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Match analysis: Barcelona - Bayern Munich

Match analysis: Barcelona – Bayern Munich

Same philosophy but more talent for Barca

By Athanasios Terzis

In the first leg of Champions League semifinal, Barcelona faced Bayern Munich. The two teams played the same style in a high tempo game which was a pleasure to watch.



1st Half: Guardiola chose risky tactics but soon switched to more safety 

Barcelona: Barcelona started with 4-3-3. Mascherano was next to Pique while Alves and Alba were on the right and left respectively. Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic were the three midfielders and Messi together with Neymar and Suarez the three forwards.

Bayern: Bayern formation was more interesting. Guardiola chose a lopsided 3-5-2 which was somewhat similar to the formation Barca used during his years in Camp Nou. Guardiola chose it in order to exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses and dominate possession.



He placed three defenders at the back, Benatia, Boateng and Rafinha. The last one (due to his sprinting ability) took up a position on the left in order to be close to Messi. Bernat was placed in an advanced position on the left to exploit the available space behind Messi and force Alves to move forward and away from his zone of responsibility. If Alves moved forward to close down Bernat, Barcelona would be left with a stretched three man defence and plenty available space for Bayern forwards to exploit.

On the right the width was created by Muller who had a winger’s position, while Lahm had a role of a midfielder same with Xavi in Guardiola’s Barcelona. Lahm’s positioning aimed to create numbers up in midfield as Iniesta would have two players within his zone of responsibility (Tiago and Lahm). Tiago and Schweinsteiger were the attacking midfielders placed on the right and left of Busquets, in a square shape for Bayern in midfield. This positioning created a 4 v 3 situation in favor of the German team. Tiago’s positioning created an overload on the right and there was available space for him behind Neymar and in front of Alba. This meant that either Alba had to step forward to mark him and leave three defenders at the back or Iniesta had to drop back and close him down. This reaction would leave Lahm free of marking. Furthermore when Lahm was placed in an available passing lane to receive from the defenders, Tiago’s positioning behind Iniesta prevented the Barca midfielder from moving forward to put Lahm under pressure.

Alonso had a more defensive role being on the left and close to the defenders. This positioning enabled him to provide help to the defenders by dropping deeper and between them when necessary, like Busquets used to do in the years of Guardiola in Barca. Lewandowski was on the left and within the zone of responsibility of Pique aiming to exploit the space behind Alves in case the last one moved to close Bernat down. 




However Barcelona’s formation also had some advantages against Bayern. Enrique didn’t make many tactical adjustments but left his team play the way they used to. The match up between the two teams created advantages for the Catalans as there was a 4 v 2 at the back while Bayern had to deal with Barcelona’s forwards in a 3 v 3 situation. 



The game started and the two teams tried both to take control having the same philosophy. During the attacking phase they tried to build up from the back and move the ball forward by using short passes. During the defensive phase they both tried to press high up and force the opponent to inaccurate long balls in order to win quickly possession. Bayern tried to press high by creating 1 v 1 situations with the aim of not leaving a single player free of marking, especially when the ball was in the centre. Schweinsteiger was on Busquets, Lahm was on Iniesta and Alonso on Rakitic. 

Bernat stepped forward near Alves while Tiago marked Alba. When the ball was near the sideline (e.g. on Albapossession), Alonso shifted towards the strong side and dropped back close to the defenders, leaving Rakitic, (who was unable to receive) free. This positioning enabled Alonso to dropped even deeper between the central defenders and create a four man defence. 

PRESSING BAYERN 3-5-2 sta plagia


However when Ter Stegen was in possession in the centre, Alonso had to step forward enough to mark Rakitic. This reaction increased the distance between him and the defenders and made it impossible to provide support to 




Guardiola thought that by applying effectively pressure high, Barca players would be forced to long and inaccurate balls and his defenders, who were stronger and taller than Barca forwards, would neutralize them easily. Furthermore he thought that his players would exploit the numbers up situation in midfield and dominate possession. As regards the 4 v 2 situation at the back of Barcelona, there were two possibilities:

a) Barca players would stay back, so Bayern would be able to take advantage of the 4 ν 3 in midfield and gradually build up in order to reach Barcelona’s penalty area and then use combination play or make crosses for Lewandowski inside the box,

b) Barca fullbacks Alves and Alba would be forced to move forward to close Bernat and Tiago respectively and compensate for the numerical disadvantage in midfield. This reaction would stretch the defence, create 3 ν 2 situation at the back as well as available spaces for Bayern forwards. In this case the main aim was the quick pass towards one of the forwards and the immediate providing of support from the midfielders (mainly Schweinsteiger and Tiago) in order for the forward to make the next movement towards the available space. 


Bayern indeed exploited the numbers up in midfield every time that the pass towards Alonso or Lahm was possible and they 

found time on the ball. Barcelona on the other hand tried to apply pressing high and they did it effectively when the passes

towards the midfielders were blocked, but even in cases that Bayern broke through the pressure they were always balanced

at the back.


Despite the fact that Bayern had high percentages of possession they were unable to break through Barcadefence 

especially within the attacking 1/3. This was due to Barcelona’s cohesion, as when the pressure up front was not successful,

Barca players dropped deep and got compact, as well as due to the several unsuccessful passes from Bayern players.

On the other hand the 3 v 3 sitution at the back created several problems to Guardiola’s team. Barcelona took advantage of the equality in numbers as the long balls from the defenders (due to Bayernpressure) werenneutralized by the defendersSo Suarez took the chance to make the shot on goal and a few minutes later the same player was beaten by Neuer in the duel, after Messi’s pass with a header.

All situations were created after long balls from the defenders and the GK.


Furthermore during the phase of negative transition many times Bayern looked unbalanced and disorganized. Guardiola watched this and in 14th minute switched to 4-3-1-2. Rafinha was placed in right defender’s position, while Bernat dropped deeper to left fullback position. Alonso was the defensive midfielder, while Lahm was on the right and Tiago on the left. Schweinsteiger was on top of the rhombus shape. The plan B of Guardiola ensured numbers up at the back with 4 v 3 as well as in midfield (4 v 3). The team was more balanced while the aim of retaining possession during the attacking phase remained the same. 


Barcelona on the other hand pressed high to prevent Bayern from building up easily from the back. Their aim was to block the passes towards the midfielders Alonso and Lahm and force Bayern to long balls. When the pressing application wasn’t successful, the players dropped back and created a compact formation.

On the left Alba stayed with Muller and left Iniesta deal with Tiago in cases that the last one received behind Iniesta’s back while there were times that Neymar dropped into deeper position to provide help. On the right Alves moved to close down Bernat on time and in cases that this wasn’t possible he dropped deep and left Rakitic take over this role. The others also moved in synchronization and created a compact formation which had the form of 4-4-2.     



As regards possession the two teams shared about the same percentages but this was obtained through different way. Guardiola’s team exploited the numbers up in midfield while Enrique’s team exploited their talent (passing skills) and their effective negative transition. So despite the fact that they were forced to long balls or lost possession several times high up the field, they could win the ball immediately by applying counter pressing.

Similarly with Barcelona, when Bayern’s pressing wasn’t successful, they dropped back and created a compact formation as well as they used a high defensive line in order to restrict the available spaces. This was the way Guardiola tried to deal with Messi and Barca’s combination play in the centre. As Iniesta, Alba and Neymar couldn’t use combination play on the left the way they did against Paris Saint Germain, the reaction of Barcelona against the very compact formation was the successful individual play by Messi on the right and Neymar on the left. The two were unstoppable and created many threats for Neuer. Furthermore the solution against the high defensive line of the opposition came from the forward runs of Alba, Rakitic and Alves from deep positions. The three players didn’t hesitate to move forward when there was an open ball situation. This attacking play from Barcelona helped them create scoring chances like the one that Alves missed.  






The first half ended and the two teams had equal time on the ball but Barca was far more dangerous up front. Bayern missed only one scoring chance with Lewandwski


2nd Half: Effective positive transition and talent proved to be crucial for the outcome

Bayern showed more energy in the beginning of the second half. They tried to press high from the very first time, take control and dominate possession. During building up from the back they dealt with the 4 v 3 by moving the ball either towards Alonso who was usually free of marking or towards one of the fullbacks. Barca reacted and Busquets moved in more advanced position to prevent Alonso from receiving free of marking. In this case Schweinsteiger was left free but this wasn’t a problem as one of the defenders stepped forward close to him whenever necessary, while at the same time there was still numbers up at the back (4 ν 3). 


Bayern managed to hold possession more than they did in the first half, but still couldn’t create scoring chances. Lewandowski and Muller were isolated up front without support from the midfielders and were forced to deal with 4 defenders. Furthermore the fullbacks didn’t make forward runs frequently so the width many times was created by the forwards. However this meant that there weren’t many players inside the box to threaten Ter Stegen after a potential cross.  As Bayern was high up in the field trying to keep possession, Barcelona was ready to take advantage of the positive transition. The first warning for Bayern came after Messi’s pass towards Neymar on the counter, but the Brazilian failed to control the ball and Neuer managed to make the clearance.  


In 64th minute Neymar missed the chance to score by shooting within the box after the pass from Rakitic during positive transition.


However Messi didn’t miss the target a couple of minutes later. Alves won possession from Bernat and passed the ball to Messi outside the box. The Argentine moved a couple of yards forward, while the opposition defence was stretched and made an accurate shot on goal.


Barca managed to score the second when Rakitic made the pass towards Messi. The last one received inside the box and had to deal with Boateng in a 1 v 1. As there wasn’t support from the inside Messi had two options. Either to converge towards the inside and make a shot with his left foot which is his favorite movement, or to past by Boateng from the outside and try a shot with his right. When a defender has to face Messi and the Argentine has two available options, there are not many chances for him to be effective. So Messi took advantage of the situation, chose the second option and scored.

Guardiola immediately brought in Goetze in the place of Muller but he didn’t change anything as regards tactics. Goetze was placed on the left and Lewandοwski moved on the right. Enrique foresaw that Bayern would put pressure in and around the box so he reacted and brought in Bartra replacing the shorter Mascherano.

As Bayern players were high trying to score a goal, Messi took advantage another positive transition situation and made a lovely pass towards Neymar. The Brazilian didn’t miss the chance in a duel against Neuer and scored the third.       

Conclusion: In a match between two teams with the same playing style, talent and positive transition proved to be crucial for the outcome. Barca took advantage of the positive transition and in conjunction with Messi’s talent managed to score three goals. Guardiola’s plan was based on tactics but during the match he saw little of what he had prepared before it. On the other hand Enrique, let his team play the way they used to and the only instructions he gave to his players were to press high but at the same time retain balance and numbers up at the back. Bayern may had more possession than Barcelona, which is something that few teams can achieve in Camp Nou, but this didn’t have impact on the outcome, as they created only one scoring chance. On the other hand Messi and Neymar were both excellent and took advantage of the available spaces and the unbalanced defence during positive transition situations. Additionallytheycreatedseveralscoringchances. The result is fair as the higher percentage in possession should be used in order to score goals and not as an end it self.



Last Updated on Sunday, 10 May 2015 00:28

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