Just to provide a little context, the last time Bayern Munich lost by five or more goals was back in 1978, when all but two members of the current Barça squad (Jose Manuel Pinto and Carles Puyol) were yet to be born as Bayern slumped to a 7-1 defeat against Fortuna Dusseldorf. Their manager on that night, Gyula Lóránt, was a former teammate of Barcelona legend, Ladislao Kubala and Fortuna actually went on to contest the 1979 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against the Blaugrana, losing 4-3 in a thrilling match in Switzerland. Not that it really matters in the context of tonight’s match. History books be damned, Barcelona stand a chance of overturning this monumental deficit tonight at the Camp Nou and qualifying for the 2012-2013 UEFA Champions League final as a result. That chance may be slim, and Barcelona will almost certainly be eliminated tonight, but a little faith never hurt anyone. Leaving aside some of the obvious points (winning by four or more goals for instance, or pressing the opposition); just what does FC Barcelona need to do if they are to pull off this miracle?
Over the course of the season, Barcelona have defeated all-comers en route to what could be a record-breaking season in La Liga, and indeed in the UEFA Champions League as well. By reaching the semi-finals for a sixth successive season, Barcelona broke a long-standing record, previously held by Real Madrid, for most consecutive appearances in the semi-finals of the European Cup/UEFA Champions League. In order to reach the semi-finals, Barcelona had to overturn a 2-0 deficit against AC Milan, running out 4-0 winners at the Camp Nou – which is one of seven results from this season that would at least force extra-time in this season. There are also a further two results (against Osasuna and Real Sociedad), which would draw the Blaugrana level on aggregate, although thanks to the away goal ruling, Bayern would still progress to the final. However, that’s a total of nine matches where the Blaugrana have triumphed by at least four goals this season.
Now, what do those results have in common?
In eight of the nine matches, Barcelona took the lead before the 25 minute mark. The only exception was their 4-0 win over Levante, where Lionel Messi broke the deadlock on 47 minutes. In all eight of those remaining eight matches, Barça scored their opener before the 21 minute mark, and in five of those matches, Barcelona scored their first goal before 12 minutes had elapsed.
But that’s not all; after looking at some of Bayern’s worst defeats over the past few seasons, it’s clear to see that the trend continues. Admittedly, these defeats are few and far between, but in the match against Arsenal in the Round of 16, Bayern conceded after just two minutes – and nearly gave up a commanding first-leg lead as a result. Against BATE Borisov, Bayern conceded on 23 minutes, and ended up losing 3-1 against one of the tournaments weakest teams, and against Borussia Dortmund in last season’s DFB Pokal final, Bayern conceded their first goal on three minutes. Bayern ended up losing that match 5-2, and eight of that starting XI started against Barcelona last week (only Holger Badstuber, Luiz Gustavo and Toni Kroos missed the opening leg). Moving back to 2008, when Bayern crashed out of the Europa League to Zenit St. Petersburg, the Russians scored their opening goal after four minutes, and of course, who can forget Barcelona’s 4-0 win over the Bavarians, where Lionel Messi opened the scoring on nine minutes.
Would scoring an early goal put Barcelona into the final? Of course not, but it sure would help the Blaugrana to pull off a spectacular comeback.
Lionel Messi needs support
Yes, if Barcelona are going to progress, they will probably do so after some magic from Lionel Messi, but that doesn’t mean that we should get the ball to our Argentine striker at every opportunity. Instead, Messi needs support from his teammates – whether that means that Xavi needs to take over the midfield, or whether that means that Pedro and/or David Villa need to establish themselves as a credible scoring threat, then so be it. The point is that Messi cannot do it alone.
And in fact, one might argue that Messi works best with another threat alongside him – think back to the infamous Manita victory, and the through balls that Messi played to David Villa, or to that fateful night at Stamford Bridge where Messi teed up Andrés Iniesta for a last-gasp equaliser. Alternatively, think back to last season, when Barcelona relied on Messi to see off the threat of Chelsea, only for the Argentine to be denied (twice) by the frame of Petr Cech’s goal.
If the Blaugrana want Messi to be at his mesmeric best, they need the rest of the squad to be firing on all cylinders.
Keep a Clean Sheet
Maybe this one falls into the obvious category; if Barcelona concedes, they will need to score six goals (at least), to progress to the final at Bayern’s expense. Even with the greatest striker in football history, Barcelona are not going to score six – especially given that conceding a goal would be a massive psychological blow to the hosts – but they can score four, or maybe five. However, it’s going to be a difficult night for the Barça defense against a free-scoring Bayern attack.
We learnt first-hand just how deadly the Bayern strike-force can be, but we are the only ones – Bayern have scored in all but one of their matches this season. That solitary blank came against Arsenal, as Bayern came close to elimination at the hands of the North London-based Gunners. And if Arsenal can keep Bayern Munich at bay, then why can’t Barcelona? A simplistic question that ignores the added importance of this game for each club, not to mention the greater motivation that Bayern have in this match compared to that night; but valid nonetheless.
If Barcelona are going to pull off the unthinkable, they will require a clean sheet,
These are just three "keys" to victory for the Blaugrana, but there are more; what do you think Barcelona need to do to secure victory, and possibly their place in the 2013 UEFA Champions League final?