Luis Enrique’s tactical acuity has been unfairly called into question too many times this term, and he appears keen on silencing his doubters before making his way to the exit door.
The Asturian opted for a 3-4-3 system against Atletico Madrid two weeks ago.
The change in formation saw Barca struggle to dominate in the middle of the park due to their lack of physicality as Atletico Madrid utilised a high pressing style in a bid to reduce Barca’s fluidity and it was mostly effective.
Simeone noticed the flaws in Enrique’s new system and used them to his side’s advantage. Messi proved to be Barca’s saving grace amid another average performance as Barca eventually claimed a slender 2-1 win.
Many thought that would be the end of the Asturian’s little tactical experiment, but it appears to have been the beginning.
The diamond formation wasn’t particularly successful against Los Rojiblancos. So, Enrique’s decision to utilise it against Sporting Gijon last week was a brave one.
One would’ve expected the performance against Atletico to have stultified Enrique’s interest in embarking on a tactical adventure, but instead, the Asturian improved the system, and Barca thumped Gijon 6-1.
Barca’s predominant 4-3-3 formation has foibles which have frequently been exploited in La Liga and Europe this term – Enrique’s plan is evidently to get his side fully accustomed to the 3-4-3 ahead of the Champions League clash with PSG as the Catalan giants look to pull off an epic comeback against the French Champions.
While Barca played a 4-3-3 against Celta Vigo during the weekend, they’re expected to utilise a 3-4-3 against PSG.
A formation switch of this ilk is not unprecedented at Barcelona. Pep Guardiola has successfully employed a 3-4-3 and even a 3-3-4 system in the past, but not with regularity. That’s why Enrique’s decision to deviate from Barca’s default tactic has sparked a plethora of reactions, both good and bad, as he looks keen on adopting the 3-4-3 rather than just utilising it sparingly.
One notable occasion where Guardiola deployed a 3-4-3 formation was in the opening game of the 2011/12 La Liga season when the Blaugrana thumped Villarreal 5-0. To say the system got the job done would be an understatement.
Sergio Busquets manned the three-man defence, while Seydou Keita sat right in front of him in a holding midfield role. For the system to work, both players had to restrict their movement to thwart incoming attacks and seamlessly play the ball out from the back.
Unlike Enrique’s version of the tactic, Pep’s 3-4-3 was somewhat built around checkmating the opposition while on the front foot and forcing them into making mistakes with a series of intricate passes – the left flank was critical to the system’s success due to Iniesta’s presence in that area of the pitch.
Each time Guardiola used an unfamiliar tactic, it produced the desired results, why? It’s quite straightforward really – all he ever tweaked was his team’s shape, not his philosophy, as changing the latter would have had catastrophic effects.
Although not a direct pastiche of Guardiola’s 3-4-3, Luis Enrique uses similar distribution patterns despite his version of the system being more direct.
The Blaugrana rarely do something that is not already etched into their DNA.
The team’s tactical philosophy is evolving, but lest we forget, this is not the first time a manager has brought about such an evolution.
Like Cruyff and Guardiola, Enrique is inscribing his own advocacy into the spirit of Barcelona; that is what the Barcelona way is about – continued evolution in search of footballing perfection.
Just like a president with a few months left to leave his mark on his country, Enrique evidently harbours hope for his 3-4-3 to be successful as it would see him leave the club on a high note and ultimately add to his legacy.
It would cause a ripple effect to some extent as subsequent Barca managers will be able to switch tactics when they deem fit without the fear of a backlash.
Many argue that the change of tactics will worsen the identity crisis the Blaugrana currently face, but judging by what we’ve seen thus far, it’s fair to say that it is more than likely to set Barca on an upward trajectory.
The Asturian has basically rejigged Barca’s default 4-3-3 and turned it into something more capable of keeping up with modern tactical trends while still maintaining Barcelona’s core values.