Tuesday April 11 2017
Back to basics for Barca

Barcelona have experimented with a 3-4-3 formation this season, but Daryl Hammond believes keeping it simple against Juventus is the best way to go.

From inept Coach to tactical genius, Luis Enrique was hailed for his change of formation, which saw his Barcelona side overcome a 4-0 first-leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16.

Switching from their default 4-3-3 to 3-4-3, the Catalans swarmed all over PSG and stung them in the final moments to seal a famous victory. 

Enrique has turned to the formation on a few occasions this season, and given its short-term successes and with a heavyweight clash against Juventus on the horizon, the legitimate question remains: 4-3-3 or 3-4-3? The Juventus v Barcelona betting odds would surely be affected by Enrique's decision.

To some, Barca’s formation is unimportant. With Sergio Busquets dropping deep and typically modern full-backs such as Dani Alves and Jordi Alba constantly bombing up the pitch, it could be argued that they were already playing a variation of 3-4-3.

Barca have as much history with 3-4-3 as they do with 4-3-3, dating back to Johan Cruyff’s revamp of the club in the 80s and 90s.

“He got a blackboard and drew three defenders, four midfielders, two out-and-out wingers and a centre-forward,” Real Sociedad boss Eusebio Sacristan recalled about Cruyff.

“We looked at each other and said: ‘What the hell is this?!’ This was the era of 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. We couldn’t believe how many attackers were in the team, and how few defenders.”

“What we needed was to fill the middle of the pitch with players where we needed it most. I much prefer to win 5-4 than 1-0.”

To date, the formation has brought about mixed success, with the aforementioned win against PSG the most notable. Yet after that high, spirits quickly came crashing after a humbling 2-1 defeat to Deportivo La Coruna.

Throw in a win at Atletico Madrid, as well as 6-1 and 5-0 thumpings versus Sporting Gijon and Celta Vigo respectively, and things look much rosier.

There are differences in the way Barca utilise the 3-4-3 and a team like Chelsea this season. Instead of wing backs, they operate a midfield diamond.

They press insanely high up the pitch and swarm the opposition in midfield, winning the ball back frequently so that their the defence is rarely troubled.

But Barca are built for 4-3-3. It’s very much in the DNA of this modern Blaugrana side. Students at La Masia are brought up playing this formation and players are bought to fit into it.

The place of Jordi Alba, for example, is in question. He looked an unconvincing fit at centre-back, but Barca lose his attacking contribution when he plays centrally.

Without the marauding full-backs, the onus falls on either the outer midfielders or wingers to provide natural width. Given Lionel Messi and Neymar’s propensity to cut inside, it can get very congested.

And when players like Rafinha are missing, the system suffers. His proficiency as both a midfielder and winger make him an ideal, wide-central midfielder, but injury has robbed him of a chance of playing again this season.

The long-term future of 3-4-3 is in doubt, as with Luis Enrique’s looming departure comes a new Coach with a new philosophy.

But Tuesday is far more important. Once so fond of three at back, Juve have found continued success with 4-2-3-1 this season.

4-3-3 would match up nicely to balance things, while 3-4-3 could see them dominate midfield, but Barca will need to be wary of the influence of players such as Juan Cuadrado.

But the best case for 4-3-3 against Juve is the Champions League trophy that Barca and Lucho lifted two years ago.

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