After Barcelona’s defeat to Milan, it didn’t take long for many to get their views across that the Catalans desperately needed a Plan B; meaning that in games like that, they need to be able to have a different option, should things not go to plan. Twitter timelines were the primary location for a large number of people to give their opinion on the matter and it become a matter which has been discussed quite thoroughly; this article will look a little further into why/ why not Barcelona need a Plan B.
Having dominated European football for the past few years using their traditional philosophy, no matter who is in charge, you sense that the philosophy they have will remain, as it is what Barcelona are all about. They play to win by playing attractive football; that will never change. Of course, tactics will be slightly tinkered and altered, but winning silverware by entertaining supporters is something that no other side can replicate; it is unique and makes Barca what it is, so surely there is no need to change that? Many other sides have attempted to do what Barca do, but it just cannot be done; they are the only football club that can perfect such a philosophy. In order to succeed with that philosophy, it must run through the club; meaning that same philosophy continues on and off the pitch. There must be a professionalism on and off the pitch to perform in a manner that is enjoyable and exciting; it is Barca’s way of life to so. By implementing a ‘Plan B’, Barcelona are changing the philosophy that is so important to them and because of the success that they have had in the past with it; it is unlikely that all of a sudden, their ideas and attitudes will begin to change.
They use a system which is often referred to as ‘Tika Taka’ due to its constant passing and they’ve had an enormous amount of success with it. They use the ball so wisely and effectively, we never seem to see them outplayed. From the first whistle, they make a stamp on the game and take control. They keep the ball and frustrate you and somehow manage to get the better of you, even in tight pockets of space. Despite being very patient in their play, they shift the ball around very quickly and in a matter of seconds the ball could have ended up the other end of the pitch even though it was only a few seconds ago since Barca had just retained possession at the back. When you can watch them, you see that it is not happened by chance; they have not all just gelled all a sudden, they are being made to train and work hard so that every single player fits perfectly into their style of play and is able to slot in comfortably. The style of play that they regard so dearly has almost forced us to admire it; there are times when you are completely mesmerised at how they manage to keep the ball under such pressure.
When Pep Guardiola was appointed manager of the first team, he was painfully aware of the philosophy. It had progressed and ran through the club; any player contracted to the club was made to fully understand their role and how they were expected to contribute to the team. It wasn’t a team that Pep built entirely on his own, but he continued the work of others and took Barca to the very top. Having been a long-serving player there himself, even before he became manager, he knew how Barca would play. Even with a set of completely different players, he knew how to make them play in the traditional Barca way. With so much effort and determination being shown to ensure this strategy worked perfectly, it was only a matter of time until a talented bunch of players would dominate World Football. They became almost unbeatable. When you play with such a philosophy, it is evident that at some point it will succeed and that is exactly what happened. Then, when Pep decided enough was enough, a few people had fought that Barca’s glory days were over. But with Pep’s assistant Tito Vilanova taking over, there was no chance that was happening. Due to him knowing the same group of players inside and out and working with them during his time as assistant manager, there was no need at all for the squad to be revamped; just a few additions and a few minor changes in Barca’s approach.
Over the years, they have come under a lot of scrutiny for failing to have a Plan B when teams ‘park the bus’ when playing against them; but you have to credit them for persisting to stick to their philosophy. When playing against a team who defend very deep and play with men behind the ball, it is going to be difficult for any side, never mind a team who work the ball into the box using neat passing and flair. If anything, Vilanova has certainly made his own mark on this side and this season there seems to be more desperateness and directness in their play, but again it is still about winning by playing attractive football. One of the most famous cases of Barca’s lack of directness was in the Champions League Semi-final against Chelsea last season. Possession wise, Barca, as expected, completely dominated the game, but struggled to break down a stubborn Chelsea defence who virtually camped on the edge of their box for the vast majority of the game. It is understandable that Barca would find it difficult to find gaps in a team which consists of virtually every man behind the ball. After all, most top teams would.
Against Milan, it was another example of how they struggle when you take a defensive approach; again Barcelona dominated the game but in all fairness, Milan defended very well and isolated the threat that Xavi, Messi, Iniesta and co pose. This heat map shows how Iniesta; Barca’s usual creator, struggled to get into good attacking positions and create chances and due to this Iniesta was limited to having the ball in his own half most of the time. Meaning Messi didn’t have much service.
We know that the little magician loves to drop deep and collect the ball, but in this particular game, that meant he rarely got into the penalty box and was restricted to involvement in midfield; where he is a little less dangerous.
Just because Barcelona failed to win when Milan played with men behind the ball, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need a Plan B. They’ve had so much success with the system they currently play, it would seem stupid for them to change their whole strategy after all the work that has been put in and all the success they have had with it; it must be working for them as they are riding high at the top of La Liga. It seems as if every time they lose, we jump to the conclusion that they need a Plan B, but we must understand there are going to be games like that; albeit not many. One interesting stat from Squawka sports shows that of all the 80 goals the Catalans have scored in La Liga this season, only one has been a header. For me, that is enough evidence to say that they do not need a Plan B, they just need to be patient and play with a bit more edge and they will continue to produce the goods.
As for the second leg against Milan, it would be such a difficult task for Milan to produce another fantastic defensive performance and with the crowd firmly behind them, Barca will not struggle as they did in the first leg. If they score an early goal, expect them to secure passage to the next round and end the debate of them desperately needing a Plan B, because a team with such ability and quality will eventually produce.