In the past seven days, a lot has happened. Exactly a week ago, Luis Enrique found himself licking a few early-season wounds from the loss to Deportivo Alavés. Eyebrows were raised as to whether Lucho had made the right decision in resting so many key players that weekend. A few weeks into the season, we can now start analyzing the intentions of most managers. On the surface level, anyone with a seasoned culé eye would have been able to see Lucho’s clear intention of rotating his players to utilize the benefits of economies of squad– That being that this time around, Lucho has arguably the best and most versatile squad in Europe. Why? Because one of the biggest reasons (in fact, to many blaugrana’s, the only reason) why our team fell apart in it’s only blemish last season in the loss to Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final, was down to fatigue. It only makes sense to rotate as much as possible, even to a fault (such as what was witnessed in the Alavés game), if it ensures that MSN and co are fully fit come April 2017. Other than this, Lucho has pulled a few rabbit’s out of the hat too.
The mid-week UEFA Champions League “match” against poor Celtic was not only an exhibition of Messi-Neymar-Suárez sorcery but also a look into Lucho’s intentions on form and structure. Lucho started the game with the same old 4-3-3, with the exceptions of André Gomes and Samuel Umtiti in for Andrés Iniesta and Javier Mascherano respectively:
However, this was not where it ended. Five minutes into the game, the formation morphed into this:
It didn’t end here. Lucho started the weekend’s game against CD Leganés on paper like this:
But once the match had commenced, the formation looked like this:
Evidently, Lucho has been in quite a creative mood. But what has sparked this mood? Here’s a hypothesis:
If we are to look at things in a broad context, we can speculate that this may be a way for Lucho to simply remain unpredictable. There are few things worse than playing a side that can plan weeks in advance and know which players will start, where they will start, and what runs they will make. Trying to remain unpredictable is an understandable idea, as Lucho’s game plan for matches can become repetitive in structure. It seems that Lucho is placing a larger emphasis on adapting tactics for each team, as what is necessary for one team may not be necessary for another.
Although most teams can most likely guess which of our players will start, where they will start, and what runs they will make, for Lucho to experiment like this adds reasonable doubt on what to expect in an upcoming game. This makes it harder for our opposition to plan in-depth, as what may be used one week, may not be used in another. Doubt. That is what Lucho is trying to add. Doubt in the opposition’s own structures on how to approach the game. Doubt turns into fear, and especially once an early goal is conceded, which, seemingly for both Celtic and Leganés, can quickly turn into a number of goals.
These structures are especially effective in dealing with the opposition’s high pressing systems. Pressing is not only down to a team moving as many players it can up the field once the ball is with Marc-André ter Stegen. It is especially effective when that team can plan in advance and know exactly which players to press as they know where they will be positioned. Such pressing systems become a lot less effective once these plans are ruined through a different formation being used to what was prepared for.
With a few weeks under the belt, it is safe to say that it has been a fairly decent start to the season. The road ahead is long, however, and a lot can change in short period of time. It was nice seeing Sergio Busquets rested this past weekend and Iniesta against Celtic. Such moves are literally refreshing and put us in good stead for when things get serious. Lucho’s rotations and experiments may lose us a game here and there, but in the long run, it is much more valuable to have a fresh group of players, ready to tackle the challenges ahead.