Down 3-0 on aggregate already, Bayern Munich's task in their UEFA Champinos League semi-final bout with FC Barcelona is a doozy. They defended deep in the first leg, but outside of the first 15-20 minutes when they played man-marking across the entire backline, Bayern Munich weren't able to effectively generate offensive impetus that would make you think they are capable of coming back from a 3-goal deficit at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich can defeat Barcelona on talent, but the right gameplan from Pep Guardiola is going to be key.
Supporting Juan Bernat and restricting overload's on the left
Juan Bernat is one of Bayern Munich's standout players this season, both for his defensive acumen as well as for his contributions to direct attacking play down the left wing. He's one of the few players Bayern Munich who has been consistently healthy and committed to wide, direct attacking play. Against a Barcelona side that loves to push their fullbacks forward with almost limitless abandon this is one of the key tactical positions where Bayern Munich can exploit Barcelona's defensive shape.
Unfortunately, the first leg in Barcelona saw Lionel Messi drift right to combine with Luis Suarez while Dani Alves overlapped wide right. It was one of the most reliable ways in which Barcelona was able to get in behind the Bayern defensive line. With Bastian Schweinstegier ostensibly tasked with doubling up the pressure on that side of the field but getting caught upfield as he was also tasked with pushing the Bayern Munich attack on that wing, this left Juan Bernat alone dealing with three attacking players at many times. That Juan Bernat was able to effectively handle most of those situations and give Bayern the time to recover speaks volumes about his defensive effort.
All of that leaves the support of the left side of Bayern's attack as a piece of defensive focus from Bayern Munich. Schweisnteiger -- or his replacement in midfield -- needs to drift wider combining with Bernat to restrict space for both Suarez and Messi. Higher up on the left, Lewandowski needs to play a proactive defensive role wide left, limiting how aggressive Dani Alves can be on the evening. While Lewandowski did drift wide left to exploit the space on the wings in the first leg, he needs to be an active defensive participant while wide and an outlet for relieving pressure and counterattacking to restrict Alves' forward advances.
Controlling the midfield
While Bayern Munich controlled the midfield well in the first leg, they must continue to do this in the second as well. Thiago and Philipp Lahm were instrumental to maintaining spatial control while Bastian Schweinsteiger was the offensive driver on the left while Thomas Müller performed the same function on the right. That left Xabi Alonso as the defensive and distributive metronome in the middle.
Unlike in the first leg though, Bayern don't have the luxury of building out of the back in this match. Breaking down this Barcelona defense is going to be a tall order and Bayern need to rely on width and pace to win this match. To that end placing Javi Martinez in that central midfield zone -- a zone he was so effective at controlling two seasons ago when Bayern Munich annihilated Barcelona -- over Alonso might be the best course of action. Alonso might be a better late game substitution with his ability to hit the long ball on a dime a perfect foil to a Barcelona that will likely sit back and defend as the clock ticks down towards the end of the tie.
Using a defensive rock like Martinez free's up Schweinsteiger to contribute wide in support of Bernat while not having to worry about the pace of secondary runs from Iniesta and Rakitic causing problems for Alonso. This also gives a certain amount of freedom to Lahm who can work in more aggressive combinations with Thiago to help push possession through the midfield. It also gives Bayern the potential to shift into a 3-back set with Bernat and Rafinha pushed forward as wingbacks, should Bayern need to aggressively heighten their game on the wings.
Unfortunately, this all hinges on the fitness concerns around Javi Martinez. The Spanish international made a 60-minute appearance against Bayer Leverkusen ten days ago, but hasn't played since. It could be Guardiola has been saving him for this tie, but that seems like an unlikely strategy for a player who looked rusty on his return. If not Alonso showed he could step in and fill that role in the first leg so Bayern at least has a partial answer here.
Exploiting space behind the fullbacks
While the above keys are predicated on addressing and shoring up the Bayern Munich defense and midfield, it is their attack which needs to function to perfection. It was absent last week and it will likely be absent again this week unless Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski step up and deliver career defining types of performances. There are no ways to mince that criteria when you're down 3-0 on aggregate already.
But they can put themselves in the best positions to succeed by targeting the space behind the Barcelona fullbacks on the counterattack when they do advance forward. This will draw one of either Marscherano or Pique wide and give their counterpart trouble in a 1v1 situation with either of the Bayern duo. This also forces Busquets to withdraw deeper opening space at the top of midfield for Bayern's late runner -- usually Bastian Schweinsteiger.