Comparing Barcelona Under Gerardo Martino and Pep Guardiola

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Gerardo Martino head coach of Barcelona gives instructions during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Celtic and FC Barcelona at Celtic Park Stadium on October 1, 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It can't be disputed that Pep Guardiola didn't just lay the foundations for this current Barcelona side—he built more than half the house too.

The house has changed slightly since he left, though, first under Tito Vilanova and now under Gerardo "Tata" Martino.

Results have, at the start of the season at least, been more devastating.

Whether that represents a positive evolution of the Barcelona style, though, or a weakening of La Liga, is debatable.

When Barca beat Almeria in Week 7 it did represent the club's best-ever start, however—eclipsing Vilanova's work from last season—a start that extended to eight straight wins with victory over Real Valladolid before the international break.

This weekend they travel to Pamplona to meet Osasuna; a ninth straight win would equal the record for the league's best start, which was set by Real Madrid in 1968.

And who's waiting for them in Week 10 as they, in all probability, look to beat that Madrid record?

Carlo Ancelotti and Los Blancos, of course.

But how does this Barcelona of Martino compare to the Barcelona of Guardiola?

The first glaring difference is that the Argentine is seemingly prepared to mix up Barca's style as and when he can, not remaining as focused on the intricate tiki-taka that the club are often fixated with.

South American football expert Rupert Fryer hinted this could be the case when Martino was handed the reins, influenced by the pragmatic, defensive approach implemented by Tata when he was in charge of Paraguay:

"He showed another string to his bow. That he could adapt. That he was a coach who could step away from his roots when required."

And it's proved so, with several of the current Barca squad commenting on this in a positive way.

"We've had a number of years with homegrown coaches in charge, first Pep and then Tito and we tended to exaggerate our style of play to the point where we were almost slaves to it," Gerard Pique said to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

"If we can counterattack it’s worth giving it a try," remarked Cesc Fabregas, according to Football-Espana, and even Lionel Messi seemed open to new methods and options when talking to Marca:

The more variations we have, the better. There will be days when it's better to have the ball and move it around the park, and others when it will be better to park the bus and play for the counter-attack. We have fast players and good passers.

This has perhaps never been more relevant than when, earlier this season, for the first time in five years, Barcelona conceded the majority of possession to Rayo Vallecano, who also out-passed the Catalans. 

It was perhaps more telling that Barca were prepared to let it happen, than the fact it actually happened.

Martino was prepared to let Rayo have the ball in deep positions, instead opting for his players to hit long balls—diagonals from Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique have become increasingly common—as Barca still won 4-0.

Stats from Squawka reveal Barcelona have already succeeded with 283 long balls in La Liga this season; an average of 35.4 each match.

Barca long balls vs. Rayo, via Squawka
Barca long balls vs. Rayo, via Squawka

"We had the alternative to play long and at times you have to do this in these types of matches in order reach other parts of the field," Martino told the club's official website after that win in Vallecas.

A major difference, though, and one that could be particularly beneficial come the end of the season, is Martino's rotation policy.

Under Guardiola, in his last season, the workload inflicted upon the players was evident by the time they conceded the La Liga and the Champions League—Pep himself admitted to tiredness.

Apart from Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes, who have started every league game, no Barca player has begun more than six of the club's eight league games.

Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi have all been withdrawn in matches too.

It seems Martino is attempting to shift Barcelona into a side whom are not reliant on the likes of Messi and Xavi—particularly the latter, considering his age.

Barcelona - La Liga - Football tactics and formationsTata's favoured 11?

And in Neymar, the Barca coach now has a genuine candidate to construct a team around when Messi may not be available—see the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last season (we'd come so far without mentioning it too).

One surprising similarity—whether it was his stance or the club's is unknown—is that Martino, like his two predecessors, seems in no panic to bring in a central defender.

Perhaps with Carles Puyol back in training, Marc Bartra constantly improving and Pique and Mascherano about, he feels he has four men capable of fitting into his system. Either way, his defenders seem to have more responsibility in building attacks.

A quote from Martino himself sums up best the, seemingly positive, effect he can have on this Barcelona side, ESPN FC:

"You have a coach who is neither from here, nor Holland."

His comment is right on the base level, but it also runs deeper than that. It almost gives him more freedom to alter things, to give Barcelona different tactics for different moments and to not be so hung-up on passing football—which is, and will always remain, intrinsic to the club anyway.

It's impossible to really talk about Martino's Barca alongside Pep's yet—look at what the latter won—but one thing is sure in his first few months in Catalunya: If Barca are to be successful under him, they'll be successful his way.

So far, so good.


Samuel Marsden is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. For more from La Liga, follow his updates on Twitter:


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