Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich: Previewing the Champions League Tactical Battle

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Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich: Previewing the Champions League Tactical Battle
David Ramos/Getty Images

On April 8, 2009, Barcelona beat Bayern Munich 4-0 at Camp Nou.

The Primera Division champions-elect will need to muster an identical result just to force extra time when they welcome Bayern to the Catalan capital for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.

In talking to reporters, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique made sure to mention that famous result of three years ago.

“We won 4-0 [at home to Bayern] in 2009,” he reminded his audience at Tuesday’s prematch press conference (via UEFA.com). “But they are a different team—a lot better team—with a different coach and different players. It is very different. They are much better than that team.”

David Ramos/Getty Images
Marc Bartra is expected to start for Bayern Munich in defense.

Of the Bayern team that lost so heavily that night, only Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger remain in the current side. And after winning the Bundesliga in record time and setting a new points mark in the German top flight, Bayern have been heavily favored to progress to the Wembley final since inflicting a 4-0 shellacking on Barcelona last Tuesday.

But there is still half the tie to play, and given the quality of talent the hosts will have on the pitch for the return leg, an early goal would surely put the result in doubt, if only slightly.

 

Team News

Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova confirmed on Tuesday that Javier Mascherano has not recovered from a knee injury in time to start Wednesday’s match (h/t La Liga journalist Lee Roden on Twitter), and with Jordi Alba suspended, it seems Marc Bartra and Adriano will complete the back four alongside Gerard Pique and Dani Alves. Carles Puyol is also sidelined with a knee injury and will not feature at all.

On the other side of the ball, Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes has no new injury worries ahead of the second leg. The only change will be up top, where Mario Mandzukic is expected to replace Mario Gomez. 

Heynckes has vowed to start his strongest available team (h/t ESPN FC), saying, "We know they're capable of stunning results at home. ... Their pride has been wounded and they'll give it everything they've got."

 

Key Battleground

In the first leg at Allianz Arena, Barcelona had nearly two-thirds of the ball, recording a possession rate of 66 percent.

It was an example of how misleading the possession metric can be.

Barcelona team shape vs. Bayern Munich. (Courtesy Uefa.com)

Many of the visitors’ passes came on their own side of the halfway line. With Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez buzzing about in front of the Bayern defense, Barcelona were rarely allowed down the centre of the pitch.

Almost everything they did was limited to the outskirts, and as they became more frustrated, their typically compact midfield arrangement spread dangerously apart. (Notice the distance between Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, as well as between Xavi and Lionel Messi in the accompanying graphic.)

Bayern Munich team shape vs. Barcelona. (Courtesy Uefa.com)

Schweinsteiger and Martinez, by comparison, worked superbly well in tandem. With Thomas Muller just in front of them—creating a triangle—and Arjen Robben and Ribery to the right and left, respectively, they had consistent outlets from which to stage their counterattacks.

This is how Bayern, despite only 34 percent possession, ended up with 15 attempts on goal to Barcelona’s four.

 

Key Matchups

Lionel Messi was a shadow of his healthy self in the first leg.

Where against AC Milan in Barcelona’s 4-0 triumph in the Round of 16 he covered more than 9,000 metres of ground, at Allianz Arena he ran barely 7,000—most of it at a jog or a walk.

He was quite obviously unfit—struggling with a hamstring injury suffered against Paris Saint-Germain—and it made Dante’s marking job more straightforward than the Brazilian could ever have imagined.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Bastian Schweinsteiger (centre) and Javi Martinez (right) have operated magnificently in tandem for Bayern Munich.

The Bayern defender will see a lot of Messi once again on Wednesday, as the four-time Ballon d’Or winner prefers to operate just to the right of centre in Barcelona’s attack. And if the 25-year-old isn’t physically up to it, he’ll once again be rubbed out of the match by the Bundesliga’s best defender.

But as Vilanova noted, Messi will surely need some help (via UEFA.com):

We know how important Messi is in our team, especially when it comes to scoring goals. The better he plays, the better for the team. But we cannot put all the pressure on his shoulders. The rest of the team also has to help him. Obviously, Messi will have a lot to say in tomorrow’s match.

There will be matchups to watch in the wide areas as well.

Jordi Alba’s suspension means a starting spot for Adriano. The Spain international had enough trouble against Robben and Philipp Lahm in the first leg, so it’s hard to see his Brazilian counterpart doing much better.

In other words, Dani Alves will be under a lot of pressure to offer an attacking outlet from the right-hand flank, and the more width he can offer, the further inside Pedro will be allowed to push.

Ribery did surprisingly well in containing the Brazilian last week, but can he and David Alaba combine to do it again?

The answer to that question will have a lot to do with Barcelona’s ability to generate meaningful scoring chances on Wednesday. That and the midfield battle will be key tactical elements in what will undoubtedly be a tense Camp Nou atmosphere.

 

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