For FC Barcelona, it has already been a whirlwind of a season. The Catalan giants have been on top of the world and struggling to get results at various times this year, and all signs point to a long six more months of action.
New manager Luis Enrique may not have the club exactly where he wants it to be at this point, but he has been working. The tactics at the Camp Nou have begun to change, and in some ways it is already paying off in a big way.
Granted, Barcelona’s style of football will never truly disappear, but Enrique has been right to make a few necessary alterations to a game plan that opponents have had figured out for a few years now.
Just how has Enrique changed Barcelona tactically? Let’s break it down.
As should be the case, Enrique’s biggest tactical changes have come on the defensive end of the ball. Though the back line is still having a lot of the same problems as the last few seasons, there has been a bit of improvement.
To begin with, this season has seen the Blaugrana full-backs do a much better job of timing their forward runs.
In seasons gone by, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba would both launch into attack at the same time and leave the back line absolutely unguarded. This led to countless counterattacks, which did Barcelona in a plenty of occasions.
This year, those runs may still be present, but there is a lot more planning behind them. Rarely will you see both full-backs up in attack at the same time, and that alone has given the defense more help when matched up against fast opposing forwards.
There are still the moments of weakness where the full-backs do get caught out of position, but it is clear that Enrique has emphasized timing the forward runs in order to ensure that the back line is not left exposed.
Additionally, Enrique has changed Barcelona’s zonal marking style of set piece defending for one that focuses on man defending. This ensures that every attack is marked rather than a zone, and the change has already paid off.
According to Squawka.com, Barcelona has only conceded two headed goals in all competitions this season, which seems unreal based on the last few campaigns.
Despite the alterations, the defense is still struggling with individual errors and marking counterattacks. The back line has a long way to go before they can be truly relied upon, but it is hard to doubt that Lucho hasn't brought some much-needed adjustments with his return to the Camp Nou.
Barcelona’s midfield unit has been relatively untouched for well over five years now. The trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets has been immensely successful together, and changing that can almost be seen as blasphemy in Catalonia.
However, with age playing a factor, Enrique needed to touch up the middle of the park for the Catalan giants this season.
The first change that was initially made was focusing on more direct attacking. The days of endless and pointless passing behind the forwards are nearly gone as the midfield is now looking to attack quicker than this squad ever has.
Busquets and Xavi can be seen making more decisive passes than ever to set up their teammates in attack, while Iniesta has become even more dangerous with the ball at his feet.
But the Barcelona midfield trio has gone under some rebuilding as well. All three of the stars have played less minutes to this point than in previous years, and while that can somewhat be linked to injuries, the biggest reason is the presence of other talented players in the middle of the park.
Ivan Rakitic has already seen plenty of playing time and has even changed the midfield dynamic. His ability to be a scoring threat on his own has revamped the midfield attack, while his ability to drop deep and defend has given the Barcelona back line more coverage than they have normally been afforded in recent years.
Rafinha has also seen decent playing time under Enrique and may well be on to a more consistent role in the first time. While the 21-year-old is still developing his game, his work ethic has breathed new life into what has been a stagnant midfield unit as of late.
However, the biggest change of all in the middle of park is the fact that there has been a revitalized focus on defending.
Xavi and Iniesta have never been defensive players. They have had a few big moments in defense, but Barcelona has never been able to rely on them to consistently give the back line coverage unless the entire team was pressing as a unit.
With Rakitic and Rafinha seeing more time, Busquets now has help in front of the defense, and it is helping the back line become more solid. In truth, their ability to play as box-to-box midfielders has given Barcelona vastly more diversity, and the club is all the better because of it.
Mix in more direct attacking with a commitment to defending, and the Barcelona midfield is looking strong. There could, of course, be much more improvement, but the tactics are looking up.
With Lionel Messi leading the charge, big changes were not expected. And while the attacking system may not look too much different, Enrique has introduced a few interesting adjustments.
The first major tactical change has been Messi’s role in the team. The last few years saw Messi become more of a traditional center-forward and stay further up the field, but under Enrique, he has returned to his days of dropping into the midfield and attacking from deep.
With the midfield more focused on balancing attacking with defending, Messi has even become the club’s creative mastermind, where as he has mainly been the focal point of attack over the last couple of years.
While Messi pulls the strings for the forwards, other tactical changes have been able to thrive.
Barcelona’s forward runs have now begun to focus heavily on wing play with the likes of Neymar and Luis Suarez dropping out wider, and opponents have struggled to find a solution to this. When Messi has played on the wing, the tactic hasn’t changed, and in that lies the key to Barcelona’s attacking system.
The center-forward has become the creative force that drives the attack, normally sitting a bit deeper than the wings. As that happens, the wings are able to drift inward and pull defenders out of position. Barcelona may still be using the 4-3-3 formation, but it has started to look a lot like a 4-3-1-2 as games progress.
In all honesty, adding Luis Suarez to the mix was always going to change up the Barcelona attack. With three deadly scorers in front of goal, Enrique is right to try to get more creativity out of Messi, and it is paying off in a major way.
Which of Enrique's tactical changes have been the most important? What other adjustments does the Barcelona manager need to make? Leave your thoughts and comments below!