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Tactics: Key Difference Between Luis Enrique’s Barcelona and Pep Guardiola’s Team

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There are many, but maybe this is the most important one.

FC Barcelona v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

I talked some basics about positions in Barcelona’s system, and with that out of the way, I’d like to talk about how current coach Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola, former coach, differ.

What’s interesting is there is actually a lot of overlap between the two. It’s easy to get lost in the contrasts and miss the larger picture, which is much more balanced.

It’s also easy to assume Guardiola is the “default Barcelona style” which isn’t true. Such an idea actually does him a disservice. If all Pep had to do was resort to autopilot, that’s not much of an accomplishment. It’s worth giving him credit as an innovator.

Now, both coaches tended to use a 4-3-3 system while at Barcelona. People correctly say Pep’s team was a bit more slow in its buildup, while Lucho’s teams are capable of quicker, more vertical play.

But that in part stems with how most plays are created.

Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona tended to build play along these lines: defender -> holding midfielder -> central midfielder.

From there, it could go to the fullback, or to the center-forward, or maybe back to the other central midfielder.

Luis Enrique has streamlined the process. Now it’s more defender -> fullback -> winger.

The winger then is who looks to create via a dribble or pass. Of course this does not always happen, but it’s the template for the team.

Guardiola’s team had Lionel Messi as a “false nine” and he would tend to stay central rather than move wide. The wingers would be in charge of making runs in behind the defense, rather than dribbling or creating themselves.

Now Messi is on the right, and with Neymar on the left, the team has two of the world’s best dribbles on either flank. Luis Suárez, the center-forward, now is the man tasked with those kinds of runs.

Additionally, the central midfielders now tend to stay wider, rather than interchanging positions and making runs along the center.

All of this points to one big truth: Luis Enrique’s team is much more focused on the flanks than Guardiola’s.

Guardiola’s team focused more on the center, and particularly, the midfielders had more influence in building plays.

Now it’s the fullbacks and wingers who have gained influence.

This isn’t in of itself a good or bad thing, just a difference. However this difference has big effects, and whether those are on balance good or bad depends on who you ask.