Why Barcelona should consider a 3-5-2 formation

After their disappointing 2-1 defeat in Sevilla, it is clear that Luis Enrique must take measures in order to get Barcelona's season back on track.

For a moment, let us go back in time to 2010. That year, three Barca players, namely, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi finished on the Ballon d’Or podium. That year, Barca scraped past Sevilla 3–2 at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan en route to the 2009/10 league title. In a match in which none of the three players on the Ballon d’Or podium in 2010 will take part, the result could not have been less encouraging.

Xavi is no longer at the club, while Messi and Iniesta are down in the treatment room. Barcelona’s worst fears have been realised, and after a summer of lull on the transfer front, things are tighter than ever for Luis Enrique’s side, who are chasing a repeat of history this term.

Perhaps the league title might already look a bit too far-fetched this season, but there are plenty reasons to believe why Enrique has the managerial nous to turn things his way despite being on the wrong end of luck in recent weeks.

Without Messi, Barcelona are half the team, and without Iniesta, Barcelona are even lesser than half. This brings to light Enrique’s tactical ingenuity, which could mean a temporary departure from the template 4–3–3.

Barcelona’s 4–3–3 works wonders when the front-3 comprises Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. But with Messi out, the MSN trio is bereft of its spine, which in turn makes the 4–3–3 far less effective. Particularly when you consider Munir and Sandro are the options in place of Messi.

Against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday, Barca struggled with the high block pressing of the German club, and were lucky to come away with a win after a late rally. That late rally offered enough pointers that 4–3–3 isn’t really the way forward without Messi to draw opponents out.

With the scarcely-used 3–5–2 heavily mooted, it could provide Enrique with an option to fill the round hole with round pegs, rather than putting square pegs as would have been the case with the 4–3–3, or the rough diamonds of Munir or Sandro alongside Neymar and Suarez in attack.

The 3–5–2 fits in perfectly with the personnel at Luis Enrique’s disposal. The three centre-backs can be any three from Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu, Marc Bartra and even Sergio Busquets. While the three in midfield can be filled by Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic and Mascherano.

Sergi Roberto, who has been favoured mostly as a right-back this season in the injury-induced absence of Dani Alves, is primarily a box-to-box midfielder but has had to tweak his style and curb his instincts to be part of a team as successful as last season’s Barcelona. And it seems the 23-year-old’s patience and endeavour has finally come to fruition.

Ideally, Roberto alongside Rakitic and a deep-lying Busquets is the midfield of choice if we look at the squad. The trio, who will be flanked by Alves and Jordi Alba as the two wing-backs, provides a nice balance to the line-up. And considering neither Munir nor Sandro will need to be accommodated in the 3–5–2, it is a win-win situation for the club.

Barca have conceded nine goals already this season and four in a single game, and the need for defensive solidity assumes greater importance given the creative tools of Messi are currently unavailable. With the Blaugrana struggling in front of goal, increased defensive solidity is clearly the answer in troubled times.

That is why a three-man defence needs to be deployed by Enrique. Against Celta Vigo in that 4–1 defeat, Barcelona’s back line was heavily exposed as they put numbers forward in attack. With a three-man defence though, chances of getting outnumbered at the back reduce significantly as teams rarely put four up front against Barca.

There are a number of downsides of the 3–5–2 but looking at the larger picture, the pros easily outweigh the cons. Given Neymar will operate in the more congested central zone, and Barca might be subjected to attacks from wide areas, but the 3–5–2 provides a better base to initiate attacking moves when you don’t have the inspiration of Messi.

Sometimes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and if Enrique is looking to grind out positive results until his talisman returns back from injury, the 3–5–2 formation’s mix of central overloads and better defensive stability means Barca will do well to use that blueprint.

By Abhijit Bharali, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter here