Heynckes' tactical acumen comes up trumps as Bayern annihilate Barcelona

Die Roten were in top gear in Munich as they hit the Catalan giants for a fantastic four and have one foot firmly in the Wembley turf....



Srinivasan Mohan

Every football fan had to take a good hard look at the scoreline on the TV screen. It read Bayern Munich 4 Barcelona 0. It has been nearly 8 years since the Catalans conceded 4 goals in a Champions League match. Chelsea were the team that troubled the Blaugrana in 2005 in the Round of 16 and now Bayern Munich had all but booked their tickets to Wembley after they shot down the Spanish giants.

With news of the signing of Mario Gotze by Die Roten doing the rounds in Europe, it would have been easy for the Bavarians to be distracted. But they are a team that are on the path to right a most grievous wrong. Losing the Bundesliga to Dortmund and the Champions League final to Chelsea were the last straw for Jupp Heynckes who will make way for Pep Guardiola after this season.

But this was a display of ruthless German efficiency, one which is so synonymous with the country, against one of the top sides in the world making them look pedestrian. Goal takes a look at some of the aspects of the game in Munich.

Bayern choke Barcelona midfield

It is very clear that if you find a way to nullify the Barcelona midfield, half the battle is won. It is easier said than done as only very few sides are capable of going toe-to-toe with the Catalans. Milan showed the way in Italy two months ago, Paris Saint-Germain set the cat among the pigeons in Spain a few weeks ago and Bayern took it and ripped it apart for all to see.

In Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, the Germans possess arguably the best midfield pivot in Europe. Workrate, defensive stability, playmaking abilities, physicality, it’s all there stuffed into two pocket dynamos marshalling the centre of the pitch.

Player Tackles Interceptions Key Passes Pass Accuracy
Bastian Schweinsteiger 7 5 4 89
Javi Martinez 6 2 1 86

                       Bayern's midfield engine proved why they are among the best in Europe

This is precisely what Heynckes employed to ensure that Andres Iniesta and Xavi were kept on a leash. The Roten brought back the tactics used against Juventus to shut Andrea Pirlo out of the game by asking Mario Gomez, replacing the suspended Mario Mandzukic, to drop deeper and hound Sergio Busquets. The result? An all out domination of midfield which directly resulted in Lionel Messi sidetracked from proceedings.

Dani Alves did all he could to drive his team forward. But as Barcelona realized, one man alone cannot change the show.

Barcelona's aerial weakness exploited

Barcelona have suppressed questions being asked about their suspect defence by being prolific in attack. On this occasion, that attack fizzled out at the hands of a superior Bayern side. Milan had their share of chances when they punted the ball into the air which almost resulted in M’Biaye Niang scoring a vital away goal at the Nou Camp when the two sides met in the Round of 16.

This was further shown over two legs by PSG where Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Gerard Pique and co a tough time. Had it not been for Messi’s late introduction into the game, the Parisians were on course to remove Barcelona from the competition. The Catalans have conveniently chosen to ignore their defensive frailties which have been ridiculed by the signing of Alex Song over the likes of Javi Martinez, Mats Hummels and Thiago Silva.

Bayern's aerial strength was at display against Barcelona

The fact that wing-back Adriano was forced to play as centre-half in the crucial Champions League game against PSG was testament to Barca’s flawed transfer policy.

Bayern took a leaf out of their arch-rivals Real Madrid’s book and used that weakness to their advantage. An astounding 79% of the aerial duels were won by Die Roten which goes to show how they had a Plan B for sides with different styles of play, something which Barcelona would wish they have.

Fixture Aerial Duel Percentage
Milan 0-2, San Siro, Italy 50
Milan 4-0, Camp Nou, Spain 57
PSG 2-2, Parc des Princes, France 21
PSG 1-1, Camp Nou, Spain 23
Bayern Munich 4-0, Allianz Arena, Germany 21

                         Barcelona's weakness in numbers in the Champions League knockout stages

Height was in plenty for the Germans with Mario Gomez, Javi Martinez, Dante and Jerome Boateng all being potential threats from set-pieces. Thomas Muller’s opener was a case of the Spaniards not being able to deal with the aerial ball. Ribery’s corner was headed away and after a brief passing interchange with Muller, Arjen Robben sent an inch perfect cross to Dante in the far post, who hadn’t returned to the heart of the Bayern defence. The Brazilian did ever so well to beat the Barcelona centre-half with ease and head across goal leaving Muller with a free header to give the four-time European Champions the lead.

Muller turned provider for the Germans’ second as he too headed it across goal from a Robben cross to allow Mario Gomez an easy goal although there were debates as to whether the striker was in an offside position. But that did nothing to deter the fact that the Spaniards were clueless when the ball was in the air.

The difference in height was there to see. With the exception of Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, none of the other members of the team that took to the pitch in Munich were above 6 feet in stature. Bayern on the other hand had some giants in their first XI. Dante, Gomez, Muller, Boateng, Martinez, Schweinsteiger are all towering above 6 feet compared to their diminutive Spanish counterparts which allowed them to take an aerial approach to counter Barcelona.

Barcelona may have already thrown in the towel, save a miracle in the second leg in Spain. But they will have to learn their lesson after this disaster and work towards finding a stable defensive option to an otherwise formidable team.

Bayern harried Barca in the right areas

A key component of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona was their ability to hound their opponents when they were in possession of the ball. This would result in them making their passing error-prone and giving away the ball which against Barcelona is the last thing you would want.

Bayern Munich is one of the sides in Europe who have this philosophy inculcated into their players the moment they don the famous Red of the Bavarians.

Jupp Heynckes had organized his team to sit deep and hit Barcelona on the counter, something which Real Madrid perfected in their previous meetings with the Catalans this season. With Schweinsteiger and Martinez forming a perimeter to halt Xavi and Iniesta, the Catalans were forced to keep the ball by means of passing amongst their centre-halves in their own half. With the exception of Gomez and sometimes Muller, the rest of the Bayern squad spent time in their own half keeping their defensive shape absolutely intact.

The protagonists of Barcelona's downfall at Munich

Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are mercurial wingers, but they had an added responsibility to track back and keep Jordi Alba and Alves out of the game as much as possible. ‘Robbery’ did just that and kept things water tight and thereby ensured that Phillip Lahm and David Alaba had a comfortable run in the park.

This systematic stifling implied that there was no drive to the Catalans’ play which effectively slowed their game down to a trickle. Messi, having just returned from injury, looked clueless. The magician from Argentina covered very little ground (4.5km) unlike Xavi who had 11.8 km of running against his name. This was almost a repeat of the first leg clash against Milan in February for Barcelona where they had just the one shot on target.

Heynckes showed his tactical acumen in the second half when he sensed his players’ growing weary from the running they were doing to keep Barcelona in their own half. Ribery’s engine was slowly dying out and it wouldn’t have been long before Martinez and Schweinsteiger followed suit. The 66-year old coach brought on Luis Gustavo in place of Ribery which added fresher legs to the pack and kept the Germans firmly in control of the match.

The second leg looks a mere formality for Bayern now as they are in cruise control in this tie. But if there is something we learnt about Barcelona over the years, it is that they are never to be underestimated when playing at home.

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