Comparing Tata Martino's Barcelona to Tito Vilanova's Last Season

Tre' Atkinson@@TreAtkinsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 01:  Head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino of FC Barcelona gives instructions during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on November 1, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Last season, under the management of Tito Vilanova, Barcelona was able to lift the La Liga trophy. Though not everything was perfect, many would argue that it was a strong season after watching Pep Guardiola leave the club.

In fact, Barcelona won every single La Liga match through the first half of the season until finally being beaten by Real Sociedad at Anoeta in January.

New manager Tata Martino has changed quite a bit since he took over the Catalan club. The tweaks he has made were necessary, and many fans are in agreement that he has done what was needed.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 19:  Head coach Tito Vilanova and Eric Abidal of FC Barcelona holds up the trophy during the celebration after winning the Spanish League after the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on May 19, 201

Like Vilanova's Barcelona, Martino has been very successful in the first half of debut season.

The Catalans are yet to lose a match this season in any competition and have only drawn once in La Liga to this point. Barcelona has looked very sharp and trophies should come this year.

With that being said, let's take the time now to compare Martino's current Barcelona system with that of Vilanova's last season and decide if things really are improving for "La Blaugrana."



There has been a drastic change in defense from Vilanova's defense of last year and the changes Martino has ushered in thus far.

To begin with, Barcelona has already significantly improved their ability to defend set pieces. Martino has changed the former zonal marking system to one that focuses on marking individual players.

This may give opponents more space to run into, but it also ensures that every attacker will be marked by someone.

Vilanova's defense also relied heavily on speed to cover attackers. Centre-backs such as Gerard Pique were sent past the halfway point of the field and were often caught out of position, while the likes of Jordi Alba were forced to track back to make up for the positioning.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at Camp Nou on September 14, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In short, Vilanova trusted the possession-based attack to provide coverage for the defense. In most cases it worked, but at some times, it went horribly wrong.

Martino has opted for a much more traditional style of defense. Central defenders stay much further back and only venture forward at the rarest of times. He has also somewhat organized the attacking runs of the Blaugrana wing-backs as well.

To put it into perspective, according to, Barcelona is averaging 42 defensive actions per game this season as opposed to 36 from last year.

Martino's more traditional defense has made keeping the ball more difficult, yet it has also made the defense much more consistent than last season. He can also thank Victor Valdes for plenty of unbelievable saves this season as well.



The midfield play for Barcelona has not changed that much from Vilanova and Martino. The Tiki-Taka style of play is still the ultimate goal of the team, and it continues to dazzle the world.

Though the style of midfield work is very similar between this year and last, there are a few subtle changes that Martino has ushered in.

To begin with, Vilanova trusted the midfield to keep possession and make sure the ball stayed on the ground. That hasn't been the case for Martino's approach.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 05: Cesc Fabregas of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Real Valladolid CF players during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on October 5, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos

Barcelona is much more content to play balls across the field to take advantage of gaps and create holes for the attackers. Also, Vilanova allowed his defense to recycle possession by passing back to the defenders when needed, while Martino has preferred a more direct approach.

Martino's midfield philosophy appears to be focused on going forward. He trusts the player's ability to keep the ball while also urging them to force the defense back.

The biggest change thus far has been the fact that Martino has elected for his midfielders to join the attack as well.

At rare times last season, Xavi or Andres Iniesta would take a shot that never really brought about anything. This season, every midfielder is taking more shots as Martino sees the advantages of having them join the attack outside the box.

The Tiki-Taka style of keeping possession has not changed. However, Martino does see the use in changing things up when needed.

In September, Barcelona had less possession than their opponent for the first time in 136 matches but still managed to defeat Rayo Vallecano 4-0.



This is where things have been quite different from Vilanova’s Barcelona to that of Tata Martino.

Under Vilanova, the forwards all worked together to score goals. The possession-based attack often resulted in someone practically walking the ball into the goal, but when that did not happen, the Catalans suffered greatly.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 02:  Lionel Messi (L) and his team-mate Neymar of FC Barcelona chat during the FC Barcelona offcial presentation prior to a friendly match between FC Barcelona and Santos at Nou Camp on August 2, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo

In truth, Vilanova's wingers were most often there just to help Messi score. They rarely provided any danger themselves, and it showed.

Vilanova focused heavily on attacking through the middle of the pitch. Keeping possession pushed the defenders back, and it was usually Messi who looked for a hole through the defense.

Oddly enough, Vilanova’s Barcelona rarely utilized the wings and did not look to use spacing at times when it would have helped.

Under Martino, things have almost changed entirely.

It's clear that Martino's style of attack starts with the wings. More often than not, the midfield will cycle the ball out wide, and that is when Barcelona has been the most dangerous this season.

Though Messi is still the focal point of the attack, Martino has allowed the wingers their own freedom to attack.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 26:  Neymar (C) of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the opening goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on October 26, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David

Alexis Sanchez and Pedro have been outstanding this season, and it all comes down to the fact that they are seeing the ball much more than they did last year. Neymar has also added a lot, and utilizing the wings has prevented opponents from parking the bus.

Martino has ushered in a more balanced style of attack. Instead of everyone working together for Messi to strike gold, everyone now works together to create the best scoring chance for anyone.

The change up front needed to take place a long time ago. Barcelona became very dependent on Messi over the last two years, and Martino has all but fixed that problem.

He has looked to give everyone their chances, and it is paying off big time.


Man Management

The players seem to have the same respect for Tata Martino that they did for Tito Vilanova. Both managers proved to have a quiet demeanor and only focused on the job at hand.

Vilanova took more of a background approach to things. He did not speak to the press often and kept himself from the spotlight when able.

His ongoing fight with cancer played a role in his management style, and we all wish him continued recovery and peace to him and his family.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 25:  Head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino of FC Barcelona faces the media during a press conference at the Camp Nou Stadium on October 25, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Martino has also been quiet but is not afraid to be vocal. He talks to the players more and is a bit more involved. He has his hands in everything the team does on the pitch and does not lose control.
The major difference is that of rotations.

Vilanova opted to stick with his best starting lineup every time he could, while Martino has been strict about rotations.

The current manager is not afraid to bench Messi, Neymar or anyone for that matter. He has the ultimate goal in sight as he is trying to ensure that his players are still thriving when the final weeks of the season approach.

Some may not like this style. It spreads out chances for everyone, but some players are not seeing the pitch as much as they are used to.

It is clear that this is the right way to go for Martino. He is keeping the squad fresh and dangerous, and the Barcelona we see today is a direct product of his rotational system.


Which style is better?

Comparing two different manager philosophies this closely together is difficult. Though there have been some major changes, Barcelona's identity has not altered.

Though it seems Martino's style is the better of the two, we won't really know until the season is over. Vilanova won the La Liga title, while Martino doesn't have any silverware yet.

Taking success out of the discussion and just looking at the bare bones of the managerial styles, Martino does seem to edge out his predecessor.

He is more in control of the team and has tweaked the style of play in an attempt to fix the problems that have existed for a while now.

Time will tell just how success Martino is at Barcelona, but for now, fans can only enjoy what they are seeing every week.

*All statistics are courtesy of


What changes have been good for Barcelona? Are there any changes that haven’t worked? How successful will Martino be? Leave your thoughts and comments below!


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