When does Barcelona NOT strike fear into clubs worldwide? They do it so well on the pitch and this summer, they did it through their use of the transfer market. The signing of David Villa to spearhead such an already petrifying forward line is something that has to have La Liga teams and Champions League rivals quaking in their boots!
However, it’s not all about the goals scored, but keeping goals out is also important to a manager and with the signing of Javier Mascherano, Pep Guardiola’s backline just got a little bit tougher to crack. But with Busquets already a regular starter, how does Mascherano fit into the Barcelona system?
Barcelona’s traditional system is 4-3-3 with Busquets anchoring, allowing Xavi and Iniesta to do their thing further up the field. In their first La Liga game of the season, prior to Mascherano’s arrival, I noted the fact that Iniesta was pushed out on the left wing and Seydou Keita was positioned next to Xavi in central midfield.
If Guardiola is going to keep his traditional system, then I suspect that for the next game and from then on, Keita will be dropped to the bench and Mascherano will slot into the vacant spot next to Xavi. So, the midfield trio would be Busquets, Xavi and Mascherano.
Don’t you get the feeling that the bulk of the creativity would be left to Xavi? Yes, Xavi is indeed the heart and soul of Barcelona’s attacks, but when Iniesta was next to him, he had help. Both players were always looking for that killer pass through to the forward line. Now that Iniesta is further up the pitch, one may wonder if this would put extra pressure on Xavi to deliver. Mascherano, as good a player as he is, is more of an enforcer than a play-maker. The same applies to Busquets, more or less. I think there’s another way to fit Mascherano in without putting undue pressure on any one player.
What if Pep Guardiola used a 4-2-3-1 setup? With that formation, Xavi would be moved further up the pitch and would play just behind David Villa. In that position known as “the hole”, Xavi would be the perfect link between the anchormen (Busquets and Mascherano) and David Villa up top. Iniesta would be on the left-hand side and of course, Lionel Messi would be on the right. Xavi, Messi and Iniesta would share the creative responsibility with Villa being the beneficiary of their efforts. That system would make Barcelona an even stronger force and their defence, protected by Busquets and Mascherano, would be considered the “Rock of Gibraltar”.
Will Guardiola give it a try? Maybe. In fact, Guardiola used the 4-2-3-1 system a few times last season and they played very well with it. Whatever Guardiola decides to do, I’m sure he’ll manage to get the best out of his latest signing, Javier Mascherano, and his elite Barcelona team as a unit.