What: Champions League Semi-final Second leg
Who: Barcelona (0) vs Bayern Munich (4)
When: Wednesday 1st May, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Mission Improbable for Los Cules
The shattering 4-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena last week felt like the end of an era. Whilst players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas mean that in the years to come it is inconceivable Barcelona won’t challenge for these top trophies, there was a sense that the team the world have come to love is at an end. The height of tiki-taka. As with Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’, they were brought down by a 4-0 defeat looking tired against rampant opponents.
It took another 14 years for a genuine successor to that Dream Team to emerge under Pep Guardiola. It may be another 14 years now until the same level of football they have produced over the years returns. With that in mind, whilst Barcelona will still hope they can produce a miracle at the Camp Nou, this may be something more closely resembling an encore after the main show has come to an end; the chance for Barcelona to bid farewell to a golden age and enter a brave new world.
Gerard Pique admitted after last week’s clash that a comeback would be almost impossible. That is only partly because of the four- goal deficit, and mainly because of the sheer gulf between the two team’s respective performances at the Allianz Arena. If Barcelona are to avoid what seems as inevitable defeat, they must somehow rediscover the verve and brilliance of this team at the height of their power, such as the last time they met Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou, back in 2009. They won 4-0 on their way to a treble. That memory seems particularly distant now.
Bayern Munich Set for Domination?
There has been significant talk since last week’s momentous result that Bayern Munich are about to replace Barcelona as the dominant force in European football. Whether or not that talk is premature, last week was certainly hugely significant for the Bavarians. Not only did they confirm that they are probably Europe’s top side at present with the resounding win over Barcelona, but they were forced into announcing the signing of Mario Gotze.
Gotze of course starred for Borussia Dortmund, the team who developed him, as they crushed Real Madrid 4-1. The gifted 20-year-old will become the most expensive German player ever signed this summer and will join Guardiola and possibly his fellow Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski at the Allianz Arena. Given how they are swallowing up Europe’s second best side with their financial might, it seems impossible to see how anyone can beat Bayern Munich at present. Then again, it wasn’t long ago that sort of statement was associated with Barcelona.
But Bayern Munich’s victory last week was built on principles which were different to Barcelona’s. They are more about power and precision, about breaking quickly and directly, and they love playing in wide areas of the pitch. With such good ball players in the centre and two technically gifted wingers, Bayern Munich offer a truly complicated tactical threat. They press high as good attacking possession-based teams do, but they can also retreat into a solid shape which makes them so hard to breach. Barcelona’s strength lay in how good their attack was, whereas Bayern Munich’s rests in the perfect balance between defence and attack.
Barcelona 1-0 Levante (20/04; La Liga)
Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona (23/04; Champions League)
Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Barcelona (27/04; La Liga)
Hannover 1-6 Bayern Munich (20/04; Bundesliga)
Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona (23/04; Champions League)
Bayern Munich 1-0 Freiburg (27/04; Bundesliga)
Barcelona: Carles Puyol (doubt); Adriano; Javier Mascherano
Bayern Munich: Toni Kroos; Holger Badstuber
Players to watch
Barcelona – Andres Iniesta: As Messi struggles to find full fitness after his recent injury and Xavi shows signs of his age, Iniesta is the one part of the ‘golden triangle’ still operating near to his best. Few players can glide across the pitch with such composed control as Iniesta, or spin away from a host of challenges so effortlessly, and that will be so important at the Camp Nou. If Iniesta can find those spaces in the middle of the pitch rather than being forced out wide he will probably represent Barcelona’s best route back into this game.
Bayern Munich – Javi Martinez: Arguably his side’s best player last week, Martinez showed Barcelona what they missed out on when they elected not to get involved in a bidding war with Bayern Munich for his services. The former Athletic Bilbao man outshone his more celebrated international team-mates Xavi and Iniesta as he dominated midfield, providing defensive stability and carrying the ball forward with purpose and menace. Martinez is a fascinating blend of a technical and composed deep lying playmaker and the old ‘box to box’ midfielder who can push his team forward with driving runs. That is what makes him so difficult to deal with.
Last week’s game saw Barcelona dominate possession in spite of their comprehensive defeat, but it was mostly in ‘harmless’ areas of the pitch. In particular the Catalans spent most of the opening exchanges passing the ball across defence. Unlike last week, they will not have the luxury of playing against the less mobile Mario Gomez as Mario Mandzukic returns from suspension. He will give them far less time on the ball and Bayern Munich may be able to press higher and actually enjoy more possession as a result.
The problem is that Barcelona need four goals and it was hard to see where one would have come from in Munich last week. Messi is getting his sharpness back after injury, contributing to both goals in the weekend draw with Athletic Bilbao, but the increasing reliance on the Argentine highlights that the rest of Barcelona’s system is less effective than it once was. They beat AC Milan 4-0 in the last round, which will be an inspiration, and they may again utilise a system which sees them switch between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3, with Jordi Alba offering tactical flexibility by switching between attacking runs on the left and merging into a back three. David Villa could play and distract Bayern Munich from the task of nullifying Messi, while Eric Abidal could figure to add strength and composure at the back in place of Marc Bartra.
It is rare that Barcelona fail to score, particularly at home, and against a Bayern Munich side with the comfort of a four-goal lead they should be able to breach the German rearguard. But then, Bayern Munich will probably score too, such is their attacking talent and Barcelona’s defensive vulnerabilities. Barcelona 1-1 Bayern Munich.
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