Early Friday morning, the news that many wanted to hear (and some of us feared) was officially announced: FC Barcelona will face Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. The two-leg match, which is set to be played in Barcelona on May 6th and in the Allianz Arena on May 12th, will be the most anticipated clash of the season, and will signal the return of Pep Guardiola, Barça's most accomplished and prolific manager, the man who perfected Cruyff's tiki-taka style of play, to the Camp Nou.
When Guardiola left the Catalan capital at the end of the 2011/12 season, Barcelona had been riding a euphoric wave of best-squad-in-the-world labels and a record 14 trophies in 4 years. Unfortunately, soon after his departure the wave died down, the euphoria wore off, and the silverware stopped rolling in. FC Barcelona were hit with the realization that their death by a million passes approach was no longer suitable, so they spent the next three years attempting to reorganize and restructure the team from the ground up.
Since May, Luis Enrique has been at the helm, tinkering with the lineup (a move he's been highly criticized for) until he was finally able to conjure up the perfect concoction.
The most obvious change from Pep's elusive style was removing Messi from his central "false-9" position and placing him on the right, thus allowing Suarez to take up a more dangerous role as a central striker, while giving Messi the freedom to be more creative with his dagger-like passes, rainbow chips, or physics-defying crosses. This shift from a Messi-dominated front line to an attacking trio has given Barça the goal-scoring power that is needed when quick, successive passes are no longer the best option.
Adapting to this more Madrid-like style of attack was a challenge for the blaugrana at the start of the season, however, Lucho's persistence and loyalty to his own tactics have paid off. Barcelona no longer pass the ball incessantly until an open lane is found, or created, for a goal-scoring opportunity. They now attack the flanks, stretch defenses on a quick counter, cross the ball into open space, or, what's more unbelievable, score from a set piece.
The Barcelona that Guardiola left behind is no longer the one he'll be returning to. That's not to say that Barça's pass-and-possess tactic is gone; it is very alive and still a part of the blaugrana core, and they proved it in their 0-2 win against Espanyol during this weekend's Catalan derby. No, tiki-taka has simply been...reshaped into something more Enrique-like. It's a bit more aggressive, with fewer passes and better defending. It's still Barcelona, but with a little kick.
With such a tactical deviation from the Pep era, it may be difficult, even for Guardiola, to recognize the new FC Barcelona. In fact, he may be surprised by what he sees when the match finally begins. But that, my dear reader, may be Lucho's best weapon against a very strong, and well managed, Bayern Munich.