Barcelona registered a win over Atletico Madrid for the first time in 7 games, thanks to the tactical tweaks made by Luis Enrique.
Enrique used a 4-3-3 formation. Lionel Messi played in the right wing while Luis Suarez played centrally. Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, who were rested in the cup match against Elche, were back in the side and played alongside Ivan Rakitic. Javier Mascherano partnered Gerard Pique.
Diego Simeone started with Mario Mandzukic upfront. Koke, Arda Turan, and Tiago were back in the side. Juanfran played at the right back position. Jesus Gamez, starter against Real Madrid, played at the left back position.
4-2-3-1 by Simeone
Simeone used 4-2-3-1 system but while defending Atletico changed to 4-4-2. Turan and Koke tried to put pressure on the home side’s defence but were not quite successful in doing it as Barcelona came prepared to exploit the weaknesses of the Champions.
Simeone’s experiment fails
Simeone shifted Jesus Gamez, from his natural right back position, to the left back position. His main intention was to use a right footed left back against Messi, who mainly uses his left. But Simeone’s right foot v/s. left foot experiment failed.
Messi, with his skills, made Gamez a mere spectator, forcing Gimenez to cover for the former Malaga right back, which resulted in the creation of pockets of spaces in Atletico defense.
Messi was in a superb form. He had no problems in cutting inside from the right wing. He attempted 17 take-ons and was successful 12 times.
Against Real Madrid, Gamez played at the left back position and did very well in stopping the runs of Isco and Marcelo in the first half and Cristiano Ronaldo’s in the second. But, last night playing in a new position, he failed to control Messi.
Forwards provide the width for Barcelona, Wingbacks move into the half-spaces.
To take on a rigid 4-4-2 of Atletico Madrid, Enrique deployed a 4-3-3 system. Contrasting to their previous matches, Barcelona’s wingers Messi, and Neymar played very wide and engaged themselves with the fullbacks of the opposition.
Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, who like to make advanced runs and play higher up the pitch, restricted themselves to the region behind the wingers and rarely tried to overlap them. The wingbacks occupied the halfspace. Since Koke and Turan played centrally, the positioning of Alves and Alba helped in keeping an eye on them. It also helped Barcelona to put more pressure on the midfield line of Atletico Madrid, making the midfielders more error prone.
Barcelona was benefitted by this. Since the forwards were in wide positions, fullbacks of Atletico mostly concentrated on their movements. The position of Alves and Alba in the midfield proved as a good technique for the Catalans to defend the counter attacks of the opposition.
On paper, it looked like a 3 vs 2 in the midfield in favor of Barcelona. The withdrawn playing style of Atletico Madrid and a complete midfield package fielded by Enrique (Rakitic – box to box, Iniesta – creative, Busquets – defensive), ensured control for the Catalans in the midfield.
Atletico Madrid never wanted the control in terms of possession, they never do when playing against tough opponents. But in order to constrain the free flow passing in the middle, Koke and Turan popped inside. Alves and Alba presence around the midway line helped canceled out the influence of the wide midfielders of Atletico.
Of the three midfielders, Iniesta played higher than the other two. Rakitic also got involved in the attacks by making timed runs towards Atletico’s box. These two were engaged the Gabi and Tiago. Antoine Griezmann was roaming around Busquets to disturb his play. In order to escape him and to provide a lot more structure to the team, Busquets dropped into the space between Pique and Mascherano. The box to box midfielder role of Rakitic enabled Busquets to drop deep without having to think about losing possession.
With Suarez dropping into the space between the defensive and midfield line of Atletico, Barcelona’s shape looked like 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond.
Luis Suarez provided a tough night for the defenders by acting from this space and also by making runs through the channels. Atletico Madrid had too many opponents to nullify in this region, which led to confusions among the visitors. Two errors from Atletico players led to goals for Barcelona.
Amid the crisis, Barcelona put on a very good show against the defending Champions. The defenders, vary of the counter-attacking ability of Atletico, gave very little space for the visitors. All the sections complemented each other very well.
Atletico Madrid’s manager, Simeone, now has to make sure that his players do not lose their morale before the Cup match against Real Madrid. He made a mistake by sending Gamez out against Messi. Neither could any of his substitutions do anything to turn the tide around.