Bayern are a top side, but their players and fans have been talking too much recently. Today, we ask the question: do Bayern really warrant that hype over them?
There is no worse thing in football than being smug. A team full of confident players is a great thing, especially when their ability matches their confidence. The problem in football is that nothing is linear. You can have the best team in the world, made of World Cup winners, Ballon d’Or winners and world-class footballers and still lose to minnows if you do not concentrate enough.
So many times in football, David prevails over Goliath because Goliath doesn’t fully understand what’s in there for them. The reason behind Greece’s success in 2004 or Atlético de Madrid’s miraculous league title win ten years later is because being the underdog and, on paper, the worse team doesn’t mean anything compared to being fully focused on one goal for the entirety of the season.
Lately, ever since football has come back, one fanbase has been cocky and dismissed every other one. Indeed, Bayern Munich are a super team. Their history, their style of play, their players: everything’s legendary about this club. In the last few years, Bayern have not been the force they once were, though. Under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovač, Bayern lost their pedigree. In the Champions League, they struggled a lot ever since winning that famous treble in 2013.
Losses against Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid and Barcelona have been rather embarrassing, to say the least. Conceding four to Real Madrid under Pep Guardiola is unacceptable. Being too pretentious before facing Messi and getting chipped in the process is probably Manuel Neuer’s lowest of lows.
“I have a lot of respect for Messi and for everything that he has achieved. He is very humble. But it’s crucial to show authority when we meet on the pitch and show him who’s boss. I did the same in the World Cup final and this worked out pretty well”
before losing to Lionel Messi’s Barça by 3–0 in 2015
Still, Bayern have regained their giant status in Europe under Hans-Dieter Flick’s leadership. The German coach has reignited the fight in his players’ hearts. Thomas Müller, once a brilliant goalscorer, is now the most creative player in Germany. Robert Lewandowski is the best striker in the world. Joshua Kimmich is probably the most intelligent player in the world. Yet for having those players, Bayern fans have to be arrogant.
There’s no other choice than having faith in a team that has beaten Tottenham 7–2 at the New White Hart Lane, Chelsea 7–1 over two legs and beating every big club in Germany, en route to yet another Bundesliga and DFB Pokal double. Meanwhile, Barcelona supporters’ loss of confidence in their own side has matched the Bavarians’ faith. On Twitter or any other social media platform, culés have been joking about how their own team is going to get ripped by Bayern. Now, this is quite the overreaction from both sets of fans.
Bayern are a good team, probably in the top two or three, if not one, in the world currently, but they are not gods. Yes, the Germans have incredible players, as mentioned, but they have to understand that they are going against another giant in European football. While the Bavarians’ numbers have been crazy, let’s not forget that they are the big boys in their league. No disrespect to the Bundesliga, but Bayern has won it every single year since Jürgen Klopp dominated in 2012 with Borussia Dortmund. The way the Munich side lures the best players out of their domestic rivals is like vultures in front of a dead body.
From Lothar Matthäus to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern legends and icons have made sure to disparage Barça’s quality | Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Bongarts via Getty Images
Ever since the restart, Bayern have been scintillating, beating Dortmund with a fantastic Kimmich goal, demolishing Bayer Leverkusen in the final of the Cup, and not giving any hope to the other German opponents. Nonetheless, can one say that Bayern has really been tested?
They have passed some difficult tests this season, no doubt. Beating Tottenham, Chelsea, Dortmund or other historic sides in German and European football is impressive, but these groups haven’t been at the best this year. Chelsea is rebuilding, Tottenham seems to be going in the wrong direction, and Dortmund was of no match for Bayern.
“To this day, Lewandowski is better than Messi. I love what Messi does and how he plays, he has been a top player for many years, a genius, but this year Lewandowski has been above everyone. He can do anything and he scores every ball that comes to him. And he will continue to do so. He is having a spectacular season”
Besides, Bayern look set tactically. They have great players who understand their positions on the pitch. However, they have been hyping up their stars too much. Lewandowski is a goalscoring animal, but he is nowhere near Messi’s level in terms of overall impact and talent. Manuel Neuer’s 2014 form is probably the best keeper in the history of the game, but the current Marc-André ter Stegen may be better than him at present. Alphonso Davies is one of the biggest surprises in world football, but could he really stop Messi if he was fit enough? Karl-Heinz Rummenigge definitely thinks he can.
“If Messi plays on his side of the pitch, Alphonso [Davies] will take care of him. It will be a difficult, but interesting task. Alphonso hasn’t been outpaced or dribbled past often this season”
Bayern legend and CEO
Bayern play excellent football, they have the players that fit in their system like gloves, and they have the right manager for once. Everything is clicking Bayern’s way, but people should always be critical of their side, even if it’s the best in the world. You don’t win matches with your mouths; a footballer would instead use his feet and brain to win.
It’s not that Bayern is not that good; they are. It’s that Bayern have put themselves on such a pedestal that if they lose on Friday, they will look like fools and complacent enough to warrant criticism from the opposing rivals especially. For culés, they should understand that to be champions; you have to beat the best at some point. It doesn’t matter if you face the best side in the quarter-finals or the final because you have to be the best yourself. Bayern are excellent but, probably, overhyped; these two concepts can coexist.
Analysis of the left-back problem at Barcelona
On the 22nd of June in the year 2012 Barcelona re-signed once one of their own, Valencia speedster, Jordi Alba, for 14 million Euros. Once part of the club after coming through the esteemed La Masia academy, he was to replace Eric Abidal, the French left-back who had given much to Barcelona over the years but his unfortunate health problems meant it was the need of the hour to move onwards. Fast forward 8 years and a massive 335 appearances for the Blaugranas, the man who was initially dismissed as ‘too short’ by the Catalan club stands as a gargantuan figure who made the left-hand side his own.
It is unpropitious for Barcelona that time cannot be rolled back, because if they could, they would definitely look no further than the little man they signed in 2012 to fix their current concerns at left-back. As things stand, however, Alba is 31 and clearly regressing as each season passes. While he still has an excellent command on his attacking skill, it’s the defensive issues faced by him and the other fullbacks that puts the team in hot water consistently. Moreover, one of the key aspects to his game is the pace and acceleration he brought near the touchline, and that is one area that is bound to regress with age. It is, therefore, the correct time to look for a replacement for the Spaniard; otherwise, the Blaugranas risk being set back a few years as happened with replacing Dani Alves.
This train of thought was what Barcelona had in mind when they signed Junior Firpo from Real Betis in August 2019. He was, at that point, a highly well-regarded prospect in La Liga, with several teams including Real Madrid and Manchester City posing interest in the Dominican. However, Firpo’s attacking threat was nowhere close to the Spaniard. In the 17 appearances he did make, Junior Firpo had a low xA (Expected Assists) of 0.06 per 90 last season as compared to Alba’s 0.14 per 90. Additionally, he had 3.71 passes into the final third per 90 as compared to Alba’s 4.75. Finally, Firpo was never able to recreate the kind of understanding Alba had with team captain Lionel Messi which made the duo lethal. The young left-back never makes the same runs into the box as Alba and the Argentinian is often left wanting more in that regard.
Junior Firpo, at the moment, simply does not match up to Jordi Alba at all.
Defensively speaking, Firpo did attempt more tackles than the Spanish veteran – 2.12 tackles per 90 as compared to Alba’s 1.03 per 90 in 19/20, but it is often due to necessity as he is caught out of position very often. This trickles down to the fouls, which stand at 3.1 fouls per 90 for 24-year-old, as compared to Alba’s 0.74. Consequently, Firpo picked up 5 yellow cards while Alba picked up 7 in a little more than double the starts, indicating a lack of discipline in Firpo’s case. The duo is similar with regards to successful pressures, as Alba had 2.8 successful pressures per 90 last season and Firpo had 2.65 for the same.
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
For what it is worth, Firpo does bring a touch of aerial dominance into the picture, but that is hardly a requirement for the left-back of a team like Barcelona. The youngster’s growth has stagnated over the season, and he showed no signs of adaptability when it came to moving from a 5 at the back system at Betis to a flat 4 at Barcelona. Maybe with time, Junior Firpo becomes an able replacement, but with multiple players past their peaks, including long time mainstays Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique who have been so crucial to the Blaugrana’s defensive system, Barcelona must bring in a fresh face. Someone who can fill the massive shoes of Alba quickly. We, at Barca Universal, therefore, look at 3 possible replacements for the Spaniard who can complete the Blaugrana’s search in that position.
Going the Jordi Alba route: Alex Grimaldo
A name Barca connoisseurs will be familiar with, Alex Grimaldo is also from the once-famed La Masia, and was one of the highly touted prospects before he chose to move to Benfica, eyeing the possibility of more playing time since Alba had a tight hold of that spot at Barcelona. Now that Alba is ageing, it might be time to dive in for another trusted La Masia prospect who will know the workings of the club from his academy days.
Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
Grimaldo is a short and lean player, with a boosted acceleration – a profile very similar to that of Alba. Often used as a midfielder in his earlier days, he has the decision making and a great handle on what to do when he has possession of the ball, which is a massive bonus for a team like the possession hungry Catalans. He has a tremendous attacking output and is genuinely fearless, something Firpo is clearly lacking. The 24-year-old Spaniard has racked 22 assists in 88 games in the Primeira Liga and is one of the top fullbacks in the league. His xA per 90 stood at 0.21 as compared to Alba’s 0.14 last season, and he also led the numbers for tackles, making 2.34 successful tackles per 90 as compared to Alba’s 0.58. When it comes to passing, Grimaldo completed 83% of his passes last season, whereas Alba made his passes at a completion rate of 87.1%.
While Grimaldo is short in stature and teams often look to go over him, he still has the positioning to make up for the same and has the pace to make up ground if he falters. Something prime Alba can massive relate to.
The short-term, big success option: Nicolas Tagliafico
The red and blue of Barcelona owes a lot to the red and white of Amsterdam. From players like Johann Cruyff and Jari Litmanen to more recently, Luis Suarez and Frenkie de Jong, there have been a plethora of players who have represented both the clubs. Now that Barcelona have been looking to offload the regressing Suarez, Nicolas Tagliafico could turn out be an interesting option to entice Ajax for a swap deal.
Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images
The Argentine left-back moved from Independiente in 2018 and has since appeared 65 times for Ajax. While he is not as much of an attacking threat (8 assists in 2 seasons), the 28-year-old does give Barcelona something they desperately need in their current predicament – defensive solidity. Compared to Alba’s 25 tackles attempted in the 19/20 season, Tagliafico attempted almost four times that number (96) and successfully completing 61 of them, compared to Alba’s 14. He was also able to block 10 shots compared to Alba’s 5.
However, the defensive side of the game is not all he provides. He is solid while in possession as well, completing 86% of his passes, and playingi in one key pass every game. He also created seven big chances last season, of which only four were converted. Tagliafico stands at a modest 5’7”, but he does have the lung-bursting stamina in him, which will be a criterion to consider while replacing Alba. In buying Tagliafico, Barcelona could potentially look to employ something their Blanco rivals in Madrid successfully did after buying Ferland Mendy – plug the defensive errors from the wings and solidify the defence as a whole.
The left-of-centre option: Jose Gaya
Barcelona looked towards Valencia in 2012, and maybe the solution lies there in 2020 as well. Jose Gaya has been one of the most highly-rated left-backs in La Liga for years. Despite, that, he is only 25 years old, but has already racked up 144 appearances for the club. With Valencia having a fire sale, it would be the perfect time for the Blaugranas to target their academy graduate.
Gaya is a very attacking fullback who tends to occupy areas on the left-hand side byline a lot. He is an outstanding crosser and attempted 3.08 crosses per game in the 19/20 season. He had a total of 939 touches in the mid and final third combined, showing his tendency to push up in the opposition half and receive the ball high up the pitch. If he loses the ball, Gaya has the electric pace that can help him catch up with opponents quickly. He is not afraid to complete a challenge and is hard to take on, given his short, but robustly built. Gaya was one of the standout players in what was a rather disappointing season for Valencia, and Barcelona should grab the chance to buy him with both hands, especially after his excellent display against them in La Liga this season.