I've been promising to write this for a while now, but never had the time to sit down and do it. Wet weather has curtailed my evening plans, so I'll take the chance to do it now.
I got involved in a debate/rant in the GD forum about the 'unrealism' of tactics and the ME. One of the arguments from the side attacking the ME was that if it were realistic, then it would be possible to recreate the Barcelona style of tactic in FM. It was posited that because nobody had successfully done so, then the ME was patently flawed. I disagreed with the premise, arguing that such a tactic should be extremely difficult to get right, as so few teams had ever approached that level in the real world. The user manager would need to have in depth knowledge of tactical theory, know how to translate that into the game, and also have a team full of the right players to get it working. However, I decided to experiment in designing such a tactic. This is the outcome.
Before continuing, there is one serious limitation in the ME that prevents the tactic being exactly like the Barcelona tactic, in that defensive midfielders do not have the flexibility to drop between the DCs when the team is in possession. There is also one override required in the TC, namely the choice of Primary Playmaker. However, everything else in the tactic is done through the TC and shouts, with no manual tweaking.
The biggest problem I had with those trying to design a Barcelona-esque tactic was their insistence that Barcelona played an attacking style of football. Every time I watched them, they played possession football deep on the park, either moving the ball slowly upfield and probing space or attacking at pace if gaps opened up. Both types of play produced goals, the former through the technical brilliance of their midfield, the latter through the pace and directness of their inverted wingers and attacking full backs.
Barcelona: My Interpretation
My interpretation of the Barcelona tactic is that it has a triple-pivot playmaker system, with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all dictating play from central positions. Xavi is generally the deepest and Messi the highest, although they often are not that far apart. This creative central trio is supported by three defensive players in the DC and DM positions, who provide a stable base of excellent defensive positioning and simple possession passes. Out wide, the inverted wingers angle into the space Messi creates by dropping deep and the full backs surge into the wide spaces behind them.
The tactic operates on the basic principle of controlling space, being high and tight in defence, and low and wide in attack. This is possible because the team are a hard working unit in both defence and attack and technically excellent in keeping the ball. As they keep the ball so well, they can afford to press aggressively in defence without getting tired, even in hot conditions.
Formation, Strategy and Philosophy
4-1-2-2-1 (4-3-3): Flat back four, one DM, two MCs, AML, AMR and FCC.
Counter: My own take on the Barcelona style is that is closest to the Counter Strategy in Football Manager than any other. When Barcelona get the ball, the first thing that happens is the defence drop deeper, opening up passing space between the defence and the playmaking midfield. The Counter Strategy enables this deep move. As mentioned above, they attack in two ways, the slow probe or the fast counter. Again, the Counter strategy allows this.
Balanced: Because their Barcelona get much of their width from the rampaging full backs while keeping the ball deep, the philosophical system that has the biggest differential between the full backs and the defence is the go to. This encourages both the possession play centrally, reducing the risky pass mentality, while allowing FBs on Attack duties to bomb forward at will. Balanced has the biggest mentality gap in these areas, hence it is my choice.
Shorter Passing: Barca play a short passing game. Anything that encourages this is required.
Greater Creative Freedom: You need to give players their head to create chances out of tight spaces, so encouraging creativity is a must.
Zonal Marking: Actually, not really needed as the shouts will determine this. However, I believe they mark zonally in reality, so....
Heavier Pressing: Barca press when they defend. Again, not really needed as you will use the shouts to do this. However, set it at maximum anyway.
Normal Tackling: Again, I'll use the shouts to set this.
More Roaming: Barca players move from their standard positions all the time. Greater roaming encourages this.
Sweeper Keeper/Support: Encourages the keeper to play short passes and make quick throws.
DCs/Cover/Stopper split: Barca have a high d-line when defending and a low one when in possession. The split DCs makes sense as it supports both. NB: I actually use a Ball Playing Defender in my tactic because I have players who can do the job. However, it is not a requirement.
Wing Backs/Attack: A key position on both flanks as it gives the team width when going forward. I will happily spend my entire transfer budget on a world class wing back they are so important to the system.
Defensive Midfielder/Defend: Although the deepest lying midfielder in the Barcelona tactic is the least technically accomplished, he is by no means a donkey and is a good ball player in his own right. The Anchor Man role is thus too limiting. The Defensive Midfielder role gives him a little more scope to feed players ahead of him.
MCR/Deep-Lying Playmaker/Support: Xavi's role and vital to ball maintenance. Will rarely get into goalscoring positions, but the deepness of his positioning due to the strategy ensures the payer is invariably unmarked and can dictate possession all match. Override the tactical defaults by ensuring he is the primary playmaker.
MCL/Advanced Playmaker/Attack: Iniesta's role and the key link between attack and midfield. As with Iniesta, might not score many goals, but provides multiple assists.
AML/R/Inside Forwards/Attack: This role encourages both wide men to move into open central space off the flanks when the FC drops deeper. It also opens space for the FBs to advance into on the flanks.
Trequartista: Messi's role, the playmaking centre forward who drops deep into midfield and runs at the defence.
Retain Possession: Encourages keep ball.
Pass into Space: The technical passing shout that encourages all the players to play through balls to teammates breaking from deep.
Work Ball into Box: Encourage the edge of box passing moves and close range shots that typify Barcelona goals
Push Higher Up: Increases the d-line height when defending
Hassle Opponent: Ensures heavy pressing from all players
Stay on Feet: Ensures players stay on their feet in the tackle so they are able to immediately play the ball after winning it
I've only played one full season with this tactic, but results have been impressive. Won 35 out of 38, scoring 89 and conceding 8 in the league. Also won the League Cup and Champions League. Lost 3 matches all season, all of them 1-0.
NB: I'm not uploading the tactic. It can be created in minutes using the TC.