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Tactics: Explaining Positions in Barcelona’s System

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A quick glossary of terms.

FC Barcelona v Hercules - Copa del Rey Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Since we’re in the winter break, I wanted to take a moment and explain some terminology used on this and other sites as it relates to Barcelona.

The team has been playing 4-3-3 for a while now, though of course, the tactics change a lot from year to year.

What is a 4-3-3?

This is a basic question but let’s get on the same page. Football is played with 11 men: 10 outfielders and 1 goalkeeper. The 10 outfielders tend to take up “lines” across the field, and however many are in each line is given a number. Of course, it’s not actually that simple. The players do not stick to lines like foosball, they move up and down and all over. However, it gives you a very basic idea of the shape of the team.

The 4-3-3 is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 3 forwards. In this diagram, the goalkeeper is orange, the defenders are blue, the midfielders are yellow, and the forwards are red.

4-3-3 diagram
4-3-3 diagram

While there are many names to call each role within the team, and they are helpful towards being descriptive, they are informal categories. That means that any player can do whatever they want, and their exact responsibilities will vary from team-to-team and game-to-game. There isn’t anything special about using Spanish terms, but sometimes they get the idea across more specifically.

Barcelona’s 4 defenders are 2 fullbacks and 2 centerbacks, one on each side of the pitch. In Spanish, the fullbacks are called laterales and the centerbacks are called centrales.

Currently, Sergi Roberto is the right fullback, Jordi Alba is the left fullback, Gerard Piqué the right centerback, and Javier Mascherano (or Samuel Umtiti) the left centerback.

Historically, Barcelona’s fullbacks are known for getting forward, the prime example is Dani Alves.

Barcelona’s 3 midfielders consist of 1 holding midfielder and 2 central midfielders. The holding, or defensive, midfielder is known as the pivote or mediocentro while the 2 others are known as interiores.

Right now, Barcelona’s starting pivote is Sergio Busquets, while the two other midfielders are Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić.

Finally, the three forwards consist of two wingers and a center-forward. The wingers are called extremos and the center forward delantero centro. However, the center-forward is sometimes referred to as a “false nine” (falso nueve) if his role demands coming back towards midfield to build play.

Barcelona’s front three are world famous, with Neymar and Lionel Messi typically on the wings and Luis Suárez in the middle.

Neymar and Messi are allowed the freedom to cut inside from the wing, because their dominant foot is towards the center of the pitch. That means the right-footed Neymar plays on the left wing, whereas the left-footed Messi starts from the right.

This hasn’t always been the case recently. Since about 2011 until Luis Enrique’s arrival, Messi’s position had been in the center as a “false nine.” The wingers typically were more about running into position and shooting, and were not necessarily tasked with bringing the ball up from midfield, creating chances, or dribbling.

Now the team is more likely to initiate plays from either fullback onto either winger.

This has been a very basic introduction, but hopefully you learned something and what some of the terms mean.