Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona: Tactical Factors to Watch for
The UEFA Champions League returns this week and gifts us two unbelievable footballing spectacles.
First up is Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona, the tie that will see the newly crowned Bundesliga champions go up against the champions elect in La Liga.
Here are five tactical considerations for you to ponder and watch out for as the game plays out.
Bayern Surrender Possession
Bayern Munich average the second-highest possession statistic in Europe's top leagues with 63.6 percent. That's second only to one side—their opponents, Barcelona, average 69.6.
Clearly, something has to give, and that something will be Bayern's game plan.
They don't monopolise the ball as part of their strategy, they simply end up with it more because they are superior to most. It's not often we've seen another team average more possession in a game than Jupp Heynckes' men, so this should be an interesting factor.
Bayern should be absolutely fine without the ball as they're defensively stable and willing to run, but it will seem odd to see the boys in Roten chasing at home.
Philipp Lahm vs. Jordi Alba
Philipp Lahm is widely regarded as the best full-back in world football, but he's coming up against a man who will challenge that crown in a year or two.
Jordi Alba is an irreplaceable presence in Barcelona's lineup and has adapted to life in Catalonia outrageously quickly, surging forward on the left flank and linking up with his midfielders expertly.
Lahm had an easy day at the office against Federico Peluso of Juventus and has been largely untroubled in the Bundesliga. Expect Alba to go at him. For the first time in a while, the German will appear a little more cautious about the space he leaves behind him.
Thomas Mueller's Long Day
In the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Juventus, Toni Kroos man-marked Andrea Pirlo to stop him dictating from deep.
When Kroos pulled up injured, Thomas Mueller took over, but Mario Mandzukic gave him valuable assistance in closing the Italian down from both sides.
You can bet Jupp Heynckes will respect the playmaking abilities of Xavi and look to mark him—even if it's in an approximate manner, like Sulley Muntari did at San Siro—and that Mueller will take that hardworking role.
With Mandzukic suspended, Mario Gomez will play the first leg. The German is fantastic in the box but doesn't give Bayern the pressing and energy. Mandzo missing is a big blow and Mueller's workload doubles as a result.
The Javi Martinez Factor
Jupp Heynckes has rejected the offer to ring Pep Guardiola for advice ahead of this fixture (via Sky Sports)—after all, who could be better placed to dish out the secrets?
However, that doesn't mean he won't turn to midfield maestro Javi Martinez, who has plenty of experience dealing with the tiki-taka passing system.
In his time at Athletic Bilbao, he faced els Blaugrana on numerous occasions. In his final season under Marcelo Bielsa, Martinez led a defence that man-marked a free-flowing Barca side and ground out a 2-2 draw.
He'll be able to shed light on the movement of the players and what runs they make, when to step out and when to stay in line. Invaluable.
Will Barca Try to Kill the Game?
Barcelona have some well documented defensive issues, and Bayern Munich are one of the most potent attacking forces in European football, if not the most.
Marc Bartra is expected to come into the side after Carles Puyol failed his fitness test, giving Tito Vilanova two identical centre-backs playing alongside each other.
It remains to be seen how this makeshift line will work out, and the Barca midfield will be particularly wary of giving the ball away laterally and exposing their weak underbelly to a counterattack.
Barca could well play this one in a ridiculously careful manner and squeeze out a 1-0 to progress.