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Gerardo "Tata" Martino Has FC Barcelona Practicing Defending Counterattacks

The Argentine coach is looking to bolster a part of Barca's game that has been a bit of an Achilles' heel over the past few seasons. Will his methods bring success?

David Ramos

While most of the team trained with the traditional short-passing "rondos", new coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino set aside the defenders to practice a very specific play situation - defending counters.

Martino is committed to improving Barca's defensive record last year, which was the worst it had been for quite a long time. First, he has communicated to the players that they have to re-commit themselves to the high-pressure approach that has brought them so much success in the past. Now, he is focusing on improving defenders' reactions in open spaces.

Martino placed four defenders behind the halfway line and simulated counterattacking situations from the other side. Ideally, the press on the ballplayer would make it so he cannot play a pass comfortably or without any accuracy - or even better, so he could not play a pass at all. However, if this failed, the defenders need to be able to defend large swaths of space.

The coach trained with two versions of the back four - the first choice of Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, and Jordi Alba as well as the second-stringers Martin Montoya, Frank Bagnack, Marc Bartra, and Adriano Correia - and instructed them on how to defend the simulations.

Martino and his assistants Jorge Pautasso and Jordi Roura (whose role next season has yet to be confirmed) gave the players advice, but also listened to them and engaged in conversations. Martino is known for an approach that seeks to listen to the players' voices and take their concerns into account.

Another aspect Martino began to try to improve is the counter-counterattack. After recovering the ball from an opposition counter, he wants the team to quickly respond with its own counterattack. Logically, the opposition will leave their shell to try to seek a goal on the counter. If the Blaugrana recover it, they can themselves seek a numerically advantageous attack - but only if they do it quickly enough.

Barca sometimes have lacked speed in transitions, as they are used to slowing the pace down and patiently waiting for an opening. However, counters would add a bit more variety to the standard attack.

Martino is still looking to add a new centerback to the team, but it's clear he's also identified strategy and organization as part of the problem. If Martino can fix the philosophical aspect while adding top talent, Barca's defense is sure to be much stronger this coming season.

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