Deportivo hosted Barcelona at the Estadio Riazor on 8th January, 2011.

Barcelona played a 4-3-3 formation lined-up as Valdes-Adriano Pique Puyol Abidal-Iniesta Mascherano Keita-Pedro Messi Villa.

Barcelona settled into the dominating style the whole world has become used to early on in the game. Pique shifted right, and Puyol took up the left-hand-side of the defence. Mascherano played as a false-CB or Abidal played on the left-hand-side of the defence , Puyol moved central and Mascherano moved higher hence THREE-AT-THE-BACK while attacking. From watching Barcelona, I have come to believe Guardiola is very comfortable with a player covering each zone in defence while Barcelona try to score when in possession. Iniesta played his simple passes all day to help retain possession from his position of the diagram while Keita shifted wide left helping build-up on the left flank from time to time. Very early-on, Pedro moved left, Villa moved central and Messi moved wide right to receive possession. Deportivo’s response to Barcelona’s domination was to sit deep.

As Macherano played a role similar to the false-CB (a position key to Barcelona which Busquets seems to have perfected), he received the ball a very good number of times and distributed the ball quite well though a very few number of long-range passes were off. It was from this position under little pressure, he passed the ball to Messi (also unmarked) in his wide right position who slipped a pass behind the back-line to David Villa who scored the first goal. Messi’s almost perfect timing in releasing the killer ball has been key to Barcelona this season as seen in the game against Madrid in the first-half of the season.

Deportivo build-up play usually looked to shift the ball into the wide areas. The build-up play wasn’t always rushed and Deportivo were frequently lulled into a false sense of security by Barcelona who defended a bit deep before resuming their aggressive tackling. Barcelona won the ball back and slipped Messi on the counter who had the whole field available to him to work his magic. By this time, Villa waiting in the flanks would begin his inside run and the Deportivo defence or what was left of it was guilty of making the wrong decisions. This scenario was developing early into the second half and Ruben Perez fouled Messi during his run about 30 yards from goal. This appeared a reasonable decision but Messi replied by scoring a beautiful free-kick.

The game continued to shift between periods of Barcelona domination and Deportivo “perception domination”. Whenever Barcelona settled into four at the back, there would be pressure on Deportivo in less areas and a perception of domination would fill the hearts and minds of the players. The Deportivo players would venture forward and hope to get a goal against Barcelona. The game played itself out between these two situation but as expected, Barcelona would dominate for long periods before “perception domination” by Deportivo would take place.

During a period of domination for Barcelona, Iniesta scored from a shot from the edge of the area to send Barcelona 3 goals up. Pique ventured forward and slipped the ball to Iniesta who surprised everyone with a shot which flew straight into the bottom corner of the net. It should be noted that whenever Pique ventured forward, Abidal shifted back into the defence to ensure Barcelona had three at the back. Once again, this shows that Guardiola believes three men can effectively cover the back-line when in attack/domination mode.

After this goal, a period of “perception domination” began for Deportivo again when Barcelona settled into their 4 at the back shape and then aggressively won the ball off Deportivo again and this time, Messi would not be put off by the desperate Deportivo tackles and slipped a ball to Pedro whose inside run was unpicked and he scored. Messi had run through a space which would have been filled with Deportivo players had it not been for “perception domination”.

The game ended 4-0 with all four goals being shared equally between periods of Barcelona domination and Deportivo “perception domination”. Deportivo made a few attempts to counter-attack but all these attempts were quickly snuffed out. Deportivo’s most glaring chance to score came doing a period of “perception domination”.


– Barcelona is a team used to having the ball but Guardiola in his belief that 3-AT-THE-BACK can dominate that zone of the field, Barcelona appear to have passed successfully against Deportivo.

-Deportivo on the hand is not a side used to dominating games. Barcelona drew the side out of their comfort zone and capitalized on this weakness.

– When Barcelona retained only three players at the back, Barcelona could exert more pressure on the Deportivo defence and could dominate their attacking attacking zones and secure their defence. Barcelona upon dropping into the full 4-man backline would ease the pressure on Deportivo allowing Deportivo periods of “perception domination”


The final key point is the lesson. It will be interesting to see whether Juventus employ 3-at-the-back and the advantages gained from their version of the system

Feel free to leave comments about anything you think and you can also recommend another team you feel play three-at-the-back while attacking. Ciao

3-AT-THE-BACK has a category dedicated to it

2 thoughts on “Deportivo Barcelona. 3-AT-THE-BACK Barcelona#1

  1. Great article, looks to be the start of an interesting series. My only question is: with only 3 at the back, would teams be more vulnerable to quick, direct counter-attacks? Barca probably sidesteps this due to their overwhelming possession every game, but if another team were to try this, are they gambling on possession?

    • Using a false-centre back helps and with Valdes does his best to deal with balls over the top. I don’t know how it would work for another team but I believe Juventus defend with my kind of 3-at-the-back too (Sorensen said something that points to that http://iltifosi.tumblr.com/post/2496098710) so I’ll watch and see how Juventus deal with having 3-at-the-back if I can spot it and I’ll be sure to blog the results. Thanks

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