Bayern Munich – Barcelona 3:2
Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier was a pioneer of the aviation industry. He and his accomplice Marquis d’Arlandes made the first untethered hot air balloon flight on 21st November 1783. Less than two years later, on 15th June 1785 he set off from Boulogne, France in his ‘Rozier Balloon’ hoping to cross the English channel.
A change in wind direction caused the balloon to fly 5km in-land, the balloon suddenly deflated and crashed. Him and his friend Pierre Romain died in the crash. A pioneer killed by his own invention.
I think it would be insulting to Luis Enrique to say that this Barcelona side is purely Guardiola’s, and it would be insulting to Guardiola to say hiss career is dead but it’s true that Guardiola found it impossible over two legs to tame the beast he created.
3-0 to Barca in the first leg was slightly flattering, but it was clear to see that what Guardiola did didn’t work. Ironically, the best way to approach the second leg was to play in the same way he had the first, preventing Barca from playing from the back and putting a lot of emphasis on attack, thus risking leaving the defence exposed. This was the reason Guardiola stuck with the same XI he played in the first leg, with Lucho also naming an unchanged side.
Bayern Munich in the defensive phase
Bayern, predictably, pressed high from the front. They always has three men in the first layer of pressing, with either Bernat (who played played as more of a wing-back than a left back) or Lahm (who played a lot of the match in a pseudo right-wing role) joining Muller and Lewandowski. One example of their pressing shape is below:
The front line of Bayern’s press are restricting Mascherano’s options well, being in close proximity to Barca’s centre-backs while also cover-shadowing midfield options. Said midfield options are being closely marked by Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Iniesta.
The aim is clear–to get Barca to play long and lose possession, however the one player that is not being picked up in this high pressing man-to-man system is the best player of all-time. It makes sense to force a team to play long balls when they have a short attack, which Barca do, but it requires all of the long options to be challenged. Mascherano plays the high ball to Messi, and Benatia is drawn forward to challenge him but doesn’t make it in time as Messi flicks it on to a now completely open Suarez, who can run through and play it to Neymar to make it 2-1 to the Catalonians.
Somebody with no managerial experience has no right to criticise Guardiola and tell him what to do, but I’m going to do it anyway. The above image is how I think the press should’ve been set up, with Alonso guarding the important space in front of the defence, while Barca’s midfield options are still being well covered.
Bayern man-marked players in central areas very tightly in their own half too.
Barcelona exploit Bayern’s tight marking by placing Messi and Suarez on the CBs. Messi pulls wide, pulling Boateng away which gives space for Rakitic to run into. Alves finds an open Rakitic who has his shot saved by Neuer. Alonso’s lack of pace costs Bayern as he isn’t suited to a high-intensity man marking game.
Bayern’s high line was also exploited for Barca’s first goal. Their defence was completely unlayered, it was just a thin strip of seven men. Messi was given a lot of time to find a beautifully executed pass to Suarez who slipped in Neymar for the opener. Suarez and Neymar’s pace caused Bayern’s high line problems on many occasions.
Bayern’s attacking play
It shouldn’t be ignored that Bayern were very good in attack, having nineteen shots and putting three goals past a team that has only conceded 19 in the league all season.
Bayern’s attack, as ever was emphasised through the right hand side, gaining quantitative, qualitative and positional superiority as shown below:
Bayern positioned men in between the lines of Barcelona, as well as trying to exploit the Mascherano-Alba partnership which is clearly defensively weaker than the Pique-Alves one. Instead of trying to put these wide overloads to best use as they normally do, through quick switches in play, they regularly tried to play through the laterally compact Barca block. This would meant that they could counterpress if they lost the ball and wouldn’t be so vulnerable in defensive transition.
Many teams try to nullify Bayern’s attack by playing their defensive and midfield lines very close together. Instead, Barcelona left lots of space in between their midfield and defensive lines, using a tight midfield four/five to block passing lanes into Bayern’s attacking threats. This would also mean that Barcelona had more men higher up the pitch for an attacking transition. This shape (with Busquets unusually high up the pitch) worked fairly well for Barca in the first half however it cost them in the second, with Bayern scoring two goals from ‘Zone 14’.
The above image emphasised what I have already talked about with Bayern’s right-wing orientation and Barca’s space between defence and midfield. It also shows how Benatia is the main instigator of Bayern’s attacks. He had 100 touches, the second most of any player on the pitch and passed it very well, with balls that split Barca’s tight midfield as well as some good reactive passes under pressure. Alonso moved into the back three in attack, and would be given the ball if there was an opportunity for a long diagonal ball.
Bayern lacked players that could beat a man, and looked very dangerous when Thiago was dribbling past Barca players. Thiago should have been playing at no. 10 instead of Schweinsteiger and didn’t get into the final 3rd often enough. They missed Robben and Ribery in this respect. They also missed the two aforementioned wingers in attacking transition as they were often a two man band on the counter attack, with Muller and Lewandowski coming up against four Barca defenders.
Barcelona were brilliant in attack over both legs. They were often forced to play long balls but it didn’t bother them, playing over the top of Bayern’s high line with success on many occasions. They are now favourites to be the European Champions, and deservedly so. Their biggest weakness was some of their individual defending, with Mascherano allowing Lewandowski to score in the second half, as well as Busquets losing Benatia from a defensive corner in the first half, leading to Bayern’s opener.
Pep Guardiola has once again come up trumps against La Liga opposition in the semi-final of the Champions League. A disappointing result for Bayern but I’m sure that the Pep hot air balloon will be in full flight yet again next season.