The Armchair Tactician with Simon Gallagher
By Simon Gallagher
Tuesday 23 Nov 2010 09:12:00
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Every column we look at the best innovative tactical models from history, because, let’s face it; we’ve never really had much experience of owt like that supporting Newcastle.

The Barca Model


Football commentators wouldn’t be worth their free tickets if they didn’t entertain us with the usual clichés and tired old phrases to go with our pints and pies, but sometimes commentary terms become too old fashioned and deserve to be consigned to the same scrap heap that Jimmy Hill’s disappeared to. It seems like forever that pundits have talked about pitches and teams being split into three- defence, midfield and attack. While this is understandable in a country which still loves to call for a return to 442 every time something goes wrong with another, usually continental system, it is being made more and more rare by successful teams adopting a more split approach by separating the midfield into two, and often even three separate phases.


So, the pitch isn’t made up of thirds anymore, instead it breaks down into fifths: defence, defensive midfield, midfield, attacking midfield and attack; with teams like Spain and Barcelona’s successes depending on their ability to pass the ball to within an inch of its life in the fourth phase of the pitch. It might look over the top at times- like during parts of the World Cup Final where it looked like Spain were happier to look for another pass rather than putting in a clinical final ball- but the model has translated into medals for both Barca and the Spanish national team, so there’s obviously something in it.


Crucially, the model depends on the usually unsung hero of the defensive midfielder, who sits back when the team attacks and allows his fellow midfielders to swarm all over the oppositions defence. The new model still depends on a back four, but with the defensive midfielder deployed just ahead of them and covering, the full-backs are free to join in attacks, leading to the development of more players like Daniel Alves, Ashley Cole and Maicon who are as famed for their attacking as they are their defensive abilities.


With teams like Barcelona dominating their league, and being usual suspects in the Champions League last four, and Spain walking away with both the European Championship and World Cup titles, the system clearly works. So, why don’t we see it very often in England? Simple fact is there just aren’t enough good players around- especially in the defensive or attacking midfield moulds. That’s why people immediately talk about £20m+ for a player like James Milner and why Man City have just gone out and paid a similar amount for Yaya Toure.


Chelsea have been one of the only successful Premiership teams to adopt the five phase approach- though the diamond midfield is more conservative and still retains the safety of a 442 defensive shape- but it seems more likely that clubs will start to adopt a model closer to Barcelona’s considering Chelsea’s ability to break the near stranglehold that Man Utd had established over the Premier League in the last decade.


Imagine how different it all could have been if the Newcastle team that ran Man Utd so close under Kevin Keegan had brought in a player of Didi Hamann’s ability to boss the DM position and give the attacking flair of Ginola, Beardsley and co an anchor in midfield that they could rely on to break up at least a few of the counter-attacks that swarmed into the gaps they left behind them. Keegan later tried it with David Batty, but there is a difference between a player with defensive ability who could read the game well and break play up, and someone who went out to kick players and pick up five red cards a season like Batty ended up doing. And by then it was all too late.


Sadly, I can’t see Newcastle going for this type of model just yet, given our lack of galacticos, but I have to hope that when the time comes for us to challenge again, we have the players and the knowledge to seriously give the Barca Model some real consideration.


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