Barcelona no longer capable of playing the Barça way

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Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

Years ago disgruntled Barcelona fans would wave white handkerchiefs, whenever they were unhappy about the team performances. This was typically the precursor to a manager being sacked, although it wasn’t just the results that mattered, it was a judgement on how the football was being played.

These fans have grown accustomed to Barcelona playing in a specific, using a style that is often referred to as tiki-taka these days. This is based around keeping possession for long periods of time, holding onto the ball patiently whilst seeking attacking opportunities, transitioning play across all areas of the pitch with precise one and two-touch passing.  

The ‘Barcelona way’ of playing was hugely influenced by the Dream Team era of Johan Cruyff, when he led the club to its first ever European Cup triumph in 1992, along with four consecutive LaLiga titles between 1990-91 and 1993-94. As one of the key players in that side, Pep Guardiola was undoubtedly inspired by the same concepts.

Guardiola made his own modifications, of course, encouraging his players to form passing triangles, whereby the player on the ball always had two passing outlets. This again leaned towards ensuring dominance of possession, accompanied by intelligent movement in order to create space, whilst also making the most of individual talents and allowing more freedom.

Interestingly, Guardiola always loathed his tactical approach being referred to as tiki-taka. “I loather all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose,” he once explained. Instead, his own objective was to “pass the ball with a clear intention, making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it.”

There was a greater emphasis on pushing the fullbacks higher up the pitch, providing width to a midfield trio and presence in greater numbers, which ultimately contributed to the dominance of possession. Wide attacking players then tucked inside to receive passes or open space and channels, which could then be exploited with the purpose of creating chances.

“Take The Ball, Pass The Ball” is the name of a superb documentary, which studies the Guardiola era at Barcelona, which is also perhaps how his tactical approach must be named, rather than the tiki-taka label he tends to loathe so much. He was also blessed with an incredibly talented squad of players, ideally suited to the system he deployed.

In reality, what Guardiola did was adapt the ‘Total Football’ or ‘Juego de Posicion’ of Cruyff, retaining elements of the structured positional approach and possession play, while introducing more counter pressing and recycling control of the ball with greater speed. He tended to take more risks, although this made the most of exquisitely talented players.

The fulcrum of the side going forward was undoubtedly Lionel Messi, arguably the finest natural football talent the world has ever seen, ahead of a midfield engine that included Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Behind them was the guaranteed security of Sergio Busquets, always central and behind the ball, adding defensive security in the middle.

Of those four key players that made the Barcelona system of Guardiola tick, only Busquets remains and he now appears to be a shadow of the player he once was. Iniesta and Xavi are both long gone, while Messi departed for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021, with the club in a state of economic and financial ruin.

Although the core of the Guardiola approach was retained by the late Tito Vilanova, when Gerardo Martino arrived, he tried to introduce a more directness to play, although that wasn’t entirely appreciated by fans. Interestingly, when Luis Enrique took the helm and with great success, he did so by retaining the core ‘Barcelona Way’ and that added edge of directness.

Ernesto Valverde won several trophies with Barcelona, although he was much maligned by fans, yet there were already few remnants of the Guardiola era left in the side, which inevitably meant introducing tactical alternatives to suit different players. When he left, Quique Setien tried to bring back greater emphasis on passing, yet that failed spectacularly.

Since August 2020, Ronald Koeman has attempted to do things more his own way, albeit with the influence of previous managers in mind. However, he simply doesn’t have the stellar talents they had at their disposal. Bookmakers everywhere are dubious about the current Barcelona side, who look likely to suffer as they enter a new era potentially devoid of trophies, especially after a crushing 3-0 defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Trust and reliability, safety and security, those are key elements that Asiabet look for in the best Asian bookies covering football. Aside from the generous offers and bonuses on offer, there are betting strategy guides and tips, yet it already seems many of the top betting sites doubt Koeman’s capacity to bring any success to Barcelona. Even the most reliable bookies feel his days could be numbered, as the team continues to struggle, while betting odds reflect the chances of winning silverware as being slender.

The simple fact of the matter is that without the right players, Koeman is unable to continue the mythical and mystical ‘Barcelona Way’ of playing. Fans in Spain and around the world are already complaining, although truth be told, the best approach for any manager is to build tactics around the team of players available, making the most of their individual and collective talents.

Indeed, unless Koeman is given the time and patience to introduce his own tactical approach, things could get much worst for Barcelona. They haven’t made the best of starts to the new season, especially after such a humiliating defeat in their opening Champions League encounter against Bayern Munich, yet the Dutchman faces no easy task with the current side.

The worst thing that could possibly happen, would be if Koeman is ousted in the next couple of months, then an alternative coach is hired with instructions to bring back the ‘Barcelona Way’ of playing. Instead of trying to revert back to something that is now out of reach, without players capable of performing within a Guardiola-esque system, the club and team will suffer even more than they already are. Realistically, it’s time for this club to move on.

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