Messi Punishes Dangerously Confident Bayern

Messi celebrating 2-0, Barca-Bayern

Bayern Munich lasted for the 76th minute against Barca in the Champions League semifinal.

Barcelona had two big tasks for the Champions League semifinal. First, to welcome Pep Guardiola properly, who returned to the Cap Nou as the opposition’s manager for the first time since he left the Blaugrana in 2012. Second, to take revenge on Bayern for the 2013 semifinals, when the Bavarians put seven past Victor Valdes in two games shocking Barcelona fans, pundits, and nearly everyone who bet on sports in the EU.

• Guardiola switched to plan B
• Bayern became too confident
• One man cannot stop Messi

Guardiola had two different plans to take on his loved club and for the majority of the game the visitors handled the pressure well. For certain periods they were even in control and they had slightly more possession than the hosts. However Barca were able to defeat Bayern eventually and the gap between the two teams were exactly the same as it was in their last encounter, though the outcome was different this time.

Guardiola’s plans

Bayern’s Spanish manager set up his team in a 3-4-1-2 formation initially, which meant that everyone had their man in the whole field as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona used their traditional 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3). The Bayern defenders, Medhi Benatia, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha played one on one against the members of the best forward line in the world consisting Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

The midfield triangle of Philippe Lahm, Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger also matched Barca’s midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta. This setting did not work for Bayern, as the hosts were not just able to press them in the opening minutes, but they forced errors and gained possession close to Manuel Neuer’s goal and they were creating chances.

Bayern were lucky to not concede a goal in the first fifteen minutes however, and Guardiola, realizing the problem instantly, switched to a diamond 4-4-2/4-5-1 hybrid. Juan Bernat joined the backline and Xabi Alonso played in front of the defense while Lahm and Thiago Alcantara were the other parts of the midfield diamond with Schweinsteiger on its top. Thomas Müller played as an auxiliary midfielder, defending in midfield when out of possession and taking up wide positions when in possession trying to link up with Robert Lewandowski.

After the change Bayern had a spare man in defense and in midfield as well and they were able to soak up the pressure, trying to create chances on the break. This is not what we usually see from Guardiola’s teams, but the Catalan stated before the match that they might be able to deal with the basically unstoppable Messi only as a team, gambling news reported. And Bayern were missing their star wingers, Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben, because of injury.

Bayern became dangerously confident

The spare men and the fact that usually three midfielders were sitting in front of the backline made it impossible for Barca to penetrate in the middle. Thus after Bayern’s switch Barcelona experienced something similar to what Real Madrid felt against Juventus on Tuesday evening. There were two major methods left for them: shooting from distance or trying something from the wings.

Back then when Guardiola managed Barcelona, they refused to rely on long shots, even against opponents defending their box with ten outfield players. That attitude caused problems for them sometimes, but Guardiola always insisted to stay with creating quality chances instead of giving up possession with an early shot. Luis Enrique’s team doesn’t have any problems with shooting from distance however, and as they weren’t able to deliver quality chances in the second half, Messi and co. tried with shots from outside Bayern’s box.

After they switched formations, Bayern started to gain confidence, they held the ball for longer periods and, stunning some of the online sportsbooks’ punters, they were even with Barca regarding possession at half time. In the first half they were passing usually in their own half or in the neutral third of the field but with time they held the ball more and more often in the attacking third. In the second half they seemed to be controlling the match, they had more possession and although they had no quality chances, they remained confident. Maybe too confident.

Entering the last fifteen minutes it seemed that Bayern had the upper hand. However, as certain Johan Cruyff pointed out, every advantage had its disadvantage. Bayern’s disadvantage was that they forgot about handling Messi properly, and it happened once that only one defender was between him and Neuer’s goal. Messi took the opportunity right away, and with a shot from outside of the box, a feature that was missing from the inventory of Guardiola’s Barca, he took the lead for the hosts.

Barca is virtually in the final

Three minutes later something similar happened, when Boateng was the only back between the phenomenal Argentine and Neuer. Messi fooled the defender easily before perfectly chipping the ball over the keeper. A typical series of movement from the number ten that takes place often in the opening minutes of a league game, however this time he had to be patient until the opportunity came.

With two goals on the board Barcelona were already in great position, but as Bayern were desperately seeking for an away goal, the hosts managed to step with one foot in the Berlin final. Deep into injury time Barca were able to counterattack Bayern and Messi crowned his performance by providing an assist to Neymar, who only had to beat Neuer to score his team’s third.

Barcelona handed exactly the same punishment to the one they received from the Germans when they played here two years ago, and the place in the final is Barca’s to lose from now. Though they demonstrated in the last round against Porto that they can score five goals in a half even against a team enjoying outstanding form, most users of online sportsbooks in the EU would be shocked if Barca failed to qualify for the final.

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