The Catalan revolution has indeed started after a trophyless season. Tata Martino has been replaced by Luis Enrique as the manager of the club. Stars such as Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez have been sold, whereas the club have bought a series of high profile players like quality midfielder Ivan Rakitic and world-class striker Luis Suarez. Plans are being made to add more unpredictability and directness to their ‘tiki-taka’ style of play. Moreover, there are serious conversations about whether the Blaugrana should continue to use the 4-3-3 formation, which they have used an extended period of time or seek an alternate formation.
The 4-3-3 formation has given the club a great degree success in the past. The style used by Barcelona while playing this formation , however, has been exposed by opponents and it has become obvious for quite a while that this formation can no longer guarantee success like it once did. Moreover, this formation can work for the Catalans only if two of the three forwards are assigned the help the center-forward. For example, during the 2010-11 season, David Villa and Pedro were secondary strikers and their job was to get the best out of Messi, who was the main forward. But, Neymar and Luis Suarez, particularly the former, are strikers who, like Messi, prefer to be the primary strikers. Hence, keeping either of the two or Messi as the central attacker would mean banishing two of these strikers to the wings. That’s enough reason to suggest that they should not bank on a 4-3-3 to win them titles with the current crop of players.
Here’s a look at the potential 3-4-3 diamond formation starting XI:
Pique Vermaelen Mathieu
Three at the back, can it work? Louis van Gaal showed in the World Cup that an organized three-man defence can be quite effective. His Netherlands defense consisted of Stefan De Vrij, Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi – none of whom are world-class – and conceded only four goals in six games. Gerard Pique or Marc Bartra would slot in as the right defender, whereas Thomas Vermaelen could be the central figure, leaving Jeremy Mathieu as the left defender. As Vermaelen is currently injured, Pique or Mascherano could start in the sweeper position whilst the Belgian is rehabilitating. There’s also the option to play either Bartra or Martin Montoya in the right-hand side of defense.
In order to make this system work, it’s imperative that a strong and committed defensive midfielder is stationed in front of the back three. Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets are two options who would provide the perfect shield for the defense.
Moving further upfield and Jordi Alba is the obvious choice on the left due to his attacking instincts, and defensive capabilities. If Barcelona prove successful in their pursuit of Juan Cuadrado to replace Dani Alves, he can be fielded on the right-hand side. Many are against this move as the Columbian is considered to be lazy defensively, but he would certainly be a success in a wing-back role, where he could properly utilize his creativity and work-rate.
Another possibility could be that Rakitic plays as a right midfielder, if not a wing-back. His crossing ability is exceptional. When you add to the fact that he he likes to run and dribble, then his flexibility to adapt to a variety of different roles is a major drawcard.
A creative central attacking midfielder would then complete the midfield diamond. Most likely it will be Andreas Iniesta who could perform that role with aplomb regardless of his ageing body. Otherwise another veteran in Xavi could play in this position, if ball possession and short passes are priority. However, even new boy Rakitic is more than capable of dictating the front third play and creativity as the central attacking midfielder.
In the final third of the pitch the deadly trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez completes a menacing XI. To fit all three superstars into the team it’s likely that Messi and Neymar will sit behind Suarez, who is more equipped as a No. 9 than his teammates. In wider areas Messi and Neymar will thrive when given space. However, it’s a very flexible formation that will see the trio interchange positions throughout a game.
To be precise the formation that we’ve analysed is in theory a 3-4-3, but in actual fact it works out to be more than like a 3-1-2-1-3. It’s an extremely versatile system that can accommodate defensive solidity and attacking flair in equal measure. Competition for places will be at a premium with such a deep list of players to choose from. The greatest luxury about playing this particular formation is that it will allow the manager to fit in all his big-name players. It’s an unpredictable team now, and it feels like Barcelona are beginning a completely fresh era.
First tika-taka revolutionized this Spanish giant, now the 3-4-3 formation could be the pre-cursor to achieving consistent trophy hauls once more.