Complete Analysis of Tata Martino's First 6 Months at Barcelona

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Complete Analysis of Tata Martino's First 6 Months at Barcelona
David Ramos/Getty Images
Tata Martino has made full use of the playing resource available to him.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 was the day that Gerardo "Tata" Martino was unveiled as the new Barcelona manager.

Despite a stellar managerial career in South America—Newell's Old Boys and the Paraguay national team amongst others—Tata was widely unknown in Europe.

Upon his announcement, various media outlets (including Marca) were more content to have fun with "Tito to Tata" headlines rather than a studious investigation into just what Barca's new man would bring to the table.

According to ESPN, however, one person was particularly happy with the new managerial appointment. Lionel Messi told reporters:

I like Tata Martino. He is a great coach and he showed that in the Clausura with what he did for the team, the way it ended and how he did it.

He gets his teams playing well, and we all respect him.

Barca began their pre-season the day after the announcement and a 2-0 loss against Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich was entirely predictable, even though the Blaugrana gave a good account of themselves.

A seven-goal success in Valarenga was more to everyone's liking, and after a draw in Poland, the Barca faithful had their first chance to see Tata and new signing Neymar at work in a triumphant 8-0 demolition of the young Brazilian's previous employers, Santos

A tour of the Far East yielded the expected successes, and Barca's good form was carried into the opening La Liga weekend of the season. Another seven-goal rout, this time versus Levante, was the biggest on opening day for 58 years, per BBC Sport.

We also got our first insight into Tata's modus operandi:

We can prolong our pressure and we can continue to look for alternatives when we go forward.

I was anxious for the league to start to see where the team were and I have been left very calm.

It's very premature to make an analysis after only 90 minutes. We have to play more matches in order to truly see how we are doing.

The pressing game and Guardiola-esque verticality that had been missing to some extent during Tito Vilanova's year in charge would return. 

It was noticeable how quickly the ball was being transferred from back to front, how involved the entire Barca front three were throughout every game. 

By the end of the month, the Spanish Supercup would be secured by Neymar's away goal after two bruising encounters with Atletico Madrid, a game where Lionel Messi picked up his first injury of the season.

Three more league wins in a row kept Barca on top of La Liga with a 100 percent record as we entered September and the introduction of the Champions League group stages, but there were already rumblings of discontent per ESPN.

Martino wasn't playing the "Barca way." Tiki-taka was no longer the "go-to" option, merely one variation of many ways of playing that the manager sought to introduce. A more pragmatic style of play when required.

If the purists weren't happy, the players certainly were. Gerard Pique was the most vociferous defender of the new regime when he said per Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Goal.com):

We've had a number of years with homegrown coaches in charge, first Pep and then Tito.

We occasionally tended to exaggerate our possession based style of play to the point where we were slaves of our own philosophy. Now we have Tata as our coach, who has the same football philosophy, but also has other alternatives and that is a very positive thing in my opinion.

If you are under pressure, there's nothing wrong with a long ball every now and then. That changes the game and could give you some rest and oxygen. You have to keep improving and developing in football or you will become predictable.

Over the next games, the cross-field diagonal was a feature of Barca's forward play, and it certainly didn't disrupt the Blaugrana juggernaut.

Both Ajax and Celtic were dispatched in the Champions League, and every Liga game during September was won at a canter. Three of the four matches yielded four goals for Tata's men.

One of those games was against Rayo Vallecano, a match that was noticeable for more than Barca's four-goal win.

Rayo were the first team since Real Madrid in 2008 to have more possession of the football across the 90 minutes than the Blaugrana317 competitive games to be precise, according to Ben Hayward of Goal.com

It hadn't happened throughout the tenures of both Guardiola or Vilanova, but just eight games into Martino's reign, the unthinkable had happened. Barca were beaten at their own possession game, and the knives were out yet again. Despite the fact that the manager had just overseen a convincing 4-0 win.

It was two full months before Barca first failed to pick up all three points in La Liga, Osasuna holding the visitors to a goalless draw in mid-October. Hardly the worst start for a man not schooled in the ways of European football. 

All the while, success was being achieved against a backdrop of constant squad rotation with no team member immune, not even Messi. It would be another marker put down by the manager.

Talk of a rift with Messi because of the same was dismissed by Martino, per Football Espana, who made it abundantly clear that he would continue with the rotation policy throughout the season. 

Cesc Fabregas has also been utilised in the central "false nine" on occasion, allowing Messi and Neymar to enjoy a more nomadic role, but much of Fabregas' best work has been in the slightly deeper midfield areas either alongside, or in place of, Andres Iniesta.

David Ramos/Getty Images
Cesc has been amongst the goals but has also contributed much in the assists column.

Fabregas' value was never better illustrated than during the November game against Real Betis. Two goals and a man-of-the-match performance gave him a perfect performance score of 10, via WhoScored.com.

Martino's studious management of his squad has allowed Xavi especially to benefit from regular rest periods, and Barca's pass master has flourished as a result. 

Another creditable result in Europe (an away draw against AC Milan) was followed by an El Clasico win where Martino would change things up again.

A front two of Neymar and Messi and a midfield four worked wonders, making the Brazilian's Clasico debut an unqualified success. Carlo Ancelotti certainly helped matters by playing Sergio Ramos in an unfamiliar central midfield role. A basic tactical error that allowed the Brazilian free reign down the left side for much of the game.

Despite the Achilles' heel of being unable to defend a high ball into the box rearing its head on more than one occasion, Barca's continued attacking excellence ensured that much of their defensive shortcomings were overlooked. At least in the early part of the season.

Pique especially benefited from a lack of competition in the central defensive areas, his poor form more noticeable with Javier Mascherano alongside. 

With Marc Bartra emerging, it was perhaps strange for Martino to keep faith with the Pique-Mascherano pairing more often than not.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Lionel Messi injured himself in making this pass during the game against Real Betis.

November heralded more wins and a hatful of goals, but another injury to Messi against Betis—which would keep him out for two months—and also the first defeat in any competition, took some shine from a continued progression in the side. 

Victor Valdes too succumbed to calf problems whilst on duty with the Spanish national team, which added to a lengthening injury list.

An insipid performance in Amsterdam against a young Ajax side followed by more of the same at the new San Mames, and the cat calls reached a crescendo once again.

Yet, by the time Barca lost that first league match against Athletic Bilbao, Martino had presided over a team boasting a record of played 15, won 13, drawn one and lost one. Scored 42, conceded eight. Hardly the sort of form to justify persistent criticism of the manager and his style of football.

It was perhaps therefore no surprise in December that Tata announced that he would leave the club at the end of the season, via Mustapha Kamaruddin of Goal.com.

Just 10 days after the Bilbao debacle, normal business was resumed as Celtic were put to the sword at the Camp Nou via the sort of performance that Barca have become renowned for. 

Undisputed star of the show was Neymar, a hat-trick and a man-of-the-match performance helping the Blaugrana to a 6-1 score, the Hoops poorest showing in Europe.

And he wasn't the only striker to enjoy feasting on opponents this season.

Despite having to share their duties and rotate positions for much of the season, another of Martino's success stories is the way in which he has brought both Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez to the fore this season.

Eleven goals apiece in the league is a fantastic return given the often sporadic nature of their appearances.

Pedro's astonishing nine-minute hat-trick against Getafe took the game away from hosts who looked destined to inflict another defeat on Tata's men after racing into a two-goal lead.

Not to be outdone, Sanchez came up trumps with three of his own in the first game back after the winter break, Elche the vanquished visitors on this occasion, a game which saw a return from injury for Valdes.

Messi returned for a 25-minute cameo in the Copa del Rey game against Getafe and not unexpectedly scored twice, but in the biggest game of Martino's season so far, he sprang another surprise.

With Messi and Neymar benched, it was surely a formality that in-form Atletico would emerge victorious.

No goals, but a point away from home at your nearest rivals. Tata had got it again.

A this juncture, the defeat in Bilbao remains Barca's sole reverse in the league.

The team still tops La Liga despite the relentless pursuit of both Madrid clubs, and according to Squawka, Barca are currently the best performing team in Europe by a distance.

It's a half-term review of which Marino should be rightly proud. 

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