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BFW Film Room: How Thomas Muller and Co. exacted revenge on FC Barcelona

Bayern Munich took a big step forward in their quest for treble. Here’s a tactical breakdown of Bayern’s 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona .

Barcelona v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Photo by M. Donato/Getty Images for FC Bayern

In the highly anticipated continental classico of the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich secured a place in the semifinals by obliterating FC Barcelona 8-2 in the one-off quarterfinal tie.

The Bavarians went into the match with a clear plan. The players executed it to the full and massacred Barcelona, registering one of the biggest wins in the history of the competition. Bayern showed no mercy, attacking to the very last minute while keeping Luis Suarez and footballing legend Lionel Messi at bay for the majority of the match.

The win wasn’t just a display of the remarkable individual quality of Bayern players. It was a show of the tactical dominance of German football and an example of what Bayern can achieve under the right coach. In this film room, we’ll look at coach Hansi Flick’s master plan that made supposedly “the best club in the world” look like a Bundesliga minnow.

“Gegenpress them to death”

Bayern Munich attackers and midfielders engulfed the field of play with their pressing and never let Barcelona settle with the ball. That started right at kickoff, when Bayern won the ball moments after the opening whistle.

When Barcelona played from the back, they had no answer to Bayern’s pressing. Marc-André ter Stegen was frequently forced to play long balls over the Bayern attackers. Flick set up his team accordingly, so that the players at the back could win the second balls from the box and hit Barca on the break.

Ter Stegen is forced to clear the ball under pressure; Thiago wins it and initiates a quick attack.

Bayern’s counter-pressing forced the Catalans to play erratic passes, back-passes, or simply lose the ball under pressure.

Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski unleashed the “press-addict” beast from within as they simply snatched the ball from Barcelona players. Per FBref, FC Bayern’s resident terminator attempted 7 tackles and the Bavarian workhorse applied 34 pressures, the highest numbers on the team.

Ruthless Lewandowski wins the ball at the edge of the box; his shot is deflected by the hands of Ter Stegen.

It’s no surprise that Bayern’s first two goals came as a result of their counter-pressing.

Müller in particular has amplified the rigorous effect of Flick’s pressing. Müller has great instincts for identifying the right player to press and charges him from good angles. In the buildup to Bayern’s first goal, it was his “steal” that resulted in Bayern’s attack on the break.

“Ghost” Müller arrives from behind and intercepts the ball with a slide challenge; the move results in Müller scoring with his left foot.

In midfield, Barcelona’s so-called “anti-Bayern” plan was thrown out the window as they faced the wrath of FC Bayern Hulk: Leon Goretzka was one of the standout players of the game. Goretzka executed well-anticipated blocks and managed to stop Barcelona’s counter-attacks in their tracks. The box-to-box buff recorded the highest number of tackles won (2) and interceptions (4) on the team.

Goretzka steals the ball, intercepting a pass intended for Messi.

Exploiting Barcelona’s defensive weaknesses

Hansi Flick was well aware of the system Barcelona were going to play. He got the game plan right and set up his team perfectly to exploit the cracks in Barcelona’s defense.

Barcelona opted for a narrow 4-4-2 setup on defense to prevent Bayern from playing around the gaps between defenders. In response, Bayern’s fullbacks provided width and then crossed the ball into the middle where the attackers used positional play to penetrate the defense. Alternatively, Bayern’s attackers forced Barcelona’s defense to shift to one side, creating space for the fullback on the other side.

Müller and Lewandowski overload the left flank; this, in turn, creates space for Kimmich to move forward and pass to Lewy, who takes a shot.

Barcelona played with four midfielders but their midfield was completely flat. The four midfielders moved in a straight line unit, leaving lots of spaces in which Müller and one of Lewandowski or Gnabry could roam between the lines.

Lewandowski and Müller (marked red) moving between the lines.

Apart from his off-the-ball work, Müller wreaked havoc on Barcelona defense with his quick link-up play and accurate split-second decision making. He made 13 passes under pressure, 5 into the penalty area and 7 (!) that resulted in a shot — all of those being team-high numbers.

Typical Müller play: Kimmich passes to Müller in the gap, Pique moves out to charge, Müller flicks it over to Goretzka, who drives forward and takes a shot.

As mentioned earlier, Bayern frequently tried to win the ball and attack on quick transitions. Müller and Lewandowski were well aware of the space that was created on the field. Whenever Bayern got the opportunity to start a counter-attack, the dynamic duo frequently exploited the gap appeared behind Barcelona’s fullbacks.

Rather than penetrating up the middle. Müller and Lewandowski move wide to exploit gaps behind the Barca fullbacks.

High defensive line: an issue or a necessity?

Once again, Bayern’s high defensive line was exploited by the opposition attack, this time, consisting of Luis Suarez and Leonel Messi.

Suarez made runs in-behind and around the defensive line that were remarkably similar to those he made in the semi-final of 2015.

The importance of having a mobile center-back like Alaba: Suarez makes an in-behind run, but Alaba is able to track back and reach the ball before him.

But is the high line a glaring weakness of Flicki-Flacka, Hansi Flick’s typical setup?

Not necessarily.

First of all, Bayern’s counter-attacking style is different from Real Madrid’s. Real Madrid opt for a classic approach, in which they launch attacks at tremendous speed after winning the ball in their half.

In contrast, Bayern use counter-pressing to win the ball in the attacking or midfield third and then hit the opposition in an unsettled state. For this purpose, the high line becomes a necessity to close out all the space available for opposition players on the field.

Bayern’s high line: Goretzka’s interception helps Bayern attack on a fast break.

Second, the high line was the reason Bayern rendered Messi ineffective for the most of the match. As the players indicated in their pre-match interviews, defending against La Pulga would not be the job of any one player, but of all of them.

Due to the relatively short distance between players, the team was able to charge in greater numbers, cutting off vertical service for Barcelona’s attackers, and then defended collectively whenever Messi received the ball. As a result, Hansi Flick’s side restricted Barcelona to a progressive ball-carrying distance of 976 yards and dispossessed Messi four times.

Bayern’s high line neutralizes Messi and results in Coutinho scoring. Alaba initially moves out to support, Coutinho presses Messi, Tolisso blocks the passing lane; as Messi turns, Lewandowski arrives from behind and steals the ball.

Flick also used offside traps and took the classic approach of instructing his players to quickly get behind the ball.

Bayern Munich delivered one of the most dominant and terrifying performances in the history of football. Winning 8-2 in a single game, the Bayern veterans exacted revenge over their European counterparts for the semifinal defeat in 2015.

Once again, Bayern board’s extremely smart decision-making in the transfer window paid off. Goretzka, who joined Bayern as free agent, completely outshone €75 mil Dutch sensation Frankie De Jong. Overall, the team delivered an exemplary performance of German footballing style, credit to their coach Hansi Flick.

With all Spanish teams eliminated, the red team from the “farmers league” potentially faces a much stronger challenge in semifinals. However, if there’s anything we have learned from the clashes against Chelsea FC and Barcelona, it’s that Flick’s men will be up and ready for any challenge.

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