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Bringing the old Barcelona back: Why a return to 4-3-3 is a must

Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s been Ernesto Valverde’s maiden season as Barcelona coach and boy has he done well, bringing the Liga title back where it belongs. A fourth straight Copa del Rey also arrived, and he deserves more appreciation than he was given. The loss of Neymar to PSG and a disastrous UCL exit are the only letdowns in what has been a glittering season.

However, the biggest disappointment, and a rather unforeseen one, has completely changed what Barca are, from a continuously moving, possession-loving dominating side to a side that just likes to play it safe and depend on Lionel Messi. Maybe it worked fine this time, but cometh next season, it won’t do the trick, certainly not in Europe.

Maybe it’s time we switch to our roots and revive the old style of play again.

Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Barcelona have been a dominant force in world football with their superior game control and ability to move the ball effortlessly, leading their famous tiki-taka to be immortalized in the pages of history. Lately, that hasn’t been the case with Valverde preferring a much safer 4-4-2 system and thus limiting the creative spark. Let’s not talk about the 4-4-2 as however unsuited it is for the team, it has given results and that matters.

Although the quality of the midfield has fallen considerably, Messi has shone and so has Jordi Alba and the rest of the defense. The most important thing needed? A change in perspective. Let’s talk about why Valverde needs to place his trust on his players’ versatility and change the system of play.

Here are seven reasons why Barcelona should switch to 4-3-3:

What we are vs what we need to be

1. A relaxed lineup with more options:

If one looks closely at the 4-4-2, it becomes evident that the two-man midfield pair has to play a holding role as opposed to some creative jobs down the line. It’s good for full-back overloading and possibly great for attacks down the wings, but simply lacks the creative spark down the middle that could prove decisive in crunch games. Also, every player (except Messi) has predictable movement and therefore, predictable passes. One word: constricted. A 4-3-3 has a much more relaxed feel and one can clearly see that Philippe becomes clear of the defensive duties, can attack as an attacking midfielder, create overloads with Alba and Dembele and still support Rakitic and Busquets simultaneously. Much better if you ask me. It’d be even better if Rakitic and Busquets switch places, with Rakitic playing the Xavi role. He’s a great long passer and would be a great regista.

2. It makes Messi and Co. difficult to mark

Real Sociedad v Barcelona - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The 4-3-3 allows for quick interchanging of positions and thus more attacking options. Zonal marking won’t stand a chance due to the continuous mobility and dynamism of the attackers and man-marking would simply create spaces for the midfielders to exploit. Overall, we can create more chances and lower our dispossession rate in the final third of the pitch.

3. Three-man midfield best suited for creativity

Valencia v Barcelona - Copa del Rey Semi Final Second Leg Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Everyone remembers the magic combination of Iniesta-Xavi-Busquets and the way they dominated world football, together. Their system ensured creativity and pinpoint passes as well as an able anchor to the already stable midfield. Coming to the present, a three-man midfield can do absolutely no harm for Barca. There might be concerns regarding pressure absorption but who are we kidding, we’ve got Umtiti and Pique who are always up to the job. Also, it gives Busquets ample opportunities to shine by giving him more space. An anchor cum regista, a dynamic attack minded midfielder and the surprise third midfielder who does both: an absolute treat to watch.

4. Suarez and Dembele get to prove what they are

Barcelona v Girona - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Luis Suarez has been much criticized for his lost lethality and overelaborating attacks and Ousmane Dembele, well he’s a story for another day. But a three-man attack can give them a much-needed spark and goals. Replicating the unmovable MSN trio is impossible but they can create something new. Dembele has an explosiveness that Neymar didn’t have and his daunting runs down the line can be a legendary thing. He’s a man hotly tipped to be the best in the world in the coming years and 4-3-3 is his best chance. He excelled down the left for France against Italy and excel he will, with Barcelona. Luis on the other hand, will get more support from the wings and hopefully can score more goals, he’s an ex-Pichichi and European Golden shoe winner, he has to score more.

5. Less pressure on Messi

Barcelona v Leganes - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Corners, set pieces, key passes, assists, distributing the ball, keeping it and lastly- scoring; Messi did it all last season. But it’s time the gaffer realizes that Messi is human after all, he’s 30 and we need to use him judiciously. Unlike with his national team, Messi can play a more relaxed role with the club if he sticks with the right wing. The 4-3-3 also gives him the ease to play as a false 9 and torment the defenders. With creative exploits ably shared among the three-man midfield, Messi can get back to his best ways and show the world what he is.

6. Best chance for European glory

Juventus v FC Barcelona  - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

It’s a worst kept secret that Barcelona are a forgotten force in Europe and Real Madrid have rightfully taken the throne, three consecutive trophies aren’t a joke. Not judging the ability of our players, it’s the formation that cost us European glory. The Champions League never has been and never will be a contest for playing it safe. It’s only the dreamers who achieve the unthinkable and our restricted positioning and inability to create magic has made for early exits over the last few seasons. Adopting a 4-3-3 can rekindle the dim spark and the will to play till the last moment. We did it last time with a 4-3-3 and we can do it the next time with the same.

7. Tiki-taka and pressure triangles

Chelsea FC v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The famed style of play is a Barcelona product and is always a treat to watch. Although Barca have enjoyed more possession throughout the season consistently, there have only been minute flashes of tiki-taka with only Messi, Busquets and Iniesta actively doing it. 4-4-2 with its predictable and done and dusted formulas had marred the midfield and it was only a matter of time our lack of creativity cost us trophies. With the 4-3-3, Barcelona can create a triangular method of passing, meaning each player gets more options to move the ball around. Defensively speaking, everything will happen in triangles, right from recovering the ball to marking the opposition which ensures less errors all around.

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