One of the first recognizable and conventional formations in football was the 2-3-5 formation favoured in England in the late 19th century, as anyone who’s read Jonathan Wilson’s splendid book Inverting the Pyramid will remember. Wilson named the book to detail the long and winding road from that to 4-4-2 and similar formations.

Now it appears we may have come full circle. The excellent (but sadly-Barca exclusive) YouTuber AllasFCB put out the above video detailing what he claims to be a 1-2-3-4 by Barcelona against Getafe (although Zonal Marking begs to differ).

We’ve read about the rise of the back three recently (particularly within a 3-1-4-2), and Toronto FC even experimented with their own variation with a 3-4-3 in the early part of the season with Frings in the central defense role ahead of what were essentially two wider centrebacks.

In this case however for Barcelona, Mascherano appears to be playing behind Adriano and Puyol, with Xavi and Iniesta pairing up with Busquets in the middle. So in this variation, the tradition full backs have moved up past the wing-back position all the way to being wide forwards, Pedro on the left and Cuenca on the right (they’re both wingers). Perhaps they’re meeting Alexis and Messi who’ve dropped back?

I’m not tactically-minded enough to go into the iterations, but this looks to be a fascinating development and proof that Guardiola’s propensity to change with the circumstances, as their narrowing in the La Liga title race indicates…

Comments (7)

  1. I have to admit that going with Mascherano in the back four was surprising to me last season, but I thought it had more to do with injuries and the superior level of talent on Barcelona. Its surprising how he is being used on Barca this season.

    On GolTV, they had it as a 3-3-1-3 with Messi as the 1 behind Alexis Sanchez. Getafe, if I recall correctly was in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3, but I dont know if Mascherano’s positioning in the video was due to the fact that he is not a natural centre back. I do think that Mascherano was playing the centre back role in the back three mainly because Abidal and Pique were out of the lineup. Messi was playing along side Alexis is one way to keep the Getafe backline on their heels, but I think it just Barcelona being able to boss anyone around that really gives the impression that they could play any formation on a piece of paper and play it with skill.

    They could draw up the circle and cross that is the zodiac sign and they would have the players to play to that formation.

    Its interesting that Barcelona

  2. The key to Barca’s formation is a seeming lack of one. Their wingers and half backs constantly change position, their right/left backs run into crossing territory. It’s almost as though they have a defending formation and a “let’s just have fun on attack” mentality. Always fascinating and beautiful to watch.

  3. This video is brilliant! It really outlines how tactically superb Barcelona are and how much further ahead they are from the rest! Pep Guardiola has really created an unstoppable force, which few managers can figure out how to stop, or at least control.

    How do you play Barcelona? Teams have tried to sit and absorb pressure and hit on the counter. Tried to play physical and batter them around, targetting Messi and Xavi who make them tick. Tried to play devil’s advocate and get under the referees’ skin and mentally toy with them. But nobody has attempted to perhaps fight fire with fire. Does any gaffer in football have the courage to put out a side and play 3-3-4, playing high lines, high pressure, possesion football, with good width and no real focal striker. If not, when will someone try it and who will it be?

    • JUVE next season, see ya there!!

    • Bielsa’s even more humble Atletico Bilbao. Was a pretty close match too.

      • There are two teams, maybe three right now that can definitely go toe to toe with Barca on their day. Guardiola himself said he didn’t want to play Milan and he is aware of how good Bilbao can be. Madrid is on their way as well.

        The thing is, against Barca you have to keep such a high intensity to ‘fight fire with fire’. And only Bilbao seem to keep that intensity for as close to 90 min. as any team. Milan are there as well.

        It’s more about sustaining such a high intensity of play against Barcelona which I’m sure Pep realizes and hopes no team can do that for 90 min.

        • It seems more than few managers have confidence in their back 4 to deal with Barcelona’s attack. Even Mourinho’s offensively stacked Madrid pushes so many back when playing Barcelona that they can allow for a 3-1/2 defensive line. Few teams provide too much attacking width; I wonder if teams would be more successful with playing their forwards wider and using an athletic attacking midfielder to arrive ‘late’ into a striker position would be more effective at spreading the back line, holding the ball up in barcelona’s defensive half, and drawing the defensive midfielders back more often. It often appears that Barcelona gets to stretch other teams, but themselves play compact on the defence.

          Zonal marking on defence for Barcelona means that every tackler often has two backups near by, supported by intelligent positioning. But to reduce their running, they would have surrender more of the wings to protect the middle.

          But this match is also against Getafe, without a bunch of the ‘first line’ players… more than a ‘system’ it suggests the flexibility of the structure.

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