BARCELONA

Barça: Messi benefits from Valverde's tactical tweak

Barça: Messi benefits from Valverde's tactical tweak

Aitor Alcalde

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The Barcelona manager showed his tactical mettle in the Sánchez Pizjuán after being outplayed in the first half, switching to the system that won the Super Cup.

Ernesto Valverde’s tactical flexibility has sometimes been overlooked since he made the move from Athletic Club to Camp Nou in the summer of 2017. But the coach who led The Lions to the Copa final, Europe and a 5-1 aggregate drubbing of his current team in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup showed once again in Seville that he knows his way around a chalkboard.

Barça were completely outplayed in the first half in the Sánchez Pizjuán and Valverde’s opposite number, Pablo Machín, had targeted Jordi Alba’s side of the pitch as the visitors’ weak spot. Both of Sevilla’s goals from the avenue and the Barça coach realized he would have to fight fire with fire to overturn a 2-1 deficit after the break.

To counter the machinations of Machín, Valverde stacked his right flank with attacking power in half-time substitutes Sergi Roberto and Ousmane Dembélé, who replaced Nelson Semedo and Arturo Vidal. That took the pressure off Alba, who was then able to spend more time dealing with Sevilla goalscorer Jesús Navas. He also changed his system to a 4-2-3-1, a formation he hadn’t used since the Spanish Super Cup victory over the same opposition in Tangiers back in August, when Barça also came from behind to seal victory.

Valverde's double formation switch hoodwinks Sevilla

That blueprint allowed Valverde to get his attacking quartet of Leo Messi, Dembélé, Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho onto the pitch together, a risky strategy but countered by having Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic dropping back to operate as a defensive base in midfield and cover the runs of the attacking full backs.

Coutinho, who is yet to really fire this season and was assigned the task of keeping the ball moving rather than pushing forward, did his part and freed up the right flank from where Barça’s second and third goals arrived. After Messi’s equalizer for 2-2, Valverde switched back to a 4-3-3 for extra security as Sevilla pushed Barça back in an attempt to regain the lead.

So far this season Valverde has generally remained faithful to Barça’s tried and tested 4-3-3, occasionally switching to a 4-4-2 (Alavés, a 3-0 home win) or a 3-5-2 (against Levante, a 5-0 away win). But in Seville, he demonstrated that he retains that in-game management ability that made Athletic such a tough prospect under his guidance and used his tactical flexibility to turn a half-time defeat into a full-time victory by two clear goals.