Nobody saw it coming. Pep Guardiola’s return to the Camp Nou was overshadowed by a wonderful performance from Lionel Messi. The 3-0 defeat practically ended Bayern Munich’s chances of progression to the final, and likely scarred Pep Guardiola’s reputation. From a tactical standpoint there was so much to talk about which was summarized in a few moments.
Barcelona’s lined up as per expectations, with the primary change being Javier Mascherano in place of the injured Jeremy Mathieu.
Bayern Munich’s lineup changed throughout the match, packed with midfielders Phillip Lahm Bastian Schweinstiger and Xabi Alonso. Considering that 15 minutes into the match Guardiola switched their formation, a single standard one can’t be seen.
The tactics of both teams were at the base of this battle. Would Bayern look to counterattack for once? Would Luis Enrique decide to do the same? A few minutes into the match the answer was obvious. Barcelona would impose their typical (more direct) style on Bayern Munich, while Bayern would look to do the same.
While Bayern were certainly well-drilled, the 3-0 score line seems perfectly fair after looking at the finer details.
Guardiola tactics go awry
Pep Guardiola is a great tactician, micro-managing to the point that his side know exactly what his opposition will look to do. Yet this time, his dogma was ripped to shreds, A major feature of the match in the first 15 minutes (and last 20 minutes) was Barcelona running over Bayern Munich. For contrasting reasons.
At the start, Guardiola’s back 3 struggled to contain Barca’s attacking trio. After all, going 1 on 1 against 3 of the best dribblers in the world is a major challenge, particularly when you hold a high line. Barcelona’s new direct style meant that they weren’t afraid to lob it over Bayern’s back 3. Of course, Guardiola’s switch to a back 4 evened things out.
Towards the last 20 minutes the problem was an innate one; Barcelona looked to have Bayern’s press figured out. Messi and Alves got past the tiring Juan Bernat easily for both goals, exposing the delicate nature of Guardiola’s setup. While the first goal was simply individual brilliance- Messi is known for shooting quickly in such spaces, the second goal was something Bayern could and should have been prepared for. Its worth noting that despite trying to give Messi very little of the ball, Messi ended up being one of the more influential players on his team, shown by the size of his name on the pitch.
Neuer Wonderful But Limited
Mainstream media may fool you otherwise, but for 77 minutes it looked like Bayern would escape the Nou Camp with a draw. The Bavarians were flawed for the start of the game, but the second half was an intricate affair. The man behind this ‘false image’ of sorts was Manuel Neuer. The ultimate sweeper-keeper played his role to perfection, covering space behind his back 4 and disguising any defensive weaknesses his side had. Luis Suarez was particularly frustrated with his 1v1 chance being saved, and Neuer played a good role in distribution too. Perhaps Guardiola’s ingenious plan revolved around this man, and he knew what he was doing.
But as has been pointed out in the past, goalkeepers are ultimately limited in their ability. The unstoppable forces eventually overcame this immovable German keeper, with Lionel Messi and Neymar burying their chances with perfection. The goalkeeper could only do so much.
Barcelona Look To Stay Compact
A major feature of Barcelona this season has been their attempt to stay organized and compact in defense…. which is a far cry from the Pep Guardiola era. While Bayern were hunting in diamond packs, Barca’s midfield held their shape. Luis Enrique must be congratulated for instilling a sense of defensive responsibility into marauding full backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, their play proved fruitful in holding off Bayern’s best wide player- Juan Bernat.
Bayern give opposition acres of space
Usually heavily man marked, Barcelona’s attacking trio is usually afforded very little space and time on the ball. Take Valencia for example, they fought hard in a 2-0 defeat at the Nou Camp. Their entire side pressed in unison, looking to upset Barcelona’s rhythm. Little time and space was given to the attacking trio, and this was despite playing a relatively high back-line The difference? Valencia’s emphasis was on incisive attacking not burgeoning passing.
Messi’s performance against Real madrid is the perfect example of a time when he was afforded little space. Most of Messi’s chances revolved around dribbling from the half-line, while here Messi was actually allowed to roam freely, picking up passes and going for take-ons in the one region he is supposed to be suffocated in. Usually forced into dribbling across defenses, Messi was allowed to dribble at the defense in one of his more favored positions.
Guardiola refuted his tactics in the post match conference, rightly so. “I could not come here and shut up shop. Against players at his level, Leo, and others, there is this possibliity if you lose the ball close to your area.” He isn’t used to parking the bus either, and his team wouldn’t have found it easy if they played defensively. He was also right about the fact that he couldn’t stop Messi.
Nevertheless one must wonder, with Robben Ribery and Alaba out could Bayern have really imposed themselves on the Catalans? Bayern’s defeat, despite its large margin, hides the fact that they were 15 minutes away from ‘escaping’ with a goalless draw. With a half injured team and a high line… Guardiola is hard pressed by the margin of the defeat.
The defeat also signals a trend that has developed since Bayern’s Champions League victory- Spanish teams dominating Europe. With a Madrid Derby last year and a potential Clasico final this year, Spain’s teams are the best in Europe. Once more, Bayern were discovered to be the most naive, if not weakest of the last 4. Juventus, for all their lack of quality, compensate with a defensive rigidness which Guardiola’s Bayern will never have. Ironically, Spain’s giants all seem to have won the German way- solid defensively and great tactically. And unless Chelsea stop them, they will for years to come.
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Thanks, hope you enjoy my other analysis posts. The second legs will be interesting
It will. I didn’t get to see the actual match, but I have seen the highlights… Let’s hope we get another good match!
It’s really interesting how barca have been able to use the front three together so smoothly with each operating with such harmony. Of course earlier in the season this wasn’t the case with suarez’s ban but he took a while to get going and copped a bit of flak. So it is a remarkable turnaround considering they won nothing last season but are possibly on the run to a second treble. The problem barca have had in recent years since the halcyon days of Messi operating as the false 9 is the fact that the team has lacked the continuity of a long term manager to build on and maintain as best possible guardiola’s work. There just wasn’t the same chemistry in the team post Guardiola. You will find that the 10/11 team had in villa and Pedro two wide forwards who was largely happy to play the team role and serve Messi. Villa and Pedro as a duo is nowhere near as talented as Suarez and Neymar but obviously that team under Guardiola who were so imperious against united in the cl final was one of footballs marvels. That’s why I think the reason MSN has clicked so much is because Messi has changed his role for the good of the team drifting from the old wide left position which affords him more space and freedom compared to congestion of the middle. He has learnt to become the chief facilitator of the team alas Xavi, while crucially Suarez has been anything but an out and out striker as the focal point of the attack. This is a guy who was the main man taking on defences all on his own having the team built around him but with barca he has been happy to run the channels and run decoys to create space for others and be as much of a provider of goals as much as a scorer. His unselfishness and excellent linkup and holdup play has been integral to barca’s success as they can play more direct and counter attack with precision and purpose. There’s no doubt that neymars exceptional goal return this season is thanks to Suarez deflecting much of the attention away from him because let’s face it, what sort of defence in the world today can handle a front three of Messi Suarez and Neymar? Enrique’s decision to play more direct is commendable but would not work without Suarez and his ability to attract attention himself and deflect attention away from others. Messi keeps scoring, Neymar hits new scoring heights while Suarez makes his contribution to. The football is not as beautiful but I see a lot of Dennis bergkamp in the role that Suarez is playing ATM. Bergkamp was a master of playing that second striker for arsenal and teeing up Henry and although it’s a different system with barca Suarez has been occupying similar positions to bergkamp but the on,y difference is that he has two high and lethal forwards to play in when he gets to turn.
It’s true that Luis Suarez has been exceptional in his role for Barcelona, and has been the most influential of Barcelona’s signings. Like Benzema at Real Madrid he has adapted his role to improve those around him. The major difference is that Suarez is a better natural finisher but Benzema can help impose his side’s dominance on the match such as the second and first Clasicos. The difference that Luis Suarez has made is seen in how Barcelona have edged Atletico out this season again and again.
Overall, if Real Madrid sign another midfielder to cover for Modric and Barcelona replace Iniesta with a better midfielder, these 2 sides will essentially be the same. This season Barcelona has been better due to fitness but not necessarily quality, but my gut feeling is that these 2 sides will converge and compete amongst each other for European dominance.