Barça’s ‘direct’ 4-2-2-2

October 2, 2012

Barcelona started the Champions League game at Benfica with an interestingly direct approach and a 4-2-2-2 formation as a consequence of Cesc Fàbregas replacing Andrés Iniesta. 

The tactical adjustment centred on Fàbregas partnering Lionel Messi up front, leaving Barça with two so-called ‘false’ forwards. To retain balance, Xavi played deeper than usual while Alexis Sánchez and Pedro hugged the lines.

As such, the usual 4-3-3 system’s ‘midfield diamond’ featuring Iniesta was replaced with a more rigid ‘midfield square’. Xavi and Busquets stuck close to the centre-backs while the wingers roamed only occasionally. The only ‘free’ players were Messi and Fàbregas.

In fact it wasn’t dissimilar to the 4-4-2 system traditionally favoured by Sir Alex Ferguson, with two playmakers and two forwards (Rooney/Berbatov/Tevez/Van Persie) dropping deep to link up. However, here the central midfielders and forwards played even deeper, while the wingers were so advanced they directly threatened the offside trap.

Passing style

This rigid approach aided Barça’s somewhat direct opening style. Whereas the 4-3-3 centres on short triangular passing combinations, here Busquets and Xavi tried to pin passes directly to Messi and Fàbregas between the lines, or lift them in behind Benfica’s defence. In the first instance, Messi or Fàbregas could turn and instantly face something close to a 4v4 situation due to the high positioning of Barça’s wingers.

In the second instance, Messi and Fàbregas would switch between dropping deep and sprinting in behind Benfica’s centre-backs – creating a more direct danger than what is usual for Barça. However, this movement also drew their markers out of position, enabling Pedro and Sánchez to sprint in behind. Indeed, much has been made of how effectively Messi lures out defenders; here that role was done by two players.

In another variation, Pedro and Sánchez drifted in centrally, dragging the full-backs inside to make Benfica’s backline narrower. Then either Jordi Alba or Dani Alves, who had started their runs prior to the movement, burst on the outside of either Nicolás Gaitán or Eduardo Salvio and exploited the space. This worked successfully on at least one occasion.

Away day solution

In summary, the system was a slight alteration to the usual 4-3-3, which is customised for Iniesta’s movement towards the left. Tonight’s version was designed to maximise Fàbregas’s qualities, which worked well enough, although it diminished Xavi’s influence by positioning him too deep. He is not Xabi Alonso, and dictates play much better when the distances between players are shorter.

If one critique can be made of how Barcelona generally play on the road, it is their lack of a direct goal threat, particularly if Messi drops deep and the wingers do not cut inside behind him. Pep Guardiola sometimes used Sánchez to great effect as a striker away against solid opposition – most notably at the Santiago Bernabéu – and this 4-2-2-2 system can clearly be a good variation on Barça’s travels. Rest assured, we won’t have seen the last of it.

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Barça picture: Sergio Béjar

One comment

Barcelona plays a wonderful style every time.Their formation are always unique.i think this 4-2-2-2 is a defensive formation because they didn’t make any goal.I think 4-3-3 formation is more perfect for Barca.And messi in this formation in the middle with Alexis Sanchez & inesta beside him make barca attacker more dangerous then any of the attackers of a team.

by jamesusa2020 on December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am. #