Bayern Munich Bamboozle Barcelona
Bayern Munich’s dominance in their 4-0 first leg win of the UEFA Champions League semifinal may very well have signaled the end of an era.
If the Bavarians can go on to win the competition, then it could also be the start of a new cycle of dominance, reminiscent of when the torch was passed from Ajax to Bayern in the mid 70s.
That Barca, have not and were not, at their best was plain for all to see, but Bayern still deserve all the plaudits for their approach to the first leg.
Following the blueprint of Jose Mourinho’s Inter and Real Madrid squads, Bayern pressed from the front. Mario Gomez was often joined by a midfielder to press the back-line in tandem to keep Barcelona from establishing a rhythm.
Once that first line was broken, the midfielder would drop back into the five man block. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez in particular were sensational in clogging the middle and disrupting the area where Barca like to orchestrate their Tiki-Taka attack.
With Gomez leading the line and the midfield pressed high up the field, the Blaugrana were forced to play through the midfield, rather than set up shop around the outside of the 18 and work their magic as they often do against sides that show them too much respect.
When the ball was at their feet, Bayern ran at Barca with a direct and counter attacking style, rather than trying to establish the possession game that has often worked for them in the Bundesliga. This was another masterstroke of Jupp Heynckes tactics as it spread out a Barca side that likes to attack the ball first rather than find its defensive shape.
We had already seen on several occasions this year, that the direct style is more conducive to breaking Barcelona down than trying to pass around their instant pressure, which is suffocating once they have time to organize.
It was no surprise that the first two goals originated in the air. With Carles Puyol absent, the only player capable of dealing with the areal threat is Gerard Pique. With only one defender genuinely able to handle crosses, Barca have been susceptible to the flighted ball or set pieces all season.
On the first goal, every Barcelona defender in the box was culpable of ball watching as Dante towered over them to win the first header. No one thought to keep an eye on the back post where Thomas Muller ghosted in to head home the opener.
The second goal was perhaps offside, but Barcelona were strictly out muscled on the corner kick.
Two more goals may very well have signaled the Catalonians’ downfall. Barcelona have shown on more than one occasion that they are capable of the extraordinary comeback, but if Messi is as absent as he was today, then a 4-0 score-line and an impeccable Bayern side may prove to be just a peak to far for a side that will surely go down as one of the top 10 in history.