Everyone knows that Barcelona can score goals.
When you have the world’s best player (and top goalscorer) in your team and players like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta providing the assists, scoring tends to be lower down on your list of problems.
Under the management and coaching of former coach Pep Guardiola, Barcelona ensured that their central defenders were rarely troubled – this was accomplished by the use of the high pressing technique employed by Guardiola. As soon Barcelona lost possession of the ball, the entire team from the strikers to defenders would work in concert to harass and harry the opposition until they recovered the ball. As Guardiola himself intimated, Barcelona were “a horrible team without the ball so I want us to get it back as soon as possible and I’d rather give away fouls and the ball in their half than ours.”
This system worked well as most opposition teams were content to sit back and try to “park the bus” in front of goal and allow Barcelona all the possession they wanted. Invariably, however, the Barcelona players would manage to find a path through to goal. Eventually there were managers and teams that decided to change their approach to playing against Barcelona. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid teams had some successful results against Barcelona (after the initial 5-0 thumping in Mourinho’s first clasico) which they achieved by quick counter attacks and running at the slower Barcelona central defenders.
Bayern Munich thrashed Barcelona over two legs in the 20102/13 Champions League semi final by using Barca’s own tactic of a full court press and counter attacking at speed.
The problem that Barcelona face is that once they lose possession of the ball, the opposition can move the ball quickly to a striker or an attacker to hold the ball up. The supporting opposition players then quickly break into space behind the Barcelona central defenders and if the ball is moved quickly enough there is often a three versus two for the opposition team.
Barcelona have been fortunate that the majority of teams that they play against are not equipped with the players to execute the game plan above. But when Barcelona face quality opposition with technically gifted players (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid) they can be on the end of a drubbing.
Barcelona should have strengthened their central defence during the summer transfer window, but mysteriously neglected this area and instead splashed out on Neymar who is a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. With Carlos Puyol struggling with injury and Gerard Pique (never the quickest of players) suffering from a loss of form things are not looking good at the back for Barca. Javier Mascherano continues to be a converted midfielder rather than a defender and players like Alex Song and Sergio Busquets also slot in as defenders when required.
One of Alex Ferguson’s biggest achievements is that he constantly reinvented his teams over the years, bringing in new blood and keeping things fresh. Barcelona have had the same core squad from 2008, and of those players it has predominantly been attackers who have come and gone (Eto’o, Ibrahimovich,Villa), but the defence has hardly been altered.
If Barcelona are serious about winning the Champions League again, they would do well to look at adding a couple of quality, recognised central defenders to their squad.