To all the Barcelona lovers out there: it may be time to give up your claim to being the best team in Europe. Barcelona was just shown how to play football by the new best team in the world, Bayern Munich. Some people may say that it’s a little soon to make such claims and that maybe placing Bayern above Barcelona should only happen once the second leg has been played, but I don’t think its too soon to say. Bayern Munich beat Barcelona all over the pitch and if any Barcelona supporter brings up the possession stat then all I need to do is point to the scoreline: 4-0 is not a scoreline of two closely matched teams (and need I remind anyone who watched the game that it could have been so much worse).
Tuesday night proved something very important about this Barcelona team: they can’t defend. I think I may have mentioned this before — it’s one of my favourite topics — but defensively Barcelona are very poor. Barcelona defenders are so used to winning or controlling games that nobody taught them how to defend. This problem is exacerbated when you play two very excitable wing backs in Dani Alves and Jordi Alba who spend much of their time in the opposition’s half looking for the overlap. This works when you have possession for 66% of the game and this is why Barcelona doesn’t concede more often; they make up for their defensive frailties by never having to defend. Xavi, Iniesta, Sanchez and Pedro are not midfielders who can tackle or cover back effectively; the Barcelona midfield is designed to have possession not track after players in order to get possession back, especially when the other team breaks as quickly as Bayern Munich does. This lack of ability to cover back quickly or to make a cynical foul to postpone play was ruthlessly exploited in the wing play of Robben and Ribery, possibly the most frightening combination at the moment, and the constant threat of Mario Gomez really made the combination of Pique and Bartra uncertain about whether to step up or cover the run. It is worth noting that Gomez was quite terrible apart from scoring. He had five complete passes by the time he was substituted as he kept of making runs at goal, rather than playing any sort of support role and helping Bayern keep the ball. They might as well have played without him for most of the game given how little he did up until he was substituted.
Barca fans have some right to feel aggrieved but not a huge amount. Two of the goals were iffy: Gomez was offside for the second goal and Mueller did body check Jordi Alba during the third goal. But decisions often go the way of the more aggressive team. Bayern were showing a lot of attacking prowess and were rampaging towards the Barcelona goal at every opportunity and when you show that sort of desire you often get decisions in your favor. It begs the question of what the point of the extra officials are when one of them was three yards from Mueller’s body check and again really close to Gomez after the initial header by Dante. However, decisions could not change the scoreline of this match that much. Bayern scored two dubious goals but should have scored on other opportunities throughout the match so a 4-0 scoreline seems about fair.
What this match did show was the importance of the defensive midfielder. Probably the two best players on the pitch were Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez with the Spaniard probably just stealing the man of the match award. Against a team that holds on to the ball consistently for long periods of time both of these players had excellent games covering all areas of the pitch and Martinez had a couple of quality interceptions, especially in the first half. While Bayern’s attacking players showed their ability to counter effectively, it was the tireless work of the midfield pairing that continually gave the offense opportunities to break.
What happened in Munich was probably a one off for Barcelona because they were the second best team all evening. Against AC Milan earlier in the season there were signs of problems but Barcelona were still the best team. Here it was completely different and Bayern simply showed Barcelona how to combine physicality with technique and played a game that showed organised defending alongside freeform attack.
And how about that Robert Lewandowski? Pretty good player isn’t he? Apparently we’ll be looking at a front three next season in red for Manchester of Van Persie, Falcao and Lewandowski if rumors are to be believed.