One of the interesting things with Barcelona this season isn’t just the drift away from the Tiki-Taka, but also how for the first time the manager, Gerardo Martino, is changing his tactics depending on the opposition which is unlike everything we’ve gotten used to and also that in some cases, Lionel Messi might not completely suit the best approach to a match.
As insane as that sounds – the best player in the world shouldn’t be playing – the 0-0 draw against Atletico Madrid was something of proof. The 0-0 turned out to be a battle of tacticians and midfield dominance, with very few chances to go around. Barcelona were at their best in terms of controlling the match and keeping Atletico Madrid away from them during the first half, or the final 30 minutes of it. Their 4-6-0 formation kept Atletico from their goal, as the pressure Diego Simeone was asking for didn’t hold up for very long.
In the second half Lionel Messi and Neymar both were introduced, which should have meant more danger and chances for Barcelona. However, they lost the midfield, while Atletico didn’t change their approach, with Diego Costa and David Villa constantly dropping to the midfield in order to regain possession. Not until Messi was slightly moved backwards and started getting involved did Barcelona show up for the second half, and that only happened after 65 minutes.
It has something to do with Messi being rusty, banging his knee early on and possibly even being scared of collisions. It took him some time to get comfortable on the pitch, creating the best chance Barcelona (or Atletico had all match) with a trademark dribble and shot from the edge of the box with Courtois handled well. It also has something to do with Atletico making up for their less talented squad by making life impossible for teams who try to open up too much against them.
The Guardiola-Vilanova Barcelona would disregard the opponent. Barcelona play their style, and the rest have to adapt. Their trophy haul since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season: four league titles, two Champions League trophies, speaks for itself. However, it was hard to deny that something in the machine was slowing down, maybe even breaking down, despite the championship last year. Being predictable is fatal for teams not willing to change. No one knew if Martino was a change in the right direction, but he seems to know what he’s doing.