Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tito Vilanova's game-changing tactics

I wanted to write about this for a long time ago, but didn't have time I guess. I'm going to observe Barcelona's 4 games earlier this season.
1) Osasuna(26AUG)
2) Spartak(19SEP)
3) Granada(22SEP)
4) Sevilla(29SEP)

In three of those games Barca were behind one goal in the last minutes, against Granada it was goalless. When we think of last season with Pep Guardiola it was mostly when Barca lost or drew those games because they didn't seem to find an answer, especially in tough away games like Sociedad, Getafe, Valencia, Athletic...

This season with Tito they seemed to find very clever answers to turn these games around in their favor. He had huge expectations when he took over Guardiola, but he showed that he can handle the pressure. It also shows how huge loss Tito was when he treated his cancer in US and was away for the team couple of months when they struggled to find those solutions.

Last season Barcelona relied on Messi in those situations too much, everything went through him. What Tito did was that he put Messi in midfield and a proper #9 ahead of him, either Villa or Alexis, to occupy the back 4. It worked almost every time, because the #9 did often take the defenders away from Messi to create space for him in those tight situations. It also gave him another passing option to him further up the field.

1)Osasuna 1 - 2 FC Barcelona
League - Round 2 08/26/2012

Starting XI (4-3-3)
Valdés - Alves Piqué Puyol Alba - Fábregas Busquets Iniesta - Alexis Messi Tello


Pedro for Cesc Fábregas (63')
Xavi for Andrés Iniesta (70')
David Villa for Cristian Tello (75')

Barcelona went behind after 17 minutes and they were behind 0-1, until Tito took off Cesc and replaced him with Pedro and 5 minutes later he took off Iniesta who had one of his worst games and replaced him with Xavi. Villa came 5 on after 70 minutes for Tello. So that means Barcelona went over to 4-2-3-1 formation, Alexis playing as a #9, Messi behind him. Right after that change, Barcelona scored and it's a clear example why this worked so well. Messi had 3 options to play the ball in front of him, which rarely happens when he plays as a false 9. On second goal you can see the importance of Alexis and the importance of #9 in the team. His clever run and his presence took off 2 defenders from Messi and he had a clear shot and made it 1-2 to Barcelona.
osasuna first

osasuna second

2) FC Barcelona 3 - 2 Spartak Moscow
Champions League - Round 1  09/19/2012

Starting XI (4-3-3)
Valdés Alves Piqué Mascherano Adriano - Xavi Busquets Fábregas - Tello Messi Pedro

Alex Song for Gerard Piqué (12')
Alexis Sánchez for Dani Alves (64')
David Villa for Cristian Tello (74')

This game was against Spartak, or should I say Unai Emery, who is an extremely good and well respected Spanish tactician. Although his teams have never won against Barcelona, he has always given a good fight and known for good open games, with immense pressure high up the field.

After an hour, Spartak was leading 1-2 and Barca needed to change something. Tito made a huge change by taking off Dani Alves and replaced him with Alexis who played as a #9 That meant the whole system needed to be rebuilt.

Barcelona went over to 3-3-4 system. Adriano-Song-Mascherano in defense, Busquets just ahead of them to protect it. Xavi and Cesc in midfield, with Cesc often making runs into the box. And the 4-man attack with Alexis as a reference, Messi playing behind him and Villa/Tello & Pedro as inside wingers.

Spartak played very deep the last 20 minutes, so Barcelona needed as many players playing in the box as possible to make things happen.

spartak first

spartak second

3) FC Barcelona 2 - 0 Granada
Champions League - Round 5 09/22/2012

Starting XI (4-3-3)
Valdés - Alves Song Mascherano Adriano - Fábregas Busquets Thiago - Alexis Messi Villa


Pedro for David Villa (53')
Xavi for Thiago (54')
Cristian Tello for Adriano (73')

Perhaps Barcelona underestimated a little bit Granada here - they proved to be a very hard team to break down. It took Barcelona almost 90 minutes to score, although I have to say that the Granada goalkeeper Tono had 'one of those nights' That every keeper seem to have once or twice in their career.

If there's one thing that Tito has improved a lot when we compare him with Guardiola - It's the use of substitutions. Guardiola often used his subs very late in the game and usually didn't even use all three of them. Tito on the other hand has been spot on almost every time with his subs. He replaced Pedro with Villa, then he brought Xavi to take the game under control and finally Tello on the left wing to replace LB Adriano. That changed the whole dynamics of the game and Barcelona went all in. Once again he used Alexis as a #9 who is very very good in this role, because he is very active there and moves well, creates for himself and also for teammates. He is an extremely good link up player. Tello and Pedro kept the game stretched and that allowed Messi, Cesc and co to make runs behind the defense.


4) Sevilla 2 - 3 FC Barcelona
League - Round  09/29/2012

Starting XI (4-3-3)
Valdés - Alves Song Mascherano Alba - Xavi Busquets Fábregas - Alexis Messi Pedro


Cristian Tello for Alexis Sánchez (70')
Thiago for Sergio Busquets (75')
David Villa for Dani Alves (79')

A very very intense game. Like they always are at Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. When Negredo made it 2-0 minutes after the second half, the stadium almost exploded. Barca were in a very difficult situation, but not mission impossible. This game was a huge turning point for Cesc, who really seemed to struggle after his good first half of 11/12 season, especially with scoring goals. He scored 2 and you can see his relief in his celebration after 2nd goal.

While being still down 2-1 after 70 minutes, Tito made 3 changes in less than 10 minutes. The end result? One of the most attack minded teams I've ever seen and an amazing comeback in the last 5 minutes thanks to Cesc, Messi and Villa.

But it's Thiago who deserves a HUGE credit here. He injured his leg in the last minutes and all the three subs were already made and he had to carry on. And he played a huge part in the  second goal, although he limped the last 5 minutes of the game.

sevilla first

sevilla second


  1. Nice Post!

    The system change in the offensive was not the only thing Tito did better this season compared to Pep, he also often subs one attacker off for a Midfielder (Song, Thiago) to bring more safety and stability into the game. This differs him the most from Guardiola who love to lose for brilliant tiki taka and is not this results-oriented as Tito.


    1. Absolutely, you can see the Sevilla game at home this season when he used different tactics including 2 defensive midfielders at the end of the game.

  2. Good post.

    We could try this formation with 3 attackers + Messi (false #9) in Munich? What do you think Allas? That would be so unexpected. Too much risky,huh? :)

  3. Take advantage of the fact that Messi is both the best playmaker and the best "late arriving midfielder into the box finisher" in the world.

    Why not?

    When things are going great for Barca, Messi can play the 9 or false 9. When the going gets tough, and the bus gets intimidating, Messi plays the true 10. He can play any position on offense, and be the best in the world at the position. This is why he's probably the best of all time.

    What I'm most happy with Tito's work is his ability to react quickly to game situations. Barca rarely turned around bad performances into good results during Pep's tenure. Now that's not entirely fair, considering those tough matches so rarely happened. But last year, especially on the road, it was a serious problem.

    My biggest concern from last year, and into this year, has been that Barca are not building up from the back as effectively as they did a few years ago. There was a period during Pep's tenure where it was unthinkable that Barca could ever fail to reach the final third with their build up. Of late, there's just been too many turnovers.


    How do you feel about playing Pedro on the LW? I know he plays RW because he's the ultimate team player and goes wherever his team needs him... But I really liked what I saw when he played the entire PSG second leg on the left.

    Tello has the skill sets to be dangerous on the left, but I don't think he's ready in terms of intelligence, positioning, short passing touch, to be a first choice player. And apparently Tito thinks so too. Until he's ready, I'd like to see Pedro run the LW and be both dangerous and effective offball.

    1. Barca isn't building from the back, because they don't have a first choice back 4, with all the injuries, they basically change their back four every single game so that makes it hard.

      I personally think that Pedro is a very very intelligent winger, maybe the most. And he is ambidextrous. However I still think RW is his best place, especially when he gets freedom to run behind the defense and make link up with Dani and other players. In left side he is too isolated and relies more 1v1 which he is not so good.

      As for Tello, exactly! He is an impact player. And a fantastic one. He doesn't need the intelligence and all that, he is different and it's good weapon for Barca to use. I think he works perfectly well for very well compacted teams with high defensive line, he is so fast and makes good runs behind defense and can take on the full back and skin him, something Pedro can't do at LW.

    2. What's your opinion about the summer transfer window regarding the wingers? Which ones should be sold, which ones should stay?

    3. Sorry but I'm not very much into this transfer thing. Never been. Last time I really wanted somebody was Alexis because I really watched every single Udinese game in 2010/11 season and I knew he would fit perfectly to this club and he has showed it. But since I don't follow very much football outside of Barca I can't really tell who could be signed. Though I say I would petsonally go for a world class central defender instead of a unproven Brazilian teenager for shitload of money.

    4. Tello's performance against Levante highlighted what I meant when I said he isn't ready.

      Until he can play well consistently offball, and onball, help his teammates by releasing pressure, staying available, etc, etc...

      If only there were a way to combine Tello and Alexis into one player.

    5. What i meant was what's your opinion about our wingers and wide forwards? (I am referring here to Pedro,Villa,Alexis,Tello and maybe Cuenca) How would you rate them in their different pros and cons? Do you think that any one of them should be sold? What characteristics should a possible new signing for the winger position have?

  4. Good post!
    But you should also mention the drawbacks in Tito's era.. How the non-stop pressure without the ball faded.
    Even those comebacks happened early in the season. I do not know what to expect versus a great team, such as this Bayern..

    1. It's all good, but....

      The players aren't machines. Guardiola took the Rijkaard team over when they were unmotivated, Ronaldinho was a shadow of himself, so was the team. Not too hard to make then a hunrgy team. SInce then some of the key players have played 60-70 games per season, if you expect them to run up and down every single game for 6 years then you maybe expect too much from them, they are just humans. Also Messi's workrate has dropped enormously since 2011, we don't have to explain that too much.

      As for Bayer, they are probaly the best side today and go into this game as favourites. I think it's good for Barca for once go as an underdogs. This Bayern team is far from what they were 08/09 when Barca beat them easily.

  5. I'm surprised by all this talk about Barcelona not pressing as much under Tito. I mean even under Pep there were definitely a few games, if they had a comfortable lead, where he told them to rest a bit more. And I've noticed the same under Tito.
    But I re-watch games. I watched the Bilbao game yesterday at the Camp Nou & there pressing was just as hard in that game as it was against AC Milan. But how hard they press also depends on the opponents style of play. I mean, why close down an opponent who kicks it long even if they aren't pressured? Typical example: Stoke. (Not that they ever face Stoke but there are teams in La Liga who also play long). The pressing is particularly noticeable against teams who try to play themselves.

  6. Hey allas, your "game changing tactics" link on youtube is for another persons youtube video about 'xavi vs xabi'. I checked on here to see if there was an article you meant to link, and here it is. Just letting you know man.

  7. Nice post !!
    it's true that tito made some change in the game (tiki taka) but pep is the most brillant and clever, with pep barca play the best game even if they lost and they are always on the same level in producing a beautiful game.
    About the tito's tactics i think he has given more than pep is solution to play against italian team especially and teams who play very defensive (MOU inter's, chesea, milan) with this tactic to put a real 9 to create space for messi and it worked against defensive teams but unfortunately not against bayern which is more offensive.
    I miss so much pep's team and especially i miss guardiola who is for me the best coach in the history and i know that you. ALLAS, you miss him cause you don't put vids like you did when pep was the coach.

    1. Don't put word in my mouth. Thank you.

      I think I've made A LOT more videos this year than I made any year when Guardiola was in charge, and I've done A LOT more work as well. Just because I upload less videos to Youtube doesn't tell anything.

      If you guys have nothing to say about this particular article then don't say anything because in my mind, it would be disrespectful for me because I did put a lot of work into this.

  8. Nice post,ver good work kep it up.Barca of Tito this year have winned almost all away and home match in La Liga credit to Tito no doubt.
    But Tito have failed to win against Mourinho and Realmadrid he lost supercopa,copa del rey and lost the league match in Bernabeu.

    Even against big teams like Milan and Bayern Tito has found difficulties loosing 4-0 is a disaster.
    Tito for me in big match has difficulties against Bayern,Barca was very weak

  9. this almost looks like a delusional way of covering up the negative aspects. just because he finds a way to comeback after not being able to control the game doesn't mean he's bringing better tactics, quite the opposite. would be way better if he could actually control the game in the first place instead of having to cover it up in the last minutes and, apparently, looking like a hero for you guys