The UEFA Champions League has been filled with classic matches throughout the years. The Champions League semi-finals between Bayern Munich and Barcelona in 2013 surely brought two of the most surprising results in the competition’s history, with Bayern beating Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate. Arguably everyone expected tighter results, as both sides were in great form. In fact, both of them went on to achieve record numbers of points in a season in their respective leagues. So, how did Jupp Heynckes’ side destroy the great Barcelona so convincingly?
Bayern (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Jérome Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martínez; Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben; Mario Gómez.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Víctor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Marc Bartra, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta; Alexis Sánchez, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodríguez.
Bayern in possession
The Bayern Munich side of 2013 was surely one capable of playing from the back, as they demonstrated throughout the remarkable 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign. However, against top European sides in the Champions League, they tended to concede possession more and used a lot of long balls. That was the case in this match, against a mighty Barcelona side that went on to reach the 100-point milestone in La Liga that season.
They still used their famous 4-2-3-1 in possession. When playing at the back, Bayern’s back four mostly exchanged 2-3 passes before passing long towards Gómez and Müller. The two stayed close to each other in these cases.
Müller usually moved wide as it was easier to beat the opponent’s full-backs than their centre-backs in the air. If Bayern won the resulting second balls, they would launch a quick attack, typically by some combinations on the right wing between the two central attackers and Robben, who stayed higher than Ribéry.
Quick attacks through the wings were what Bayern tried throughout the match – they also came from counter attacks with the devastating speed and mazy dribbling of Robben and Ribéry. Their fourth goal came from a quick attack down the left with Ribéry finding Alaba’s overlapping run.
Should they lose the second balls, they would counter-press intensely by man-marking the ball-carrier’s nearby options, while one man pressed the ball-carrier. This was demonstrated in the below image. Here, Ribéry pressed the ball-carrier, while Alaba followed Pedro, who was moving away from Ribéry’s cover shadow to make himself a free passing option.
Barcelona pressed in a 4-3-3. At the start, the wingers man-marked Alaba and Lahm, who pushed high when Bayern built up. This meant Messi was usually left alone against Neuer, the centre-backs and Schweinsteiger, who loved to drop deeper than Martínez to help the centre-backs. Barcelona reacted by having their central midfielders close down Bayern’s double pivot, meaning a midfielder (mostly Xavi) pushed high towards the box to help Messi press Schweinsteiger and the centre-backs.
When Neuer passed towards a centre-back, Barcelona shifted towards the ball side, with Messi closing down the ball carrier, the ball-near central midfielder pushed up to mark the opponent’s ball-near pivot, the ball-near winger pressed Bayern’s ball-near full-back, while the ball-far winger stood between the opposition’s ball-far full-back and centre-back. That was demonstrated in the below image. In addition, Iniesta, the ball-near central midfielder, was marking Schweinsteiger, who moved higher than Martínez.
Barcelona used many pressing triggers, typically a sideways/backwards pass between Bayern’s defenders. Here is an example of a pressing trigger. Dante’s sideways pass to Boateng triggered Alexis’ press. The German passed to Lahm. Iniesta stopped marking Martínez and pressed Lahm as Alexis was with Boateng.
Barcelona’s defensive shape orientated towards the ball and tried to stay compact to force play towards the wings. They would then close down nearby passing options. Here, Alves moved high to stay compact with Pedro. Alaba’s nearby options were marked, while Messi covered his passing lane towards Schweinsteiger.
At times, Ribéry could drop deep to help Bayern build up. If Bayern could beat the press through short combinations, they would launch a quick attack through either flank. Here, a combination between Lahm, Robben and Ribéry released Martínez on the run. As Barcelona pressed high and shifted towards the ball side to press, space was opened on the other side for Alaba to exploit. The Austrian’s run was found by Martínez’s pass, but his cross was blocked by Pedro, who showed his great work rate.
When Barcelona’s 4-3-3 high press was beaten, they would shift to a 4-1-4-1, with Alexis and especially Pedro showing great desire to defend. Busquets was the one who tracked movements between the lines, like Müller’s in the below image.
The wingers’ high work-rate was crucial as Bayern’s wide players loved to double up on the opponent’s full-backs, often with the help of Müller. Bayern wanted to overload a flank to combine and cross. Below is a typical example, with Müller moving wide to connect with Robben, while Schweinsteiger made an overlap to receive Müller’s pass and then crossed the ball.
For the majority of the match, Bayern did not create many chances from open play. However, they utilised their physical superiority to hurt Barcelona at set-pieces. With the tall centre-backs, Martínez, Müller and Gómez, Bayern posed a big threat in these situations. Müller’s positioning at the far posts eventually became crucial in Bayern’s first two goals.
Here is the incident that led to the first goal. Barcelona cleared the ball from a corner. Robben won the loose ball and cross towards Dante, who beat Alves to head towards Müller at the far post. Piqué’s body orientation here indicated that he didn’t see Müller. Moreover, at least one of Busquets and Bartra should have been in Alves’s position there.
In the second goal, Müller beat Alves at the far post to head towards Gómez, who was somehow unmarked right in front of goal.
Barcelona in possession
Despite his side playing from the back, Valdés played a lot of long balls, especially from goal kicks. This was not a logical choice as Barcelona was obviously inferior in the air – they only won 27% of such duels in this match. When playing from the back, Busquets formed a back three with the centre-backs, with Xavi and Iniesta dropping to help. In the first buildup phase, their on-ball quality, combined with the numerical advantage due to Bayern not committing many men forward meant they could exchange passes comfortably. However, Bayern started pressing intensely when the ball reached the middle third.
Bayern defended in a 4-4-1-1/4-5-1, depending on Müller’s positioning. The home side used a lot of situational man-marking, with Gómez marking Busquets (except when the Spaniard became the third centre-back), their wingers marking Barcelona’s full-backs, and their full-backs marking the wingers – in the latter two cases Bayern players only marked tightly when the opponents were in Bayern’s own half. Bayern’s wing players showed full commitment to doing this, which required high levels of fitness and work rate. Their speed made it easier to do this. Though this man-marking scheme might make the hosts disorganised at times, Barcelona was never able to take advantage of it. The likes of Alaba and Ribéry also committed to making recovery runs whenever their side lost possession.
In the below example, Alaba followed Pedro’s central dropping. Alves sprinted to take advantage of the vacant space Alaba left behind, but Ribéry followed him tightly.
With Busquets marked tightly by Gómez most of the time, Barcelona’s central progression relied on the flexible movements of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Müller, Martínez and Schweinsteiger were assigned to follow their middle-third movements closely, often with the double pivot following the two higher players in the trio, while Müller was given a freer role, dropping deep to block passing lanes and add defensive stability when many of his teammates’ man-marked opposition players. Müller usually became a right-winger in defending, allowing Robben to stay central and higher, thus became a threat in transition. Müller and Gómez also worked hard to help their side overload the area around the ball.
The below example showed the duo doing exactly that, with Müller also blocking a passing lane towards Bartra. There was hardly any space for the Barcelona players around the ball as Alaba and Ribéry followed Pedro and Alves closely. Pedro made a run into space, but Alaba instantly followed him back.
Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger closed down Iniesta but didn’t tackle him – Bayern’s midfielders were less aggressive in the opponent’s half. The German mimicked Iniesta’s sideways movement to block his central passing lane and prevent him from dribbling forward. Schweinsteiger mainly moved higher than Martínez when pressing, while the latter stayed deeper to provide cover.
There was not much change in either side’s tactics in the second half. In the 71st minute, defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo replaced Gómez, meaning Schweinsteiger moved up to play behind lone forward Müller. Bayern scored three goals in the second half, the former two of which were controversial, while the latter resulted from a wing combination between Alaba and Ribéry when Alves was being temporarily off the pitch for medical treatment. The match ended 4-0 for Stern des Südens.
This analysis showed that Bayern deserved to win this match. Their man-marking scheme and great work-rate shown by every single player helped them totally nullify Messi and company, while they scored by counter-attacks and exposing Barcelona’s set-piece weaknesses.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s passing game was still wonderful to watch, but they couldn’t find a way to get close to Bayern’s goal and were defensively inadequate. Bayern went on to beat Los Cules on their own turf to complete their massive annihilation.