After the poignant revelation of Tito Vilanova’s second relapse from throat cancer, Barcelona seem set to appoint Argentine coach Gerardo Martino as his replacement.
Martino, 50, has spent his entire managerial career in South America, including leading Paraguay to the 2010 World Cup where they were dramatically dumped out in the quarter finals by Spain – who featured players such as Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro, all players that Martino will seemingly have the chance to work with now.
Lionel Messi has voiced his support for Martino, saying “I like Tata Martino. He is a great coach and he showed that in the Clausura with what he did for the team, the way it ended and how he did it. He gets his teams playing well and we all respect him.”
Mundo Deportivo, a prominent Catalan news source, claims that the Barcelona players are almost certain that Martino will be confirmed as the new man at the helm – so with his appointment almost certainly on the horizon, what does the former Newell’s Old Boys manager bring to the table?
Martino’s reputation outside of South America is limited at best, with many people bound to be crying “Who?!” upon his arrival, but he is a highly thought of tactician who was schooled by none other than El Loco – Marcelo Bielsa. Having recently left Newell’s Old Boys after his contract expired, Martino was strongly linked with Real Sociedad and Malaga – and coming off the back of a league title win, it’s not difficult to see why.
Euan Marshall demonstrated Martino’s typical 4-3-3 formation and subsequent tactics at Newell’s here, and it was evident during Paraguay’s 2010 World Cup campaign too. Against Japan, Martino was forced to play with two classic 9’s – Lucas Barrios and Roque Santa Cruz. However, one striker would always be hovering over to the right hand side, whilst Edgar Benitez hugged the left touchline. The screenshots below clearly show the 4-3-3 system deployed by Martino.
In both shots, Paraguay’s number 20, Nestor Ortigoza, is anchoring the midfield and protecting the back four. This allows for the high pressing that Martino encourages to take place, forcing Japan to knock the ball aimlessly forward. Paraguay comfortable deal with the danger and regain possession.
Here, Ortigoza (circled in yellow) is again integral as he offers the “out” ball from the defence. He comes short to collect possession as the two full backs (circled in red) push forward. This is reminiscent of how Barcelona have played under both Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, where Sergio Busquets drops deep to start attacks and allows Dani Alves and Jordi Alba to go forward and attack.
Whilst there are facets of Paraguay’s build up and formation that are similar to Barcelona, there are differences seen from the game against Japan. With Santa Cruz and Barrios both standing at 6ft 2in tall, Paraguay do try and take advantage of their height and “mix things up” from time to time. Barcelona currently don’t have a recognised centre forward at the club, and it will be interesting to see whether Martino persists with using Messi as a “False 9” or looks to bring in a more classical “9” figure.
Barcelona came up short against Bayern in the Champions League last year, and their lack of a Plan B has cost them in big games before. Adding a different dimension to the Barcelona team has to be a priority for Martino, and his penchant for a more traditional centre forward would be a wise addition.
Despite winning the title last season, Barcelona’s season felt like a disappointment after the demolition against Bayern. It’s hard to gauge what the expectation will be from Martino’s first season, though a title challenge is almost a given. It will be the Argentine’s first experience of Champions League football though, and some teething issues should be anticipated. It may seem like an appointment out of left field, but Martino’s footballing philosophy fits nicely with the Barcelona that have dominated and the Barcelona that should be developed.