Busquets, Pique and Puyol close by
Barcelona followed up their Champions League hammering of Panathinaikos with a 2-1 win at Atlético Madrid. The scoreline doesn't really illustrate the comfort of the win; Barcelona had a hat-full of chances to increased the scoreline, Atletico's young goalkeeper De Gea largely responsible for ensuring there was no advance beyond two goals.
Watching Barcelona is generally always a pleasure, as well as intriguing - simplicity perfected in to art.
Barcelona have the strengths to eclipse almost all opponents. The ethics of the team lay a foundation tailored for success; accurate passing, persistent movement, cohesive organisation, collective hard work, which when dressed together with the sublime, produces a model fit for the catwalk.
Barcelona are also adaptive, even though the sum of their parts gives them the advantage over their opponents, Atlético Madrid in this case, it doesn't hold them back from leaving nothing to chance.
Sergio Busquets, more familiar in the role of deep-lying midfield destroyer, spent most of the game against Atlético as a third central defender. Clearly a deliberate decision from Pep Guardiola, possibly for reasons to handle Atlético's front pair, Aguero and Forlan - although for this match Aguero wore the look of a man in need of a few extra training sessions.
With Basquets sandwiched between Puyol and Pique - pretty much behind them for the bulk of the match - and with the recognizable full backs Daniel Alves and Maxwell positioned in advanced areas for large parts of a game, Barcelona's shape was less 4-3-3 and more in tune with a 3-4-3 system, which transitioned in to a 4-3-3 on the occasions when Atlético pushed Barcelona deep. In fact, to exaggerate Alves and Maxwell further, it felt as if they had spent large parts of the game ahead of central midfield pair Xavi and Iniesta.
Alves and Maxwell are models of the modern day full back; full of pace, energetic, defensive but also creativity and able to patrol the the full length of each flank. The combination of using this type of full back, with one or two midfielders taking up a deep-lying role is no revelation, it is widely used as a standard tactic for teams deploying the 4-2-3-1 formation. But watching Barcelona's customary 4-3-3 fashioned in to 3-4-3 lends itself to the promise of something new and exciting in the evolution of football tactics.
Three at the back isn't a new thing, nor is 3-4-3 - it's a shape which has been adopted by various teams on occasions throughout the 60's, 70's, less so in the 80's and a little in the 1990's.
However, Barcelona's modern version is an infusion of many tactical themes of modern times - a fluid interchangeable front three with no de-facto no.9, a central midfield finely tuned with balance, industry and art, full backs prepared to be wing-backs cum wingers and a central defensive pair able to spread themselves across the back line to give the illusion of four.
And then there's the Busquets role - the deep-lying midfielder, the destroyer, football's version of the night-watchman if you dare and now maybe the 21st Century Libero, or maybe not?
One to watch with interest as the 10's progress.