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Messi makes the difference again - but jury's out on Barca's 3-4-3

12:46 PM EST 2/26/17
Luis Enrique's tactical tweak ultimately worked out, but left plenty of doubts despite the Argentine attacker's late winner at the Vicente Calderon


Something different from Barcelona. In light of recent poor performances, Luis Enrique opted for a 3-4-3 formation away to Atletico Madrid in La Liga on Sunday. But, as so often in the past, the Blaugrana still needed Lionel Messi to win all three points.  

Late Messi winner gives Barca boost in title race

Luis Enrique has considered a switch to 4-2-3-1 following the disastrous defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League earlier this month. But the Barca boss tried out 3-4-3 in this match, with Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Jeremy Mathieu at the back, Sergi Roberto in midfield, Neymar and Rafinha out on the wings and Messi in a free role.

It was an interesting change, but Barcelona conceded territory to Atletico in a dreadful first half in which Diego Simeone's side should have taken advantage. In the end, Barca could have gone in ahead, though, after Luis Suarez saw a goal controversially disallowed.

The tactical tweak was a brave one, but Barca lacked muscle in midfield, where Andres Iniesta is still short of full fitness, Roberto struggled back in his natural habitat and Messi is hardly known for his physical presence. 

Further forward, Neymar was willing as ever and worked hard, but Rafinha looked out of sorts on the right flank bar a couple of moments and Suarez screwed a shot woefully wide when through on goal.

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The champions were better in the second half as Luis Enrique persisted and Rafinha gave the Catalans the lead as he slotted home a loose ball in the area. It was not pretty and it was not really Barca either - but they were ahead.

Diego Godin's header levelled the match later on, but as the two teams tired in the closing stages, Messi popped up to hit home the winner from close range and seal all three points for the Catalans in their last-ever league game at the Vicente Calderon (which will be knocked down before the start of next season).

Despite the extra man in midfield, Barcelona were still unable to dominate that sector, however, and this was another unconvincing display from a team that not so long ago used to play their rivals off the pitch.

That has not happened for some time, however, and even though this was not Barca at their best or anywhere near it, Luis Enrique deserves credit for trying something different against an Atletico side that had won their previous three in La Liga and beaten Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 on Wednesday. Fortune favours the brave.

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Whether the Barca boss will persist with this formation is unclear. Three at the back was the formation famously used by Johan Cruyff's Dream Team and, on occasions, by Pep Guardiola's great side, too. On Sunday's evidence, though, this version still needs plenty of work.

Against PSG in the Champions League, Barca will have to take risks as they seek to overturn a 4-0 deficit at Camp Nou following their painful loss at the Parc des Princes. But the system handed the initiative to Atleti in this match and left the back line - and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen - exposed.

There was Messi, as so often before, to make the difference and keep Barca very much in the title race. But the jury is still out on this 3-4-3 and, if Luis Enrique's side are to have any chance of coming back against PSG or winning La Liga, it will need to work much more effectively than it did on Sunday.