Barcelona showcase flexibility with 4-4-2 system against Real Betis

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 17: Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Real Betis Balompie and FC Barcelona at Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 17, 2019 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 17: Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Real Betis Balompie and FC Barcelona at Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 17, 2019 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images) /
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Ernesto Valverde used last season as inspiration to come up with a solution in the absence of Ousmane Dembele.

Barcelona came away from the Benito Villamarin with a 4-1 win as Real Betis simply couldn’t deal with the brilliance of Lionel Messi. However, the team as a whole played well in a 4-4-2 diamond set-up as they pressed effectively and allowed Los Verdiblancos to win the possession battle. It could have been a bigger scoreline if it wasn’t for Luis Suarez’s ineffective finishing.

Ousmane Dembele picked up an injury in the 5-1 win over Lyon which has ruled him out for the next few weeks and Philippe Coutinho has struggled through the entirety of the season with his inability to adjust to Barcelona’s style as well as his predictable decision-making in the final third. Therefore, Ernesto Valverde tried a different set-up against Betis as he looked for alternate solutions and he doesn’t appear to trust Malcom even though he has impressed when given opportunities.

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Valverde essentially used his preferred formation from last season with Arturo Vidal taking Paulinho’s role in the team; this role suits him as he was allowed to press high up the pitch to disrupt Betis’ build-up play with his excellent ball-winning ability and he has the all-round skillset to combine effectively in the final third as well as make intelligent off-the-ball runs.

This approach worked well as they repeatedly broke up play and made Betis misplace passes in their own defensive third. This system could be used against Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-finals as the Catalans are tough to break down in this system, although their willingness to play direct contrasts completely with Betis who are very patient during build-up play.

Barca are reliant on Messi to be the hub of all their attacking play as he plays in a free role behind the striker which is a dangerous amount of responsibility for one player, but the Argentine isn’t an ordinary player as he showcased with his sublime hat trick. However, simplifying his performance down to goals doesn’t do him justice as it negates the variety of roles he fills.

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Having a variety of systems to play in makes them unpredictable which is especially useful in the Champions League where quick solutions are sometimes needed to break down opponents due to the knockout nature of the tournament. Coutinho hasn’t shown enough to suggest that he can step in for Dembele so Valverde was forced into this switch and has managed to come up with an effective solution.