Barcelona's Attacking Scheme

By Benjamin Pugsley | September 11, 2013

Barcelona's Attacking Scheme


Unless you happen to be one of those strange, macabre souls who actually enjoys International football then this is a quiet time. Very quiet. During these International weeks I do almost anything but watch football; I will read a book (gasp!) or play the guitar, hell, I may even do some DIY. Or, I will goof around with some football numbers if only to fill the gap where watchable football once resided.

During this dullest of football weeks I decided to add a few of Europe's big teams to my intricate Game State database. Bayern Munich, Dortmund, PSG, Real Madrid, Juventus, Napoli and Barcelona were the seven teams I thought to be of interest. This Game State database I speak of looks at things TSr, SoTR, Fenwick and PDO but the one thing I had forgotten that was included in this database was an automatic breakdown of each teams shots type (Missed/blocked/on target) for & against.

Now, I understand it is very early in the season to be drawing conclusions about any given teams' strategy but Barcelona's shots outcomes profile so differently to any other teams (Europe's big 7) that I had to write a short fluff piece about it. Barcelona are weird, they are also incredibly unique.

Barcelona Shots For Outcomes

I have used a traffic light system here: Green=good (Shots On target) Red=Bad (Missed Shots) Blocked=Yellow (Meh)


As previously stated, it is very early in the season but this strange looking graph is a pretty curious thing. Barcelona's ability to get the shots they take on target is pretty ridiculous. Looking at Barca at Tied we can see that they get a staggering ~72% of their total shots number on target and at +1 that number is over 50%. These numbers will probably regress some over the coming weeks.  but we do know that Barcelona have a pretty unique attacking scheme which focuses on taking shots from prime locations.

Barcelona do this by exhibiting a tremendous amount of patience, but it goes further than this. Patience with the ball, extremely good shots discipline and constant movement from the forward players certainly help. But really it's about the attacking scheme: width from fullbacks, creating odd-man overlaps and the wide receiver style routes of most of the attacking players.

To add to all the brilliant little things that Barcelona did well, it seems that under the new management of Martino, an even more visible mixed strategy is in place. Martino's scheme still has that mesmerizing short passing, but also has the through ball down the middle for the wide players who move in centrally which, by my eye, may only be possible due to Barcelona playing a longer pitch (distance from the center backs to the highest forward player) and thus stretching the opposition out. This creates space between the opposition lines and draws the opposition out further away from their own goal.

Let's use the Valencia v Barcelona to explain this stretched pitch tactic and highlight why Barcelona may be getting so many of their shots on target so far this season.


Pitch Stretch

An example of the pitch stretch with the two wide players (Pedro & Neymar) staying high up as an outlet for the more direct ball over the top and thus forcing Valencia's defenders to stay deep.


The next shot again shows Pedro and Neymar staying high and wide.


Remember how Pedro and Neymar's high and wide positions stretch the pitch and provide a passing outlet? This is what happens when one of Barcelona's attacking mids gets the ball in a good passing location.....


Fabregas is going to slot that ball through the middle as both wide players curl in and run a football-type post route.


Boom, through ball to the curling wide players who stay high to stretch the pitch vertically  and stay wide to stretch the pitch horizontally.



Virtually identical to the previous screen shot, Neymar again curls in from the left and the passer has time to thread the ball through. Again, look at the gap between Valencia's midfield to defence and defence to 18 yard line. This is an option Barcelona just did not have last season when Messi dropped deep and Iniesta tucked in.



Again, the pitch is stretched and this time Messi is the outlet. Yet again a simple vertical ball exploiting the space between defensive line and 18 yard line.

These last 4 screen shots point to a couple of things:

  • Valencia's defensive scheme was a mess.
  • Barcelona are definitely using the direct through ball as an attacking option.
  • The width and high pitch option offered by Pedro, Naymr and Messi is going to cause some teams problems, especially if Barcelona remain this stretched out thus stretching the opposition out.

Attacking Variety

Returning to the graph that pointed out Barcelona's excellent SoT% numbers I want to quickly show a couple of images of the mixed strategy that generates such high shots on target percentage numbers.

Passing With Width From The Left

Alba joins the passing blitz on the edge of the oppostions box.


Passing Through The Centre

Here we see Barcelona's big guns trying to work the ball through the middle. In shot: Neymar, Messi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Pedro.


Passing With Width From The Right

Dani Alves provide the wide right option, Iniesta provides the inside right option. All the players inside the box are providing movement for a pass. This drags the defenders into the box which opens up space for Messi to move and shoot or pass to Fabregas for a shot.


In short, Barcelona use a multitude of weapons in an attempt to generate scoring chances. They use fullback width on both sides to create passing lanes and shooting options. Barcelona try and work the ball through the middle with utilizing their incredible close range passers and the skill of the individual. And going back earlier in the piece, they use width and players positioned high up the pitch to stretch the field and provide an out ball option which tries to create a shooting opportunity or to get a Barcelona player isolated with an opposition defender which will be, on most occasions, a complete mismatch.

Barcelona already employed a pretty varied attacking scheme but the addition of Neymar, who gives the team a left-right balance, and Martino appear to have given Barcelona even more weapons in which to hurt the opposition.

This scheme needs testing against more robust opponents than Valencia and the real tests will come against European opposition. But it's a bright start from Martino thus far. Tactical tweaks needed to be made and Barcelona may have found a coach (Martino) and a player (Neymar) who can offer even more variety to what was an attacking scheme that felt like it was slowly being figured out by quality opposition.