Is Gerardo Martino's Style of Play Helping or Hindering Barcelona?

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Associated Press

It isn't the first time the issue of style has been raised during Gerardo Martino's tenure and it's unlikely to be the last.

For a club so defined by a philosophy, questions will always be asked of any manager that doesn't conform to the strict guidelines within that process.

It doesn't matter if the man in charge came through the system or he is perceived to be an outsider. If he tries something different, he will have to answer for it. A coach that has a history inside the structure will perhaps be afforded more patience, but if the change is radical, he will still have to explain himself.

"From the day I came to Barca I was aware of the pressure," said Martino in a press conference reported on by Football Espana. "It’s the same every day, and it will be the same for as long as I’m here."

That pressure isn't just about the results, as it is with a number of other top European clubs.

"More than a club" is the motto at the Camp Nou. It doesn't exactly ring true with some of the activities taking place off the pitch, so this makes it even more important when it comes to the playing manner.

At the start of the season, it was about being more direct than under previous regimes, but that process had started to some extent with Tito Vilanova at the helm.

It was far easier for the counterargument to be heard when Barcelona had the best start to a league campaign in their history.

When results start to take a nosedive, then those problems will naturally come to the surface once more.

This time, it's not so much the long ball that is being highlighted, but the lack of penetrative passes around the area. As a result, there are more sideways passes and crosses. Without a recognised striker, it's very difficult for Messi and the midfield runners to connect.

There are more goals being scored from corners, crosses and individual moments of brilliance rather than effective combination passing and clever running.

For most teams, this wouldn't be a problem, but that's not playing to Barcelona's strengths. Against better teams, they will come unstuck.

Some will point to the notion that this is simply mixing things up and supplying a "plan B," but this shouldn't be the case. Playing a long ball or making a cross isn't the contention, it's continually using this avenue instead of the method which has given them so much success.

When Xavi spoke to the official FIFA website, he concluded that it was a thankless task for Martino.

"Over and above Guardiola, who did an excellent job as coach - while we also did excellently in terms of results and the football we played, the issue is more down to the legacy we left," admitted Xavi.

"We scaled the heights in pretty much every way: footballistically, tactically, technically and physically."

As Vilanova was involved in the Guardiola years and missing through illness for large parts, it was difficult to assess his 12 months fairly.

The criticisms were less obvious last term, but largely still visible. This is more of a shift away from the expectations set in the past.

"The standard of play was excellent and since then, you have to expect comparisons to be made. Often, as the saying goes, ‘comparisons are odious,'" continued Xavi.

Unfortunately, comparisons are essential when trying to evaluate what works and what doesn't work.

If you don't know where you have been, then how do you know where you are going?