Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tactical Analysis: Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona

Bayern Munich stunned Barcelona with a memorable 4-0 win in a dominant performance at the Allianz Arena that leaves the Bavarian side with one foot in the Champions League final. That Barca ended the game with as many attempts as Bayern had goals is an indicator of just how much Jupp Heynckes' side controlled proceedings.

Bayern (4-2-3-1): Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
                             Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger
                                  Robben, Muller, Ribery

Barcelona (4-3-3): Dani Alves, Bartra, Pique, Alba
                                            Xavi, Iniesta
                                     Pedro, Messi, Sanchez

Prior to the match, Barcelona's official website had posted that the team had reached 300 consecutive games in which they had over 50% possession. Much had been made about whether Bayern, second in Europe behind Barca in terms of possession per game, would try to compete in midfield, press high up the field and possess the ball.

As it turned out, they took a more reactive approach, allowing Barca to have possession in their own half, then pressing the ball relentlessly when it crossed the midfield line. In his analysis for ESPN following the game, Robbie Mustoe commented on how compact Bayern were from front to back, preventing the likes of Messi and Iniesta from finding the pockets of space between the seams where they operate so effectively. He was spot on- this was the key tactical feature of the game.

Bayern defended in two banks of four with Tomas Muller and Mario Gomez playing higher up the field and applying pressure to Barca's center backs and deepest midfielder Sergio Busquets. Any time Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta would drop in front of Bayern's midfield four to collect the ball, one Bayern midfielder would immediately step out and apply intense pressure on the ball. Typically Bastian Schweinsteiger performed this role while Javi Martinez stayed deeper to check runs from Messi and Iniesta into the gaps. The pressure meant Xavi and Iniesta were unable to turn and enjoy the time on the ball to pick out a penetrating pass forward.

In order to keep the space Barca had to operate in compact, the Bayern defense played a high line. Often the space between the back four and midfield four was no more than 10 yards. Messi is at his most dangerous when he's able to collect the ball in the space between the opposition center backs and center midfielders and turn and dribble. However, Bayern's high line meant these spaces weren't available for him. When he dropped off Boateng and Dante and drifted into midfield, generally Javi Martinez was there to deny the entry pass into his feet. The high line likely explains Bayern's decision to start Jerome Boateng alongside Dante at center back rather than Daniel Van Buyten. Boateng is quicker and therefore more able to recover defensively when balls are played in behind the back four.

Bayern's back four was never really made to sweat their high line because of Barca's formation. With Messi operating as a false 9 and drifting back into midfield, the Catalans never really offered a threat behind Bayern's back four. Often without a direct opponent to defend, Dante and Boateng were able to sit in, see Barca's attacks developing in front of them and react accordingly by stepping into passing lanes. The inclusion of David Villa at center forward would have given Barca a vertical threat and forced the Bayern center backs into more difficult decisions regarding their positioning. Messi could have then played a very narrow position on the right. Barca used that formation against in their second leg demolition of AC Milan and it caused Milan center back Philippe Mexes all sorts of troubles. He was continually forced into deciding whether to leave Villa and step to Messi or allow Messi to get on the ball and dribble.

In attack, Bayern looked to counter quickly into the channels when they retained possession. With Alba and Dani Alves pushing forward to provide width in attack for Barcelona, there was space in behind them on the wings for Bayern to play quick outlet passes into. Muller did an excellent job drifting into these wide areas from his center attacking midfield position to spring counters. Ribery and Robben would also look to dart in behind the Barca fullbacks on the break. Bayern also looked to exploit their aerial superiority by getting crosses into the back post from set pieces and open play. Their first two goals both came from winning an initial ball at the back post and knocking it back across the middle for easy finishes.

Jupp Heynckes is deserving of a great deal of credit for this dominant performance. He showed his tactical flexibility, conceding possession to Barca and adopting a counterattacking style Bayern have rarely played this season. In so doing he has all but assured his side will be playing in their second consecutive Champions League final.

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