How Barcelona Have Evolved Since Pep Guardiola Left
With the Champions League draw throwing together the ghost of Josep Guardiola's past and that of his future, thoughts have again turned to how much—if at all—Barcelona have changed under Tito Vilanova.
Ahead of the meeting with La Blaugrana, Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern Munich manager, has been pressed on whether he would enlist advice from Guardiola: "Maybe I should ring Johan Cruyff, after all he instigated the Barcelona system," he quipped (via Yahoo!).
But the truth is, by and large, Bayern aren't facing a side in Pep's image, they are facing one which Tito has tried to instill his own ideas in.
It's been tough though.
Eric Abidal has only just, heroically, returned following treatment for cancer, while Vilanova himself also took a three-month break to travel to New York and be treated for the same illness—both instances which will have played on the minds of the Barca squad.
Elsewhere, it's important to note, injuries have not been particularly helpful in defense. Carles Puyol has been restricted to just 12 starts in La Liga and Javier Mascherano recently joined him on the sidelines.
And so to the evolution.
It's clear that Vilanova is not averse to letting the opposition have slightly more of the ball in certain areas. Barcelona have lessened their relentless pressing—especially in the final third—which saw them so regularly take no mercy on weaker teams.
This was most obvious when the pressure was evident. Against AC Milan, when Barca needed to win 3-0, the pressing of seasons past was back. It's the only time this season when it's been as obvious as it was in the Pep era.
Personnel-wise, they're much the same. In fact the team chosen to get the job done in that Milan match was exactly the same as the team which began the 2011 Champions League final, with one small, but important, change.
Jordi Alba was at left-back instead of Eric Abidal. It's a change which would possibly have taken place under Guardiola too, but it's one that has seen Barcelona change as a defensive and an attacking entity—albeit against the Italians, Alba played wonderfully, dropping in alongside Gerard Pique and Mascherano when required.
With Alba instead of Abidal, the balance of full-backs has often diminished. Both are forward thinking players—Alba was once a No. 10 and then a left-winger before moving to left-back—and both help Barca as an attacking force.
It's helped lead to a slightly more attacking side. Barca have already scored 98 goals in Spain's Primera division; more than the 95 they scored in 2010/11, the same as they scored in 2009/10 and closing in on the 105 scored in Pep's first season 2008/09.
Unfortunately this style of less pressing, which happens to incorporate two attacking full-backs, does lead to the tally chart for goals conceded ticking up.
Already in 31 games they have conceded 33 goals. In comparison that's more than they conceded in the last three seasons (29, 21 and 24) and just two less than the 35 conceded in Guardiola's first campaign.
This certainly highlights that, despite some of the capable defenders emerging from La Masia, the money spent on Alex Song would have been better spent on a central defender.
Tito Vilanova will surely consider that the next stage of the evolution of this Barcelona side, because if a side stands still, the only way is down.
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