Changes to Expect Under Tata Martino at Barcelona

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Changes to Expect Under Tata Martino at Barcelona
David Ramos/Getty Images

For a man coming from outside the club's system, Gerardo "Tata" Martino could hardly be more of a Barcelona-style coach.

In a family tree of football managers, Martino could be the son of Marcelo Bielsa, the nephew of feuding brothers Johan Cruyff and Louis Van Gaal and the long-lost cousin to Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.

As a player, the new Barcelona gaffer was the talisman of Bielsa's celebrated Newell's Old Boys side in the early '90s and as a manager he is heavily influenced by "El Loco's" style.

And Bielsa's outlook, of course, is strongly linked to Dutch Total Football, which has played a large part in the modus operandi at Barcelona since Cruyff integrated it during his time in charge.

The transition from Vilanova to Martino should be relatively seamless, then.

Every individual coach has his own personality and techniques, however, regardless of his overriding philosophies, and Martino is no different.

As Jonathan Wilson explains in the Guardian, the incoming Blaugrana manager is likely to utilize a similar formation to his predecessors, but is also somewhat flexible in his approach.

Wilson writes:

Cruyff and Van Gaal have their differences but the ideal of a hard-pressing, possession-based game, with a 4-3-3 that can become 3-4-3 was common to both. Martino, having played under Bielsa and being, like Bielsa (and like Lionel Messi, which may be significant) from Rosario, is an advocate of the South American equivalent of the same school – although he has used a back three extremely infrequently.

Yet Martino is probably less idealistic than Van Gaal, Cruyff or Bielsa. He showed with Paraguay his willingness to adapt his approach and, although Newell's did finally cut loose in the torneo final, it was only after securing the defence.

In what should be the first notable change in 2013/14, Martino has already stated that he intends to promote the intense pressing game that Barcelona carried off so successfully under Guardiola, but struggled to reproduce as effectively last season.

As Martino told reporters in one of his first press conferences at the club:

We will try to recuperate some of the things we saw in the best version of Barça. Creating pressure and getting the ball back quickly are two of the things we really want to get the team doing again.

As alluded to by Wilson above, Martino will also be keen to shore up Barcelona's defense. As attack-minded coaches go, Martino is particularly pragmatic.

Newell's goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman has already been touted as a potential signing for Barcelona, and further reinforcements at the back would not come as a surprise.

While in charge of both Newell's and the Paraguayan national team, the 50-year-old Rosario native brought about vast improvements in the teams' defensive structures.

That is not to say he is not an adventurous soul, though, as these comments reported in Perfil illustrate.

I go for possession, attacking, putting a lot of men in the opposing half, taking risks, making sure the defenders look back and for there to be forty meters between them and the keeper, for them not to stop playing the ball, when they have to move up, they move up, when they have to use the wings, they use the wings, and the ball shouldn’t be in the air unless there’s a reason.

Martino had his championship-winning Newell's side playing a more vertical brand of football than the Barcelona teams of Guardiola and Vilanova.

Newell's Old Boys under Martino

Martino-led sides have tended to have fluid passing games with a more direct approach than the tiki-taka we have seen in recent years from Barcelona, though he is not quite as gung-ho in throwing everyone forward as his mentor Bielsa.

With Neymar joining Lionel Messi to form a menacing duo up front for the Catalans, we may see possession stats dip slightly as the ball is swept forward with less intricacy, in order to allow the defense-wreckers to do their thing.

In such a system, the penetrative skills of Cesc Fabregas may be of higher value than the more downbeat, cerebral attributes that Xavi brings to the team; and this could explain why Martino is so keen for the former Arsenal star to remain at the club.

Though Barcelona's exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich last season was nothing short of humiliating, the fact that they made it to the last four of that competition while cruising to the Liga title shows that their formula for success was not too far wide of the mark.

Martino will offer a fresh take on an ideology that has reaped great rewards in Catalonia.

With a few tweaks, Barcelona could soon be back at the pinnacle of European football. 

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