An amazing result on a tectonic scale. Although much touted as a passing of the baton, it was not so much Bayern becoming Barca v2.0 as Bayern imposing what they’ve been threatening to do since 2009-2010: a team who are able to attack with a variety of options: possession football, set-pieces, counter-attacking, wing-play, and most importantly: understand the value of pressing. They are the master of all trades, while Barcelona, for all their accolades, remain only the master of one (albeit a very very good one).
At the risk of covering old ground, only the key points of the match will be covered. But the running theme behind Bayern’s thumping victory is zonal domination, both offensively and defensively.
1) Zonal domination, defensively: Bayern pressing vs Barca pressing
Bayern did not take on Barcelona at their passing game, as speculated previously. Given that Kroos was out injured, they would have lacked the necessary personnel anyway, and so posed more of a counter-attacking threat on the wings with Robben and Ribery. Bayern sat back and only pressured Barca when they threatened to cross the halfway line, as is the norm for teams nowadays.
It is worth noting that when Bayern lost the ball in Barca’s half, they resorted to press the player in possession immediately, hoping to win the ball back high up. This was of course pioneered by Guardiola’s Barca, and Bayern performed this better than Barca themselves did.
This shows a battle for immediate space: Bayern were desperate to control the space where the ball was, at the risk of conceding space in other areas. This is an appreciation and admission that even with 10 outfield players, one cannot occupy every corner of the pitch, and thus limited resources must be used for immediate and optimum returns. Thus in today’s modern football, at any one time, a team sets out to dominate zonally.
2) Zonal domination: Martinez
Bayern were remarkably fluid for a team which is based (loosely) on 4-2-3-1. When you compare them with say, Real Madrid, the similarities are there but the differences are stark. Both favour double pivots, both play with a striker who drifts out wide to create space for wide forwards, and both play inverted wingers who enjoy cutting inside. However, this is where the similarities end.
In the case of Bayern, the signing of Javi Martinez gives them something which they lacked previously with Mark van Bommel: dynamism. Unlike orthodox double pivots, Martinez and Schweinsteiger form an efficient engine room because of their ability to shuffle forward and backward vertically.
.As the winger and full-back attempt to play the ball out from the wing, Martinez gallops forward, coming right up against the opposing defender who is faced with one extra man to mark, while his own midfield marker is left trailing behind. He occupies his newfound marker in the defender, and frees up space in behind him for teammates to run into (Muller and Kroos is a master at exploiting this). Martinez also performed a superb job on tracking Iniesta and Busquets, the latter of whom was not allowed to settle and dictate. Barcelona had trouble dealing with his bursts and physicality all night.
Illustrated below is the chance created early in the first half, where Martinez lays the ball off for Robben to shoot.
Another aspect of Bayern’s attack is the fluidity of their front four, but no other player enjoys the license for freedom to roam as Ribery. If Messi is the false 9, you could say Ribery is a false 10. He drifts out to right to help out in retaining possession or creating 2 v 1, and centrally to provide direct running and prompt moves. This despite his position as an orthodox inverted winger (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
Between combining his defensive duties and to provide directness, Ribery performed his duty admirably. Muller’s 2nd goal was a direct product of this.
Barcelona couldn’t cope with Bayern’s directness, and the key person in this was Robben. Although he has been accused of selfishness in the past, the Dutchman performed his role to perfection. This was a departure from the Robben of old. He kept Jordi Alba busy all night with his harrying, was positionally disciplined, and was rightly rewarded with a goal.
His pace and direct dribbling, something which Barcelona lacked, was a constant threat.
Overall, despite hugely impressive individual performances, this was a collective victory of a tightly efficient unit, a characteristic of all teams which previously dominated European football (Ajax, Liverpool, and Barcelona themselves). Every single Bayern player played their role to perfection, and it is hard to see how Barca can respond in the second leg even with a fully fit Messi. It will be intriguing to see how Pep will look to improve this team (Gotze notwithstanding) given that Bayern beat a Barcelona which is moulded in his image.
Bayern man-of-the-match: Robben
Barcelona man-of-the-match: Iniesta