Barcelona shattered the record books by beating Levante, 7-0, on the opening day of La Liga's new season.
It was Gerardo "Tata" Martino's first game in change, and the speculation around the Camp Nou regarding tactics, team selections and philosophies had reached the boiling point by the time the referee got the game underway.
How would Martino's style differ from Tito Vilanova's, would he reinstate the pressing game and how much confidence would the side be playing with?
Tonnes of questions, and now, all the answers you'd like: We analyse Tata's first game at the helm as Barca boss, outlining his strategies and methods in simple terms.
Starting XI, Formation
He took on Levante with a typical 4-3-3 formation.
Sergio Busquets shielded the back four, Adriano was preferred to Jordi Alba at left-back and Cesc Fabregas started ahead of Andres Iniesta.
Lionel Messi played as a false-nine, while Alexis Sanchez got the nod as a right forward.
Levante opted for a 4-2-3-1, with Simao and Sergio Pinto shielding the back four and Nabil El Zhar dropping in from the No. 10 position to help defend.
So it's a 4-3-3—quelle surprise, we're talking about Barcelona here—but how fluid is it?
Very, if the first game is anything to go by, as Barca went back to their roots of free-flowing, yet balanced, possession football.
Gerard Pique partnered Javier Mascherano in defence, and when the full-backs pushed on, Busquets dropped deep to form a three-man line. Becoming a 3-4-3, it enabled Barca to push more players on, therefore pushing the opposing markers back and flooding the forward line with numbers.
Here, we see Busquets making an extremely smart move. He's seen Adriano trotting forward on the left, and Dani Alves is already high up on the right, so he drops in to either receive possession (from Pique) or become a third centre-back if the ball goes wide.
It allows Barca to retain a decent defensive shape even while pressing the all-out-attack button. It's also worth noting that Alves was much more conservative than he has been in the past—has Martino brought back the full-back balance that existed when Eric Abidal was around?
Much has been made of Barcelona's issue with pressing, as in the transition from Pep Guardiola to Tito Vilanova, it went from ferocious to non-existent.
Martino is a great advocate of high-pressing and, indeed, managed to exhaust his Newell's Old Boys side last season with some intense, pressurised football.
Sure enough, Barca flew out of the blocks, and despite being 6-0 up at halftime, hardly took their foot off the gas. Lionel Messi led the forward line in trying to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible, and Barca often matched—if not outnumbered—Levante in the away side's final third.
After Barca scraped past Paris Saint-Germain last season in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, it became very evident that without a pressing game, els Blaugrana stood no chance of going any further.
The mojo is back.
Another attribute sorely lacking under Vilanova was width, as no matter what he did, he could not play a system that featured Pedro and natural expansion at the same time.
To play wider, he often had to push Cristian Tello into the mix, but Martino had instantly settled upon a recipe to utilise both.
It's pretty common at Camp Nou to see three players pushing on in the forward line as shown.
The tactic gives Barca an immense amount of width, an ability to play quick switches, stretches Levante's holding midfield duo and pins the defensive line back.
Full-backs go one vs. one with wide forwards, and when the attackers stay touchline wide, the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Dani Alves flood the holes in between the midfield pivot and the defensive line.
Barca's first two goals against Levante were the product of switching the ball quickly, feeding it wide then cutting and setting up a central player on the edge of the box. Done quickly, it's unstoppable.
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