The Greatest Teams – FC Barcelona 2008-2009


FC Barcelona (4-3-3) Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Toure, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Eto’o, Henry

In Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of Barcelona, they claimed a treble by winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League. What separates them from many others is the style they played in. At their best, this was as close to footballing utopia as possible. Guardiola came in and did a superb job, selling key players such as Deco and Ronaldinho whilst signing players like Dani Alves and Gerard Pique. The trio of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry were clinical, netting one 100 goals between them across the season.

Tactically, Barcelona stuck with the 4-3-3 formation throughout the season. Playing with a very high-line in defense, they played very high up the pitch. The team was superb with its pressing, as they pressed in a harassing-like manner when they lost the ball. The pressing started very high up the pitch, and with multiple players closing down the ball when out of possession, they won the ball back very effectively. Another key idea is the positioning of the fullbacks. Alves played much higher up the pitch than Eric Abidal on the opposite side. Alves provided width down the right, which allowed Messi to cut inside onto his favored left foot from his right-wing position. Henry, on the left, played more like a natural winger, staying wider than Messi. Yaya Toure played deepest in midfield, acting as a defensive shield for the center-backs. This is particularly interesting due to his effectiveness at Manchester City playing in a box-to-box role and scoring goals from midfield. Here, he played a disciplined role in midfield. For example, when both Abidal and Alves pushed forward, Toure dropped into defense as a third center-back. Xavi Hernandez played as a metronome and Andres Iniesta played the furthest forward in the midfield trio. There were some variations to the system, but not many. With Messi’s superb goal output, he was given a chance later into the season to play in the center. In this 4-3-1-2 formation, Messi played as the “False 9”with Henry and Eto’o taking up the left and right wing positions respectively.

Admittedly, Barcelona were lucky to win the Champions League. In the semi-final second leg against Chelsea, Barcelona were fortunate to progress with a late goal from Iniesta, after Chelsea were denied several penalties. On the other hand, Abidal was wrongly sent-off in that match and Barcelona’s performance in the final was superb. In the 2009 Champions League final, Barcelona were truly dominant against Manchester United. At this time, United had Cristiano Ronaldo (in his final season before joining Real Madrid) who was considered the best player in the world. Barcelona played the game without Abidal and Alves in defense. This resulted in Sylvinho playing at left-back and Carlos Puyol playing at right-back (where he started his career). A third position was also affected, as Toure played at center-back, with Sergio Busquets playing the defensive midfield role. These defensive changes were against a strong United side, including the likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Ronaldo in attack. Yet, in the game, Messi tore his opponents to shreds and scored a superb header to help his side to victory. Ronaldo fed off scraps for most of the game. Most of his chances were shots which never truly looked like they would trouble Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal.

On the other hand, Barcelona thoroughly deserved to win the La Liga title. In the previous season, they had finished 18 points behind Real Madrid, who were champions. One of this side’s most famous performances came at the Bernabeu, in May of 2009, where they beat Madrid 6-2. Other notable victories included a 6-1 victory against Atletico Madrid, and 4-0 victories  over both Valencia and Sevilla. They were dominant in La Liga, defeating top sides by huge margins.

Barcelona’s dominance continued through the next few seasons. While they failed to defend their Champions League title (as is customary), they won a La Liga and Copa del Rey double in the 2009-2010 season. In the 2010-2011 season, they were back to their best, winning a La Liga and Champions League double. By this time, there were some differences. The back four and goalkeeper stayed the same, but Busquets had overtaken Toure in the pecking order to play behind Xavi and Iniesta in midfield. In the 2011 Champions League final, Busquets and Xavi controlled the midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson could only praise the opposition after the final whistle, admitting that United had been beaten by a better side.

Guardiola’s first season was the start of a special period for Barcelona. This side simply played teams off the park. Possessing two of the most talented midfielders of this generation (and of all-time) in Xavi and Iniesta, they controlled games in a way never seen before. Barcelona won the treble in style, earning the respect of football fans all around the world.

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