How Messi's Barca can beat Bayern Munich
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Bayern Munich have been immense this season.
After a rocky start under Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick came in and transformed the Bavarian club, romping to another Bundesliga title and now going into the Champions League Quarter-Finals having won every single game they have played in the competition, with a remarkable goal difference of +25 having played just 8 games.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have been quite inconsistent, unable to grind results when most necessary, and losing out the title to archrivals Real Madrid despite holding a lead over them coming out of lockdown.
There has been much unrest at the club, with Messi himself criticising the board, manager, and team all in one go, not afraid to hold back.
The transfers have been bizarre, with their first team now holding many players over the age of 30.
But the club has gone through multiple heartbreaks in the past few years, and have a point to prove, with most of their older players wanting to win one last CL.
So this quarter-final is looking like it could be one of the games of the season.
But how will Barcelona beat such a well-rehearsed Bayern team that contains so many brilliant players?
We answer that question right here.
Bayern’s Tactics - 4231
With Pavard’s training injury possibly keeping him out of the starting line up, here is what we have come up with - a fairly compact and narrow 4231.
Bayern look to utilise their superb fullbacks to both create passing angles and stretch the pitch.
Alphonso Davies stays widest and moves up the pitch almost in line with the wingers. The opposing fullback Pavard would stay a bit deeper, making for a lopsided shape.
The wingers would move infield, to overload the centre of the pitch - this allows Bayern to dominate possession, and to stop any counters in the centre of the pitch.
Kimmich sometimes drops into the backline to allow for comfortable build-up, but he most often lines up with Goretzka in front of the backline in a double pivot - it provides both centre backs 2 progressive options, and combining this with the fullbacks almost always being available, allows them to build up play through even the toughest presses.
When the ball reaches the opposition half, the fullbacks push very high, creating a line of 5 with the striker and wingers. This line is not flat, and oftentimes the two wingers and striker will alternate their vertical depth, with either the two wingers pushing highest and the striker dropping off, or vice versa.
When you add a certain Thomas Muller to the mix, especially given that he has complete freedom to roam wherever he desires, you get a completely unpredictable attacking line that every single defence on the planet would struggle to cope with.
Bayern usually initiate attacks by first circling the ball between the two centre backs and goalkeeper, drawing out any opposition forwards before beating the first line by playing the ball into either Kimmich or Thiago.
Both players are sensational with the ball, and elite in terms of their ability to progress the ball and break lines - the German usually does this with a well-placed laser pass, and the Spanish maestro with a directional first touch and dribble, although both can do either well.
When the ball reaches the final third, Bayern look to overload either flank of the pitch, with Muller responsible for directing the team.
This drags out the opposition, meaning that space opens up on the other flank; a drawback of this style is that it becomes incredibly hard to play out from thereafter the other team choke space, but due to the sheer individual quality of these players that is seldom a problem.
They can then either look to foster a scoring chance through interplay on the overloaded side or switch the ball to the fullback before a cross into the middle for Lewandowski to attack and often score.
Another feature of the club’s attack is that their players frequently interchange positions with the ball, confusing markers and opening gaps in the opposition.
This is not a tactic that is directly used for creating chances, but it can force mistakes from their opponents, which allow for easy goals to be scored.
Without the Ball
The Bundesliga is renowned for its Gegenpressing, but Bayern has perfected the art since Klopp first utilised it over 10 years ago with Borussia Dortmund.
Because of their compactness in the centre of the pitch, and their fullbacks covering the width in a high position, whenever they lose the ball Bayern can immediately pour numbers into that space and overload their opposition.
This once again forces mistakes or wins them the ball back.
Should this gegenpress fail, they regroup into shape - but not for long, as when a trigger occurs they launch into a high press to win the ball. If this fails, they simply repeat the process until the ball is won.
Once they win the ball either two events occur - if the ball is high up the pitch they launch into a lightning-quick counter-attack, and if the ball is in their own half and the opposition are in shape they simply recycle and start the buildup phase again.
So how does this Barcelona side beat them?
It may seem quite difficult, but Barca can win if they do it right.
They have the superstars, and they have the determination.
But it will take perfect execution and probably a bit of luck.
The Catalan club need to choke Bayern at their most important points during build-up: the fullbacks and double CDM pivot.
Barcelona should set up in a 1-4-2-3
The formation sounds unconventional, but a variation of this system was used by some of the greatest teams of all time, including Franz Beckenbauer’s '74 World Cup winning West Germany side.
It utilises the Libero - well, sort of.
Same position, completely different role.
Arturo Vidal will occupy that role, as a destructive rather than creative player.
He will be tasked with sweeping up any opposition attacks, and also to bully anyone that comes close to the box - this will reduce Lewandowski’s influence in front of goal, most likely forcing him deep and too far to shoot.
When building up play he provides an extra option to get out of a gegenpress or Bayern’s usual high press.
The two centre-backs will perform their normal duties, defending the box and building play from the back.
The fullbacks - Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo will look to man-mark the opposing fullbacks out of the game, and also look to use their great pace to make underlapping runs when the ball is in the final third.
The double-pivot in De Jong and Rakitic will prove crucial - they would need to stop Goretzka, Gnabry, and Muller from having any space in the centre of the pitch through a combination of zonal and man-marking.
They need not worry too much about runs in behind the backline, with the two centre-backs available to do so themselves.
When in possession, De Jong, in particular, should try and receive behind lines and break them, progressing the ball as best as possible into the final third for the front three to work their magic.
Now here is the most complicated system - the attacking trio of Griezmann, Messi, and Suarez.
Without the ball the three will look to tuck into the centre in front of the double pivot and shift with the ball, trying to cut off passing lanes using a cover shadow to the opposing midfield.
Griezmann and Suarez both have a superb work ethic and will be able to cover all the ground necessary during the match, but the Uruguayan will not be able to last the full 90, and will likely need 17-year-old Ansu Fati to replace him sometime after the 60th minute.
These three will not be pressing much, but will try to crowd out the opposing two in midfield of Thiago and Kimmich whilst still cutting off passing lanes - this is a very difficult task, but Messi, Griezmann, and Suarez are all extremely intelligent footballers, and with the right motivation will be able to accomplish it.
They should mostly ignore the pairing of Alaba and Sule, and leave them to keep possession of the ball.
With the ball, things get even more interesting; the two ‘wingers’ will split and go high and wide.
What this does is it forces Bayern’s fullbacks(who usually operate very high up the pitch) to either cover them and leave Barca’s fullbacks free, or leave them in a 2v2 against their own centre-backs.
They will drop, meaning that Alba and Semedo are free to both aid in build-up and progress the ball forward along with Frenkie De Jong.
Messi will be in the hole, connecting midfield to attack, and looking to create chances using his unrivalled dribbling and passing ability.
He will be in a 1v2 against the Bayern double-pivot - this is often viewed as a negative, but that means that Bayern are one man down in their defensive third.
If they leave him in a 1v1 he will dominate and therefore create chances for Barcelona and himself.
In an ideal situation, it would result in a 3v2: Suarez, Messi, Griezmann vs Alaba and Sule.
With that sort of firepower, it will no doubt lead to goals.
Should Barca lose the ball, they should not press back - their team will be too exposed to Bayern’s raw pace.
What they should do instead is go back into the shape prescribed of the 1-4-2-3 and they must remember that compactness and reducing space inside is key to success.
If Quique Setien’s side were to do all these steps successfully, Bayern would have a mountain to climb to win.
This system chokes Bayern’s playmakers, overloads their fullbacks, suffocates star-striker Lewandowski, and allows chances to be created against Bayern’s world-class defence.
Messi & Co would do well to reach the final 4, and it would be massive for them going back to the glory days.