4-3-3 Formation Barcelona

By Woodland Soccer Team •  Updated: 08/09/22 •  8 min read

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The 4-3-3 formation is both one of the most prevalent and one of the most efficient formations used in football today. Over the years, several managers with an emphasis on attacking football have adopted the formation because of the attacking qualities it possesses. Many football fans automatically think of the Spanish tiki-taka style when considering the 4-3-3 configuration and attacking football. This is because the 4-3-3 formation has become so synonymous with attacking football. As part of their “Cruyffism style of football,” FC Barcelona was instrumental in developing and refining the tiki-taka system.

Barcelona and 4-3-3 Formation

Johan Cruyff used the ‘Total Football’ method that was originally developed by Dutch football manager Rinus Michels as the basis for his creation of FC Barcelona’s Dream Team in 1988. Michels was the father of the system.

Cruyff is recognized as one of the best managers in the history of football, and succeeding managers of FC Barcelona have adopted and improved upon his method. Today, Cruyff is considered to be one of the best managers in football history. The Dutch manager prepared his squad to play on the front foot at all times by employing a 3-4-3 diamond formation; Cruyff set up his side to play possession-based football with an emphasis on gaining the ball back as soon as they lost possession of it.

However, the 4-4-2 system was Cruyff’s go-to choice for Barcelona as he led his club to its first taste of Champions League triumph in the 1992 UEFA Champions League final. This match was the crowning moment for Barcelona, and it was the match that announced the Catalan club as an European powerhouse. His approach provided the team with a blueprint for how to play football that was entertaining while still dominating the competition, and subsequent managers used his Total Football concept.

When Frank Rijkaard, again another Dutch manager, took over the reins of Barcelona’s managerial duties, the club adopted a more traditional 4-3-3 formation. It was in this formation that he sent out his team to compete in the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2006, and they ended up winning their second Champions League title.

However, their ultimate mastery of the 4-3-3 formation did not come about until after the arrival of Pep Guardiola. The Spanish manager was one of the most important players for Cruyff’s team at the Camp Nou. He had the opportunity to collaborate closely with Cruyff because he played the position of a defensive midfielder for Cruyff.

After he hung up his boots, he started working with the club’s younger players as a coach. In 2008, after the club fired Rijkaard as manager, the club promoted him to the position of the manager himself. Guardiola wasted no time in getting to work on his team and recruited a youngster named Sergio Busquets, who had been one of his players on the junior team, to help adapt the team to his preferred playing style.

Guardiola constructed what would be the best midfield combination in the world over the following six years by fielding the young player with Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Guardiola’s decision to play the young midfielder was inspired by his ability to serve as a shield for his defenders and his progressive passing abilities.

The 4-3-3 formation became immediately identifiable with Barcelona, and the club’s success led to the formation being adopted by the Spanish national side, where it was utilized with a significant amount of success.

After Guardiola departed the club, Luis Enrique brought a comparable amount of success to the club by employing the formation until the team went into a downturn. Before the dip of the late 2010s, the club was having a lot of success.

Ronald Koeman, one of Cruyff’s generals in the 1992 Dream Team, was hired as the club’s manager in 2019 and was the first to break away from the 4-3-3 openly. The Dutchman explained that even though the club could have a preference for Cruyffism, he was being practical and decided to use a different playing structure and pattern. As manager of the club, he had a difficult time of it and was eventually ousted in 2021 to make room for Xavi, who brought back the 4-3-3 formation and made it much more effective for the team.

What is the Basis of Barcelona’s 4-3-3 Formation?

Since Pep Guardiola took over as head coach of Barcelona, the team’s 4-3-3 formation has shown certain oddities in the player profiles of those who play in each position. In this essay, we will analyze the tasks that each player in the 4-3-3 system fulfills as well as the specific functions that each position is responsible for.

Goalkeeper

In addition to having the ability to stop shots, goalkeepers for Barcelona’s 4-3-3 style are often expected to have a high level of technical proficiency. Victor Valdes, who was known for his ability to play out from the back with the ball at his feet, was Guardiola’s first goalkeeper at Barcelona. Following Valdes, the club went on to another goalkeeper who was equally as technically competent in Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who Marc-Andre Ter Stegen followed.

These goalkeepers share the ability to put teammates in good positions with passes and maintain their calm when they have the ball at their feet. At Barcelona, it has become a long-standing custom to include ball-playing goalkeepers on the roster.

Defenders

In order to prosper in Barcelona’s 4-3-3 style, the defenders, much like the goalkeeper, need to have a high level of technical ability. The system makes use of four different defenders, and each of those defenders has a distinct job to do inside the system.

The central defensive pairing is typically comprised of players who are technically gifted and capable of constructing attacks from the back in addition to performing their fundamental defensive responsibilities. Because of his ability both on and off the ball, Gérard Pique has been a starter in the system since the beginning of Pep Guardiola’s tenure as manager. In most situations, the Spaniard is free to carry the ball out of his defensive position whenever necessary.

The other central defender in the system is typically someone who utilizes the ball less aggressively. They only leave their positions when moving upfield for set pieces, which is a much less frequent occurrence than Pique’s.

The fact that the club uses a 4-3-3 formation, in which the fullbacks play an important role, was made abundantly evident when Xavi went after Dani Alves, shortly after he was chosen manager despite that Alves was 38 at the time.

When their team is on the offensive front, Barcelona’s two fullbacks are allowed to advance as high up the field as they see fit because the formation gives them the ability to do so whenever their team is in an attacking position. The two full-backs on either side of the field are expected to significantly contribute to their team’s overall success by scoring goals or providing assists. At the club, Jordi Alba and Alves were considered to be the best practitioners of this skill.

Midfielders

The 4-3-3 formation Barcelona use has always relied on the employment of three technically sound midfielders to guarantee that they keep and circulate the ball. The midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta that Guardiola put together was widely regarded as the greatest in the world for nearly a decade. Busquets was the most withdrawn of the three midfielders, and Xavi and Iniesta played on each side of him to provide flanking support.

The employment of these three players in the middle of the field helped Barcelona to maintain possession of the ball and, as a result, control games. The club has continued to adhere to the model that was established by Guardiola up until the present day, particularly after Xavi was selected to take over as manager in November 2021.

As of the end of 2021/22 season, the club’s midfield is handled by Pedri and Frenkie De Jong rather than Xavi and Iniesta, while Busquets continues to play in the same position he did before despite his advancing age. He remains a symbol of the club’s 4-3-3 dominance.

Forwards

In the 4-3-3 formation that Barcelona use, the strikers are supposed to have fluid movement throughout the game. Pep Guardiola used Lionel Messi in a variety of positions while he was the manager of the club. These positions included playing the false nine position and the inside forward position. During one point in time, he also played Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry beside him. On other occasions, he played David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez alongside him.

Barcelona’s strikers’ ability to score various goals, play across the forward line, and link up with one another in attack is one of the most important aspects of the team’s strategy. Since the days of Frank Rijkaard, this club has consistently fielded players with these characteristics in its attacking positions; therefore, these characteristics are not surprising. The attacking attributes of the 4-3-3 formation that the club has played with throughout the years have contributed much to the team’s success when it comes to scoring goals.

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