Despite Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino saying he did not come to Barcelona to change their way of playing, the evidence is as clear as daylight that the Argentina coach is indeed changing the Catalan giants.
Barcelona became famous for the use of Lionel Messi as a ‘false 9” under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, with the Argentina forward barely playing any other position on the pitch, if ever at all, over the course of the five years the Catalans were in charge of La Blaugrana. However, under Martino, we’ve seen Messi playing as false 9, and back in his natural inside right forward position. The utilization of Lionel Messi in more than one position, and tasking him with more things, to make use of his wide array of skills, is one of the noted changes that we’ve seen in Barcelona.
With Martino at the helm, Barcelona also sometimes take on a more direct approach rather than use the football that wooed the world under Pep Guardiola, Barca’s traditional ‘tiki-taka’ style of play. They’ve been averaging less possession over the course of 90 minutes this season than in previous seasons. For instance, in the Clasico against Real Madrid, Barcelona had just 55% of the possession at the Camp Nou, and seemed very content to let Madrid have their share of the ball throughout the match. Earlier this season, Barcelona had less possession than their opponents for the first time in 317 matches as they had just 49% of the ball against Rayo Vallecano.
Under Guardiola and Vilanova, it was very rare that goalkeeper Victor Valdes would take a goal kick long, usually preferring to take it short so that his team could build from the back and keep possession. However, this season, Valdes has been taking a lot of goalkicks long, he hasn’t been afraid to hoof the ball up the pitch, something that would have definitely been out of the question in recent seasons.
Another change that I noticed is that from time to time, Barcelona actually defend deep and soak up a bit of pressure from the opposition, like against Real Madrid. That is something we have not seen from Barcelona since the Frank Rijkaard days. Barcelona’s defensive line would be pushing high up the field, and the midfield and forward line will be trying to find space to exploit in and around the opposition’s penalty area, and this usually lead to them being very vulnerable to counter-attacks.
So, even though Tata Martino said he only wanted to bring back the Barca of old ( in two ways he has, as the high pressing of the Guardiola era has been brought back, and the team attack with more intensity than they did under Tito ), he is building his own Barcelona team, and I would argue that it is a bit foolish to expect Martino to get Barcelona playing how they did under Pep again. That Barcelona team was exceptional, and a once in a lifetime kind of team. It’ll be years until we see a team like Guardiola’s Barca again.
I think it will be much more wise for Martino to start building his on legend at the Camp Nou. To use his own tactics, to install his own playing style at the Camp Nou, to use players how he thinks it would be best to use them, or other effective ways to use a player ( such as Messi as a CAM behind a striker, or out on the right ), and buy the players he wants to. Of course, it would also be foolish to completely deviate from the ‘Barcelona way’, but you can only stick to that tradition for so long before it begins to flounder and teams start figuring you out ( as has already happened with Barcelona and the ‘Pep’ way ). However, so far, Martino is doing all the stuff right, and it is not out of the question for Martino’s Barca to measure up pretty close to Pep’s Barca in the end.