Can Tata Martino End His Season the Way He Started It?

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Can Tata Martino End His Season the Way He Started It?
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Who will be all smiles at the end of proceedings on Saturday?

Tata Martino announced his arrival in Barcelona with an away-goals win in the Spanish Supercup against Atletico Madrid, either side of the second La Liga game of the season against Malaga

This Saturday, Martino can envelop a tumultuous nine months with more silverware against the same opposition.

The question is, after five failed attempts at winning against Diego Simeone's warriors, can he strike it lucky on the sixth and final occasion this season?

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Martino has to be prepared to take risks against Atletico Madrid.

In order to have any chance whatsoever Martino must be prepared to take a different tack than that which he has applied previously.

The Rojiblancos need only a draw to take the title, so the temptation to sit back and counter will surely be foremost in Simeone's mind. Such tactics have presented a problem to the Blaugrana throughout the campaign.

Even as recently as the match against Elche, Martino has still been unable to find a solution to breaking down teams that set up in a defensive 4-5-1 or a tight 4-4-1-1 pattern.

In all but the Rayo Vallecano game Barca have again had the lion's share of possession in each match, but it's what they've done—or should we say haven't done—with it that has been the issue.

"Tiki-taka" only works as a possession-based tactic if there is an end product.

Many teams have tried and failed to work out how to deal with it, but you only need look at the last few weeks to understand what's required to defeat the Martino variant.

Touch-tight on Lionel Messi for the entire game as a start point. Keeping tight and compact in the middle so there is no space to work in between the two lines of defence. Force Barca wide and into aimless crosses into the box to no-one in particular.

Paul White/Associated Press
Lionel Messi has been superbly shepherded in the games against Atleti this season.

It's not been difficult to pick holes in Barca's play once the above has been brought to bear.

In each case against Atleti, Messi has played through the middle and been crowded out by the excellence of Diego Godin, Miranda et al. Therefore, a case for him to be moved out to the right can be made.

In so doing, although the focus of any Barca attack remains in the wider areas, the threat of Messi down the flank is likely to draw players from the central areas to support Filipe Luis. The short sharp balls for which Messi is known then become a potent weapon into the spaces left behind.

With Alexis Sanchez replacing him in the middle, the Blaugrana at least have some form of aerial presence should the ball arrive at height.

If Neymar is considered fit enough to play and therefore mirror Messi's intelligent movement on the opposite side, Barca have half a chance. Albeit the Brazilian's representatives would far rather he stays "iced" whether fit or not, per Marca.

The return of Neymar could help Barca to their first win of the season over the Rojiblancos.

Martino and Barcelona must take the game to Atleti, force the issue, be brave and if necessary take risks. Saturday is not the time to be conservative. 

Better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all.

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