Barca have won the league 4 times of a possible 5, but have won the Champions League only once since 2015. Winning the league is all about consistency, but to win in Europe, we need am extra edge, physically, mentally and tactically. Here, I am going to take a look at our shortcomings, and possibilities in the future to take the extra mile.
There are obvious changes we need in terms of management, and the mentality of our starters. I would instead like to highlight some lesser noticed and spoken about factors.
1. Goals From The Mid-Field
In the 2018-19 campaign, Ivan Rakitic's exquisite volley at the Wembley was the only goal from a Barca mid-fielder throughout the campaign. The Croatian was also the only mid-fielder to score im the last season as well (against Juve). We learned the hard way against Liverpool, how important a goal scoring mid can be.
My solution is fairly obvious, yet highly unpopular. I would play Phillipe Coutinho in the lcm role, hence adding more bite to the attack. Phillipe Coutinho played some of his best football for us in the mid-field, and can reignite his career there. The clear downside is without doubt our defensive structure, which I shall address shortly.
2. Leo Messi's role
Lionel Messi is the heart of Barca's system, and off late, closing down the Argentine forward has helped teams dominate us.
Teams opt for either one of the following strategies to close down Messi,
1. Man-marking- committing one or two players, usually a mid-fielder and a defender to solely track down Messi for 90 minutes.
2. Building a cage around the forward, hence limiting his opportunities to dribble and create.
Two help our team cope with such measures, I have a two part plan. Please read it with an open mind, asia has never been tried, ad is just an idea which may or may not work-
# Play Messi as F9.
This is something fans have been clamouring for recently, and playing g Messi at F9, flanked by Malcom and Dembele means that he plays higher up the pitch. This names harder to defend, as no team would commit both it's cbs on Leo as it opens up spaces for the wingers. If a center back and a mid-fielder are committed, it would force the mid-fielder to play deeper, opening up spaces for Coutinho in the mid-field. Also note, that Coutinho can play this role, as he did for Liverpool, playing behind two pacy wingers and a F9 striker.
It is no hidden secret how dependent we are on Messi, and how he is the fulcrum of all are attacks. How do we reduce our dependence on Leo? It sounds crazy, but my idea is by not depending on him. What I mean, is that we rely more other players to create chances, while Messi holds up play, by taking two defenders away from the game. This is a scenario in which having another creator like Antoine Griezmann will come into play.
The basic idea is that opponents cannot afford to leave Messi unmarked. Hence, his off the ball movement can open up spaces for Dembele, Coutinho and Griezmann.
Hence, Messi will be playing foil to the other players
Over here, we see that Fabinho has to stick to Leo Messi, and Matip is watching Dembele. This gives Fabinho an impossible choice, because if he commits, Messi will get a little bit of space, but if he doesn't, Coutinho is in shooting range.
Case 2. Attack Down The Wing
Over here, Messi is on the blind side of Matip, in between him and Van Dijk. If Fabinho tracks back, Coutinho can make the second run and have a simple finish, and if the Brazilian doesn't, Messi doesn't miss from 6 yards out.
NOTE- Suarez also exhibits similar movements, such as his run to free up Coutinho against Real.
There are certain advantages of playing such a set up,namely
√Element of surprise- Teams line up against us expecting Messi to be the heart of the machine, not just another working piece. This gives us a small tactical advantage, and should help us gain the initiative.
√Balancing the wing- Playing Messi in the F9 role also gives us the possibility of playing g a true winger,hence giving us some life down the right hand side of the field.
√Flexibility and Fluidity- The front 4 can continuously drift around and fill gaps, as all of them are versatile, and makes our attack unpredictable
√End of Messidependencia- Other players playing g a larger role, will increase their confidence and independence, helping us move on from being a one man team.
Obviously, we cant spend the whole game attacking, but we can spend a good amount of it in the opponent half. Defensively, I would want us to play an organised high press, which further reduces the need for our attackers to drop too deep.
Our biggest plus posts in defence would be Leo Messi's contribution in the UCL and Clasicos, as well as a hard working Griezmann.
We could line up with a man-marking arrangement, then overload the right wing(where we are defensive sounder, by my gala XI atleast, to win the ball higher up)
Let us take Barca vs Real for an example. The possible XIs are
Real(442 Diamond)- Courtois (gk), Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemeiro, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Hazard and Benzema
Barca(433 False 9)-MATS(gk), Semedo, De Ligt, Umtiti, Alba, Frenkie, Arthur, Coutinho, Griezmann, Messi(c), Dembele
Situation- Under pressure,Carvajal plays a back pass to Courtois.
_________________ _______________________KroosArthur ________________Ramos_ Griezmann________________________DeLigt_
Over here, we see Messi completely cutting off the pass to Casemeiro,while pressing on Courtois. The full backs press all the way up to the first all third, while the cbs maintain a high line. Benz is offside, hence out of frame. Hazard(most likely to play a free role, as a supporting forward) is the lone free man, yet closely watched by both the cbs. This can be adjusted for formations with wingers or a 3 man defence.
NOTE- Courtois is trash with his feet and would the ball out of play even without pressure. However, against opponents in the CL, gks like Allison and Ederson are good with their feet.
3. An X-Factor
Fernando Llorente. Divock Origi. Two players no where in the level good enough to be a starter in their respective teams. Yet, they have scored highly crucial goals this UCL, when their team required it the most.
We, meanwhile are accustomed to seeing Pique play Cf and Boateng as our back up striker. We need to go for a striker who can get us these crucial goals. An ideal profile would be a 30+ year old, tall and strong, decent link up(so that he can be rotated in and out regularly).
In one of my previous articles, tiburon_cule had recommended Olivier Giroud. Though I opposed it then, I do feel Giroud is ideal for such a role. His public displeasure might open the door for a 2 year contract at most.
Another option I thought of was Michy Batshuayi. The 25 year old had a poor spell at Valencia, with 3 goals ina all competitions, after an encouraging spell at Dortmund. The Belgian is 25 years old, and 184cm tall, and could fit this profile. He has also scored 5 goals in 11 games for Crystal Palace this season( if he can score for Palace, he can score anywhere). If we did take him, it should only be for a short term period. There is of course a great world of class between the two forementioned names. In the WC, Giroud was a starter ahead of Dembele, while Batshuayi was on the bench, behind Lukaku. Enough said.
One might wonder why Luis Suarez can't play the same role, given his experience for us. However the Uruguayan's lack of goals in the UCL, and sky high wages, leave us better off by selling him.
Obviously, this is all a dream, and with that idiot of a board and that clueless coach, it will remain a dream.
But do let me know what you guys think of this set up, and your ideas for lineup next season.