When Gerardo ”Tata” Martino was appointed as Barcelona manager this summer, the Argentine manager was relatively unknown in European football. Martino had indeed never coached in Europe, and many doubted his ability to coach stars like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. But after 18 games, Martino is still undefeated and seems to be managing the stars pretty well.
Martino can consider himself very lucky to be Barcelona’s manager. He was appointed to role in only late July after Tito Villanova resigned due to his illness. Martino had less than a month before his first league game, and it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Barcelona have a difficult start as a result of their late managerial change, but he adapted quicker than expected.
Before Barcelona, Martino had coached the Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys, a few Paraguayan clubs (Cerro Porteno, Libertad) and the Paraguay national team, leading them to a World Cup quarterfinal in 2010 and a Copa America final in 2011 to build himself a solid reputation in South American football.
After Villanova’s departure, Barcelona wanted someone who shared their philosophy of football, and Martino was a logical choice in that aspect. Even though Martino has kept Barcelona’s basic style (4-3-3 formation, emphasis on ball retention), the Argentine has added a few tactical changes that make his Barcelona different from Pep Guardiola‘s and Tito Villanova‘s.
Martino’s Barcelona, unlike his predecessors’, has many different tactical options. Guardiola and Villanova’s team had only one way of playing and didn’t have any alternative. This season, Barcelona have sometimes abandoned their high pressing play and decided to retreat into their own half after losing the ball.
In their 4-0 win against Rayo Vallecano on September 21, Barcelona recorded only 46 percent possession. It was the first time since before the Guardiola era (2009-2012) that Barca had less than 50 percent of the ball. By defending deep, Barcelona took more time to win the ball back; this allowed the opponent to complete more passes, but also meant Barcelona conceded less space behind their defense, which we all know isn’t their strength.
Against Real Madrid, Barcelona’s choice to defend deep was the right one. With the pace of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria, it would have exposed their defense to deadly counter-attacks. The Blaugranas defended deeper than usual, making it very difficult for the Madrid trio to find space behind their defense.
Also, the Blaugranas are now able to play a more ”vertical” style of football when needed, going from one end of the pitch to the other with a small amount of passes. Pedro‘s goal against Rayo Vallecano showed us that Barcelona can now play counter-attacking football very effectively.
Even though his appointment was a big surprise, Gerardo Martino has quickly adapted to his new team. He had a short amount of time to prepare the season but has quickly imposed his style. The Argentine has added his personal touch without changing Barcelona’s style, which makes them a more complete and less predictable team.