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Reflections and Learnings From Pep's Barca

Throughout the course of the year, in addition to my daily work as a professional coach, I spend time doing self-learning projects in order to continue to grow my understanding of the game. Generally it is a blend of analyzing/reflecting on current football teams/coaches while also analyzing teams of the past. I thought I would share some of my learnings/reflections with the hope that it might aid in your own reflection/learning process.

Currently I am analyzing FC Barcelona from 2008-2012 when Pep Guardiola was the head coach. I have begun from the beginning of the 2008-2009 season and overtime will make my way through to the end of the 2012 season. Ultimately my learning objectives/goals are related to:

  • Learning more deeply about the game and game concepts

  • Understanding the tactical patterns they used and how they connected to the dynamics of the game and evolution of the team

  • Studying the idea of 'relations' within a team

  • Analyzing individual tactical fundamentals and technical actions

  • Analyzing game management strategies

  • Transfering the game ideas/concepts/principles etc to training exercises in order to apply them

At the time of this post, I have analyzed the first 7 games of the 2008-2009 season. Through the first 7 games, FC Barcelona had 5 wins, 1 loss, and 1 draw. Although it should be said that after the first two games in La Liga, FCB was winless after losing 1-0 against Numancia and drawing 1-1 against Racing Santander. Those initial results led to a lot of pressure on Guardiola from the media.

I will share one of my reflections that I have had so far.

The reflection pertains to the development of tactical patterns that FCB used in their game model. Guardiola prioritized using a 1-4-3-3 as the base system, and more specifically in the dynamic build up/progression zones, the structure of the team evolved into a 1-2-3-2-3.

Starting Lineup vs Sporting Gijón in the Third Game

From my observations, the 1-2-3-2-3 was an optimal structure to utilize because the opponents were prioritizing middle block defending in a 1-4-4-2 with the two strikers coordinating pressure and cover against the two center-backs and defensive midfielder (see below for a visual representation of the situation).

This structure presented the opponent with challenges because FCB was able to coordinate full width, depth, and 3-4 players moving between the opponents midfield and defensive lines in a synchronized manner.

From this base structure, FCB was able to optimize their main offensive tactical pattern, which when the players

Offensive Tactical Pattern

synchronized their movements optimally, the possessor had multiple passing options to help the team to progress. In theory, the possessor (in this case the center-back) would have 5 passing options in progression as they 'step in' with the ball. From a logical perspective, the possessor would take the decision that helps the team to progress towards the most advantageous space or situation.

As the center-back 'stepped in' with the ball, the main movements were:

  • 1) The winger in the active lane offers support in full width.

  • 2) The midfielder in the active lane move backwards into the interval between the opposition lines.

  • 3) The striker offers support between the lines.

  • 4) The midfielder in the passive interval coordinates their movement with the striker offering support, and runs in behind to be an option in depth.

  • 5) The winger on the opposite side provides full width, ready to receive a direct switch in play as the midfielder in the passive interval creates a passing line by dragging the opposition fullback out of position due to the run in behind.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago, Guardiola said in an interview, 90 Minutos con Pep Guardiola, "En función del movimiento del oponente, tú tomas la decisión. (In english - In function with the movement of the opponent, you take the decision). Reflecting on that statement in conjunction with this particular tactical pattern or situation, FCB appeared to provide the possessor with the most favorable conditions as possible to help them take an optimal decision in conjunction with the movements of the opponent.

From reflecting on this tactical pattern and synchronized movements, I am quickly reminded of the importance of creating training exercises which consist of similar contexts in which the players will be exposed to during the game. By using training exercises like positional games and preferential simulating situations, we as coaches can expose the players to specific, yet 'open' tactical situations without making their decision-making process mechanical.

Thank you for reading and look forward to sharing another reflection soon.


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