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.