Bayern Munich trounced Barcelona 4-0 at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night to take a large lead in the UEFA Champions League semifinal.
The newly crowned Bundesliga champions put in a performance that will go down in history, ripping Spain's finest export to shreds with consummate ease.
Let's analyse the performance here.
Bayern Munich set themselves out in a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation but at times never had a true striker, while Barcelona utilised their normal 4-3-3.
Lionel Messi was passed fit to play, Mario Gomez came in for the suspended Mario Mandzukic and Arjen Robben started on the right. Jerome Boateng and Alexis Sanchez were surprise inclusions for both sides.
Barca started with 1:04 of possession, knocking it around the back line in an attempt to gauge how aggressive Bayern were going to be.
The German side allowed Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra to have the ball and get their heads up, but all other outlets were closely marked. Thomas Mueller was widely expected to be man-marking a midfielder, but his role turned out to be the most fluid and free.
Interestingly, it was Gomez who man-marked and shadowed Sergio Busquets. When he dropped too deep he let him go, but as soon as he crossed the white line and entered der FCB's half, the striker would immediately glue himself to his shirt.
This left Mueller to chase and harry the right side of the pitch, while Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery covered the full-backs.
It's important to note that this was not pure gegenpressing, but more fake pressing. Bayern pushed close to their markers in possession, but only a select few players ever lunged in. They forced Barca away from danger areas with sheer presence while conserving their energy by not committing themselves.
Arrigo Sacchi would be proud.
The riskiest part of this nullification strategy was that Bayern played a pretty high defensive line—especially when you consider the pace of Alexis, Messi and Pedro. They focused on squeezing the play and removing room for Barca to play in, while Dante's elite positioning stopped most direct attacks before they even began.
The high defensive line, in addition to the nullification of Busquets, allowed Bayern to unleash a monster in Javi Martinez. The Spanish midfielder has been on the raw end of some bad scorelines against Barca in his time, but this was sweet salvation.
He charged forward, heavily pressuring Barca's midfield and snapping at their ankles all night. The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder completed six tackles and two interceptions in total, while also making surging runs forward to combine his power with great awareness.
Bastian Schweinsteiger dropped back a little when Martinez went forward, while Mueller's varied role saw him drop in alongside him at times.
Martinez got booked within 50 seconds of the restart whistle, and from then on he walked an obvious tightrope. It was his fifth foul and the yellow was deserved, and the game plan had to change.
It's at this point that the fake pressing in the first half gives you an advantage—unlike every other side who have kept Barca scoreless in the first half, Bayern players remained fresh as daisies.
When els Blaugrana eventually came into the game—and it's important to note their drastically improved play started from the moment Martinez picked up his yellow—they weren't able to take advantage of the usual tired legs.
Bayern dropped into a more settled 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-1-1 considering how deep Franck Ribery and Robben were) and utilised a proper holding midfield pivot to screen the defence.
Philipp Lahm nullified Jordi Alba in the one-on-one battle on the flanks, and Dante put in one of the most complete centre-back performances you'll ever see.
Bayern's defensive wing play mirrored that of Milan's, but the main difference was quality and experience. Robben worked tirelessly and superbly, creating turnovers and streaming down the pitch on exciting counterattacks.
Milan were unable to take advantage of their chances. Bayern could have had even more than four.
Barca didn't play well against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinal, and the French side showed us that a quality centre-back and a high-energy, well-disciplined midfield can put up a serious fight.
Bayern combined the steely defensive grit and organisation Thiago Silva and Blaise Matuidi showed, but added the clinical edge both Milan and PSG were lacking.
The result was a battering of the likes we've never seen.
Barca scored four against a disciplined Milan at Camp Nou, and the wider pitch in Spain will be of definite help, but a four-goal deficit against this well-oiled German machine is probably too much to overcome.
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