Ever since Luis Enrique switched to the 3-4-3 formation after the 4-0 defeat against PSG, it looked like Barcelona were back to their best. In the games Barca played a 3-4-3 formation, they were unconvincing in their victories against Atletico and Leganes, crushed Sporting and Celta, had a miracle against PSG and lost miserably against Deportivo. One of the primary reasons Enrique switched to a back 3 was Aleix Vidal’s injury. Barca don’t have a recognised right back and attempts to convert Sergi Roberto to one were failing miserably.
The victory against PSG masked so many of Barcelona’s problems this season and in fact the victory was down more to PSG choking rather than Barcelona playing well.
Messi’s role in this 3-4-3 formation is to play at the tip of the diamond. In such a congested area, it is easy for the opposition to mark and crowd him out. This forces Messi to drop deeper and deeper. Although Messi can influence the game from any part of the pitch, the further he is from the opposition box, the less dangerous he is.(Also Messi’s performances in the big games have declined considerably over the past few years). Messi is better off on the right wing where he has more space and time to influence the game. Dani Alves’s transfer has affected Messi the most with two sharing a telepathic understanding with each other even Messi moved to the center to play as The False 9 under Pep Guardiola. Having a right back who has the lungs to cover for Messi and to overlap him when he moves inside is essential for Barcelona, but as Enrique doesn’t have anyone at the moment he needs to find a different solution.
The 3-4-3 puts a lot of pressure on the wingers as they have to stick to the touchline to provide the width. Neymar and Messi enjoy coming inside while playing in a 4-3-3 so that full back can overlap them. But in a 3-4-3, Neymar will cut inside with the ball, but rarely does so without the ball. Against Deportivo, the wide men Denis Suarez and Arda Turan struggled with their roles. The wide men in a 3-4-3 will face a lot of 1v1 situations without much support from their teammates. This is where, Turan and Suarez struggled as there were no fullbacks to overlap and if they were not able to best their marker, the opposition could easily double mark them and kill the attack.
In Luis Enrique’s treble winning season, Barcelona were devastating on the counter with Messi, Neymar and Suarez destroying defences across Europe. Enrique seemed to have solved a major problem plaguing Barcelona which was them not knowing how to play without the ball. Barcelona that season were ready to concede possession, draw the opposition onto their half, win back the ball and the M-S-N trio will take care of the rest. The 3-4-3 by design is played with a high line and will need Barcelona to hog the ball as much as they can. With a diamond, Barcelona can easily dominate the central areas without trouble pushing the opposition defence deeper and deeper. But with the midfield not of the Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets class at the moment, the opposition can press and pull off a dangerous turnover.
It is clear that Barcelona need fresh ideas and fresh players. Many of the old guard like Iniesta, Busquets and Messi himself look jaded. The midfield needs a revamp, Messi needs a new role and a position, the new manager will have immense challenges right from the first day to solve.