Everything went wrong, but there are no excuses. This tactical analysis presents a detailed look at the humiliating 2–8 loss from Barcelona against Bayern Munich.
In the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League, as the draw was fleshed out and it looked like Barcelona would face Bayern Munich up next, the feeling in the blaugrana camp wasn’t the best. Barça have struggled against many teams throughout this season, a lot, lot more than usual. Bayern, however, have been like a perfect machine and have been highly impressive under the new coach, Hans-Dieter Flick.
Even though not many people as neutrals expected Barcelona to go through, nobody expected the Catalans to put in what was frankly a repulsive performance. In this tactical analysis, we will analyse where exactly Barça went wrong against Bayern Munich.
Semedo · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Sergi Roberto · Busquets · De Jong
Messi · Suárez
Coach: Quique Setién
Kimmich · Boateng · Alaba · Alphonso Davies
Gnabry · Müller · Perišić
The underwhelming performance by Barcelona started from the starting line-up. Quique Setién chose a diamond 4–4–2 which the manager has used before and what is a very cagey, awkward and static formation. Just Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez up front, with nobody to provide width. For Bayern, the starting line-up was the tried and tested one minus a few injuries. The differences between the two teams were apparent.
A game of high lines
The tactics adopted by both sides included in a very high defensive line. This was the core of how the game unfolded initially.
Bayern have utilised their full-backs excellently throughout this season. Joshua Kimmich came in for Benjamin Pavard at right-back with Alphonso Davies retaining his left-back spot. Kimmich provided penetrative passing and stability down the right whereas Davies provided pace and directness to the attack. Using this to their advantage, centre-backs Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba maintain a high-line and drift apart. During the build-up, Thiago Alcântara would drop back to receive and distribute the ball.
This proved to be a problem for Bayern initially, yet Barcelona found themselves suffering because of this. For Barça, quite a few times an opportunity to play the ball into the path of the runners from out wide was presented. This was because of the overloads that Messi, Nélson Semedo and Sergi Roberto attempted on the right. With Semedo and Roberto both making forward runs alternatively, Messi succeeded in putting them through on open space often. Nonetheless, Bayern adapted to this quickly, with the midfielders closing down the passing lanes when the ball was with Semedo. Davies also became much more calculated when dribbling forwards.
The pressing and effective attack from Bayern penalised Barça’s extremely vulnerable defence | Photo by Manu Fernández / Pool / AFP via Getty Images
Thiago dropped back and preventing him from passing is a task and a half. His resistance to pressure, superb passing range and feints were utilised to their fullest and he had a very good game. Barcelona were unable to change this throughout the game. Even with the addition of Antoine Griezmann at half-time, it was too little and too late. Bayern were able to transition from defence to attack comfortably thanks to this.
For Barcelona, their high line caused all kinds of problems. Semedo and Jordi Alba are always instructed to move up the field and overlap when possible. With four midfielders, it should allow Barcelona to ideally have numerical supremacy in midfield which should make keeping possession easier. Still, Bayern’s intense pressing surprisingly resulted in many loose touches from the Catalan midfielders.
This was a major problem as Bayern immediately attacked each time they got possession in Barcelona half. The high line Barcelona played also led to Bayern’s long balls being especially effective. Robert Lewandowski was able to keep either Gerard Piqué or Clément Lenglet occupied. Thomas Müller would get into the box when the team was in the final third as well. This combined with the wingers tucking in and the full-backs delivering excellent crosses meant Barça very often allowed Bayern possession in the box.
One problem that Barcelona have faced with such an aging squad is lack of fluidity and that was apparent against the Bavarians. Bayern with their highly mobile and fluid play, and Barcelona with a stiff approach with the only fluidity being because of individual talent.
When defending, Barcelona were very ineffective. Due to the high pressure Bayern employed, the azulgranas very often lost the ball and took too much time in cutting out Bayern’s passing lanes. This was a constant problem and Bayern never looked to be having any problems in getting into the final third. Quique Setién’s men would look to press after losing the ball as well but the efficiency and hunger of the Germans were much better. Barça only succeeded in 16% of the pressures they applied. Bayern were better with more than 25% but they attempted more than 30% of the pressures Barcelona applied.
“We knew that if we put them under pressure they could make mistakes. We wanted to take advantage of that and it worked out perfectly. Barcelona have an enormous quality in attack, and you could recognise certain automatic behaviour. We had to invest a great deal of effort. It was hard work for our defence, and they coped brilliantly”
Furthermore, at the back, Barcelona’s defence lacked organisation. There was a visible chasm in communication between their defenders. Many times, Bayern had a free player not only outside the box but also in the box. Barça’s midfield was very slow in tracking back. Along with this, the midfielders would often press very inefficiently which allowed Bayern to pass the ball through the midfield quite comfortably.
All these problems together made Barça lack highly in possession. According to FBRef, Barcelona were disposed 16 times, and Bayern just two times. This stat does not include attempted dribbles, and is inclusive of tackles specifically but the huge gap is very visible.
The final act
Taking a look at the previous matches Barcelona have played since the resumption of football, there was always something lacking in every match. Regardless of the result, Barça never looked remotely like a team deserving the Champions League. The amount of problems which are not being addressed effectively has kept on increasing and increasing.
Against Hansi Flick’s wonderful Bayern side, the drab blaugrana team was on full display. These 90 minutes were a result of the culmination of the numerous problems resulting in a massive breakdown. For a club like Barcelona, this will remain in the culés’ hearts for a very long time. If Barcelona want to be as good a team or rather, club, as they should be, a major overhaul is going to be needed.
Sergio Busquets’ form: Age or complacency?
Sergio Busquets is a club legend and is arguably the best holding midfielder of his generation. However, for a couple of seasons, the veteran has been far from his best. Is it time for Barça to realise that the Spaniard should not be an undisputed starter anymore?
For almost a decade, Sergio Busquets was the consistent and dependable anchor in a world-class midfield. At just 20 years old, Busquets made his debut under Pep Guardiola. He would go on to be a crucial part of two treble-winning sides and form one-third of the greatest midfield trio ever with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Busquets was the perfect holding midfielder for the Catalan side.
In recent seasons, however, his performances have deteriorated, and he has not been at his level best. Or even at an adequate level for the Blaugrana. While he managed to redeem himself with the first half of last season, this campaign, Busquets has found it even tougher with having to adapt to the double pivot system. His partnership with Frenkie De Jong is not working as the two do not seem to understand each other’s game. After another poor display against Real Madrid, and with other talented midfielders on the bench, should Busquets still be starting for Barça?
The brilliance of Sergio Busquets
It would be unfair to write an article solely criticising Sergio Busquets. As one of the greatest servants in the club’s history, Busquets deserves a huge amount of respect from Culés. The La Masia graduate broke into the first team at a young age and has been an ever-present since his debut season. He has gone on to become Barça’s fifth-most capped player in history and will likely take over Carles Puyol who is in fourth.
The Spaniard has been a key figure in the most successful period in the club’s history too. The same can be said for his time with the national team, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the UEFA European Championship in 2012. In total, the midfielder has won a behemoth 31 trophies with Barcelona including three Champions Leagues and eight league titles.
Busi has had several moments of celebrations at Barça. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
At his peak, there has arguably never been a better defensive midfielder. He redefined the role by showing that it was not just about tackling and breaking up play, but how the holding midfielder can be heavily involved in the build-up play and can dictate the tempo of the game.
Opponents quickly learned that it was almost pointless to press Busquets while Barcelona were in possession. His composure on the ball was and still is for the most part unmatched, while the passes were extremely accurate, progressive and have the ability to break the lines of defence.
He had exceptional awareness and ability to read the game, which was second to none; however, they have taken a massive toll. What once allowed him to take over the game with the utmost ease is slowly becoming his weakness at Barcelona.
Busquets was exceptional in every team, every year. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Sergio Busquets has not been at his best for several seasons now, and the time may have finally come when the team realises that his starting spot is no longer undisputed. This campaign especially, the 32-year-old has not managed to adapt to the new system. He is used to playing at the base in a midfield three.
Now, he shares the defensive midfield role with Frenkie de Jong in a double pivot. Neither player has performed close to their best, and it seems as if this partnership, that should work on paper, is not compatible.
Unfortunately, the problem reeks past just the structure of the team; the World Cup winner is struggling with some of the basics as well. His passing has started to him down every game, and his sloppy possession is giving away the ball in dangeorus areas of the pitch too many times. For his high standards, he is losing the ball far too often.
Busquets is lacking, and it is hurting the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Against Real Madrid, Busquets made a criminal error in his defensive duties. The veteran knows how important this match is and was one of the most experienced players on the pitch. But, whether due to a lack of awareness or complacency, he failed to track Federico Valverd’s run. It resulted in Barcelona conceding an early goal. The experienced midfielder should know better, especially in a game as important as El Clásico.
Age or Complacency?
As one of the Barcelona captains, Sergio Busquets should be a leader on the pitch and set an example to the rest of the team. However, his level has significantly dropped, and he has been involved in several catastrophic defeats. The game against Los Blancos is part of a growing list of big games where the #5 has let down the fans and his teammates.
Busquets was never the most athletic midfielder, but he always made up for this with his intelligence. His age could be a reason for his poor run of form as his physical attributes begin to decline naturally. However, he should grasp a better understanding of the game as he loses more of his pace.
One can always argue that is complacency catching up with the 32-year-old for his innumerable trophies and his world-class performances in the last decade. But, the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi never went through this despite being part of the same era of Barcelona’s generational team.
Busquets has managed to maintain his high level for the Spanish National Team. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Moreover, somehow, Busquets continues to perform at an exceptional level for the Spanish national team, playing under former Barça manager Luis Enrique. Maybe Lucho is more tactically adept, and maybe the dressing room for the national team is far less toxic. We can only sit and speculate. That said, with competition for places in the Blaugrana squad, can Ronald Koeman continue to justify Busquets’ starting role in the team?