As May dawned this year, it became apparent that Josep Guardiola was to step down as Barcelona coach.
During his four years, he steered the club to victory in 14 competitions, but more significantly, he presented a new way of winning. A way of winning which most clubs around the world now pursue.
It included pressing high up the pitch—much higher than any side previously did—and short, quick passing. It is the easy-on-the-eye passing style, synonymous with Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, which is now so sought after—Tiki-Taka.
So how do you follow that?
President Sandro Rossel, decided to stay in-house in the aftermath of Guardiola's announcement. The very same day, Pep's assistant, Tito Vilanova was named as the new coach of Barcelona.
Guillem Balague's biography on Pep states it was important for the club to make that announcement the same day, so as not to look like Vilanova was a fallback option—because he wasn't. Since that day, Vilanova has set about making subtle changes.
Closing in on the New Year, Barca sit comfortably in pole position. They have won 15 of their 16 games, are nine points clear of Atletico Madrid and a further four ahead of Real Madrid.
Despite their resounding success so far this season, they are not a carbon copy of the Guardiola side.
On the face of it, perhaps, little has changed. They still step out with 11 men in a 4-3-3 formation. They still like to keep possession and have control of every game they play in, but look a little deeper and there are differences.
Vilanova, it appears, prefers a more direct approach. Compared with the sides of the preceding four seasons, this Barca side attempts more long and more diagonal balls. They also seek to do more of their passing in the final third—not that Victor Valdes has completely relinquished his role as a ball-playing goalkeeper.
The result of these little changes, are in the stats. If you play the game with a more direct route to goal in mind, you score more goals—Barcelona do. This season, they average over 3.3 goals per game. If they continue at that ratio, they will score more than 128 goals in La Liga—Real Madrid smashed records with 121 last season.
In Guardiola's four years, La Blaugrana scored 114, 95, 98 and 105 league goals.
This style of play does present problems, though. One being that you will end up pressing less, higher up the pitch, which leads to more pressure on your defence.
It is certainly proving the case for Barca, although Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique's absences are also reasons for this. They have conceded an average of 1.125 goals in the league this season, which compares with 0.76, 0.55, 0.63 and 0.92 in recent years.
The four goals conceded at Deportivo was uncharacteristic of the modern Barca, as were the two leaked at Mallorca and Sevilla.
Interestingly in that Sevilla game, we saw Vilanova implement a 3-4-3 as Barca chased the three points, something he does regularly when seeking goals—successfully, too.
Let's not be too radical though, Barca are not massively changed from the Guardiola era. Scratch beneath the surface, and you can see Vilanova slowly implementing his own footballing philosophies.
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