Rarely do two games in the midst of a six year successful period provide such a quantum conclusion. Indeed, with the emphatic semi-final loss to Bayern Munich last season, there was a sense that the end of an era had arrived for Barcelona.
That is a somewhat hurried conclusion. For if that had been the case, semi-final defeats in 2010 and 2012 would have indicated that long before 2013. But while that had been the short conclusion in those earlier years, Barcelona bounced back to produce more of their master-class performances.
What however that embarrassing loss to Bayern provided was the realisation that slight alterations were required if their philosophy was to remain relevant.
It was as Gerrard Pique recently quipped that they had become slaves to tiki-taka. Evidently, Barcelona had pushed their philosophy too far. The idea had transformed into a self-praising dictatorial master that seemingly descended into self-parody. Pleasurable passion became poisonous as an obsession with possession lost all meaning.
Thus the method that had ensured glory and love in past years brought about embarrassment and loathe last season.
But under Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, the tidal wave seems to be heading in a new direction.
The Argentine has been a practitioner of a similar philosophy which is not identical. Having played in the early 90’s under Marcelo Bielsa, he has adopted his former manager’s methods in his coaching style. Insistence on possession, high pressing and manipulation of space have been principles of Martino’s philosophy.
These same principles fit in with those of tiki-taka although slight differences emerge. While possession is adored, it is not idolised. To that effect, instead of Barcelona’s insistent quality of passing the ball horizontally, Martino prefers more vertical passing.
This brings about more directness and that is what was lacked not only last season but particularly against Chelsea in 2012. Verticality would have provided a slight chaos amidst Chelsea’s well-structured and well-manoeuvring backline.
At the same time though, it was somewhat forgotten that the aura of invincibility created by Barcelona’s superb Champions League run for six consecutive years had brought about complacency. Competitiveness was taken for granted as with the genius of Lionel Messi and the passing of Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona almost thought that every game was won before it already was. To be fair to them though, some of their opponents suffered an inferiority complex that allowed this complacency to breed.
What Martino must thus do is bring about that hunger and desire and fight from deep within.
In the same light, he must go about re-arranging and re-structuring his defence to ensure that it concentrates at all times. But above all, the most important quality that Barcelona’s complacency lost was the intensity of pressing.
That animalistic pressing had compensated for the lack of quality defenders in previous years. A drop off in the same led to the exposure that their defence suffered for most parts last season. A return to that intense pressing may produce the same results that had transpired between 2008 and 2012.
But if Martino is able change the squad mentality from ‘holding possession for possession’s sake’ to ‘holding possession for finding the goal’s sake’ — that may prove an ultimate master-stroke.
[image courtesy of zimbio]