When Tito Vilanova replaced Pep Guardiola as Barcelona’s first team manager, he was expected by most to merely pick up where Guardiola had left off. It was assumed that Barcelona would keep their very same identity, with little to no change in their principles and style of play. With the players in the squad and fabulous youth system, the manager made little difference at Barcelona, some said.

But Tito Vilanova’s first few months as a manager have completely disspelled this notion; while they may have been subtle, there have been changes and the personal mark of the new manager can be clearly seen in a lot of aspects. The squad is pretty much identical (with Alba and Song as the only new additions), as is the basic way of playing football – Barcelona’s famous tiki taka style. But by watching any of the matches Barcelona played this year, it is evident that this is not the exact same team that dominated football under Pep Guardiola for four seasons.

One of the changes some people have noticed is that Barcelona have been playing many more long balls under Tito Vilanova, especially ValdAi??s and the defenders. While short intricate passing remains the club’s identity on the football pitch, long balls haven’t been frowned upon this season as much as under Pep Guardiola. But that’s a relatively minor change, and not that can be said to affect the team’s identity in a very significant way. The most important changes Tito has brough is revealed in the way Barcelona have grinded out some wins in the final minutes when all seemed lost (for instance against Granada and Sevilla).

Pep Guardiola was a fantastic manager, but also a very stubborn idealist. HeDoing a great job so far had an idea of how to play football beautifully and efficiently and he always sticked to it even when it was seemingly not working during matches. Even while down/level with a few minutes to go, Pep simply refused to change anything, the key was to remain patience and persevere. That blind faith in the team’s default style brought great results, but it was also a downside in some important games, namely the two Champions League ties that Barcelona lost in 4 years under Pep – if the opponent managed to find an effective way to defend against the Catalans, Barcelona showed no variety in their game to overcome it. Tito has been showing far more willingless to change things up during matches, moving around players, taking out defenders, adding strikers – in short, take risks to overcome a negative situation even if it goes totally against the preconceived tactical approach. While Barcelona were known to have lost some matches many felt they should have during the Guardiola reign, the opposite has happened this season with Barcelona winning matches they seemingly had no business. Tito’s side could have easily lost at Osasuna and Sevilla and drawn against Granada, but they won each of these matches in the dying minutes.

The football on display doesn’t catpure the imagination as Pep Guardiola’s side this, it’s definitely not as magnificently flawless and beautiful. But Tito Vilanova’s version of Barcelona has shown a quality that Pep Guardiola’s somewhat lacked: the ability to win ugly, to grind out matches. In fact, the win at the Snachez Pijuan was the first time in the club’s history that Barcelona won a match after being down at the 88th minute. Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona doesn’t feel as peerless and untouchable as Guardiola, they don’t suffocate every opponent like they used to – this was especially evident in the three El ClA?sicos of this season – but they know what they need to do to win. It’s basically a less exuberant yet more experienced and ruthless Barcelona. The opponents don’t feel as suffocated as before, but they still usually end up on the losing side.

Tito Vilanova must take a lot of the credit here for his boldness during matches and the belief/fighting spirit he has instilled. He has fully abandoned the 3-4-3 often used by Guardiola as a primary tactic last season, but shown more willingless to change his default 4-3-3 during matches when the situation demands it – in clear contrast with Guardiola, whose changes happened mostly in the final 15 minutes and didn’t bring anything new tactically.

It is clear that the quality of the football has gone down a few notches, but the truth is that Barcelona seem poised to win yet another La Liga trophy and compete for the Champions League. This is not the magical Barcelona of Pep Guardiola, but the Tito Vilanova version of Barcelona is quite fearsome itself and promises to try and retain its domination over Spanish and European football.

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8 Responses to “Barcelona’s Corner: What Has Changed at the Club Under Tito Vilanova”

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  1. You forgot to add another important point. Vilanova allows players to use their individual skills which Pep Guardiola seemed to be dead against. It was after so long, which went missing in the post-Rijkaard era, we got to see Messi’s mazy runs. Also Pedo seemed to turn back the years. It is no longer death by a 1000 passes and no end result. Good article !!

    • Emeka says:

      Sadly, you’re completely wrong. I do not want detail how because I believe even having such notion would make an attempt to explain how beautiful and pristine the Pep Guardiola system was. He had his weak points yes, one of which the writer pointed out, but your claims against his style are just plain ludicrous. Sorry, but that’s for lack of better words. In fact Guardiola brought out the best of players like Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique , Puyol, Valdez….especially Lionel Messi whom he reinvented the False 9 position which apotheosis-ed an already amazing genius. I’ll leave you with a video which should change your opinion. Please watch. And enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk1DQBruwnQ

      • Emeka says:

        Typo. * I do not want to detail how because I believe even having such a notion would make an attempt to explain how beautiful and pristine the Pep Guardiola system was futile*

        Cheers.

        • anoop menon says:

          I am in no way telling Guardiola was a lesser mortal. I have been following Barcelona from the Rijkaard, down to Guardiola and the present Vilanova. What I noticed was that under Rijkaard, Barcelona were IMHO simply flamboyant where it was a healthy mix of individual talent and tiki-taka. For me that team (2004-2006 at it’s peak – 2007-08 was not bad either) was the best of this millenium and your observation (rather well known) of the false 9 is all true, but if you happen to check on youtube of the quality of goals that Messi scored between 2005-2008 vs 2008-2012 (I am talking again of quality and not quanity) you would get my point. What Guardiola did was curb the selfishness of Messi and made him more of a team player and as a result you could easily see the contributions made by Iniesta (IMHO the best player Barcelona has) and Xavi; both of which used to get overshadowed by Ronaldinho’s and Messi’s individual skills. Guardiola made Barcelona a ruthless passing machine but if I were asked to pick I would go with Rijkaard. The team did not fail due to a lack of plan B, it simply failed due to lack of hunger. Guardiola’s team relied more on their passing and less of individual skills as opposed to Rijkaard where a team like Chelsea would not have parked the bus because it wasn’t all about possession football. They were a more human team (Chelsea Vs Barcelona 2005 CL series will be a good start for you to watch) and definitely a 100 times more fun to watch. It wasn’t a passing carousel – I am not saying one is better than the other, but I find Vilanova’s style closer to Rijkaard. You talk so highly about Messi the false 9. Please watch Messi’s best goals (2005-2008) and do you think Guardiola would have encouraged him to score goals like he did against Getafe (that is just one of the many he scored with those runs from near midfield). Guardiola wasn’t for individual accolades as he was for team spirit and that is why everyone shone in his team. But how many goals did Barcelona score from dead ball situations during the Guardiola vs Rijkaard regime ? Now Messi has stepped up (rather he started practising dead ball situations last year). I am a huge fan of the tiki-taka but when mixed with flamboyance and individual skills I would say Rijkaard’s Barcelona at it’s peak would any day beat Guardiola’s Barcelona. I was a big fan of Iniesta during the Rijkaard era, but it was trivial in Guardiola’s time that Barca was all about Midfield. Please watch and enjoy this ! (My connections is slow but assuming this video was uploaded 4 years ago I am hoping it is what I hope it to be : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZnUr8lcqjo)

          • anoop menon says:

            Not many know that Rijkaard’s Barcelona always had an average possession per game of 60-65% with the exact same brand of possession football. Guardiola’s had it to 70 % (by curbing selfish plays). He just got a good team to begin with, while Rijkaard got a team that was lying 7th in La Liga and took it to the top. Again for the purist both are great, but at times a 1000 passes with no end result did look boring (a Barca fan viewing objectively)

  2. Sameldihno says:

    Both of them have really tried deir best, tito gives room 4individuals ability more than pep. Pep make futball easier. Pep bliv dere s enof time while bliv dere s no much time 2waste.

  3. Abdullahi Sani says:

    barcelona,pep and tito they are all product of one woman,and that woman is barca,

  4. FCBarca says:

    Haven’t truly been watching to claim Tito has completely abandoned the 3-4-3