After the humiliating 4-0 loss at the Parc des Princes last Tuesday, Luis Enrique was involved in a heated exchange with TV3 journalist Jordi Grau in the flash interview following the match and when he was asked why he had not made changes earlier, he said: “Obviously you weren’t watching very closely because we changed from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 in the second half.”
However, there was scant evidence of the tactical tweak as PSG continued to dominate the match and went on to score two more goals. And against struggling Leganes at home in La Liga on Sunday, there was little improvement as Barca needed a late Lionel Messi penalty to win the match 2-1 in the last minute.
In light of those two poor performances, Luis Enrique is now contemplating a change in tactics as he digs deep into his memory bank for inspiration.
Unlike Pep Guardiola, the Asturian never featured for Barca under Johan Cruyff in the Dutchman’s 3-4-3 system, which the Catalan coach later used to surprise his rivals in important matches. Although Luis Enrique was brought to Camp Nou on the recommendation of Cruyff, the Oranje icon had already left by the time he arrived and it was as part of Bobby Robson’s team that the current Barca boss made his debut for the Blaugrana.
That was in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the Brazilian Ronaldo as the focal point in attack in a team that missed out on La Liga but went on to win three trophies: a Spanish Supercopa, a Copa del Rey and a European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating PSG in the final.
The idea of the system this time would be to use Luis Suarez as the lone striker, with Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Messi (in a free role) behind the Uruguayan. Further back, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic (or Andre Gomes) would form a two-man shield for the defence, which would stay as it is now (although Javier Mascherano could return alongside Gerard Pique in the centre). Aleix Vidal, out for the season with a serious ankle injury, would have been ideal for the formation as it allows more freedom for the full-backs to get forward.
Before Barca can think about the return leg against PSG, however, there is an important Primera Division match on Sunday away to Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, the scene of the Catalans’ European exit last season.
It will be the last time Barca play Atletico at the stadium, which will be knocked down later this year as the Rojiblancos move to a new home, and it will be a good opportunity for the Blaugrana to find their feet with an improved performance - perhaps even one that will help the team believe in a historic turnaround against PSG.
“I can’t talk about a comeback right now,” a crestfallen Iniesta said in the mixed zone at the Parc des Princes. Busquets, meanwhile, was more critical and admitted that “we were overcome tactically” by Unai Emery’s side.
That paved the way for a rethink ahead of the second leg on March 8 and only Suarez has spoken of a “remontada” since the defeat in Paris. In order to achieve it, however, Barca will need not only a result but also a much better performance in the game at Camp Nou - be it with 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.