Bayern Munich vs Barcelona: A tactical analysis
Champions League: How did Bayern Munich come to dominate Barcelona so comprehensively?
Barcelona never lose. If they do, it’s by one goal in most of the cases. On Tuesday night, however, Barcelona failed to register a single shot on target.
Bayern stopper Manuel Neuer would have expected to stretch his limbs more in this epic fixture. At the other end, Barcelona shipped an astonishing four goals and were comprehensively outplayed over the 90 minutes.
Barcelona supporters may argue about the second goal being scored with Gomez marginally offside and Jordi Alba being bounced off the ball by Muller in the build up to Robben's third.
Neutrals would make a statement that it was about time Barcelona were at the wrong end of refereeing decisions in recent times. There have been many incidents where referees have swung decisions in Barca's favour in crunch matches.
A detailed analysis of the game showed the following factors that favoured die Roten over the Catalonians.
1) Bayern's considerable height advantage over Barcelona
Barcelona were outdone aerially in attack and in defence. Barcelona had three players who stood more than 1.80 meter; Gerard Pique, Marc Bartra and Sergio Busquets.
On the other hand, Bayern had Dante, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez, all 1.85 m and above, towered over their man markers. Bayern Munich used this advantage to great effect, winning these aerial duels which helped them score the first and second goals.
2) Messi not being 100% fit and being completely marked out of the game
He might have come off the bench and helped Barcelona progress against PSG in the last round despite not being in the best shape physically.
But at the Allianz, he struggled to make an impact, seemed wary pulling the partially healed hamstring by accelerating too hard and covered just 7.5 km, the lowest among Barcelona’s outfielders.
However, when he had the ball, he was surrounded by what looked like a merry-go-round of Bayern shirts. He could not make the usual one-twos and move forward with great pace off the ball. When he neared the Bayern box, Shweinsteiger, already in a deep centre midfield role, moved into an auxiliary center back position, allowing Dante or Boateng to step forward and execute tackles to win back possession.
Being surrounded and forced way too deep chopped the flow of passes from Messi to wide players Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, rendering them invisible in the attacking third.
3) Bayern Munich's indomitable midfield force
The centre circle and its immediate vicinity resembled a miniature pond whenever a player stepped on it for the first 20 minutes at the Allianz. Bayern had left that area of the field waterlogged on purpose, disrupting Barcelona's crucial moves that begin from that key area.
This gave Bayern's midfielders the extra seconds to read Barcelona's passes and man mark the receiver. This forced Sergio Busquets so deep, he was almost parallel to Pique and Bartra at times.
As a result Xavi and Iniesta were pegged behind, creating a void further up the pitch. The key point were Bayern's double pivot of Martinez and Schweinsteiger. Hard in the tackle, ability to pass short or long, the ability to break up play and start attacks in the matter of seconds, the defensive midfielder bulls bruised and battered Xavi and Iniesta like never before.
Thomas Muller, who started in a deeper attacking midfielder role than he usually does, stuck onto Sergio Busquets and hounded him into pressurized passing as long as he was there on the field.
The German international escaped his marker twice and scored his side's first and last goal. This midfield was one Barcelona had never faced before; one which had such levels of such physicality and technical ability.
4) Bayern's superiority in the wide areas
Bayern wide men Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben did their defensive duties like never before. They never allowed attack minded full backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba to get forward and support attacks.
This allowed fullbacks Phillipp Lahm and David Alaba to nullify the threat of Barca wingers Alexis Sanchez and Pedro throughout the game.
In attack, Bayern's policy of playing inverted wingers pulled opposition fullbacks Alves and Alba infield. The space opened up for Bayern's Lahm and Alaba to race forward and provide two more attacking options for the forward line to use.
The third goal was a result of Ribery's direct dribbling infield and Robben's drifting in off the right flank to smash the ball home. David Alaba used the space on the left to the best purpose, squaring the ball for Muller to bundle the ball in for the fourth.
5) Barcelona's lack of a Plan B
Barcelona's Plan A has been so successful in destroying teams over the past 5 years that they did not need a Plan B. In recent times against top quality opposition, they have been exposed when their first choice plan did not work. Bayern Munich perfectly nullified Barcelona's Plan A on Tuesday. Barcelona's options on the bench include; Cesc Fabregas, a direct positional replacement to either Iniesta or Messi. Thiago Alcantara, Xavi's positional replacement. Alex Song, a centre midfielder/defender not of Barcelona calibre at all.
David Villa, meanwhile is no longer an orthodox striker. He has been moulded into a wide forward since 2010 for club and country. He has lost the tremendous change of pace he once had, although his clinical finishing still remains intact. He is usually a replacement on the left for Sanchez or Pedro.
These players are trained to execute one and only Plan A. Any of the above stars won't offer something different to the 11 players on the pitch. As a result, Bayern weren't even made to think twice about their game plan throughout the tie.
Barcelona's fallacies were so badly exposed by Bayern Munich. Opposition teams with strong rosters would surely take note of these and exploit them when they face Barcelona.
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