Marcelo Gallardo: Barcelona’s Next Coach?


Marcelo Gallardo may have lost the Copa Libertadores
final to Jorge Jesus’ Flamengo but he is still River Plate’s most successful coach
ever, having won the trophy twice before, as well as one Copa Sudamericana and three
Recopa Sudamericanas, among others. In an era when it’s harder than ever to build
a successful dynasty in Argentina, because players are so regularly signed by European
clubs, Gallardo has found consistent success in one of the continent’s highest profile
coaching roles. His ten titles include seven international trophies, more than had been
won by River in their history before his tenure. At the age of only 43, the former River Plate,
Monaco, and Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder is being linked with top jobs in
Europe, none more so than Barcelona. Under Gallardo, River Plate have tended to
set up in some version of a midfield diamond with two up front, although they also play
a narrow 4-4-2 with a deeper double pivot at times, and Gallardo has also experimented
with a 4-3-3 and even a three man back line on occasions. River Plate are a possession-orientated side
who move the ball rapidly through quick interchanges, but also look to shift the ball directly into
the wide channels for the front men to break onto if that option presents itself, with
midfielders pushing up to provide options for crosses or cutbacks. Enzo Perez is the pivot, sitting in front
of the back four, while Exequiel Palacios is the main playmaker, who sits at the tip
of the diamond, but will also drop deeper to provide a longer passing option alongside
Perez. The full backs push high up the pitch, especially Gonzalo Montiel on the right, while
right-sided centre-back Lucas Martinez Quarta can carry the ball forwards to break an opposition
press from deep. River Plate’s wide midfielders tend to play
narrowly, so that when the full backs get up the pitch, there are good passing options
inside. Ignacio Fernandez and Nicolas de la Cruz have been two of River’s most impressive
performers this season in these crucial positions and, together with Palacios, provide a midfield
of energy, creativity, neat interplay, and the ability to fashion through balls for the
forwards to run onto. In attack, River Plate are the most effective
team in the Argentinian Superliga by some distance. They have taken the most shots,
won the most corners and penalties, and had the most touches in the box. Their passing
metrics compare extremely favourably with every other side. For example, not only are
they first for deep completions – a completed forward pass collected 25 yards from goal
– but they manage six more per 90 than the next best side, Lanus. Defensively, River Plate have given up the
fourth fewest shots so far this season and have the highest PPDA, showing that they are
the most effective pressing side in the league. The River Plate press is generally excellent,
led from the front by Rafael Santos Borre and Matias Suarez, two high energy forwards
who harass the opposition and effect high turnovers. Behind them, the wide midfielders
of River Plate will flex up towards the ball if it goes wide, or fall back to make something
of a midfield four in a middle or low block. Palacios pushes up from attacking midfield
to make a front three sometimes if the opposition are looking to progress centrally, while Perez
generally tidies up behind the midfield line. De la Cruz has the licence to push out of
the line with his speed and stamina and add an extra thrust to River Plate’s pressing,
well covered by Perez and left full back Milton Casco. River Plate uses this press to pin the opposition
back and force longer passes, which can be swept up deep by Perez and the centre backs,
but they also win high turnovers and transition quickly into attack. They also tend to defend
pretty narrowly when the opposition attack the wide areas, especially on the right, shifting
across and hemming them in – once the ball is won back, River Plate will very quickly
and effectively switch play which, on the left with de la Cruz’s speed, can be a devastating
counter-attacking option. In short, the hallmarks of Marcelo Gallardo’s
successful River Plate sides are: dominating the ball and using it well; rapid sequences
of passing, especially centrally, to effect through-ball opportunities; full backs who
push high and wide to create overlaps, covered by a defensive midfielder; an intense press
designed to deny the opposition space and facilitate quick turnovers; and the ability
to make the pitch small and congested when defending then expand it while attacking,
either through short pass-and-move attacks or direct balls into the channels. If some of this sounds familiar, it should
be no surprise – stylistically, there are a number of good teams who play this way and
this, along with the success Gallardo has had, is the obvious reason why he is being
linked to sides such as Barcelona. Indeed, the above features could all be found in Barcelona’s
most successful recent seasons. Should Gallardo move to Barcelona, it’s
likely that he would use a 4-3-3; he’s set sides up like that before, and Barcelona are
used to the formation. Nelson Semedo and either Jordi Alba or Junior Firpo can play high as
attacking full backs, while Sergio Busquets works well in the Perez role and is a better
passer. Frenkie De Jong would be an ideal midfielder for Gallardo, dynamic, a good ball
carrier and presser, and Arthur could provide the sort of passing in tight central areas
that Gallardo wants from his more creative, less dynamic midfielder. If Gallardo plays
a 4-3-3, then Messi would play on the right, with Antoine Griezmann central and perhaps
Ansu Fati on the left. But Gallardo’s favoured diamond could also
work well, with Messi starting right but drifting in and effectively dictating play centrally,
while Griezmann plays up front with another striker. Luis Suarez is still hugely effective,
although he tends to press less now to conserve his energy – this is, perhaps, the one area
where Gallardo would need investment, although right back and central midfield could also
do with bolstering. But there’s no doubt that Gallardo could
take this Barcelona side and without requiring much in the way of new personnel, coach a
style of play that is both natural to him and something akin to the best Barca sides
of the last decade. Gallardo has already built a huge reputation and legacy in Argentina
– he can do the same in Europe, and where better than Barcelona?

51 thoughts on “Marcelo Gallardo: Barcelona’s Next Coach?

  1. this guy was a great player. unbelievable argentina didnt win much in 90-2000s. ortega riquelme gallardo palermo batistuta claudio lopez crespo and on and on.

  2. Up until now I thought he was a poor fit. Thank you for educating me. Maybe he'll be a better coach. I pray he's one with character!!

  3. I acknowledge Gallardo’s success in riber. I am sure he can succeed in Europe but jumping right to the top of Europe is something I would think twice. Why not go to a big time, but not to one of the biggest teams in the world? Europe is different than South America. I bet there’s an adaptation process. As much as I hated seeing his team win I wouldn’t want to see him get burned on his first try in Europe. Expectations are too high in Barcelona.

  4. I acknowledge Gallardo’s success in riber. I am sure he can succeed in Europe but jumping right to the top of Europe is something I would think twice. Why not go to a big time, but not to one of the biggest teams in the world? Europe is different than South America. I bet there’s an adaptation process. As much as I hated seeing his team win I wouldn’t want to see him get burned on his first try in Europe. Expectations are too high in Barcelona.

  5. Our squad is very good, and if we use our brains to sign a reliable CB (Milenkovic, Upamecano, Mukiele) and striker (Moussa Dembele, Victor Osimhen) we'll surely win the Champions league, but oh wait……. We're manged by a clown

  6. another manager with good attacking tactics but shite defending ones so the Barka dogs can whine when they bottle the UCL, lets get it

  7. I'm not surprised to read this about Gallardo at all. I saw their style of play in a league match and they looked like a well drilled European club, relying on a system not just talent.

  8. Why do people keep suggesting good coaches for Barcelona ? What's wrong with Valvarde ? What a legend he is, I don't want that clown to ever be sacked. Lol

  9. He will never be given the job under Barcelona's current board full of corrupt cowards. They would rather hire "former barca players" who played for less than a season for the club 20 years ago and had no effect whatsoever to the club's history. "They understand the club's philosophy," we're always told. That's what we are told by the board who themselves have completely lost sight of what makes barca special. Gallardo is a fantastic candidate, no doubt. But I would never, ever expect to see him on the touchline at the camp nou, at least not before Bartomeu is out the door as far away as possible. The problem, then, is that by the time the elections come around, we will likely already have someone else, like Koeman or Xavi.

  10. Barcelona are one of the best clubs in Europe and they have a top class squad. They can easily attract top coaches in Europe and yet they choose to hire inexperienced coaches (in terms of success in Europe ). It is clear as daylight why this happens. The board wants complete control of the club and does not want to delegate authority to the coach. They look to hire someone who would be overly grateful to get the job and be obedient to the board. This would not be possible with someone like Allegri, Klopp or Guardiola, would it?

  11. He is what Barcelona needs right now. But as we all know, we are not getting him. Lord bartemou is not going to let this happen.

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