Barça was an absolute mess in 2008- not to the extent we are today but their were worrying signs. Barça won the ucl in 2006 for the first time in 14years. It really was a fairytale. Ronaldinho was the best and the most entertaining player in the world at that time. Samuel Eto’o was an absolute beast, lionel messi was coming through the ranks, Carles Puyol was in his prime. Everything was going well but two years later Barça found themselves trophyless- 3rd in la liga, knocked out in a nail biter in the UCL semis against united at old trafford. For a squad that had the likes of ronaldinho, eto, messi, xavi, puyol, valde, marquez, that was simply horrendous. The club needed a change, and in came Fan favourite, Former Barça captain- Josep Guardiola. Now the rest is history but lets take a look at how Pep’s Barça made history.
The Sextuple- 2008/2009
Formations: 3-1-3-3/3-4-3/4- 3- 3/ 4 -5 -1
Now on the ball, we usually set up with a back 3 or the 2 centre backs. For instance if the opponent pressed us high, then the fullbacks hugged the touchline, and the two cbs together with valdes, formed a back 3.
However, Barça usually had 60-65% possession in a game and i think I dont need to explain how press-resisitant our team was. So when he had the ball near the halfway line( that was 75% of the times) we used to line up in a back 3 with puyol as the rcb, pique and the central cb and abidal/marquez as the lcb who sometimes pushed up to suffocate the opponent forming a back 2.
This may come as a surprise to many people who think that Pep and former Barça managers( namely cruyff, rjikaard etc) play a 4-3-3 at all times. The great Johan Cruyffs’ dream team also had the same formation( the 3-1-3-3), so did van gaals’ and rjikaards teams. The dream team was built around the dm( the 1 in the 3-1-3-3) which was the coach- Pep himself.
Thankfully, Pep got an even better version of himself playing at the same position- sergio busquets. Now the midfield 3 included iniesta on the left, xavi in the middle, and alves on the right. Xavi often dropped deep into the pivot to dictate the tempo creating a 3-4-3 formation. Our front three included former Barça player Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto and one little man by the name of Lionel Messi.
Now there was no false 9 in this system until the very end of the season. Samuel Eto’o was one of the fastest players in the world at that time and it was almost impossible to stop him when he got in behind. At the start, this system did not work. Under rjikaard Barça played more of a 3-4-2-1 where the wingers stayed narrow. However, under Pep, without the use of a false 9- the likes of henry and messi who preferred to stay central were the most widest players on the pitch for 90% of the game.
In possession, the plan was simple but tiring. Every time the left/right cb had the ball, both the wingers had to make a run. They did that knowing that 8 times out of 10 this would not reach them. This meant that the fullbacks went on with them leaving lots of spaces in between for alves and iniesta. Henry himself explained this in the Barça movie- Take the ball, Pass the ball. If any player dare move out of position, then he would be subsituted right away.
This was the case with henry. He had opened the scoring in the first half, however, he decided to go over to the right wing as we not seeing much of the ball. Second half, Pep takes him off. That was Pep. Coming back to the tactics, it was very important for players to stay in their so called “zones” divided by Pep himself. Things started to get better when pep shifted messi and henry into more narrow roles and the key to that was dani alves as he pretty much hugged the touchline and was good enough to play as a winger himself.
Using patterns of play, this fast, strong, tactically fluent front 5 of pep( iniesta, alves, messi, eto and henry) started to gel. Barça were rampant. Now, lets shift our focus to off-the ball movements.
Working as a team
As soon as Barça lost the ball, the first course of action was to Rearrange into a back 4 , with 3 midfielders and the front 3 forming the 4-3-3. At times, it became a 4-5-1 when the opposition got past Barça’s first line of press forcing the wingers to track back. Barça did not press like Klopps Liverpool Or Bielsas teams, they took some time to rearrange and then they hunted in packs, and boy did they hunt.
One man key to this aggressive pressing style was Victor Valdes. People often remember him as a ball playing sweeper keeper. However, one thing which people undermine about him is that like his fellow graduate Puyol– he was fearless.
He was a natural leader and Dani Alves has himself said that there were many instances when Valdes would come out of his box to claim the ball even where players were trying to attempt bicycle kicks, or trying to slide to score, he would come out fearlessly take a kick in his neck and just get on with it.
Winning the league
Come the end of the season, Barça played Fierce Rivals Real Mardrid. It could decide who won the la liga title. Pep changed football on this day. He noticed that the madrid defenders never closed down the striker if he received the ball by coming deep. He took advantage of this. Eto and Henry were two rapid players.
So by playing messi as a Centre Forward and by telling henry and erto to play between the full back and the centre back, Barça ran riot. It was too easy at one point. Even though Madrid scored 2, Barça completely dominated them. Messi made Ramos look like an absolute idiot by playing a simple lofted through ball which Henry excellently tucked away.
That was it. Barça pressed madrid like never before( especially xavi and messi). We destroyed them. We won La liga. Moreover, we won the Copa Del Rey.
Now it was the big one- The UCL final against Man Utd and their front 3 in 2009. Alves was injured. However, Yaya Toure fitted in seamlessly alongside Pique and Puyol at RCB in a back 3.
The first goal came through Eto, Iniesta as always, just jogged through two players, passing it to Eto who nutmegged Vidic and managed to put it Past vaan De Saar. Credit has got to go to Valdes who saved two early shots by Ronaldo, which looked to be going in. Barcelona dominated after that.
Around the 60th minute mark, Eto was substituted and messi went back central. In the 70th minute, puyols’ headed clearance came to Xavi. He took it under his control, delivered a sumptuous cross and then Lionel Messi, the shortest man on the pitch marked by Rio Ferdinand one- 6foot2 and one of the best cbs in the world scored past Vaan de Saar. Pep had later revealed that he told Leo to attack the back post, It really was a fairytale. The whistle blew, Barça won their 3rd UCL and became the first team in football history to win the Treble. This was how History was created