Here’s a tactical analysis of FC Barcelona’s coaches over the last decade, which saw a multitude of styles and silverware under 6 different head coaches, from Pep Guardiola to Quique Setien. Over the past 10 years, the club saw a wide range of tactics and styles of play, making the analysis of FC Barcelona’s coaches a proof to all the non-cules that the same philosophy can be implemented in many ways, by different managers.
Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola: (July 2008 – June 2012)
Pep Guardiola is one of the greatest managers of all-time in world football, and some might even say you’re not a Cule if you deny. Such is the impact of Pep Guardiola on FC Barcelona’s history.
A born tactician, with an intrinsic understanding of the game, took FC Barcelona’s philosophy and etched it on the walls of football history.
Most of his contributions to football trace back to his playing days with him being a part of Johann Cryuff’s dream team, molding his mind into a machine oiled by Cruyffian ideologies. However, the most significant impact on his managerial thought process was when he set out on the infamous “pilgrimage” during which he met the likes of Marcelo Bielsa.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the first Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Pep’:
- His revolutionary style of play was based on dominating possession, with aggressive pressing when the team lost the ball. The six-second rule meant the ball had to be recovered before the opposition could make any attacking transition.
- The play revolved around intricate passing with a varying tempo, which made opponents dizzy and clueless. The full-backs were involved heavily in the attacks, making diagonal runs from the flanks.
- The players well complemented his style (mostly Masia graduates who were well versed in the philosophy), with the likes of legends such as Xavi and Iniesta being part of this dominating side that made history.
- Pep’s reign at Barca, making it the most successful Barca side ever, won 3 La Liga, 2 Copa Del Rey, 3 Supercopa de Espana, 2 UEFA Champions League, 2 UEFA Super Cup, 2 FIFA Club World Cup.
Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova: (June 2012 – July 2013)
This entry on the list of the tactical analysis of FC Barcelona’s coaches is most associated with a grim, sad feeling, not just by the fans, even by the players. Tito Vilanova was another major proponent of the “Barcelona way” of playing football. He had previously worked under Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, witnessing and being involved firsthand in the writing of history.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the second Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Tito’:
- Tiki-taka was central to his style of play. However, there was fine-tuning done to adapt to the tactical changes in world football. Other big teams had found a way to outdo tiki-taka, emphasized by the knockout faced against Bayern.
- The range of passing was not as fixed as Pep’s side. Triangles were still in place, but open options in the mid-range were constantly exploited.
- The intensity was increased up a notch, which required constant movement both individually and as a unit.
- Pep’s side didn’t necessarily have a fixed formation, Tito, on the other hand, stuck to a well defined 4-3-3.
- Pressing was very similar to the pressing under Pep, emphasizing on winning the ball as soon as possible.
- Midfielders were expected to preserve shape, unlike Pep’s side, which gave the midfielders a lot of freedom.
Due to his unfortunate illness, he had to step down from the position as head coach. However, he convinced Lionel Messi to continue at Barcelona, as the GOAT considered leaving the club.
It was not long after this last act of goodwill to the club that the one season manager passed away. His side won La Liga that year, equalling the league record of 100 points set by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid the previous season.
Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino: (July 2013- May 2014)
This entry is where the tactical analysis of FC Barcelona’s coaches takes its first detour to variety lane. With Tata Martino taking over FC Barcelona, a change in the style of play implied abandoning of the club’s philosophy to an extent. His style of play was focused heavily on repetitive attacks and aimed to disarm opposition defenses with pace and penetration. “Verticalidad” was expected of the players, translating to verticality in gameplay.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the third Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Tata’:
- Attacking with midfielders in very advanced roles was observed, unlike the previous freedom given to midfielders under Pep and positional restriction under Tito.
- Center backs were very involved in the build-up, as they were responsible for carrying the ball to higher than usual, usually distributing from the halfway line. Gerard Pique was integral to this Martino’s side, mainly due to his distributional prowess.
- Midfielders, Xavi, Iniesta, dropped back for support while the defense was under pressure, and immediately moved back to their advanced positions.
- Characteristic diagonal passes were observed when Messi dropped deep, also by Iniesta, who usually found a winger who was making a diagonal run inside the box. The main passing lane exploited is that between the two center backs during such passes.
- Enhanced creativity while attacking as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas had advanced roles. This advanced positioning implied that any defense had too much on their plate!
- Defending and pressing style had changed. The pressing no longer followed the infamous six-second rule. Pressing began in the midfield when 2-3 players pressured the player on the ball to win it back, or force a mistake.
- The squad had incredible firepower, with the likes of Messi, Neymar, Sanchez, and Pedro.
The Lack of a pure 9 in a direct attacking style is always a disadvantage, but Tata Martino made up for it with his tactics more or less. However, things didn’t tick for Tata Martino’s side against sturdy counter-attacking teams, which left fans unhappy with his tenure, especially since the much-loved tiki-taka was gone
Luis Enrique: (May 2014 – May 2017)
Luis Enrique brought a new wave of football to FC Barcelona.
With recent signings of Neymar and Luis Suarez Barcelona could now play attacking football while making most of the intricate passing. He brought in the best of both worlds, direct attacking football and possession-based football. A previous player for both rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona knew the change Barcelona needed to evolve.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the fourth Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Luis’.
- Attacking football made a success by players such as Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alvez. The three players mentioned above were crucial to his style of play as they were very capable threats in attacking play.
- The decreased workload on midfielders, who were involved but not the focus of gameplay, meant that the team wasn’t heavily reliant on its midfielders. However, they were still engaged with different responsibilities.
- Emphasis on forwards, The ball was passed to forwards very often, and multiple attacks were made throughout the game.
- Very fast build-up observed. If the opposition didn’t press with a high defensive line, triangles were formed, and swift passing opened up new passing lanes.
- Intelligent runs were an integral part of the system. With Rakitic and Sergi Roberto, often making runs creating chances for shots.
- Forwards pressed high while midfielders pressed in moderation, often stacking up the defensive line.
- This side did not hesitate to counter-attack, with long balls launched by Mascherano, Alba, when the defense faced high pressure. The wingers usually stuck to the sidelines, and pretty high up the pitch to make runs for these launched balls.
- Iniesta’s role in rapid switching of sides while attacking: As the attack progressed in the flanks, the defenders were densely populated on one side. This is when Iniesta would move more central from his position in the left, and with his world-class passing range, would accurately find players on the other flank.
- Suarez at times would drop deep to facilitate the transition as the midfield, and the forwards often had a big gap between them.
Luis Enrique Enjoyed his fair share of silverware with the team, winning 2 La Liga, 3 Copa del Rey, 1 Supercopa de Espana, 1 UEFA Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 FIFA Club World Cup.
Ernesto Valverde: (May 2017 – January 2020)
Ernesto Valverde, much like FC Barcelona’s earlier coaches over the decade, had already been a player of the club. It was expected of him to fix many new issues that Barcelona had faced at the end of Luis Enrique’s tenure. Fans desperately wanted the Barcelona way back, but Ernesto Valverde’s style of play was not one to satisfy fans’ longing for the philosophy. He was mainly expected to bring back Cruyffian ideology because of his time under the legend himself.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the fifth Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Valverde’.
- The team often sat back, stacked up the defence while the opponents attacked.
- His style required pace from forwards, but Ousmane Dembele had been out mostly due to injury, and Neymar had shocked the world with his transfer to PSG.
- With Coutinho playing on the left flank, Messi on the right and Suarez physically declining, all that oppositions had to do was play a low block centrally.
- All these points increased dependency on Lionel Messi, who has carried Barcelona for Quite some time now.
- Barca struggled against counter-attacking teams and had multiple ageing players, Iniesta, Busquets, Suarez, who couldn’t cover as much ground as they used to.
Though Barcelona won back to back La Liga titles, every match looked shaky and struggled against smaller, physical sides.
The knockouts to Roma and Liverpool lead to a lot of unrest among the fans, understandably so. Ernesto Valverde’s achievements included: 2 La Liga, 1 Copa Del Rey, 1 Supercopa de Espana.
Quique Setien: (January 2020 – present)
Quique Setien never represented FC Barcelona as a player. However, he is a firm believer in Johann Cruyff’s methods. After increasing pressure from the fans, the board decided to bring in Quique Setien, who had a phenomenal season with Real Betis and, in fact, beat Barcelona in the Barcelona way.
Now, I am analysing the style of play of the sixth Barcelona coach since the beginning of last decade, ‘Setien‘.
- With no preseason with the team, and as a mid-season manager, Setien has brought a positive change.
- The domination of possession makes up for the squad’s ageing players, even though Barcelona has yet to go full throttle in their old ways.
- Dependency on Messi has reduced with proper circulation of the ball.
- Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati are flourishing under Setien’s system.
- Full backs Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo heavily involved in attacks, continually moving up and down the flank. This has also freed Sergi Roberto to a midfield position, all of which seems to have positive effects on the team’s build-up.
With the lofty expectations from any Barcelona manager, the job certainly isn’t an easy one. Recent games have shown Barcelona to become vintage Barcelona at times. This list on the tactical analysis of FC Barcelona’s coaches over the decade has covered observable facts among these different styles. What happens behind the scenes will always remain a mystery.