Do Barcelona Need to Add Another Dimension to Their Game?
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It's a bit early to be writing Barcelona's obituary, but after three high-profile defeats in the past fortnight, it's clear something needs freshening up around the Camp Nou.
Tito Villanova's enforced absence cannot have helped matters, but there has been something worryingly familiar in the way that Barca succumbed to a pair of defeats to Real Madrid and one to Milan in the Champions League.
Defensive deficiencies have also been central to the recent decline, but aside from a six-goal drubbing of Getafe a few weeks back, the Catalans have only scored seven goals in as many games stretching back to the end of January.
By now everybody knows that they key to keeping Barcelona out is to defend deep and in numbers, but that tactic seems to have had more success of late.
It's not just that the goals have dried up for Barcelona, the chances created seem to have reduced too. So if the tactic to stifle Barca isn't revolutionary, then questions need to be asked as to why La Blaugrana are now struggling to make as many inroads.
The "False Nine" system has worked wonders since Pep Guardiola introduced it at the beginning of the 2008/09 season, but after four-and-a-half years of familiarity, is it about time Barca tinkered with their set up to give themselves another dimension?
For too long now the goalscoring emphasis has been placed solely on Lionel Messi's shoulders, and the little Argentine has revelled in the role to score at more than a goal a game over the past five seasons.
But as Milan demonstrated, if Messi can be stopped, is there enough goalscoring threat elsewhere to win significant games?
For all of his sublime skill, Andres Iniesta is not anywhere near as prolific as he should be in this side, and although Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa chip in, there is a distinct lack of crucial goals being contributed from anyone not named Messi.
Given the number of times Messi has scored operating where he does, it's hard to argue that deploying a "Real Nine" is the way forward, but would a penalty-box poacher invariably grant the world's best player more support whilst also giving Barca another goalscoring outlet in a congested penalty box?
The dynamics of that move would mean one of the midfield schemers having to make way, but do Barcelona really need all of their mighty midgets on the field at once?
In the three recent losses, there has been plenty of tiki-taka but only in areas sides can control, and unless Barca can pick a way through a reinforced lock, there are few direct and penetrative passes available to prize teams apart.
Since arriving at the club in 2010, David Villa has been used almost exclusively as a wide forward and one option immediately available to assistant manager Jordi Roura would be to play Spain's all-time leading goalscorer through the middle with Messi supporting and any two of Iniesta, Pedro, Sanchez and Fabregas flanking them. That would give Barca a primary penalty-box threat and still allow Messi to roam as he pleases.
The other observation I've noted from Barcelona's play is that they are often far too narrow. If they insist on playing Messi as the main front man, then again one of the central midfielders should make way for another winger with possibly Sanchez and Pedro playing either side and any three of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Fabregas and Iniesta playing centrally.
None of Barca's creativity would be stifled, and playing two wide men would stretch teams to allow the deceptive talents more room and freedom through the middle.
The acid test for the current set up will come next Tuesday when Milan arrive at the Camp Nou holding a 2-0 lead from their Champions League last 16 first leg at the San Siro.
What would you do if you were Barca boss?
Barcelona will need to score at least three to progress without the need for penalties, and on current form that is a big ask.
Whatever lineup Milan send out, the intentions will remain the same—defend the edge of the box, deep, narrow and force Barca to find a way through the traffic.
La Blaugrana do have the pedigree to do so, and they've proved on countless occasions that they can, but some basic tactical adjustments could make life much easier.
The ingrained principles of possession football will never be compromised, but they don't need to under the alterations I am suggesting.
If the method of defending is going to remain the same, perhaps Barcelona should initiate a change to counter it.
Do you think it's about time Barcelona altered their formation? Should they play a central striker or would more width do the trick? Let me know your thoughts.
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