UEFA Champions League: Bayern Munich 4-0 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Christof Koepsel

A recap of Barcelona's 4-0 UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich

FC Barcelona were on the receiving end of a heavy 0-4 defeat tonight, as the Blaugrana were outclassed by a Bayern Munich side full of hunger, desire and discipline. Thomas Müller opened the scoring on 25 minutes with a close-range finish, and Mario Gomez doubled the hosts’ advantage with a similar finish just four minutes after the half-time break. Arjen Robben made it three with less than 20 minutes remaining before Müller rounded off a superb night for the Bavarians with his second of the evening on 82 minutes. For this year at least, Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League dreams are all but over.

Bayern

Barcelona

Possession

34%

66%

Total Shots

15

4

Shots on Target

7

1

Pass Accuracy

81%

91%

Fouls

16

10

Offsides

3

1

Yellow Cards

3

4

Red Cards

0

0

There were no surprises in terms of team selection; Lionel Messi, who had just received the medical green light, was thrown into the deep-end, starting his first game in three weeks and he was joined in attack by Pedro and Alexis Sánchez, just as expected. Jerome Boateng started in the heart of defense for Bayern Munich – just as many predicted, and Arjen Robben took his place on the right-hand side of the attack. Now, would the match live up to its billing?

Bayern started the match, and immediately relinquished possession to their Catalan counterparts as Lionel Messi pounced on an under-hit pass from Mario Gomez to win the ball for the Blaugrana. Everyone expected Barcelona to dominate possession, but not quite to this extent. Bayern didn’t have another touch of the ball for over a minute – almost unthinkable for a Bayern team who have dominated matches, and indeed possession, en route to a record 23rd Bundesliga title. However, even without the lion’s share of possession, Bayern were still going to threaten Victor Valdés in the Barcelona goal, and could have taken the lead within three minutes of the opening whistle, but Robben’s selfishness got the better of him once again.

Instead of passing the ball across the box to one of his teammates who would have had a simple tap-in at the far-post, Robben went for goal himself, and was denied by Valdés. Talented though he may be, Robben was always going to struggle to convert against a keeper of Valdés’ calibre in that situation. Perhaps that chance would force Barcelona to play a little more conservatively, and give Bayern the confidence to really take the game to the visitors? And to an extent, it did. Barcelona continued to pass the ball around defense and midfield, rarely venturing into Bayern’s defensive third – although when they did, it was clear that they were favouring the right-hand side of their attack. It helped that Pedro started the match well, and that Alves is a constant menace for opposing teams, but there was more to it than that – Tito Vilanova had seemingly pinpointed David Alaba as the weak-link in the Bayern defense.

Certainly not the most complex of tactics, yet the early signs were promising. Pedro tried to take on Alaba, and looked to gain a foot or two or space, before Alaba recovered to concede a corner. As per usual, Barça didn’t make the most of the corner, although I’m sure Tito wouldn’t have minded – Barcelona were going to create better chances before the night was over.

However, there were huge question marks surrounding their defense as Marc Bartra in particular looked to be struggling to cope with the pressure at the Allianz Arena. While there were no glaring errors, there was a lack of really convincing defending – a complete lack of leadership in the backline – and as a result, Barcelona were struggling to effectively clear their lines; it was almost as though there was an air of panic about the Blaugrana defense every single time Bayern ventured forward.

And the vociferous crowd could sense it; they were urging their side on, willing them to get the goal that would put them in control of this tie. Philipp Lahm tried his luck from long-range, and appealed for a penalty as Gerard Piqué appeared to block his goal-bound shot with his forearm – but Viktor Kassai was unmoved by Bayern’s protests. The shot spelled the start of a prolonged period of Bayern pressure; four corners in the next ten minutes including one that could well prove decisive in this tie.

The corner itself was terrible, as Franck Ribery couldn’t even get the ball past the first-line of defense, but even so, Barça couldn’t clear their lines. The ball broke free to Arjen Robben , and Alexis Sánchez surged forward to meet the Dutch winger – leaving space behind the defense that Thomas Müller was able to exploit. Credit to Sánchez, he recovered from that mistake, forcing Müller to play the ball out wide and back to Robben – which ultimately proved to be Barcelona’s downfall. Robben provided the cross and Dante towered over Dani Alves to inadvertently assist Thomas Müller, who finished from close range, despite the efforts of Victor Valdés. Bayern Munich were ahead, and deservedly so.

They may have been dominating possession, but Barcelona were creating very few chances – their best "chance" in the first-half didn’t even result in a shot, as Pedro’s tantalising cross was turned behind by Dante. Without that intervention, Lionel Messi would have surely converted his ninth goal of this UEFA Champions League campaign and dragged the Blaugrana back into this match. On the other hand, Bayern weren’t creating much from open play either – and as a result, they only had a one-goal lead to their name after a relatively flawless first-half performance. Surely Barcelona couldn’t be as quiet in the second-half?

Almost immediately, Barcelona surged forward in search of an equaliser, only to be foiled by the linesman’s flag. Admittedly, Andrés Iniesta didn’t convert the chance, or even get a shot away at goal thanks to the quick thinking of Manuel Neuer, but it could have been a half-chance – if only the flag had stayed down.

And ironically, the flag stayed down just minutes later, but it was at the wrong end – not to mention the wrong decision – as Bayern doubled their advantage. Of course the chance was created from a set-piece, and again, Dani Alves was culpable – but just as the marking was poor, so was the officiating as Gomez finished the chance from a clear offside position. At this level, it’s almost inexcusable for an assistant referee to miss that call, especially at a set-piece where the defense is virtually static. After all, it’s his job to look down the line and call offside – so how could he possibly miss this decision?

We were less than five minutes into the second-half at the Allianz Arena – that meant there was 40 minutes left for Barcelona to salvage something, anything from this match. An away goal would have been perfect – Barça could have headed back to the Camp Nou knowing that a 1-0 win would send them through to the final. A perfectly achievable, perfectly realistic target for the second-leg. Forget the referee’s decisions, this game was still within reach, all we needed was someone to pull the Blaugrana back into the tie.

Naturally, everyone turned to Lionel Messi. How many times has he saved us over the years? Barcelona had been similarly ineffective in their last UCL semi-final success, against Real Madrid in 2011, until Messi turned the game on its head with a memorable brace. But there would be no such heroics tonight. Messi was clearly struggling with his injury – and who can really criticise him for that? After such a sustained period of dominance at the top of the sport, Messi had put his previous injury troubles firmly in the past – only for them to resurface at the most inopportune time. Psychologically as well as physically, that must have had a massive impact on Messi and no-one else was ready (or able) to take the initiative. Instead, we were treated to a vague spell of Barça pressure, which only served to create space and time for Bayern to thrive on the counter-attack.

After replacing Mario Gomez with Luiz Gustavo, it was clear that Bayern were inviting the pressure. They knew they could handle anything Barcelona threw at them; and counter to devastating effect. Of course, Barcelona couldn’t just give up, but a little caution really could have benefitted them – as within minutes of the substitution, Bayern had scored again – this time courtesy of Arjen Robben. After experiencing a number of defeats to the Blaugrana over the years as a member of Chelsea, Real Madrid and even with Bayern, Robben was determined to set the record straight so to speak. He was helping out at the back, creating chances for his teammates, almost everything a winger is expected to do (coincidentally, just as Bayern announced the signing of Mario Götze) – and from an entirely objective point-of-view, his performance probably merited a goal.

Not this way.

It was a nice counter-attack from Bayern, as Ribery worked the ball inside to Schweinsteiger, and as Schweinsteiger found Robben in space on the right-hand side of attack, but the goal itself should have never stood. As Robben cut inside for the shot, Müller set a perfect basketball screen to block Jordi Alba – but this isn’t basketball. This is football, and Müller blatantly obstructed Alba, allowing Robben to slot the ball past Valdés and make it 3-0.

So I checked the rulebook, and here’s what I found under an entire section titled: "Impeding the Progress of an Opponent".

"Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player. All players have a right to their position on the field of play, being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent."

That’s pretty clear to me, and all I did was a quick search on Google. Just imagine how clear that rule would be to me if I were a qualified UEFA referee who has officiated in countless matches, including a UEFA Champions League final...

Truth be told, there were many factors against Barcelona tonight – at the forefront of that list, you’d put Bayern Munich, they were better, kudos to them, but why is it that time and time again, referees and their decisions enter this list? This isn’t just some kick-about at your local park, this is the UEFA Champions League – there is a huge amount of money at stake for these clubs, money that can be ripped away from a club because of inept referees who cannot remember or are too spineless to enforce the rules. Do Barcelona need the money? Of course not, but do they deserve to concede two entirely unjust goals that could and should have been prevented by a competent group of officials?

Maybe Bayern would have scored two more goals, neither of which could have been ruled out for an infraction – or maybe Barcelona would have been able to salvage something from this tie? The unfortunate truth is that we will never know what would have happened, we can only speculate on the effects it could have had – and at this stage, we deserve better. As Bayern scored a fourth in the 82nd minute (Thomas Müller, again), the score could have been 2-0, and as we saw against AC Milan, Barcelona could have recovered from that deficit. Now that Bayern have a 4-0 lead in their favour, Barcelona’s chances of progression are slim to none (on the other hand, just how epic would a Manita at the Camp Nou be?).

Anyway, back to the game as Jordi Alba picked up a late yellow card for "throwing" the ball at Robben’s face, meaning that he will miss the second leg which is to be contested in a little over a week’s time. Andrés Iniesta was also booked, although he will not miss the match through suspension, unlike Bastian Schweinsteiger, who rode his luck for 87 minutes before finally picking up a yellow card. He will miss the second-leg – and the cynic in me suggests that it was probably deliberate, he wouldn’t want to miss the final after all...

It’ll be interesting to see just how Barcelona pick themselves up from this defeat – the league title is in the bag, but a tough trip to San Mames is hardly what the doctor ordered for a Barça team that is likely to be without a number of key players, and crucially, low on confidence. Theoretically, the tie is not over, and even if it is, Barcelona still have pride to play for. If they roll up at the Camp Nou next Wednesday and win by two, or three goals, I will be immensely proud of their efforts; regardless of whether they make it to Wembley. Changes (whether they are tactical or otherwise) are in order, and guys like Puyol and Mascherano who may have made a risky comeback from injury are unlikely to be risked – there’s simply no point in toying with their fitness at this stage – but that’s no reason for Barça to give up the ghost. If Bayern can defeat Barcelona 4-0, then why can’t Barcelona defeat Bayern 4-0? Unlikely? Obviously, but a little faith never hurt anyone.

After all, the last time Barcelona suffered such a heavy defeat was probably back in May 2008, as Real Madrid ran-out 4-1 winners on a terrible night at the Santiago Bernabeu – and we all know what happened next: Barcelona responded.

And that’s really all we want to see from our heroes, a response.

Until then, Visca el Barça!


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