by Michael Ogunjimi

Josep Guardiola certainly left us with wonderful memories of the brilliant Barcelona side he created but losing the La Liga title to Real Madrid was a big blow to the men in blue and red and only days later being eliminated by a resurgent Chelsea side proved to be the final straw.

As much as Pep has given to Barcelona, he has been under increased scrutiny for his 3-4-3/3-3-4 formations. What happened to the 4-3-3 everyone asked; the formation that helped Barcelona to become the first team in Spanish history to win a treble and later on a sextuple at the end of 2009. Well it all makes sense.

08/09: this was the season Pep first used the 4-3-3 to great effect and consequently he won 46 matches that year. The 4-3-3 looked in perfect balance, with Messi on the right, Henry on the left, and Eto upfront. Barca were absolutely lethal in attack.

Their play was simple and contained a handful of trademark moves, one being Messi would cut inside to make space for Alves to deliver his dangerous crosses to tall players like Henry and Eto’o.  Barca were too one dimensional and Pep knew this, and he took the right step next season.

Forward on to 09/10 and Pep decided to sell Eto’o and sign Ibrahimovic from inter Milan in a swap exchange transfer in which Barcelona also paid a staggering 60 million Euros. You get the hint here that Barca made so much money from the season before they wanted to rival Real Madrid in financial power that season. Again it seemed at times that if tiki-taka football failed then Guardiola could resort to his plan B; Ibrahimovic’s height. Keep the ball well, let Messi cut in to take a defender with him, which in turn created space for Alves to run into to produce his accurate crossing. At first everything seemed to be rosy with win after win. Then came Mourinho’s all-conquering Inter.

It was in these matches that Guardiola’s Barcelona were horribly exposed and marked Ibrahimovic’s days at Barcelona. The first leg of the Champion’s League semi final showcased it. Tiki-taka didn’t work. Then plan b came into effect. Barcelona were putting in a lot more crosses than we were used to seeing. But did it work? No.

Ibrahimovic was being well contained by the best centre back pairing in the world at that time, Lucio and Samual, as Inter won 3-1 putting in a brilliant display of counter attacking football. It was the same thing in the second leg; Ibrahimovic was ineffective due to Inter’s centre-backs and Messi was not his usual self dues to the amazing defensive display Inter Milan showcased. There was an earlier feeling Guardiola knew his plan b was not working. In the second leg of the quarter finals Guardiola utilised Messi in a new role – the false nine – as Barcelona ran out winners with the little genius grabbing four goals in a 4 nil victory. The stage had been set for next season.

10/11: Guardiola decided to sell Ibrahimovic to AC Milan and move Messi in to the false nine role. Barcelona had evolved. Messi’s role was quite simple yet so effective. The role obliged Messi to drop back into midfield in order to help Barcelona circulate possession in addition to dragging a centre back with him creating space to Villa and Pedro to use.  Barcelona were incredible that season and it was undoubtedly their best season under the guidance of Guardiola in terms of how they played and the results they produced. They ended up winning a La Liga and Champion’s League double. It seemed that there was no need for a plan B.

11/12 season:  By now opposition managers had begun to figure out how to limit Messi in his false nine role. It was no use pushing one of their centre-backs to track Messi as the end result would have disastrous consequences.

Guardiola however blind-sided them by introducing the 3-4-3 formation on their first game of the season against Villarreal as they smashed the yellow submarines 5-0. More agony for the opposing managers. So here was what teams then did to limit the effect of Messi’s false number nine role…

They noticed this season that Barcelona attempted to attack centrally more frequently than using the wings. This enabled opposition teams to play really narrow often packing the midfield and leaving Messi isolated. Milan did this to great effect in the first leg of the Champion’s League quarter final playing a 4-3-1-2 diamond shape midfield that compressed the midfield and left Barcelona worried after their 0-0 draw in the San Siro. Pep knew what the problem was and for the first time in the season against a world class opposing team Pep utilised the 3-3-4 formation to help stretch play in the second leg at the Camp Nou. It worked reasonably well as Barca won 3-1 one, courtesy of two penalties taken by Lionel Messi. If could be argued that Milan’s game-plan was working but conceding silly penalties helped Barca go through. That night however a weakness was exposed – the three man defence. The goal Milan scored was relatively easy. Robinho passed the ball to Ibrahimovic, and then he played a pass through the Barca defence for Nocacino to score. But the important thing was that Barca were through.

Then came the potential title decider in La Liga. Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Mourinho’s men scored first, then Barca later equalised in the second half. A comeback was on the horizon perhaps. But the 3-4-3 formation let the blaugrana exposed and Real Madrid’s second goal was surprisingly simple. Di Maria passed to ball to Ozil, who had so much space he could that done ten push ups and still played that amazing pass that set up Ronaldo’s winner.

Guardiola’s time at Barcelona has come to an end, he’s tried every season to bring in new ideas to his side and to keep his opponents guessing and to find solutions to the team’s problems. There have been pros and cons of the methods he has used, but you cannot rule football forever and you cannot expect only your team to evolve and other teams not to. No one can deny though that he brought great joy to world football.