After watching El Clasico, it appeared that Barcelona altered the shape of their defense. One of my favorite soccer writers, Jonathan Wilson, wrote an article about the change to a 3-1-4-2 in an article for The Guardian. He also writes for SI and has a similar piece there. Here are the two links:
Wilson starts by stating that tactics do make a difference. For those that think “the best players” win out all the time, the history of the game is replete with examples of tactical evolution and examples of advantage gained from the same. Wilson is a student of the tactical changes in soccer and outlines them in his book Inverting the Pyramid. I summarized some of his ideas on possession style football versus kick and rush in the blog post here on Soccer Thoughts titled “Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part I.”
In El Clasico, the big change was Barca pushing their Right Back up (Alves — who Wilson says is more comfortable in attack anyway) and pushing one center back to right back to cover (Puyol) while using a holding mid (Sergio Busquets) to drop as additional center back when need be. Wilson calls this a back line of 3 1/2. Puyol then was able to handle Ronaldo and Busquets could move up and back as holding mid/center back to mark Ozil.
Wilson’s book Inverting highlights every major shift in tactics all across the world. Are we seeing another change now?