The last season was a disappointing one for the Catalan giants; not only were they knocked out of the Champions League at an early stage, they effectively threw away the Spanish League title and lost the chance to win three titles on the trot. More than the statistical failure, the way the season imploded amongst dissension within the team and tactical errors seemed to suggest that they were coming to an end of a mini-dynasty.

One knew that there would be a response; afterall a team like Barcelona is not used to failure but few would have guessed that the answer would come in the shape of Thierry Henry. The mercurial striker joined Barcelona after more than a year of courtship and his arrival has turned the dark clouds of failure into rays of optimism and hope.

More than just adding a superstar, the Frenchman’s arrival gives Barcelona an awesome frontline. Even Barcelona’s captain Carlos Puyol was moved to describe them as, “perhaps the best attack line in the world. The rest of Europe and Spain will be terrified.” After all, who chance would any defence have against the likes of Henry, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o?

Yet the critics are not satisfied; already questions are being asked about how Frank Rijkaard is going to fit them into his favoured 4-3-3 and who is going to be dropped. Actually there is a way in which Rijkaard can accommodate all his superstars and Barcelona’s subsequent signings follows this same train of thought. One only has to look at Brazil and how they managed to play Ronaldinho with Ronaldo, Kaka and Adriano together at the last World Cup for a clue.

The answer lies in a change of formation; a switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 would solve the problem. Both Eto’o and Henry may be used to being the focal point of the attack but they are also versatile enough to play with another partner so pairing them both upfront is a no-brainer.

The key to making this work is to utilise Ronaldinho and Messi as inside-halves instead of employing them as wingers. With their skills set and dribbling abilities, they are more than capable of stretching defences by going outside to the flanks or cutting in towards goal. With Henry and Eto’o’s propensity to move to the sidelines to draw defenders out as auxiliary wingers, both Ronaldinho and Messi would have even more space to manoeuvre. This is very similar to Brazil’s famed 4-2-2-2 ‘magical square’ formation.

What it means is that the two midfielders in the centre will have the job of protecting the defence as well as distributing the ball. Barcelona’s squad of players are geared towards doing exactly that. Deco reportedly has fallen out Rijkaard and is on his way out so the playmaker’s position should be contested between Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Alongside them, the defensive midfield position will be filled by either Rafael Marquez or new signing Yaya Toure.

The way the formation is strung out usually leaves both sides of the field unprotected; Brazil of course uses Roberto Carlos and Cafu as their full-backs and the attacking-minded duo is able to exploit the space in front of them to full advantage. This was also the reason Barcelona made Eric Abidal the most recent signing; with him and Gianluca Zambrotta manning the flanks, Barca are one of the few teams in the world who can make this tactic work.

The only weakness in the side is in the middle of the defence where Puyol is often exposed by the inadequacies of his partner. The Catalans have been busy shopping for a capable defender and their prayers have been answered by the arrival of Argentine Gabriel Milito. An assured player, Milito is capable of initiating play from the back and would complement Puyol perfectly. If either is lost through injury (and Puyol is likely to still be out when the season starts), their best solution would actually be to retreat Marquez into defence and to pair Iniesta up with Toure.

With a line-up chockfull of attacking power and with an imaginative midfield, it seems Barcelona have acted swiftly and smartly in reloading their team for another assault on domestic and European glory. And we haven’t even talked about fledging talents like Giovanni Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic waiting in the wings.  

Demise? What demise?

Barcelona possible First XI:
Valdes; Abidal, Puyol, Milito, Zambrotta; Marquez, Iniesta; Ronaldinho, Messi; Henry, Eto’o