Six ways Bayern can pull off a Munich Miracle
Guardiola must right the wrongs of first-leg flop
SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG
BAYERN MUNICH v BARCELONA
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
- Barcelona lead 3-0 from first leg
Short of tying up Barcelona's first 11 in lederhosen and dumping them at a Bavarian beer festival, there isn't much else the men from Munich can do to reach the Champions League final.
Already 3-0 down from the first leg, Pep Guardiola's gang host the second half of the semi-final tomorrow morning (Singapore time), looking for a miracle of the Biblical kind.
Here's how Bayern could pull off the biggest upset in world football.
1 Play a proper back four
Guardiola tired to call his old Barca teammate's bluff in the first leg, but Luis Enrique didn't fall for it. He didn't need to. He had Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
In essence, Guardiola discarded his usual pressing game, opted for three at the back and pursued a man-marking strategy.
Playing with a back three essentially left the door open, inviting the mice into the cheese larder. And they gorged.
Guardiola has worked the bluff to his advantage before, but never against a side including Messi.
It was a red rag to the most beautiful of raging bulls. Within half an hour, it was a white flag.
Medhi Benatia on Neymar, Jerome Boateng on Suarez and Rafinha on Messi was a mismatch to rival QPR against Manchester City. Bayern must go with a fourth defender or Barcelona will add a fourth goal before you can say "Boateng nutmegged".
2 Go wild, go wider
Without Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben patrolling the touchlines, Barcelona enjoyed freedom of the flanks in the first leg.
Jordi Alba and Dani Alves gleefully overlapped, dashing around with all the enthusiasm of kiasu parents at an assessment book sale.
Bayern's initial 3-4-2-1 formation left vast tracts of land out wide for Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta to exploit.
Only when Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller were pushed wider did Barcelona address the issue.
Mueller excels on the right side for both club and country. If he can slip in between Alba and Iniesta, who is a Rolls-Royce rather than a Ferrari, he can penetrate. The pickings are slim, but going through the middle last week left Bayern in a muddle.
3 Make possession pay
Here's the most pointless of pointless stats. Bayern had greater possession in the first leg last week.
In fact, the German side were only the second team to have more possession than Barcelona in 442 games.
But Barca favour a faster, counter-attacking approach under Enrique and that's a real problem for Bayern.
It brings the best out of Messi. He gets the ball quicker. He may not get it as often, but he gets it quicker.
So Bayern can be sure of two things.
First, the ball will be their friend. They will touch and caress it like a jittery teenager on a first date.
But Barca will put it away like a bomb disposal unit, coldly and decisively. So Bayern must make their possession pay and find Mueller and Lewandowski faster.
They couldn't fashion a single shot on target last week. Repeat that inglorious feat tomorrow morning and they'll get exactly what they deserve. Nothing.
4 Wake up, Lewandowski
Lewandowski wasn't timid against Barcelona, but he was hardly the terrier who won back-to-back titles at Borussia Dortmund.
The line-up didn't suit the Polish target man, but he was still a peripheral presence. A couple of half-chances saw a shot hit Gerard Pique and then a second effort miss the target from five metres.
At the weekend, he apologised for another poor showing against Augsburg, the 1-0 defeat being Bayern's third in a week. Lewandowski isn't a creative dynamo. He's not Messi. But he is a totemic performer, capable of drawing others into the game around him. He's also Bayern's best shot of beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
5 Silence of Lahm no good
Bayern's skipper Philipp Lahm said his side made it "too easy" for Barcelona, but he was no less culpable.
His reinvention as a cerebral holding midfielder, the thinking man's distributor, was attributed to Guardiola.
Bayern's coach calls the former defender the most intelligent footballer he's ever worked with (and he's worked with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez).
But Lahm was effectively silenced in the first leg by Sergio Busquets, unable to impose his customary authority on the game. He must enjoy a more fruitful partnership with Xabi Alonso. He's two years younger than his colleague. It didn't look that way in the first leg.
6 Messi, Messi, Messi
Bayern can do all of the above. They can stop the Spanish side as they put down the Portuguese team in the quarter-finals (they lost first leg in Porto 3-1 but won the home leg 6-1).
Overturning deficits is part of the job description. And then, there is Messi. If he's man-marked, defenders go AWOL (did anyone call a taxi for Boateng?).
If he's surrounded, Suarez and Neymar run rampant on the counter-attack.
Messi can't be marked. He can't be tag-teamed. He can't be touch-tight. Whatever Bayern do, he can do better, on his own.
Bayern's only hope, and it's a wafer-thin hope to the point of being anorexic, is to keep the game away from him; not just the ball, but the entire game.
Treat him like a pinball and tilt the machine in the opposite direction.
In theory, Bayern can do that. And then, on their way to the final, they can stop off and part the Red Sea.
"That first leg was a huge disappointment. But, since we left the Nou Camp, we’ve wanted to make up for it. If we go through, it will be a statement for the world of football. This is the plan and it’s not stupid."
- Bayern forward Thomas Mueller
Pep: I will stay at Bayern
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola (above) is determined to honour his contract with the Bundesliga champions.
Reports in England over the weekend claimed the former Barcelona tactician had already agreed terms to replace Manuel Pellegrini as coach of Manchester City at the end of the season.
But Guardiola, whose current deal expires in the summer of 2016, has brushed aside such speculation and claims he has no plans to leave the Allianz Arena any time soon.
He said yesterday: "I have a contract and I will stay here at Bayern. That's all."
Guardiola joined Bayern in the summer of 2013 after enjoying incredible success with Barcelona, first as a player and then as a coach.
The 44-year-old won 14 titles, including two Champions League crowns, in a trophy-laden four-year stint at the helm of the Catalan giants.
And Guardiola, who is considered by many of his peers as the world's best coach, has followed his success at Barca by winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
But, despite that, and the speculation that City want him, Guardiola is unwilling to talk himself up.
"To be the best coach in the world means s***," the former Spain international said. "I've said it a million times. I win because I have great players."
Bayern won their third straight Bundesliga title last month, but have suffered a drop in form since and last Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Augsburg was their fourth straight loss in all competitions.
The German champions take on Guardiola's former club Barcelona at the Allianz Arena tomorrow morning (Singapore time), needing to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit to reach the Champions League final.
Guardiola knows Bayern can ill afford to throw caution to the wind against a Barcelona attack boasting Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, but he believes they can shock the Spanish league leaders.
"Push forward, push forward? No! We have to defend well and control the game," said Guardiola.
"There is no problem with this team's mentality. There are six or seven guys in the squad who have won the World Cup and they know what needs to be done.
"It's not enough to have the most possession and defend well, you also have to create chances against Barcelona.
"If we make a mistake, they will punish us. We have to take the chances we create, it won't be easy but, with the quality we have, we'll see what happens."
One factor in Bayern's favour is that they emphatically turned their 3-1 quarter-final, first-leg defeat by Porto into a 6-1 rout in Munich with five goals in the opening 45 minutes.
But Barca have now not conceded for seven straight games after they beat David Moyes' Real Sociedad 2-0 in La Liga last Saturday.
Barca coach Luis Enrique refuses to believe Bayern will bow out of Europe without a fight.
"I saw it (the defeat by Augsburg). They lost, but they played 70 minutes with 10 men. We will suffer a lot in Munich," said the Barca boss.
"They are unique opponents, who know what it is like to turn around important matches already this season.
"We will never think that it is done, nor even that it looks very good for us. We need to defend as far away from our goal as possible."
- Wire Services.
"No one says it will be easy to score goals. We will try to overturn the deficit with control of the game. We came back both against Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto (in earlier rounds)."
- Bayern coach Pep Guardiola
By the numbers
100 per cent of the teams that have won 3-0 in the first leg of a knockout Champions League match have managed to go through.