Why Gerardo Martino is Looking to Control Midfield for Barcelona In Major Games

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Barcelona's coach Gerardo Martino answers questions during a press conference at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Monday Feb. 17, 2014. Barcelona will play Manchester City on Tuesday in a Champions League first knock out round soccer match. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

"It is true that during 10 minutes of the first half we lost control, and during 10 minutes of the second half we also lost control," said Gerardo Martino to me and others at the press conference following the win over Manchester City.

It could easily have been former manager Pep Guardiola with those words. "That was very risky because City created two chances," continued Martino.

The Argentine has faced plenty of criticism this season over his perceived style and more direct approach. Here, he was reverting to the club's roots.

At times under Guardiola, the use of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets in the same midfield looked a little disjointed. Their unfamiliarity with the system naturally led to errors.

If you look at the average positions for the City game using FourFourTwo stats zone, you can see the narrowness of Iniesta and how close he was to Fabregas.

It's not surprising that the top passing combinations in that Champions League game at the Etihad was Iniesta to Fabregas with 26 passes and Fabregas to Iniesta with 24 passes.

When Pablo Zabaleta ventured forward from right-back for City, the closest of the two midfielders would track his run. Barca's left-back, Jordi Alba, was slightly more reserved as a result.

"Obviously it was different from playing with three strikers when we are much faster. With one extra midfielder we have more possession, but I'm happy with the result, we played very good in the first 90 minutes," confirmed Martino.

The plan seems to be to utilise the fab four in the big matches such as El Clasico and further rounds of the Champions League, as Martino realises that possession is vital to their success against the top sides.

“Whoever sees less of the ball will suffer most. You cannot prioritize [the game over a goal]. We need to have possession of the ball as that will elevate us and go against City," Martino commented before the game in Manchester, via Football Espana.

Last weekend against Rayo Vallecano, there was a clear midfield three of Iniesta, Fabregas and Busquets, with Pedro and Alexis Sanchez out wide.

Against the majority of sides in La Liga, Martino will feel that they can afford to be more direct and have less control, as the teams will cause less damage with the ball.

With Neymar almost fully fit, it will be interesting to see in the biggest of matches if he accommodates both him and Lionel Messi or looks to play a quicker forward that likes to run in behind the defences, like Sanchez.

A trip to the Anoeta awaits the side this weekend, and after struggling to impose themselves in an earlier meeting with Real Sociedad, the four central figures could be retained.

The home game with Almeria and the away fixture with Real Valladolid might be opportunities to rotate those in most need. As the return leg against Manchester City and the league match against Real Madrid are two out of the three games afterward.

As Xavi is 34 and Iniesta has only recently came back into the line-up due to injury, they are the two that are most likely to benefit from this approach.

Alex Song could get a little game time to give Busquets a rest, and Sergi Roberto may feature at some point from the start.

Fabregas appears to be Martino's most important midfielder at present, it's amazing how much has changed in the last eight months. Although some things are returning to normal.