Talking tactics: lessons from FC Barcelona ways

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There’s an awful lot of good out there in the world of youth soccer.  But there’s a lot of “not so much,” too. Generally speaking, the world of competitive youth soccer is wrought with decisions that benefit the clubs and coaches, but too frequently ignore the best interest of the children (99.5 percent of whom will never earn a penny playing the game, but who could enjoy it at amateur or recreational level until they are 50, if they aren’t driven away by the endemic, hardheaded silliness of it all).

But let’s get into that some other time.

Here’s what I want to talk briefly about as it relates to youth soccer and to Barcelona FC’s intoxicating style. (Yes, yes, I know they are behind in the La Liga chase. Congrats to Real Madrid for finding a way to put a burr under Pep Guardiola’s butt. And yet, I continue to insist that Barca at its best is one of the very special teams this world has ever seen. Mesmerizing almost on command, they are truly playing a different game on most occasions.)

What in the world does this have to do with youth coaching? Something that always makes me roll my eyes a little is when I hear youth coaches talk about “creating triangles.”

I look forward to chatting a bit with Kyle Martino when I see him this weekend, connected to NBC’s coverage of FC Dallas-New York Red Bulls, which is also the debut match on NBCSN. See, I’ve played for a long time, and I’m OK. I’ve never played at professional level, so I’d like to hear from someone who has.

I suspect he’ll tell me this: players don’t think geometrically. I know I don’t. The game is too quick. Players just have time only to try improving passing angles as the game moves fluidly, at top speed.

So an amateur or a kid doesn’t see the game in shapes, either. And that’s why telling kids to “create triangles” is a silly thing, in my opinion. (So many kids are doing everything they can to trap and pass under pressure, which is why the best coaches are perennially stressing basic skills.)

Now, on the other hand, you can naturally create triangles. More accurately, I’d put it this way: If you do it correctly, and if you’re playing a shape that allows you to do so, the triangles create themselves.

And that’s the magic of Barcelona. Go back and watch today’s predictable destruction of Bayer Leverkusen. (OK, some destruction was predictable, but not that much.) Or watch the next time out for Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, et al.  They play in a beautifully orchestrated 4-3-3. With proper spacing, just enough positional discipline and steadfast attention to movement off the ball, the triangles arrive organically.

Here’s a great tactical explainer (with most of the same characters still involved) on what makes Barca’s 4-3-3 tick. (The lineup is a little dated, but it was one of the really good explanations, with a sweet set of graphics.)