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.
Using data to construct alternative Barcelona lineups
If you had to build a team that matched the style of Barça’s first eleven, what would it look like? Who are the Lionel Messi’s and Sergio Busquets’s of other clubs around the world? Let us dive into these questions using statistics.
The ability to identify similar players can be very beneficial in football. That knowledge can be applied to pinpoint transfer targets as potential replacements for an outgoing star, to gain a deeper understanding of how an unfamiliar opposition plays and who their main threats are, and more.
In the modern age, data plays a massive role in this. Here, the concept will not be as serious as crunching numbers to analyze an opponent or maximize efficiency in the transfer market, rather it will be more of a fun look at the Barça squad.
Essentially, we will be using player statistics to answer the question: What if you had to replace each member of the Barcelona lineup with another player from world football? Not in a fantasy way of building a dream eleven, but identifying players who best match the tendencies of the current team.
Background and methodology
To find the next best thing to Lionel Messi, Frenkie de Jong, and company, data from Wyscout for the 2019/20 league season will be used. Each position group – centre backs, full backs, centre midfielders, and attackers – starts off with a sizeable group of metrics relating to their style of play, before a factor analysis is performed.
The factor analysis looks at how all the players in the position group performed across the variety of individual metrics, before attempting to reduce the number of data points by creating factors that reflect relationships between those metrics.
For example, it picks up on the fact that attackers like Messi, Neymar, and Bernardo Silva tend to drop deep and be very active in buildup. This is reflected by their high tallies of actions like passes and passes into the attacking third.
So, it can use those trends to create one factor representative of that style, allowing the 25-30 metrics for each position group to be reduced to five or six numbers, which is much easier to interpret. After that, cosine similarity can be used to find a player’s closest match.
In terms of the players involved, this is the Barça eleven that will be used based on a mix of who has played the most over the course of the season and Ronald Koeman’s recent choices.
Because of his injury issues, Ousmane Dembélé did not play enough in the 2019/20 season to generate even a decent sample size, so his 2018/19 statistics were used instead.
Finally, for Marc-André ter Stegen in goal, factor analysis will not be used. There are not enough useful metrics available for the goalkeeper position, so a more simple search will be performed. His matches will be found by looking for players who are similarly active in possession, accurate passers, and possibly have a similar physical build. With that in mind, time to get into the results.
To present the outcomes of this analysis, we will have multiple alternative lineups based on certain criteria. First up are players with a Transfermarkt market value of €25 million or higher. Here is each Barça player’s closest match:
- Marc-André ter Stegen: Ederson (Manchester City)
- Jordi Alba: Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
- Clément Lenglet: Dan-Axel Zagadou (Borussia Dortmund)
- Gerard Piqué: Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Sergiño Dest: Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal)
- Sergio Busquets: Jorginho (Chelsea)
- Pedri: Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Frenkie de Jong: Arthur (Barcelona, now at Juventus)
- Antoine Griezmann: Mason Mount (Chelsea)
- Lionel Messi: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Ousmane Dembélé: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Two young Bundesliga centre backs anchor the backline. At left-back, Robertson’s delivery style may differ from Alba’s, but the Scotsman offers a similar end to end stamina. On the right, Bellerín slots in as a La Masia product himself.
This midfield sees Jorginho take the reigns from Busquets as the metronome, while Pedri is replaced by a fellow wonderkid in the emerging Neuhaus. Seeing Frenkie de Jong matched with Arthur may be a bit surprising. The Dutchman has certainly improved this season and contributed in a wider variety of areas, but this goes to show that he needed time to gain confidence, just like Arthur was.
The wings are occupied by big names who have commanded massive transfer fees. Dembélé matching with 2019/20 Hazard can also be seen as a bit eerie given both of their injury struggles. Neymar, the former protégé, slots in for Messi, giving the side another former Barcelona connection.
Probably the biggest surprise comes with Mason Mount taking over for Griezmann. The Chelsea midfielder’s place here is certainly reflective of the unique, often unsuitable role the Frenchman played in 2019/20, where he had to perform quite a bit of “midfielder” work and was not as involved in the goals as he would have liked.
Now, let us move to the next market value range – between €15 and €25 million.
- ter Stegen: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
- Alba: Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City)
- Lenglet: Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Piqué: Nikola Maksimović (Napoli)
- Dest: Dodô (Shakhtar Donetsk)
- Busquets: Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Pedri: Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)
- de Jong: Boubakary Soumaré (Lille)
- Griezmann: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus)
- Messi: Mohammed Ihattaren (PSV)
- Dembélé: Manor Solomon (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Jonathan Tah joins Edmond Tapsoba from that first lineup as Bayer Leverkusen centre-backs highlighted here. At right-back, Dest is replaced by another one of the position’s brightest young talents in the Brazilian Dodô.
Manor Solomon, another Shakhtar Donetsk youngster, comes up on the right-wing. Given the Ukrainian club’s history of smart recruitment and the number of talented players they have who seem to fit Barça moulds (attacking full-backs, possession-based midfielders, inverted wingers), it definitely looks like a good place to scout.
The Camp Nou was recently home to a great performance from Leandro Paredes, albeit for the opposition. Fellow Ligue 1 midfielder Soumaré has been attracting lots of interest from the big Premier League sides for his recent play.
Filling Messi’s spot here is PSV’s Mohammed Ihattaren. He may be unknown to some, but the teenager’s top-flight experience at a big club and callups to the Dutch national team back his ability.
Onto the next squad, which brings up some under the radar players, with the market value ranging between €5 to €15 million.
- ter Stegen: Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Alba: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
- Lenglet: Aleksandar Dragović (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Piqué: Rick van Drongelen (Hamburger)
- Dest: Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux)
- Busquets: Nikola Moro (Dinamo Zagreb, now at Dynamo Moscow)
- Pedri: Maximiliano Meza (Monterrey)
- de Jong: Wendel (Zenit)
- Griezmann: Lars Stindl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Messi: Josip Iličić (Atalanta)
- Dembélé: Ryan Kent (Rangers)
In goal, Yann Sommer played a big role in getting Borussia Mönchengladbach, ter Stegen’s former club, to Champions League football. On the attacking side, he is joined by his teammate, the well-rounded Lars Stindl.
Dragović becomes the third Bayer Leverkusen centre back to feature here. To his left, another big club alternative comes in for Alba and this time from Barça’s arch-rivals.
Moro (22), Wendel (23), and Kent (24) bring some younger legs to the side. Kent, in particular, has looked very impressive under the management of Steven Gerrard and is now looking to secure a league title while advancing in the Europa League.
Covering for Messi this time is another one of football’s ageing stars. While he may not have reached his peak until later in his career, Josip Iličić is making the most of it. He has put up excellent numbers across the board over the last few seasons, propelling Atalanta into Italy’s top three and the knockout stages of the Champions League.
To finish off, how about we look at a lineup of only young players? Here is the U-23 alternative eleven:
- ter Stegen: Florian Müller (Freiburg)
- Alba: Emir Karic (Rheindorf Altach)
- Lenglet: Dan-Axel Zagadou (Borussia Dortmund)
- Piqué: Flavius Daniliuc (Bayern Munich II, now at OGC Nice)
- Dest: Henry Uzochokwu (FC Midtjylland)
- Busquets: Nikola Moro (Dinamo Zagreb, now at Dynamo Moscow)
- Pedri: Delio Ramírez (Deportivo Pereira)
- de Jong: Claudio Gomes (Jong PSV, now at Manchester City U-23)
- Griezmann: Michel Vlap (Anderlecht, now at Bielefeld)
- Messi: Mohammed Ihattaren (PSV)
- Dembélé: Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Some familiar names present, but with no market value range, there are a few relatively unknown footballers here. Sancho, the new star on the wings at Dembélé’s former club, would undoubtedly have to shoulder a lot of responsibility if this were a serious side. However, there is some real talent here.
Flavius Daniliuc is certainly one to watch for the future. A former member of both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich’s academies, the Austrian teenager, is now getting his first taste of top-flight football with Nice.
Frenchman in midfield Claudio Gomes is another solid prospect. He came through the Paris Saint-Germain academy and has represented France at each youth age group from U-16 to U-20. Gomes has made a short appearance for the Manchester City first team in the FA Cup this season, but at 20 years old, he could be on the move soon in search of first-team football.
The potential for forward Michel Vlap to become world-class may have run out, but he is definitely a serviceable player. After reaching double figures for goals in the Eredivisie in 2018/19, then the Belgian first division in 2019/20, the Dutchman earned his move to the big five leagues.
Of course, not much deeper insight can be drawn from this. The analysis here is done almost purely on a hypothetical level, as opposed to trying to prove anything. It does reveal some interesting trends, though.
We were able to highlight how Neymar has evolved to become more Messi-like, how Bayer Leverkusen use ball-playing centre backs similar to Barça, how Shakhtar Donetsk has some intriguing talents that Barça could monitor (several others were not mentioned), and more.
It does also make fans think about having to actually replace the likes of Messi and Busquets when they move on. Who will slot in for them for real when it is time?