Since the introduction of the tiki-taka style of play, developed by Pep Guardiola, FC Barcelona has dominated time of possession against almost all opponents.
Pep gave football a new, dynamic approach and it was the three anchors of the mighty Catalans who sailed the ship: Messi, Iniesta and Xavi.
One after another, Barcelona annihilated teams from Spain and Europe and won major titles without many difficulties.
Messi and his side were considered invincible until the first glimpse of a decline occurred in Italy, when Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals in 2010.
Barcelona had success next year with great performances against Real Madrid in the semi-finals and Manchester United in the Wembley final.
However, the 2012-13 season saw Chelsea do something which nobody could have imagined: they parked the bus and utilized counter-attacking opportunities.
Celtic did the same this season when they defeated Barcelona 2-1 in front of thousands of Scottish fans and just when Barcelona supporters thought that the curse was over, AC Milan delivered the final punch when they came out with a 2-0 win at San Siro.
Next, Real Madrid came to Camp Nou with immense confidence, wanting to end Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey Glory. Los Blancos eliminated Barcelona from the tournament with an overwhelming score of 3-1.
Once again, it was a failure of Barcelona tactically.
Is this the end of FC Barcelona’s era?
The world now understands that the way to stop them is to be disciplined on defence, and that the only way to score is to rely on counter-attacks and cage Messi.
So what does Barcelona need to do? They cannot have 12 players on the field, neither can they shoot from 50 yards out. They need to rebuild.
Internal and External Reconstruction
Barcelona need to change their style of play and increase the ranks. This can be done both internally and externally.
The following are three assets which will revive the Spanish giants in Europe.
1. Wing Attack – Neymar
Barcelona needs to reinvent their strategy and use the wings which they have traditionally avoided due to their style of play and lack of a formidable winger.
With high speculations surrounding the arrival of Neymar, Barcelona will be a side with the best of Messi and the best of Ronaldinho.
Neymar’s position as a winger will be nothing less than the role played by Ronaldinho years ago.
He can make the full use of wing and allow Messi, Villa and other forwards to find a suitable place in the box, ready to strike.
Xavi and Iniesta along with Fabregas can continue to pass the ball around the pitch and just when their options seem to exhaust, wing can be the alternative with a sensational playmaker.
With this, the opposition defenders would lurk out of fear, and cannot mark Messi alone.
Neymar can equally be as dangerous from the wing and Barcelona will be a team against which every team will need a plan B.
2. Last Line – Be more disciplined and responsible
Barcelona has conceded almost in every match this season. With the absence of Abidal and poor form shown by Puyol and Alves, The Catalans need to be more responsible in order to get a clean sheet.
The critics have chosen Victor Valdes and Javier Mascherano to be the real reason behind Barcelona’s poor defence.
Other than Alba, nobody has looked to show some mettle and defend from their hearts. Barcelona needs to make serious change in their defensive unit.
They should spend money in order to find a better guard than Valdes with Neur possibly being the best replacement.
Barcelona’s senior defender such as Gerard Pique should take over the role of stopping opposition’s forward and Dani Alves should restrict his forward move.
With Neymar and Alba already utilizing the flanks, Alves should look to play behind and be the man to stop the opposition’s counter-attack. I would suggest Alves and Pique to restrict their movement and allow Alba alone to ship forward.
3. Lethal Formation
Finally, Barcelona must change their formation from their 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1.
Instead of three forwards, Barcelona should give Lionel Messi full privilege to be the lone forward in the playing eleven.
They should have Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar and Villa or Pedro in the midfield.
Since Barcelona have greater possession than their opposition, playing a more attacking style of football cum a bit tiki-taka and having a great backing up would allow Tito Vilanova’s side to be ready for a counter-attack.
Having three forwards and three midfielders will not help the Spanish unit at all as they tend to concede in every counter-attack.
Barcelona, having lost to Milan, Chelsea, Celtic and Madrid of late, need to consider these serious changes.
They must spend heavily on Neymar and possibly a new goalkeeper (Neur).
They must also allow Alves and Pique to change their style of play and overall, Barcelona needs to reduce their tiki-taka because if they don’t there could be more shocking losses in the future.