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How Neymar's Arrival Will Affect Barcelona's Tactical Setup

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How Neymar's Arrival Will Affect Barcelona's Tactical Setup

David Villa has been linked with at least a half-dozen clubs so far this summer and the latest scuttlebutt courtesy of the Evening Standard's Simon Johnson has him headed to Tottenham Hotspur.

It would seem Spurs are in pole position to sign the 31-year-old forward, with Emmanuel Adebayor perhaps being offloaded in order to fund a move for the Spain international.

David Ramos/Getty Images
David Villa is expected to leave Barcelona this summer.

Why does Villa’s name come up first when discussing how Tito Vilanova might set up his Barcelona team during the coming campaign?

It has everything to do with the arrival of Neymar.

Acquired for a €57 million fee that put him among the 10 most expensive footballers of all time, Neymar will strut right into the Barcelona first team and line up to Lionel Messi’s left—right where Villa has played for the past three seasons since joining the Catalan giants from Valencia.

There will be no compromise regarding Neymar’s role at the club. He will operate as he always has—as a sort of inside-left—and every other player with designs on the position will only get into the team when he doesn’t. Which won’t be all that often.

After all, it was Neymar’s capability, even preference, to play from the left of the forward line—as well as his inclination to overlap with his attacking teammates—that made the 21-year-old such a coveted transfer target for Barcelona.

Villa, on the other hand, was more or less moved into the position to accommodate the club’s 4-3-3 system.

When he struggled with the assignment, he was typically dropped in favour of Andres Iniesta, who would move up from his usual station alongside Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets.

David Ramos/Getty Images
Neymar's arrival should ensure Andres Iniesta can spend most of his time in his preferred position this coming season.

Ideally, Vilanova would prefer to keep Iniesta in the middle band of his 4-3-3 as much as possible this season so as to maximize the close-passing game he and Xavi have developed to perfection.

The more the two of them are spread apart—as we saw in Barcelona’s Champions League destruction at the hands of Bayern Munich—the more vulnerable the whole setup becomes, and that vulnerability has often been down to inconsistency on Messi’s left-hand side.

Neymar will fix that problem going forward, which means the rest of Vilanova’s plans can take shape.

The Barcelona boss isn’t out to reinvent the wheel in 2013-14. Rather, he’ll be looking to re-entrench his side’s commitment to the flexible 4-3-3 developed under his predecessor, Pep Guardiola.

Over the next few weeks, he’ll merely plug holes on a player-for-player basis, such as picking up a central defender to slot into oft-injured captain Carles Puyol’s slot.

We’ve already seen it happen with Neymar, who basically replaced Villa and provided a significant upgrade in a single position.

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