Messi, Suarez, Neymar & Cuadrado in one team - Barcelona's plans for a 3-2-3-2 formationSPECIAL REPORT: Luis Enrique is set to utilise an innovative new system at the Catalan club in 2014-15 as he aims to restore the team to the greatness of seasons gone by
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
All change at Barcelona. The Catalan club have appointed a new coach this summer, signed new players and, after years of sticking stubbornly to their 4-3-3 system, they could now be in for a fresh formation as well in 2014-15.
Barca have dabbled with diffferent ideas in recent seasons. Pep Guardiola occasionally opted for a Dream Team-inspired 3-4-3 during his four-year tenure, while the Catalan coach also surprised Santos with a system which was described by some as 3-7-0 in the final of the Club World Cup back in 2012 and also used 3-3-4 at times.
Since Guardiola's departure, however, Barca have been much more predictable and last season Gerardo Martino was often for criticised for his tactics as the club missed out on all of the major trophies.
New boss Luis Enrique is well aware that Barca have been found out tactically in recent seasons and is keen to mix it up at Camp Nou in the coming campaign. That means several systems are likely to be used in 2014-15, but intriguingly the side's principal formation could be an unprecedented 3-2-3-2.
Luis Enrique has yet to decide which of the two goalkeepers signed this summer will start the season for Barca, with the Asturian keen on both Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo, and is likely to make a decision based on their form in pre-season. Given his experience in La Liga and also his age, Bravo looks to be in pole position at the moment, although both men possess the tools to operate as a so-called 'sweeper-keeper' - their ability to play outside their area and passing qualities allowing them to make important interventions and - more importantly perhaps - permitting the defence to play a high line.
At the back, recent signing Jeremy Mathieu (who started out as a rampaging full-back and will have license to get forward in this system) would line up alongside Gerard Pique and one of either Jordi Alba or Marc Bartra, with the Catalan club still on the lookout for another centre-back comfortable in either a three or four-man defence. Dani Alves, meanwhile, is not part of the coach's plans and is still set to leave the club this summer.
Javier Mascherano is another able to operate in that position, but Luis Enrique was impressed by the Argentine's dynamic displays as a defensive midfielder in the World Cup and is keen to utilise the 26-year-old in front of the back line where possible, dropping deep when necessary to fill in while Sergio Busquets assumes a more creative role in the double pivot. Another alternative is to field summer signing Ivan Rakitic back there in the role of deep-lying playmaker, with Mascherano starting in defence.
Further forward, the three-man line behnd the two forwards could incorporate two wide players, with Neymar likely to start on the left and Pedro competing on the right with Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado, who remains a transfer target for the Catalan club this summer. Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Rakitic could all start in the central position, with Lionel Messi another alternative in that role should Luis Enrique elect to pair Luis Suarez and Neymar further forward.
As things stand, Suarez is banned by Fifa until late October for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, but behind the scenes at Barca, Luis Enrique is already assessing the best way to accommodate all of the team's top talents in one line-up while keeping the balance and staying strong defensively.
"Luis Enrique is Barca through and through and he likes 4-3-3," a source close to the Catalan club told Goal. "But he also appreciates a number of other systems and he won't be afraid to mix it up. The 3-2-3-2 idea is similar to 3-5-2 and it's one of the alternatives he has in mind - but it's more about how the players work than the system itself."
Thus, the key to the formation is flexibility.
"A three-man defence will allow the wide players to attack if the team has possession, with Mascherano and Busquets able to drop deep and cover," the source added. "Likewise, a five-man midfield with the double pivot is designed to dominate possession but also to stay more solid than perhaps we have seen in recent times. It's a win-win situation."
And further forward, Messi would still have the freedom to roam and drop deep - just as he has enjoyed doing for Barca over the last few seasons, since switching from his role on the right.
"Messi would play as one of the two but his role would be similar to now, dropping deep to get involved and also assuming dangerous positions in the area. That would allow Neymar and others to link up around the box and get into goalscoring positions as well," the insider explained.
And he added: "Luis Enrique has played as a defender, a midfielder and an attacker for Barca and he's using all the knowledge he gained to make this team formidable.
"It will be total football."