Martino giving Barca more options
Barcelona seeks to retain their 100 per cent record when they receive Real Sociedad in La Liga on Tuesday.
The Spanish champions have begun with five wins as they continue to undergo a tactical transformation under new coach Gerardo Martino
When Tito Vilanova stepped down as Barca coach in July because of his throat cancer, the Catalans had to decide whether to promote someone from within the club or go for a coach from outside.
One reason why they opted for the latter was to give the team more tactical options.
Club president Sandro Rosell and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta felt that the team’s world famous “tiki-taka” short passing game had become rather stale and predictable, particularly in the Champions League.
They chose Argentine coach Martino to give the team more tactical options beyond “tiki-taka” and this is exactly what he is doing.
Martino is trying to do two things tactically. Firstly, he is insisting that his players press more aggressively as soon as they lose the ball in the opponents’ own half of the field, in order to win it back quickly.
The second thing he is doing is encourage his players to occasionally hit long passes, particularly when the opponents are pressing hard.
“We had become slaves to “tiki-taka.” We had started to exaggerate our passing game. Now with Martino we have the same idea of holding on to the ball, but we also have other options. And this is something very positive,” said defender Gerard Pique last week.
“If they are pressing us, it is not a bad thing to hit two or three long passes. In football you have to improve every year, otherwise teams get to know you.”
Martino is not obsessed with always dominating possession of the ball, as Guardiola and Vilanova seemed to be. In Saturday’s visit to Rayo Vallecano, Barca only had 49 per cent possession, something that had not happened for five years.
But a more important statistic is that they won 4-0, partly by soaking up the pressure and hitting Rayo on the break.
Against Sociedad, they will again be without Jordi Alba, though veteran captain Carles Puyol might finally be fit to return. Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets will be back after being given a rest Saturday.
Barca is joint top with Atletico Madrid, both teams having won their first five games.
Sociedad are in poor form, having failed to score for three games.
Also Tuesday, Atletico will be at home to lowly Osasuna.
Wednesday will see third-placed Real Madrid away to Elche, who have still to win a game.
Real will be without record signing Gareth Bale, who pulled his left hamstring just before Sunday’s 4-1 thrashing of Getafe.
Bottom team Sevilla is at home to Rayo Vallecano. Anything but a convincing win could spell the sack for embattled Sevilla coach Unai Emery.
Meanwhile, Valencia – another team to have made a poor star – will visit Granada.
The sixth matchday programme kicked-off Monday with Espanyol against Athletic Bilbao.
On Tuesday, Levante play Valladolid and Malaga are at home to Almeria, while Thursday’s games are Villarreal v Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao v Betis and Getafe v Celta Vigo