By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It may have been a Clasico, but it was far from a classic. Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino revealed on Monday that his squad had watched a video of the Catalans' 5-0 humbling of Real Madrid in 2010 prior to their 2-1 win over Carlo Ancelotti's men on Saturday evening. But Tata's team barely resembles the side which wowed the world under Pep Guardiola. Changes are afoot at Camp Nou.
Martino told the press in his unveiling that he had not come to alter anything and has stuck to that party line ever since, but his actions are making those words sound hollow: two months into the season, this is a very different Barca side from the one we became accustomed to watching over the last five seasons under Guardiola and then Tito Vilanova.
The Clasico proved that. Instead of two teams tearing into each other as in recent encounters between Barca and Real, this was a tense tactical battle - something of a war of attrition as both sides approached the fixture with extreme caution. "Barcelona speculate now and are no longer that team admired by the world," former River Plate coach Angel Cappa said.
Martino, meanwhile, had hoped - he said - for his team to play like Pep's, but admitted on Monday that they had a lot to live up to. "Over lunch, we watched the 5-0. I would like to have played like they did that day, but the bar was set very high."
Martino's Barcelona in the Clasico
|0||From his position on the right, Messi did not manage a single shot on target. Cesc Fabregas didn't shoot at all.|
|3||Iniesta set up as many chances as the rest of his side but was withdrawn as Barca sought to see out the win at 1-0.|
|7||Valdes made seven interventions in the 90 minutes and chose to kick the ball into touch when under pressure.|
|12||Barca mustered just 12 shots in the 90 minutes, only two more than Madrid. Real (seven to five) got more on target.|
|54||Barcelona's possession was just 54%, much lower than usual in matches against Madrid - especially at home.|
The most obvious was the position of Lionel Messi. The Argentine cemented his status as the world's best player in a 'false nine' role under Guardiola, but was switched to the right on Saturday as Cesc Fabregas filled a more central slot, dropping deep to operate between midfield and attack.
It was one of Messi's more subdued showings and the 26-year-old still seems some way short of full fitness. The Argentine drove one effort way off target from the right and made minimal impact, but Martino claimed he was happy with his countryman. "I am not worried about Messi - he is fine," the coach said.
Guardiola occassionally opted to move Messi back to the right flank, although the former Barca boss ultimately marginalised Zlatan Ibrahimovic and later David Villa by continuously choosing the Argentine as the focal point of the forward line for the Catalan club.
Now, however, Barca are without a recognised centre-forward and Martino is keen to recruit an out-and-out striker - perhaps in the January transfer window. "I spoke to Messi," Tata told the media on Monday. "He had been playing as a false nine for some time and I asked him what had happened with him playing on the right. We thought he could have even more of an impact on the outside and we also think he can play with a centre-forward, which we don't have... [And] we think it is a great thing to be able to use him in different areas of the pitch."
So even though Messi is likely to start the majority of matches in the centre as a false nine, the Argentine is also set to be utilised in a number of different positions by Martino in what is probably the biggest change of all to this team.
But it's not just Messi. Barca recently 'lost' the possession battle in a 4-0 league win at Rayo Vallecano - the first time that had happened in 317 games - and finished the Clasico with just a 54 per cent share of the ball. That figure is much lower than the 66% of which Martino had spoken and far from the 73% recorded at the Bernabeu in 2010-11. Under their Argentine coach, Barca have adopted a more direct style, although against Madrid on Saturday the persistent pressing from years gone by was also absent as the home side allowed the visitors plenty of time on the ball.
|We think it is a great thing to use Messi in different areas of the pitch.
- Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino
Another aspect which will have surprised many was how Barca defended deeply in the second half, a feature seldom seen in recent seasons as the Catalans have almost always opted for a high line at the back. And there is a notable difference too in goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who is now not afraid to kick the ball long or blast into touch if necessary - something out of the question in recent seasons.
That surprised many at Camp Nou on Saturday, as did the withdrawal of Andres Iniesta for the more combative Alex Song with Barca 1-0 up. Was it a defensive substitution? "Yes," said Martino. "And I would do it again."
As it turned out, substitute Alexis Sanchez scored a stunning second just minutes later as he lobbed Diego Lopez from outside the box, but that goal - which ended up being the winner - had come on the counter-attack. It was Barca, just not as we know it - the Clasico clash giving a glimpse into a future of considerable changes at Camp Nou.
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