Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona: Bayern produce an astonishingly dominant performance

April 24, 2013

The starting line-ups

Bayern Munich didn’t try to outpass Barcelona, and instead ruthlessly exposed their traditional weaknesses.

Jupp Heynckes selected Mario Gomez rather than Claudio Pizarro as Mario Mandzukic’s replacement, and decided Jerome Boateng was a better option than Daniel van Buyten because of his extra speed.

Tito Vilanova’s side was as expected: Lionel Messi was fit, and Alexis Sanchez started as wide forward on the left, with Pedro Rodriguez on the right.

Barcelona enjoyed a decent opening ten minutes, but Bayern were strategically perfect and fully deserved to win by such a convincing scoreline.

Bayern pressing

Pressing was always likely to be important in deciding the shape of this game, and Bayern’s pressing strategy worked well. They used an approach that has becoming increasingly popular in top-level games over the past year: they pressed the opposition at goal-kicks, preventing them from playing the ball forward into midfield easily…but once that press had been passed through, Bayern dropped deep into a solid defensive shape, and from then rarely pressed the Barcelona defenders.

Barcelona conceded possession cheaply inside their own half – but not always when under heavy pressure. The spell of pressure that eventually resulted in Bayern’s opener started from two Barcelona mistakes – Marc Bartra misplaced a pass which resulted in an unnecessary corner being conceded, then as soon as Barcelona had cleared the danger, Busquets lost the ball in a similarly dangerous position.

Barcelona actually pressed higher than Bayern in the opening stages, despite Lionel Messi appearing unfit and unable to lead the pressure as effectively as usual. But pressing high isn’t always useful if not backed up by the midfield, and Bayern could often pass their way out of trouble – particular credit should go to Boateng, who played a couple of excellent vertical passes to bypass the half-hearted pressure.

Bayern defensive shape

Bayern were admirably disciplined without the ball, especially considering the anticipated problems with Mandzukic’s absence – he’d been brilliant in a defensive sense against both Arsenal and Juventus. Gomez and Thomas Muller dropped deep and one always occupied Sergio Busquets, preventing him from starting attacks. Barcelona’s two centre-backs and the other two central midfielders were all given more time on the ball than Busquets.

The other two attackers, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, were extremely disciplined in tracking Barcelona’s full-backs. Ribery was pushed back by Daniel Alves’ forward bursts and had a couple of nervous moments, but overall Bayern were compact and their two banks of four moved across the pitch together seamlessly. Messi only found space between the lines a couple of times, and instead had to venture out to the right flank to collect the ball.

Javi Martinez pressured Andres Iniesta, while Bastian Schweinsteiger – despite being outfoxed by Xavi Hernandez a couple of times in the opening minutes – continued to shut down energetically. Barcelona’s midfielders all played deeper than they would have liked – Busquets dropped into the back to get space, Xavi roamed around in front of his own defence rather than getting involved in a proper midfield battle, while Iniesta spent too much time doing the job of Xavi, and not enough time linking midfield with attack.

They showed some intelligence to vary their positioning and find space, but ultimately their passes were always in front of Bayern, never looking to penetrate.

Martinez and physicality

The game’s key player was Martinez, whose specific task was to stop Iniesta (something he did effectively) but who was more generally used as a powerful destroyer in the centre of the pitch. While a reliable distributor of the ball, Martinez played almost solely a physical role here – no fewer than 20 players attempted more passes than him, but no-one completed more tackles, and he committed twice as many fouls as anyone else.

He was also a presence at attacking transitions, charging forward suddenly to support attacks, as he’d done in the 3-1 victory away at Arsenal. It was that sheer energy and physicality that typified Bayern tonight, and while Martinez rightly remains a less celebrated player than Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, arguably none of them could have played this all-round role.

Martinez physically unsettled Iniesta, and shortly after he’d fouled Barcelona’s playmaker in the first half, it was interesting to see Busquets step forward into a challenge with Martinez, as if he understood his presence was needed higher up. (Busquets has praised Martinez’s physical abilities in the past – “Javi Martínez has a spectacular physical potential. He gets all around the pitch and wins possession back everywhere. He’s the lungs of the team.”) Iniesta’s last action of the night, meanwhile, was cynically fouling Martinez after getting caught out of position.

It was in this respect that Barcelona missed Seydou Keita, one of the underrated squad members under Guardiola. He brought energy and power to the midfield zone, and while he wasn’t always a regular, he started the away leg of the semi-final in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Alex Song, signed as Keita’s replacement, isn’t considered up to the job.


Barcelona had a considerable height disadvantage at corners, and this proved to be fatal. Gerard Pique is good in the air, while Busquets and Bartra are capable, but Barcelona’s problem in this respect was obvious against PSG in the previous round, and was even more problematic with Martinez, Dante, Gomez and Muller all forward for corners.

Barcelona could have helped themselves by not allowing Bayern 11 corners (some of them conceded very cheaply), and Bayern’s first two goals came from similar moves following dead ball situations – a header back across goal, rather than a direct attempt – for the goalscorer to convert. Even Bayern’s set-piece dominance involved cohesion and teamwork.

As it happens, Barca’s best chances were from set-pieces too – Bartra had two attempts, as many as the rest of the side combined.


Barcelona increasingly pushed men forward in the second half, and were inevitably undone on the break. The one thing Bayern didn’t do effectively in the first half was dribble – 12 of their 14 take-ons were unsuccessful – but having spent so long being disciplined, Ribery and Robben could now storm forward at speed.

For the third goal, Pique went haring forward to become an additional centre-forward, leaving the defence exposed, and at the attacking transition Bayern went the length of the pitch with a counter-attack reminiscent of Bayern’s 2009/10 season (and, specifically, Robben’s debut against Wolfsburg when he and Ribery constantly combined on the break). A Ribery dribble also played a part in Muller’s fourth.

Lack of changes

Vilanova seemed uncertain of his Plan B – Pedro and Sanchez swapped wings, but only in the 83rd minute, at 4-0 down, did Vilanova turn to the bench – David Villa replaced Pedro.

Heynckes made a logical change at 2-0, introducing holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo for Gomez to bring extra energy and defensive strength to the midfield. Muller went upfront and Schweinsteiger played a little higher, from where he influenced the game much more in an attacking sense in the final 20 minutes, as Bayern continued to test Victor Valdes.


For all the talk of Barcelona influencing Bayern in terms of possession play, and Bayern’s supposed willingness to take on Barca at their own game, this was nothing of the sort. It was a fine technical display from Bayern, but was primarily based around the (only?) three tactical weaknesses that have been obvious in Barcelona over the past five years – Bayern were physical, they took advantage of extra height at set-pieces, and then they counter-attacked with wide players when Barcelona had men high up the pitch.

That is essentially the standard recipe when taking on Barcelona – it’s what Jose Mourinho did when Real Madrid first appeared capable of defeating Pep Guardiola’s side, for example. It wasn’t necessarily the idea behind the strategy that was crucial, it was the fact Bayern carried it out so efficiently and ruthlessly with top-class footballers.

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