Amidst the constant barrage of transfer rumours about potential arrivals and exits at Barca, most people are still wondering what formations and tactics the Blaugrana will use in the 2020/21 season. Barca has preseason games against Gimnàstic, Girona and Elche, which can provide an early glimpse of Ronald Koeman’s plans. However, I think we can glean a more accurate picture from Koeman’s 20-year career as a manager.
Before joining Barca, Ronald Koeman managed nine clubs over 17 seasons. He used a variety of formations across the seasons and within the seasons. He does not hesitate to adapt his shape to specific opposition teams, especially top teams. Here is a summary of Koeman’s most frequently used formation in each club season he managed, together with the respective league finishing position:
Koeman has used the 4-3-3 Attacking formation (single pivot) the most, 7 out of 17 times to be exact. What’s more important though, is that in his last four club seasons with Southampton & Everton, he used the 4-2-3-1 formation. In those four seasons, Koeman developed his signature style in which he depends on a double-pivot with a dynamic front-4 that can switch positions with each other during an attack, supported by attacking Fullbacks.
15/16 Southampton 4-2-3-1
Aston Villa vs Koeman’s Southampton, 15/16 season (FT: AVL 2 – 4 SOU)
In the goal above, the LW and RW are both playing on the right during the buildup. The AM combines with the RW to move the ball forward, before passing the ball to the Left Back (LB). As the ball progresses up the pitch, the LW quickly runs back to his natural position on the left, forcing the LCB and LB to follow him out on the left. The AM quickly moves forward into the box, causing the RCB to follow him out onto the right. The ST, who was hovering just outside the box, is free to move into the vacant central area in the box, receive the cross from the LB and score. I call this the Koeman overload.
16/17 Everton 4-2-3-1
Koeman’s Everton vs Southampton, 16/17 season (FT: EVE 3 – 0 SOU)
In the goal above, the 2 DMs hold their positions at the halfway line. The AM drops deep to get the ball from the CBs. The AM then combines with the LB and LW in a series of 1-2 passes as they move the ball forward. In the final third, the LB passes the ball to the LW, who then slides it to the RW playing on the left. Because the ST is lurking on the right, ready to make a darting run to his left to put away a through ball, the Southampton player fouls the RW to cut off the cross, conceding a penalty. Another Koeman overload.
We can see that Koeman loves using an overload to create a numerical advantage. Wide Fullbacks and a dynamic front-4 that makes intelligent runs to open up space for each other are vital to this tactic. The double-pivot, made up of 2 DMs, stays put to intercept the ball should the opposition steal the ball and try to start an attack on the opposite side of the overload. An overload counter-attack isn’t very likely because the opponents also move to the other side to counter the overload. With intelligent players, this strategy can work wonders.
Now, let’s look at how this translates to Barca for the 2020/21 season under Koeman.
The current Barca Squad
Barca is currently pretty stacked with forwards and midfielders but is lacking reliable options in defence, especially among the Fullbacks. With the fantastic shot-stopper, Ter Stegen, out injured for about four weeks of the start of the season, it is more important than ever that our backline is solid. Now, taking into consideration Koeman’s previous formations at other clubs and what we’ve seen so far in the preseason game, let’s see how the Blaugrana could potentially lineup under Koeman.
It is most likely that this will be Koeman’s primary formation for the season. In this lineup, Neto starts in goal because Ter Stegen is injured. Lenglet and Pique start at CB. Umtiti is wounded, and Todibo’s future at Barca is uncertain. Alba and Semedo are the Fullbacks while De Jong and Pjanic play as the pivots. Coutinho is the AM with Dembele and Messi on the wings. Griezmann starts as the sole striker.
In possession, Pjanic will drop back into a back-3 for the buildup. Semedo takes an advanced position of the right since Messi plays centrally. Alba is more defensive than usual because there is a natural LW in Dembélé. De Jong becomes a CDM and forms a midfield block to cover for Semedo if he drifts out of position in a counter and to cover for Messi if he loses possession in the central areas. Coutinho drifts to the left to share that central area with Messi. He can also execute his trademark move: cut-in on his right foot and shoot straight into the far-side top corner. He can also support Griezmann by playing as a Second Striker: a more natural position for the Frenchman.
4-3-3 Attacking formation
Koeman always adapts his formations during a season, depending on the opposition he faces. He will most likely turn to Barca’s traditional 4-3-3 Attacking formation in specific matches, depending on the opposition and the players available. The only difference in this formation is that there is a single pivot and no AM. So, De Jong is the sole DM, Coutinho plays as a CM instead of an AM, and Puig replaces Pjanic as the second CM.
The tactics are similar to 4-2-3-1 tactics. De Jong is part of the back-3 but can play in a more advanced position. Puig plays just behind Messi and Coutinho has to create from a deeper, narrower role in midfield.
I made some alternative lineups for both the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3- formation. Do you like any of them?
Overall, I am happy with the 4-2-3-1 formation. It maximizes the quality of the lineup and puts most players in their best positions. There are a few issues that Koeman will have to resolve, mainly the backline and incorporating Coutinho into the squad. Here are my conclusions: