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article imageMessi and Barcelona's high pressing thwart Guardiola's Bayern

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 7, 2015 in Sports
When a manager alters his initial system 15 minutes into a match, it usually highlights poor decision-making, yet it seemed apart of Pep Guardiola’s plan on his return to the Camp Nou.
Guardiola’s Bayern started the match with an adventurous three-man defensive system that witnessed Thomas Muller hug the touchline in an advanced wide right position, whereas Thiago Alcantara moved infield from a right wing-back position. Bayern initially attempted to win the ball higher up the pitch through high pressing, and although it was partially successful — Luis Enrique’s men struggled to build attacks from the back — Barcelona posed a severe threat when they bypassed the pressure and hit long balls into their front three.
Barcelona’s attacking trio were man-marked by Mehdi Benatia, Jerome Boateng, and Rafinha, with Luis Suarez, in particular, offering a legitimate threat in the final third. First, Javier Mascherano’s clearance set Suarez free on goal, and despite Manuel Neuer’s heroic clearance, the Uruguayan was rightly ruled offside. Minutes later, it was Messi towering over Rafinha to nod Marc Andre ter-Stegen’s clearance into the path of Suarez, with Neuer making another quality save to keep Bayern in the tie.
Enrique’s men simply had to beat one defender to be set clear on goal, and it was Suarez’s tireless work rate that forced Bayern’s defenders into mistakes, and ultimately led to Guardiola moving to a 4-3-1-2. Juan Bernat and Rafinha were placed in their natural positions, and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s advanced midfield role relied on the German pressing Sergio Busquets.
There was improved structure to Bayern’s shape following the alteration, and the threat of Barca’s attacking trio was limited as they were now forced to evade several challenges in the final third. With the Bayern full-backs tight on Barca’s wingers, and the Germans congesting the midfield zone — Phillip Lahm vs. Andres Iniesta, Thiago vs. Ivan Rakitic, Schweinsteiger and occasionally Alonso vs. Busquets — the home side’s best chances involved Dani Alves and Jordi Alba.
An unmarked Busquets located Alba running past Rafinha into half-space, but the left back’s cross was frantically cleared by Jerome Boateng – Suarez got between the Bayern centre-backs to nod the ensuing corner over the net. Then Alves ran beyond Bernat into right half-space to poke Iniesta’s ball over the top on goal, but Neuer denied the Brazilian.
Bayern’s system alteration decreased the frenetic tempo displayed in the opening 15 minutes, and the German champions slightly improved going forward. Robert Lewandowski and Muller’s movement were specifically key: Both men often shifted to a wide position out of possession to prevent Bayern’s full-backs from surging forward, but offensively, when one player moved centrally, the other stayed wide.
Lewandowski and Muller found it relatively easy to turn the Barcelona defenders, but it was often the final ball that led to Bayern’s downfall. The best move between the forwards saw Muller run across Gerard Pique and shrug off Alba to receive Lewandowski’s reverse ball into half-space, but the Pole couldn’t direct the German’s powerful cross into the box.
Where Bayern’s attacking play may be heralded as poor — they finished the match with 0 shots on target — Guardiola’s men continuously played vertical passes to a teammate between the lines, but without a midfielder capable of playing defence-splitting passes, along with their narrow shape, the Germans were reliant on their full-backs. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery’s absence deprived Guardiola of a legitimate threat in wide areas — width has been pivotal to Bayern’s success since the Spaniard’s appointment — but here, Bernat’s production was underwhelming, whereas Rafinha was cautious with his positioning.
Nevertheless, while it appeared that the tie was destined for a goalless draw, Barca’s pressing was proved decisive, led by Rakitic’s dynamism. The Croatian pressed Alonso around the hour mark, which led to Messi getting ahead of Bernat to supply Neymar with a chance that was inevitably wasted.
Subsequently, with Bayern attempting to build from the back, Alves dispossessed Bernat, skipped past Alonso, and squared the ball to Messi, who beat Neuer at his near post. The second also stemmed from the right side, with Rakitic and Alba both involved in the build up, and the former found Messi in space behind Bernat to score an exceptional goal.
The away side was in desperate need of an away goal, which was ultimately beneficial to Enrique’s side. Guardiola turned to a 4-1-4-1 and introduced Mario Gotze on the left flank, whereas Xavi and Rafinha slotted into midfield to slow down the tempo and retain possession. Neymar added a third goal from a clinical counter-attack involving the South American attacking trio to potentially settle the tie, as Barcelona initial and concluding 15 minutes of the match was played at a devastating pace.
Guardiola keenly stated the difficulty in stopping Messi in his pre-match presser, and for the most part he appeared to be correct. Despite Guardiola immediately rectifying his adventurous approach in the early stages, and successfully altering systems to balance the match, it was Barca’s uncommon late pressing combined with Messi’s brilliance that sealed Bayern’s fate.
More about Barcelona, Bayern munich, Pep Guardiola, Lionel messi, Suarez
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