Barcelona’s Midfield: Is it black and blue or is it gold and white?

Throughout a major part of this season I kept reading the phrase “no midfield”.

In football, this phrase is a huge assumption that usually leads to your team’s destruction against any opponent capable of controlling midfield.  More importantly, if a team didn’t have midfield it would definitely suffer terrible defeats. After all, a team can win a few matches with a bad midfield (honestly no team can, but play along) but a team can’t win a series of CONSECUTIVE away matches against very tough competition with no midfield. This phrase suddenly makes no sense.

However, to some, it does. And to others, this phrase represents a bad style of play. In other words, this phrase doesn’t represent Football Club Barcelona which happens to be a club with a glorious philosophy consisting mainly of a great attacking style of play.

What is a great style of play? What is a midfield that performs well? What is a midfield that wins matches? You’re suddenly suffering from a huge headache because of all the technical terms and the midfield related mess.

Even if you ask other football fans about Barcelona’s midfield they’ll say and I quote: “It’s not dominating the game. They’re not the same.”
But if you take this same midfield, put it in the team they support and then just watch the great performances that start to happen(like Barcelona’s performances nowadays) they would not even notice that their midfield “doesn’t exist” anymore.
It just makes you wonder. Is this really about “football” or is it about a memory of a recent Barcelona everyone (even non-Barca fans) is linked to?

This sentence represents everything you need to know about the birth of the “no midfield” phrase: “Barcelona’s midfield is not the same”. This happens to be modified into “this is not Barcelona” based on the topic being discussed.

Nothing related to Barcelona forces my attention more than a statement like “this is not Barcelona”.

A few years ago our great former coach, Pep Guardiola, implemented a style of play that was extremely dependent on midfield. The ball was being passed around in midfield until one of the midfielders found a chance for a through ball or anything similar. The amount of TIME the ball stayed in midfield with players surrounding it was enormous in every match. This is not exactly the perfect description but it truly was magical. This was labeled as “Barcelona’s style of play” and the memory of it all lasts until today.

The keyword here is memory, though.

Since we’re speaking of memories let us go back to the 2005-2006 period. We had a style of play back then too. It was also known as “Barcelona’s style of play” which is pretty ironic as it had nothing to do with Pep’s team. Edmilson was not even close to Busquets in any way. Xavi hadn’t hit his best form yet and Iniesta was young. Other midfielders like Deco were playing and they didn’t exactly play the same way Xavi or Iniesta do. Actually, that 2006 midfield had nothing to do with Barcelona’s most recent famous midfield.

The ball was actually forced onto Ronaldinho’s side as much as possible so that he could create chances. Barcelona even took every chance to counterattack and did not exactly plan to slow down the rhythm even if their style of play was full of flair and ‘sexy’ passing entertainment.

Again, this could all be proven with videos of matches in 2005 or 2006. But for stat lovers, this could be proven by the number of chances Ronaldinho used to create. On paper, Ronaldinho was in front of 3 midfielders. In other words, he was labeled as a forward the entire time. Yet, he also created most chances for Samuel Eto’o and others. Ronaldinho even went back to midfield to collect the ball himself and start something out of nothing. Does this remind you of anyone?

That specific Barcelona team was very entertaining and successful. I did not have great access to articles back then to read the evaluations of this team but I don’t remember hearing the phrases “this is not Barcelona” or “this is not Barcelona’s style of play”. Why? Simply because there was no recent memory of how Barcelona “should be”. In fact, Barcelona was praised for having a great style of play taking into consideration that Ronaldinho’s individual brilliance played a huge part in it all. Finally, there was nothing wrong with that.

Now, 9 years later, we’re in 2015 and the world of football keeps wondering: what is Barcelona’s style of play? I try to stay away from answering this question because my knowledge of what previous coaches did for this team is insignificant. But what I do know is that Barcelona’s style of play has always been about attacking football and creating as much chances as possible.

I do not really care who creates chances between our midfielders and forwards because these variables change a lot in a game of football. One day you’ll witness a match in which a midfielder causes a striker’s success (Rakitic-Suarez and other examples). Another day you’ll find your forward creating chances for your other forwards. The only thing that matters is that the chances are created.

It is interesting when people say “Barcelona’s midfield doesn’t exist and they have to depend on their forwards to create chances and score”. Let’s take a look at European and world champions Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo was leading the assist records a few weeks ago. Karim Benzema, who happens to be one of Real Madrid’s most crucial players, is a forward who is also a great playmaker.

What about Lucho’s current team?

What is visible from Barcelona’s “invisible” midfield *wink* is that the ball stays much less TIME in the area between the midfield line and the final third than it did during Pep’s era. The ball is immediately moved to the forwards who happen to be extremely talented and basically know how to do their own thing. This caused confusion and riot among Barcelona fans because this is not “how we operated”.

Suddenly the use of past tense is more intriguing than ever. Some clocks started ticking in 2009. Other clocks started ticking earlier.

One has the right to prefer one style of play to another. However, a phrase like “no midfield” goes beyond just Barcelona. It crushes everything football is based on to begin with. How can a club win without midfield? Forget about winning. How can a team play a few set of passes without a good midfield?
What is even the true definition of midfield? Did we, as Barcelona fans, create our own perfect image of what a midfield should be while completely disregarding reality and how much the game changes with respect to the type of players available?

So many questions I don’t have an answer for. However, there is one question I can answer: Do we have a midfield? For me, the answer is definitely yes.

As for the color of the dress, I have no clue.


  1. As I understand it, the phrase “no midfield” as used in this space didn’t mean that our midfield was bad or not doing its job but that we used tactics which were largely based on bypassing the midfield, i.e. long balls from deep to our forwards.

    With such tactics, the midfield DOES become less involved in offense, but that doesn’t mean that the phrase is meant as criticism of either our midfield players or the tactics used. In no way does it mean that the person writing it assumes that tiki-taka is the only way Barca is meant to play, which is what I think you were insinuating.

    1. I understand what u are sayin yung man bt u need to undstnd barca fifa ban,we plan to rebuild the midfield style of play bt due to ban things didnt work out,rakitic to xavi replacement is playing his own style and iniesta suffers injuries alot so blame no one nor coach cus next season we will be bck on track

  2. A very smart comment from Diana Kristinne, who comments here from time to time, but posted this on Twitter:

    Starting in 2010 Barça haven’t had a coherent sporting project. That’s kind of a tragedy, but it has happened and there’s nothing we can do about it now except for hoping (or acting depending on if you’re a fan or a card-carrying soci) that the guys responsible for this will be replaced come the elections in the summer.

    Said lack of sporting project has gotten us to the point where our major strength is our forward line, not our midfield as it was in the past. That means that the team cannot have a system based on midfield dominance with the squad we have right now. You need at least 2 world-class midfielders for that to happen.

    For this reason what I do ask for in the meantime until we return to a stable and Barça philosophy-based sporting project is for the team to be competitive and have a stable system. Between the Clasico in October and the La Real game in January I did not see such a system, which had made me lose faith in Luis Enrique and his project. But after the Anoeta game there has been a system, an idea, something that seems stable and makes us competitive. It plays on our major strength: the forwards. All the other players revolve around them and ensure that the team is balanced in order to sustain their brilliance.

    Is this my ideal of how Barcelona should play? No. But right now I feel that it’s the best chance we have to being a competitive team with the current squad. And after years of neglect of the sporting project, I’m willing to take that as a stopgap solution. I have no idea whether this team will end up winning stuff. No one can guarantee you titles. But I’m pretty sure we’re going to fight for them. And that’s fine with me.

    1. I’m confused now…isn’t that preference for a “Barca philosophy” or “ideal of how Barcelona should play” – essentially based on midfield dominance – not something that you, Kxevin, have spoken out against and ridiculed in numerous articles?

    2. Sorry about that, bad keyboard.
      You are not confused, if I am getting it right, he quoted that “very smart comment from Diana Kristinne”, to point out what he was speaking against in numerous articles, presumably in response to the first comment from ‘georgjorge’?

    3. Sorry for any confusion, but this will probably help:

      I am not for or against anything except the unwillingness to deal with the team that we have, rather than the team that people seem to want us to have.

      I think that ideas are important, rather than being for or against anything. Diana’s comment lays out exactly why she has issues with the way the team is playing now, identifies its root and makes it clear that she has come to terms with the way that things are. That’s an intellectual argument that should be respected.

      What builds a lot of complexity as people try to parse my views is that I don’t really HAVE an etched-in-stone, dogmatic view on anything. Anything at all. Only a fool wouldn’t love watching the pretty midfield triangles. I’m no fool. But I also understand that things change. The game changes and the players change.

      Granada deliberately crapped up their pitch in an effort to slow Barça down. That would have worked in the past. This year, the attack went over the top. Boom. Win. Ugly? That’s subject to interpretation. Effective? That isn’t subject to interpretation.

      It will save people a lot of time when trying to parse what I might think in the statement that there is nothing to parse. My arguments, however passionately or not they are stated, are mostly intellectual. I am for Barça, and against dogmatic views about the team and how it plays. Don’t say that Pedro is crap because he lashed a shot high and wide without acknowledging the other things that he does. Don’t say “I hate that our midfield plays differently,” without acknowledging that good things are happening. Balance is crucial for me. Life and football are never either/or.

      So when someone says the team won but isn’t playing the right way so it is flawed, for me that needs more explanation. Diana does that very elegantly. “It isn’t my ideal path, but it works, and because I love the team, let’s do this.”

      Further, I don’t, and never have believed that the team has to play any single way to be “right.” Because I believe that doesn’t mean I am “against” any other way or any proponents of any other way. Believe what you like, just explain it so that it doesn’t come off like a robed acolyte, chanting and waving a Pep Guardiola action figure.

      It’s why I am so bothered by accusations that I am “against” something or someone, or biased in favor of this or that player. Not only because I could give two craps about players, who are mere agents, but because taking someone’s credibility destroys any contention they can make. And when you say to someone, “You are against X or for Y player,” that is exactly what you do.

      It’s like the people who on social media rail at this blog for being a “cheerleader.” It’s easy to mistake objectivity for positivity if you need to do that. But this space should be about ideas. Pure ideas in the spirit of intellectual debate.

  3. Xavi and Iniesta (and arguably Busquets) are no longer the players they once were. Trying to play the ball through the midfield in the exact same way with lesser players will invariably get lesser results even if the teams we were playing against played in the exact same manner.
    Now the teams we are playing against are set up differently to how they were previously; they flood the centre of the pitch.

    If we could sign a 25yr old Xavi and a 25yr old Iniesta sure, we could play the high tempo ‘tiki taka’ and hope that every team we come up against lets us play.

    I don’t know, for me we needed to change, we have changed and now people don’t like that we’ve changed. I like it even if the football isn’t as beautiful.

    People questioned whether Rakitic was Barca quality… Rakitic was the best central midfielder in Spain last season by a country mile if people are being honest. In the previous post people suggested that he mightn’t be creative enough or have the speed of thought of Iniesta but Iniesta hasn’t gotten a single assist in 15 league matches this season, Rakitic has 5. He also has 4 goals to Xavi’s 1.
    Cesc wasn’t Barca quality either and has been proving his quality running Chelsea’s midfield as they march through the EPL.

    Ibrahimovic wasn’t Barca quality and is probably the best out-and-out striker of the past decade. Maybe, just maybe, we need to redefine what Barca quality is…

    1. Great post Ciaran! I was thinking of some similar things so consider my post below a variation on your own.

    2. Unless LE changes our style drastically Barca midfielder’s will always fit a certain template. The fact is that we have always produced these midfielders but it was Guardiola who changed our perception/approach as he insisted on playing in that particular manner.

      From a numbers’ point of view Iniesta is a failure. Even at his peak his numbers were never out of this world. Yet he was one of the planks on which our edifice rested. However much i loved Cesc his attributes did not suit Barca.

      Run a midfield? Control it? In my view Cesc does not do that. The rock on which the Chelsea midfield is built on is the unfancied Matic. Cesc is the cherry on top.

  4. I would like to develop a theory that will help us understand changes within the club since 2008-9, from the beginning of Pax Guardiolus to our age of Lucho’s creative anarchy today. It is the theory of Transfer Evolution that I will call the Zubi Principle after one of the most illustrious sporting directors in the history of the club. I offer this theory as an alternative to other competing ones that try to explain the condition our team is in today as well as the condition of the midfield.

    According to different understandings of evolution, change happens through several mechanisms which include two which are important here:
    1) Natural Selection
    2) Migration

    The assumptions here is that opposing teams will always try to counter their rival’s strengths through the use of tactics that seek to neutralize these strengths. Given this reality a team has three mechanisms to stay on top given these constant competitive adaptations.

    1) Change Tactics
    2) Change Players
    3) Change Coaches

    This theory should take into account important events in our club and recognize the consequences of these changes. Thus to understand why our team is in the condition it is today one must take factor the following changes to our club:

    1) The Eto/Ibra Transfer Failure
    2) The Rise of Messi as the World’s Greatest Player as a false 9
    3) the decision to sell Yaya and the rise of Busquet to form the classic Xavi-Iniesta-Busquest trio
    4) The failed Cesc Experiment and Thiago’s departure
    5) Mascherano’s temporary and then permanent use as a CB substitute for Puyol.
    6) The rise of different “tactics” as an effective adaptation in combating “tiki-taka” and Messi as a scoring machine
    7) Pep’s Departure and the instability resulting from a succession of managers
    8) The possible premature decline of Iniesta and the inevitable decline of Xavi due to age/wear and tear
    9) The most consequential Barca transfer since Ronaldinho: Neymar
    10) The decision this year to switch Sanchez for Suarez and bring in Rakitic instead of Kroos.

    I have some of my own ideas on these matters but would love any input.

  5. Go back and watch some games from 1996-97.The most entertaining Barca the last 25 years.People are so obsessed with Guardiola years that forget the other great teams we had…My favourite Barca game from a tactical point of view was the semifinal against a great Milan in 2006 away.Also i remember the two 3-3 against United,the 4-2 away against Arsenal and a lot other games.I love Pep.s Barca but we had and we will have in the future more entertaining teams;-)

    1. Hey Luis. I’ve watched some of those games and am surprised at how under-appreciated Ancelloti’s Milan is because of some of their Champions League slip-ups. But for Stevie G, they might have been one of the greatest dynasties in World Football.

  6. 100% with Dianne’s comments you posted above Kevin. I am glad people recognize that once can appreciate that we are winning AND not be a complete fan of the manner in which without having to be lectured or brushed aside for thinking we have ” no midfield”, is more nuanced than that, as she put so well.

    1. Excellent post on Masche and Busquets. Really clear and hints at the immensely complex job it must be to coach a team, come up with tactics, finesse all the skills/deficiencies/quirks of the players and still respond to a moving set of challenges (the other team) each week. Makes my head spin just thinking about it.

    2. Good article and agree with most points. Barca is like the Twilight Zone where world-class forwards and midfielders can look very ordinary if they don’t fit in the right way.

      Masche could not start at CB for many good clubs, but seems to be a better partner for Pique at this position than most other options. If only he were 5 inches taller and a little less reckless, but you can’t buy your players a la carte.

      Still would like to see Bartra get more chances to prove himself. For me, any game Mathieu starts instead of Bartra is to the detriment of our future.

    3. It’s a very good article. For me a major difference is playing with one or two defensive midfielders. Busquets is designed to be a pivote, a single deep positioned midfielder who is more like a sweeper in front of the defense. Masch is best suited to play next to a deep lying playmaker. If we were to line up like Milan in the mid noughties with Pirlo and Gattuso then Masch would be a more talented Gattuso.

      Someone who wants to compare the two of their skillsets will find plenty of things that both players are better at and it may be a case of horses for courses as to which players to choose. We’ll never play the same free flowing football with Masch in midfield.
      One could argue that Rakitic had a lot more freedom with Masch behind him allowing him to have more of an impact further up the pitch though.

      There is one thing that I still struggle with in terms of balance in the midfield. Xavi Busquets and Iniesta as a trio gives us practically no goal tthreat unless the front three do everything themselves. Xavi and Rakitic together tend to favour the same area of the pitch just right of centre and it hinders Xavi’s game. Rafinha isn’t tactically aware enough to start big matches with anyone except probably Xavi.
      It really guarantees that Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic is our best midfield for me and it seems to be bringing the best out of all of them.

    4. I’m not that tactically astute but since Dani seems the weak-link at this point, what about the idea of playing with three at the back in more games. Could be more of an opportunity to play Pedro or Bartra who might be better to have on the pitch.

  7. Given Alves leaves this summer, who will be our first choice rb? Do we trust Adriano?

  8. The inclusion of rafhinia means we’ll be more vulnerable defensively, Because he lacks the necessary positional awareness when it comes to defense and pressure, I thought it was evident in most of the matches he started in, But lucho seems to have lessened the burden on rafhinia by playing montoya on the right.

    We’ll almost definitely concede a goal, But a win for us will still be the best bet.

  9. Jonathan dos Santos scores… well I didn’t see that coming even if Villarreal deserve to be level on play so far.

    1. I wouldn’t say a break but certainly a ligament strain/tear. Could be the difference between a couple of weeks and a couple of months. Hopefully it’s not as serious as it looked at first.

    2. He’ll be lucky if it’s just ligaments. The foot was firmly planted, the Villareal player came full speed. There was no blood, which is good, but it can still be very bad, as in end of season injury

  10. Tomas Pina was determined to take out as many Barca players as possible tonight. He fully deserved his red and probably should have had 3 yellows even before that tackle on Neymar.

    1. Wonder if Red cards in Copa extend to La Liga? Hate to see players think that it’s a consolation to take out players once they know they are out of a competition.

  11. For anyone who missed it, here’s a link to Cristian Tello’s hattrick for Porto v Sporting Lisbon the other night…

    If he is used right he can be a lethal player. His burst of acceleration and coolness in front of goal is very impressive and hard to defend. Playing against a stretched defense he will be a nice option to have for next season hopefully. He does need consistency though.

    1. Completely subscribed to that, Ciaran.
      I am a massive fan of Tello.
      Kid’s got gob of talents that needs honing.
      Fortunately, he is at the right place to get game time.

    2. The first assist was such a beauty! And I like how Tello didn’t take an additional touch to score his goals; just placed his shot after the ball was in place.

  12. Busquets was sitting on the bench, smiling and talking late in the match. Not sure about the severity or anything, but FYI.

    1. I really do hope he’s in fine fettle.
      That was really horrific.
      Reminds me of a similar injury Ramsey suffered for arsenal.

  13. Good to see and lucky it was ankle and not a couple of inches higher. Shocking challenge.

    In another (more life affirming moment) Jonas Guttierez returns for Newcastle in a poor game against Man Utd – then gets booked a couple of minutes later for an awful challenge on Januzaj . . . You gotta love this game.

  14. Confirmed that Busquets has an ankle ligament injury, tests tomorrow to determine the exact extent of the injury. Hopefully nothing bad.

    1. Six weeks. Always was for me whether it was feeling not too bad or terrible. Mind you, in those days they just bandaged the ankle so tightly it couldn’t move and tried to send you out again in a couple of weeks. Real men in those days . . . Just that none of us can walk properly in old age 🙁

    2. Was always 7 for me Jim. about 4 weeks for the swelling and blood to move, then another 3 to regain strength and let them knit again. Of course, the issue is, after you have done it more than say, twice (ive done it about 4 on both feet) – you would know like I do the scartissue and the range of movement is so limited due to the healing that sadly, they are ever so easy to roll over again due to the lack of give post healing.

  15. I only saw the first half today, and was baffled by how easy it seemed for Villareal to create chances inside our box. With more composed finishing, they could have had three goals in that first half. I’m not sure how much of that was down to the actual defenders and how much to the poor defense (or lack of defense) from Iniesta and Rafinha.

    Having said that, at that point in the season players DO need to conserve their energy, and some of them probably entered this game not exactly with hundred percent – and they were right in the end.

    I also think any high curve ball from the right side of the box to the left inside the box should be renamed to “the Messi pass” (as in, “in the 70th minute, Bale tried a Messi pass to Ronaldo but failed to deliver”). He just does them so well it’s unfair.

    1. It’s great chaos ball, isn’t it?

      Those are always a nightmare to defend against…they don’t hang in the air, they have wicked curl on them, and they land just outside the yard box. Perfect

    2. Or how much was down to a pretty good opponent who was inches from beating RM the other day… perhaps we need to get used to this a bit; a price for the space that may be allowed our attackers as consequence. Note the counter Messi started (from his own box!) where Ney should’ve set up Suarez for a goal…

  16. Weird game. I’d echo many of the comments here – Villareal had way too many good chances in the first half, Busquets injury terrible, 2nd half goals really nice, but with the caveat of coming against 10 men, and vs. a demoralized side at that poipoint. Still, on to Bilbao.

    Ray Ray mentioned that Montoya had a great first half hour – I want what he’s smoking. I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt this game, watch him with fresh eyes and all that, but what I saw from him made me cringe. He did a little bit better later on, and the kid is obviously short of confidence at the moment, but if he becomes our first choice RB, or even gets a lot of games as a second choice, we are in some deep doo doo. Some people had mentioned Bartra as an emergency RB. I didn’t know this was even a possibility, but if so, get the kid some minutes soon, because as bad as Dani has been for (most, though not all) of this season, it could get much, much worse when he leaves, and he will leave.

  17. Oh, and on the subject of midfield evolution, I’m OK with more directness and tougher tackling, but having opposing teams camp out in our half with possession for any length of time – totally not cool. It hasn’t been a problem too often, but I’ve been seeing a bit more of it than I’d like (like in the first half tonight).

    Still, to leave on a positive note – has this been an interesting (in a good way) season or what?

  18. Not sure about our game, just glad we won it.
    Lots of space between the midfield and defense allowed Villareal players to create chances – me think.
    Rafinha wasnt good defensively,and Iniesta had to work lot on defense.
    I really hope Busquets is back for Mancity and RM.

    1. and to not miss at all – Montoya was ok, better than some poor game from Alves. Youngster lacks confidence and also understanding with players – especially going forward – and he wont get that from bench.

  19. I feel a toilet repainting coming on . . .

    From Barcastuff: Real Madrid don’t want cup final to be played at the Bernabeu stadium. Both Barcelona and Athletic want to play at Madrid’s stadium. [cope]

    1. last time we played in the Copa final, RM said it couldnt happen in Bernabeu because of some (un)planned maintenance to the pitch. I wonder what their excuse will be this time.

      It’s this sort of thing that elevates the game from simple Sport to something Political. very silly on the part of RM.

    1. curious where you read that Chevvy? (can I call you that? 🙂 )

      on the official site i didnt find anything giving an estimated time….just this from earlier today:

      “Las pruebas realizadas han confirmado que el jugador sufre una lesión en la sindesmosis del tobillo derecho. El jugador es baja para el partido con el Rayo y la evolución marcará su disponibilidad para los próximos partidos “.

      “The tests performed have confirmed that the player suffers an injury in the syndesmosis of the right ankle. The player is out for the Rayo match and his progress will determine his availability for the following matches.”

      also found this on wikipedia: “Injuries to the ankle syndesmosis are commonly known as a ‘high ankle sprain’.”

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