Why Barcelona need a plan B

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Pass, pass, pass. It has been the mantra of Barcelona throughout their rich history, with some of the most eye-catching and imaginative football being exhibited by the likes of Johan Cruyff's dream team, the Ronaldinho and Frank Rijkaard inspired Barca and, of course, the current generation.

Lionel Messi and co. have smashed records and won an astonishing amount of trophies over the past five years, while mesmerising fans with their spellbinding football.

Under Pep Guardiola and now Tito Vilanova, they have redefined the passing game that is ingrained in the club's DNA, staking a legitimate claim as the greatest club side ever. While this opinion is shared by many, there are some people, including myself, that believe this Barcelona side is lacking in flexibility and variation and thus fall short of the mark in discussions of the greatest teams of all time. 

One of the biggest criticisms of the Catalan side is their tendency to be one-dimensional. They are often found lacking a plan B when up against the very best sides and the going gets tough.

So often they are able to get on top and obliterate and overwhelm even the best sides in the world, but on a growing number of occasions Barcelona have been punished for their inability and unwillingness to try something different.

It's certainly hard to argue against the way they play given the amount of success that has been achieved, but if we cast our eyes back there are certainly a few missed opportunities that can be put down to a lack of a plan B.

In 2010, Inter Milan knocked out Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League after a courageous defensive performance at Camp Nou by the Nerazzurri. Yes, it is difficult for for any side when there is a wall of players who are only content to nullify you, but on that fateful night Thiago Motta was sent off in the first half and despite their best efforts Barca could not find the goals to progress. Only Gerard Pique scored, showing great killer instinct to give hope late on, but ultimately it was in vain as Inter survived.

Barcelona are great at methodically breaking down defences, almost revelling in the challenge, but the bottom line is they could not find the two required goals against a 10-man team at home. That speaks volumes of the ineffectiveness of Barcelona's play that evening, especially as it took a burly centre half to grab a goal. It took Pique's strength and target man qualities to undo Inter, hardly a typical Barcelona goal, and that emphasises a different approach or tactical shift should have been made. 

Never mind the fact that on that evening Barcelona had at their disposal the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pedro, Messi and Bojan to provide diverse attacking options, the biggest problem was not the personnel but the tactical rigidity. With a staggering 76 per cent of the ball against 10 men for a large proportion of the match, one would feel Barcelona's slick possession-based game would be able to unlock the Inter defence at home. Disappointingly, there were very few clear cut chances created that evening, despite everything that was in Barcelona's favour and the prize that was on the line. 

In last season’s Champions League semi-final against eventual victors Chelsea, Barcelona fell victim to a swift counter-attack at Stamford Bridge in the first leg to stumble to defeat.

In the pouring rain, Barca were intent on sticking to their usual slick-passing game, going on to hit the crossbar and post as well as seeing Ashley Cole clear agonisingly off the line. While Barcelona played brilliantly and deserved to score and perhaps win, their tactical inflexibility cost them again.

The weather was certainly not conducive to their passing style of football, and Chelsea's physical superiority shone through in the wet conditions as they blocked shot after shot and imposed themselves physically across the pitch. In the typically English conditions, Chelsea were right at home.

On a night like this, a target man who could provide an aerial threat up front would have been much more tactically appropriate, but Barcelona did not have that type of forward, attesting to the squad's overall lack of versatility.

The second leg involved a combination of bad luck for Barca and heroic defending from Chelsea, with John Terry's first-half dismissal still not enough for Barcelona to overturn the first-leg deficit.

Chelsea 'parked the bus' to make it extremely difficult once again, but the loss of their captain and injury to the other centre-back Gary Cahill meant Branislav Ivanovic and the highly suspect Jose Bosingwa formed the rearguard. 

Despite the Chelsea defence being left in shambles, Barcelona again could not breakthrough to get the goals, which once again highlighted Barca’s lack of variation tactically, which was ultimately perilous due to their unwavering commitment to tika taka.

AC Milan's recent Champions League performance against Barcelona once again brought to light the Catalans' woes in being too tactically rigid. 

Milan exhibited the perfect balance of pressing and sitting to negate Barca as well as minimising the passing angles and running channels. Barca had only three shots on target and were forced into taking pot shots, a sign of their frustration and desperation. Messi was hunted and denied at every turn in an incredibly subdued performance that summed up the team's overall game to a tee. They were punished for their one dimensionality.

Real Madrid's 3-1 drubbing of Barcelona at the Nou Camp once again piled further pressure onto the team and adds to the growing number of games where Barcelona have been found out for being tactically rigid. 

Many have wondered how good Barcelona would be without Messi, and we have been given a good indication of what the answer could be over the last week.

Barcelona are not a one-man team, but Messi's prolificness and penchant to be at the heart of everything they do means that when he is down, Barcelona as a whole are not their swashbuckling selves.

There is an involuntary reliance on Messi to score and create, because he is almost always able to provide the goods and so his output is taken for granted. This means that on the very few occasions he is underperforming, others need to step up and herein lies the problem. 

Slowly but surely Barcelona's squad has developed into a one-dimensional team that lacks variety. The likes of Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have departed the club in recent years, making the current squad less complete as a whole, as these players possess some of the qualities Barcelona sorely lack at the moment.

Besides an ageing David Villa, Messi has no one else in the squad to assist him in finding the goals on a consistent basis. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Thiago Alcantra and Xavi are all very similar players that are technically gifted and have superb vision. There are simply too many similar players in this Barca side and they are therefore sacrificing versatility and variation.

Barcelona do not have the luxury of having an embarrassment of riches across the board such as rivals Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. 

Barcelona's need for a plan B is not strictly related to their style. Personnel, formations and tactical tweaking are all elements Barcelona should look into to cover the bases. Purchasing a target man such as Fernando Llorente or Edinson Cavani or investing in pacy strikers such as Theo Walcott or Neymar to vary their attack and have the options to exploit teams' various weaknesses will improve the overall squad. The strength of Llorente to provide a reference point in the wet against Chelsea and the pace of Neymar against Inter to get in behind the defence could have proven decisive.

Barcelona should be looking at buying classic wingers instead playing Iniesta or Fabregas out wide as auxiliary wingers, where there tends to be confusion. Variation means Barcelona will be less predictable, as predictability has been their main shortfall.

Barcelona may be set in their ways but the best teams are the ones that are able to adapt and adjust based on the opposition. This cannot be said of Barcelona.

The staggering success behind a philosophy that has taught them to know how to play in one way is hard to argue with, but if this Barcelona really want to be considered as the best side of all time, they will be well-advised to have a plan B in order to remove all doubt of any vulnerabilities.

At times it seems Barcelona have to try harder than most and require so much craft and creativity to score their goals. In sacrificing some possession and resorting to counter-attacking on occasions, Barcelona will benefit from having the opportunity to take advantage of more space being available just like everyone else. This is a tactical change would keep teams guessing as well as allowing Barca to not have to exert themselves physically as much as they would have previously.

If Barcelona did have a plan B, they could have won four Champions League titles in a row, and potentially a fifth this season, which would have all but sealed their status as the greatest club side of all time.


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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