they made three times as much passes.

How to Beat Barcelona

So how do you beat such a team? Well the obvious tactic is to put ten men behind the ball and counter. But as Barca suffocate the space out of the opposition and deny players to support, the danger is far greater in them counter attacking you. Real Madrid tried to man mark Xavi out of the game and it worked especially in the first half but Barcelona attack from all angles and the pressure tolled. Chelsea defended in great numbers at the Nou Camp and could have

Pressuring the Barcelona defence early was identified by Sir Alex Ferguson and getting the early goal is key. However how long can you deny Iniesta and Xavi possession. United couldn’t and the rest was history.

Real Madrid tried to play a high line to squeeze the space but where subsequently penned back. They are beatable. Villarreal put three past them and although they didn’t win, others have The key is to get passed the first wave of pressure and take advantage in the centre where there can be a lack of organisation as the wide men don’t track back as much, getting good support. Get the ball early and take advantages of transitions and set plays. Pace and dynamism down the wings an obvious advantage.


6 thoughts on “Barcelona Tactics: Why they are the best in Europe

  1. Barca have superior players, such players can adapt their strategy and tactics to beat anyone provided the coach is competent – gives sound advice, maintains stability, confidence and harmony, and doesn’t get in the way.

  2. spot on, agree with everything said. i have gol t.v. so i watch alot of la liga, especially barcelona. they’re line of pressure and attack is so high that it doesn’t give the opposition time to get any glimpse of an organized attack after they’ve won the ball. that second line of attack or “defense” for barcelona hits so quickly theres simply no chance to do anything coherent with the ball.

    but you know something intersting that i was thinking about…wings such as arsenal’s (no natural winger) with eboue in front of sagna…is a very defensive one(making it a constant variable) and would clog up their attacking play on that wing, therefore allowing the club to concentrate on the other changing variables in middle of the pitch.

    and real’s practice of man-marking xavi was good, but they needed to continue this practice on messi as well…who cares if that player isn’t invloved in the direct plays, as long as they marked the opposing teams best player (messi) out of the game.

    idk im just thinking out loud but for now barca is just too good at what they’re doing at the moment for anyone to challenge them. they are the most powerful team in europe. we can only hope that maybe someones brilliant tactics can overpower barca or just alot of luck.

  3. I watched the game, it was absolutely fascinating to see Barca dominating Real, they really were impressive in all areas.
    Wouldn’t want Arsenal to face them in the CL.

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