ito has essentially streamlined Pep's system. This has done two things:
#1 Allow Barcelona to rape the league by scoring a ton more goals
#2 Cause Barcelona to concede the most amount of goals in a league campaign since before Pep
This can entirely be pinned down on a couple things that Tito has changed.
First and foremost, he has taken the team from Xavi and given it to Messi. It is very much a "give Messi the ball" team at this point, which is good because, as aforementioned, it has allowed them to score more goals than they have in a long time. But it is terrible because it has pushed them away from the foundations Pep laid which made the club so dominant for the past several seasons.
This, in my opinion, can be blamed almost entirely on the Chelsea tie from last season's CL. After that match, many people came away saying how ineffective Barça were against a quality opponent who squeezed the pitch. There were a lot of cries for a more entertaining team who could score at will. Tito obliged and here we stand.
What people don't realize though is that Tito's Barça doesn't even play a possession system anymore. Sure, they may win statistical possession, but that is solely because they have an entire better XI than 9/10 squads they face.
Under Pep, possession wasn't the name of the game. Believe it or not it wasn't the central idea to their identity. It just happened to be an instrument they used to win matches. Pep's squads used possession in a methodical manner to gain numerical advantages, twist the opposition out of shape and, most importantly, prepare them for life without the ball. Xavi organized the players and then poked and prodded until an advantage was won and a shot was put on goal.
If the ball was lost, it was almost instantly won back thanks to the organization and pressing of the Barça players. This has literally disappeared under Tito. Because he has shifted the emphasis to offensive proficiency through Messi, the team is rarely organized in the opponent's third. Which means that when they lose the ball, they have to work much harder to attempt to win it back. This has directly resulted in the increase in goals allowed by Barcelona this season.
Bayern, and Milan to a less effective manner, have the blueprint to beat this team. Jupp pushed a high line, squeezing Messi further up the pitch, and put Javi on Iniesta, effectively removing Barcelona's entire attack. WIthout Xavi pulling the strings, Barça were unable to break down the Bayern defense, the ball was lost in the wrong places, and Barça subsequently got skinned defensively.
TL;DR: Pep's teams were dominant against big clubs, but often ineffective against smaller ones. Tito's team destroys the smaller clubs, but struggles with the bigger clubs. The team needs to be given back to Xavi, but Barça certainly need to sign a world class CB in addition to that.
Thanks for excellent post. It's a very good point about Barca's extreme possession based attack under Pep actually functioning to maintain position for the high pressure.
When Luis Enrique tried to install a very similar style at Roma it really highlighted the point you make about defensive
positioning when in possession. What's often seen as the most impressive part of Barca's game under Pep, that ability keep 70% of possession with a million one touch passes and back passes in tight spaces, actually came off pretty easily with guys like De Rossi, Totti, Pjanic, Lamela, Gago etc.
The big difference though was that Roma came nowhere near what Pep's Barca was doing in closing down counter attacks immediately by having all the passing angles covered and 2-3 players winning back the ball. Without that you saw a lot of matches where we had 70% possession, 3-1 passes completed but still gave up the best chances of the match.
It's that defensive aspect was the real "demoralizing" part of their style. The possession wears a bit of the defense but it's the impatience that not being able to get out of the back third lends that often opens the most spaces.
Enrique and the Directors who brought him received a lot of criticism along the lines that Serie A, much more than other leagues, are full of the type clubs top to bottom that prefer not to have possession, keep their shape with the patience of Job but are deadly on the counter and it was a fantasy to think the "Barca" system would work consistently. In short, all the clubs already practice to play the style Bayern changed to
specifically against Barca.
There's probably a lot of truth to that. There's also truth the criticism that Totti could fit perfectly in that style attack as there's probably no better player in the world at picking out through balls in tight spaces but defensively he wasn't going to be able to hound the ball the way Messi was. Pjanic, Lamela, Osvaldo, Gago etc were similar in terms of being fantastic in possession but often on the wrong page in pressing.
Actually, that's why Enrique started using Borini so much as he wasn't as good in possession but much more keenly aware and active defensively. When he was playing you saw more goals that were a result of keeping possession for 5 minutes but then losing it only to win it back with the defense out of shape. For all the talk of Barca breaking down teams through possession, it's often glossed over how many of their actual goals (especially non-Messi goals) come from turnovers or near turnovers and the opposition moving out of position to counter.
TL;DR: Looking at Roma under Enrique, where the possession numbers and chances created by that possession were similar, reveals the degree to which defensive positioning and pressure was as much the key to Barca's success under Pep as simply wearing down teams through possession based buildup.