Pep Guardiola wants Barcelona to play a 3-4-3 formation. This is a bad idea. Why? Well it’s actually pretty simple:
Ok, it’s not quite so simple as just that, there’s more extra complicated tactical battle stuff going on with it that I don’t really understand. But it pretty much boils down to Dani Alves.
He wrecks the formation because he always goes bombing on like he does. His game is based on being a wingback in a solid back four, and even then he’s often a defensive liability.
Let’s consult these highly scientific charts, shall we?
This is Barca‘s first choice line-up as I understand it, in a 4-3-3. (To be honest I sometimes think of it as 4-1-2-1-2 because Busquets as a defensive midfielder and Messi as a false nine both sit deeper than their fellows but whatevs it’s formation charts, the difference is imaginary.)
As you can see, Barca‘s midfield and forward areas are hella crazy. This is because that’s how you do tiki-taka. But unlike what one might think of as “pure” tiki-taka, it’s based on having a fucking impenetrably rock-solid defensive foundation. Pique and Puyol both 100% fit and in form is maybe the second best defensive partnership in the world right now, after Nesta and Thiago Silva at Milan. Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe are up in there, too. (Sorry Vidic and @rioferdy5, yall don’t make the cut anymore.)
Abdial and Dani Alves are both hella fast so tracking back isn’t a huge problem for them, and Alves in particular has such attacking prowess that he’s allowed to go forward way farther and more often than even your usual wingback. Most of the time he’s only a defender in name, while playing as an outright winger who tracks back to help out on D. His natural place on the field is up the sideline in midfield and the opposing third.
In this setup there’s always two at the back, though. And realistically, when Alves is making his runs and ending up almost/actually offside, Abidal is usually hanging back about level with Busquets. So there’s a base of three defenders ready in case of a lightning counterattack on the break. When Alves goes forward, Pique shifts over a little more to the right to cover the space the Brazilian’s left open, Puyol moves to the center to fill any gap, and Abidal hangs back a lil, ready to zoom in for backup when needed.
As you can probably guess, this is much harder on Puyol as a lone pure center back, and on Abidal as left back/left center back, than the 4-3-3 was on any one of them.
In the first half Alves continued to bomb forward while the other two cover the space, but this time there were only two of them hanging back instead of three. Valencia were able to stretch them and Abidal in particular got caught out of position more often than a manager going for his second Treble can be comfortable with. Abidal himself took most of the flack for that but given that he was forced to straddle the left and center back positions, turtle-paced midfield cover in Busquets and Mascherano, plus Puyol’s new slowness (he’s clearly not 100% back yet, and his old pace may be gone for good), I think Abi did better than would reasonably be expected of most defenders in the world. Then again, I fucking love Eric Abidal, so yeah, objectivity.
Anyway: Pep coped with Valencia by putting Adriano in for Keita and having him play in the right midfield area, forcing Dani Alves to actually do his defensive job, which he’s extremely good at when he doesn’t have the whole length of the field to cover. Valencia didn’t score at all after that and Barca dominated the match, equalizing and even coming close to stealing a winner several times.
Mad credit to Pep, in the 63rd minute he took Puyol off to replace him with THIAGO. Mascherano slotted back to Puyol’s spot. Even with Puyol’s fitness concerns having only recently come back from a long time out with injury, that move took plutonium fucking balls. Standing ovation, bro.
The 3-4-3 worked fine in Barca‘s 5-0 demolition of Villarreal on opening day, but the Yellow Submarine were (and still are) kind of lost without Santi Cazorla to run their attacks from midfield, and so weren’t able to pose much of a threat. Against smart and determined teams, the 3-4-3 leaves them exposed at the back when Dani Alves plays his natural game. The gaps he creates at the back when bombs on like he does can and will be exploited, you can count on it.
So, Dani Alves: he’s why Barca‘s new 3-4-3 is fucked.