Bayern-Barça: The Post Mortem

bayern barcelona gomez messi 2013At the start of the 2012/13 season there were many culés who would have settled for reclaiming La Liga and two semi-final appearances, especially after losing the coaching genius of Pep Guardiola. However, following Barça’s worst defeat since the Frank Rijkaard era there is now an overwhelming sense of impotence and there are many questions that need to be answered.

What needs to be done to restore Barça’s dominant position in the game? Do we need a revolution or just an evolution of our playing style? What went wrong last night and who is to blame for the the humiliating defeat? Is it the philosophy? The players? The coach? The sporting director? The president? Let’s take things one at a time.

Barça’s playing style of possession football has brought untold success in recent seasons. Coaches from all round the world try to study Barça and it is not unfair to say that the Spanish national team’s success has had a lot to do with taking on a similar style. However, the silky tiki-taka has always been most effective when combined with an intense pressing game which we have seen less of this season. In this respect we might also recall the difference in Rijkaard’s high energy team of 2004 and 2005 compared to the later complacent team of 2007/08. Last night’s statistic that Bayern collectively ran over six kilometres more than Barça suggests that our pressing game is not up to scratch. If we can rediscover the urgency and intensity when we lose the ball then I see no reason to abandon the basic philosophy.

The players are ultimately the most responsible for winning or losing. As fans we all have our favourites as well as the players we’d rather get rid of. But before we start pointing fingers at individuals let me just say that I believe all of our players are immensely talented and all have contributed positively to the cause. The usual targets for blame such as Valdés and Alexis may not have had their best games last night but the worst performers were probably Messi, Busquets and Alba, and I think it’s fair to say we would be mad to consider selling any of these three. Things are nowhere near as bad as in 2007/08 and we would do well to remember that the squad in Rijkaard’s horrible last season contained Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Valdés, Eto’o and Toure who a year later were picking up the triplete under Guardiola.

The 2007/08 example shows that having great players is not enough on its own and this brings me to the subject of the coach. I have a great deal of respect for Tito Vilanova for all he has done for the club but there have been times this season when the team has failed to show the necessary hunger, desire and motivation. I know it’s a bit old school but does anybody else think the players could have done with a few stray objects being hurled around the dressing room and a proper old-fashioned bollocking at half time last night? Tito was great in tandem with Guardiola who was the master of psychology and always had new tricks up his sleeve to motivate the players. The problem is that Pep is not coming back and we need someone who not only motivates but who also has the tactical nous to outwit opponents. I don’t know enough about Vilanova’s physical condition to say how much his illness may have affected him, but last night he appeared a forlorn figure on the touchline and one wonders whether the club might want to be searching for a substitute.

Higher up we can talk about Zubizaretta and the decisions of signings since he took over from Txiki Begiristain. Again, it is easy to say we shouldn’t have signed so-and-so or we should have gone for this player or that, but nobody can really say if we would have done better if Hummels, Thiago Silva, Bale or Falcao had arrived last summer. They might just as easily have flopped and the club is right to keep a check on finances – one only needs to remember the awful Gaspart years to see the negative results of throwing money to get the latest big name. My main worry with signings is the influence of Sandro Rosell who one suspects was behind the initial €10 million move to get the rights on buying Neymar. Rosell already showed his meddling by selling Chygrynskiy against Guardiola’s will and one has to wonder at his influence when it comes to new signings.

There were many contributing factors to last night’s defeat. There’s not a lot we can do about poor luck and lousy refereeing decisions, but we would be foolish to hide behind this in the face of Bayern’s clear superiority. The fact is that Bayern worked harder and showed greater desire and ambition, and this is where Barça need to improve. One of the reasons cited for Guardiola’s decision not to continue at Camp Nou was that he did not want to face the emotional decisions of telling players who were close to him that they were no longer needed. Players don’t lose talent but they can lose the hunger for success. Last night we missed the leadership qualities of Guardiola as a coach and of captain Puyol on the pitch. As Puyol nears the end of his career, perhaps the most urgent issue is to find a real on-field motivator who can inspire his team-mates to give that little bit extra when it really matters.

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16 Responses to Bayern-Barça: The Post Mortem

  1. Fredegar says:

    Excellent analysis as usual Nic, thanks. For my part, and I hate to do that as I’m generally not one to turn easily against his coach, I would think that the first change to do should concern Tito. Of course, we can not and must not forget that he has (almost) brought us a league title, and that’s no mean feat. We must also take into consideration his illness and show him due respect. But the title was obtained due to a poor Madrid and a great first round from our team, but a great first round that was kind of an illusion as the problems we would face later in the season were already there to be seen.
    It was always going to be extremely tough to follow on Pep, but the comparisons hurt. I agree with you Nic that the philosophy is not the problem, more its application, but that’s down to the coach. If Tito lacks Pep’s motivational qualities, he is also far off in terms of tactical nous: whereas Guardiola would always tinker with his system and try new things to keep his players motivated and his opponents guessing (not always with success as the 3-4-3 demonstrated, but there were so many games where Guardiola would make a clever and subtle change in formation that would bring dividends), Tito kept us in the same shape almost all season long and made us totally predictable.
    Still, my main gripe with the coaching staff is about our defense: it looked bad all season and was never corrected. It was probably down for a part to a lack of pressing, but we frankly looked like clowns at the back. One point is particularly damning, cos’ it’s directly down to coaching: our defense on set pieces. Under Pep we of course suffered in this department with the lack of height in our team, but we were still reasonably solid and finally conceded a remarkably low number of goals on these situations in important games, whereas this year has been a Berezina!
    Yesterday was the nail in the coffin: I remember at the start of the season enjoying greatly the end of games, when we had played badly for 75 mins and then Tito decided to lose all caution and send five forwards on the pitch: we turned many situations this way! And yesterday nothing. His team was being humiliated, and the only thing he did was Villa for Pedro? No Piqué as a center forward? WTF? At three-nil, the tie was not lost, a goal would have given us a chance in the return leg, we still had ten mins to try and turn the game but no, nothing.
    I don’t want to absolve all other parts of the club, and the players certainly have many questions to ask themselves. Neither do I want to make Tito a scapegoat for the things that went wrong this spring. But newspapers are right, yesterday was the end of an era: the end of Guardiola’s era. Tito is a remnant of this era and to keep on going, the club probably has to start anew.

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  3. FC Barcelona Rocks! says:

    Great post, Nic.
    I picked out 1 of your main points and would like to point you toward something that i may or may not be wrong about.

    1) Does any of you realize that Fabregas is one of those players that just doesn’t have that intensity in pressing for the ball like Xavi and Iniesta in top form?? Has anybody noticed this?

    2) Alexis does his pressing pretty decently. But, he is easy to contain by a top defender and doesn’t give and top defender that extra bit of headache…very similar traits to Pedro except for the fact that Pedro is better than him.

    3) How does Pedro score more for country than for club? Is our system too overly based on Mr. Messi?

    I agree with Fredegar that we need to start anew.

    We need a manager that can face the emotional decisions of telling players who were close to him that they were no longer needed.

    Possible clear-out list coming end season:
    1) Alexis (13m) (good player for a team like A.Madrid or Udinense but just not Barca material)
    2) David Villa (12m) ( age factor)
    3) Valdes (13m) (he wants out, we need the money)
    4) Dani Alves (15m)(getting old, we need to cash in)
    5) Fabregas (28m)(doesn’t have the intensity in pressing for the ball through out 90 minutes, gets missing way too often. Overall fitness way below par as required for our midfield trio)

    Grand total = 80 M +++

    Possible buys
    1)Lewandowski (28M) (similar to Eto, he has an enormous work rate, good technique, strong, and at 182 CM tall, he has quite abit of height and strength in the air to offer as well,,,most importantly, Lewandowski is no goal poacher, but more of an all round scoring machine, with a good midfield, he will definitely shine bright)

    2) Vertonghen (17m) The guy can play at both leftback and CB…possess decent speed, good at the ball at foot, good eye for goal for a defender, better than Bartra and Pique at the moment when it comes to defending. Also at 187 CM, he does has the height as well.

    3) Mats Hummels (30M) This is the guy to bring us the treble next season. A unique player. Some call him the only Centerback+playmaker. Able to spot a pass with ease. Faster than Pique by abit. Very powerful in the air, Good at reading the game. Possibly one of the best center backs of the new era.

    4) We need a keeper now. Both French number 1 and 2 will do well for us. Steve Mandanda or Hugo Lloris should be just fine. Both are good with their legs as well. Should be available for around (18-20M)

    4) Worried about central midfield?? Worry not. Alex Song has way better work rate than Fabregas, what we have not seen is his eye for the expensive pass..something that he is not given the license to do in Barcelona for similar reasons to Yaya Toure. Alex Song will press all night long and is a steady candidate to play in central midfield sparingly with Thiago alongside Iniesta. We should try Song in this role actively next season. Song is no Xavi, but he wouldn’t stink at CM, i assure you…given the chance, i’m sure he’ll offer more than Fabregas in terms of overall contribution.

    We would be spending 110M at worst for all purchases

    However, if we sold all those players not needed, we should be reducing our loses to about 30M max.

  4. FC Barcelona Rocks! says:

    HERE’S ANOTHER FUN FACT!! While we were so busy hunting down Fabregas from Arsenal and Alexis from Udinense, Bayern purchased Dante for less than 5M. Hmmmm….the thing is, I as a commoner spotted Dante possibly at just about the same time as Bayern did. How come our technical directors and scouts never went all out for him?? His buy-out was just 4.4 M for Gods Sake!! This is where Bayern are doing so well lately and this is exactly where we completely suck!! We just can’t seem to spot good transfers targets but instead waste money on players that look like the reject version of what we already have in our dressing room.

  5. ewe_gb says:

    btw: lewandowski has just scored four goals against madrid.

  6. I blame the coach Titi vilanova for fc barcelona defeat last night, is not worthy to coach a big club like barca’. Like barca” he does have the technique for the at all, firstly’ look at the back line setup’ playing bartra ahead of alex song or abidal, is very wrong, that is tribalism very bad for Titi vilanova, the midfield. Was ok, but the attacker was 100 percent wrong instead of VIlla messi fabragas, why defending lineup suppose to be like this , VALDEZ” ABIdAL” SONG” PIQUE” DANI ALVES” XAVI NIESTA” BUSQUET”.VILLA” MESSI” FABREGAS” this suppose to be the lineup match last night against bayern munich” my advice is second leg, this is the formation you will use’ if u want to win with grace of God” MAY GOD HELP US IN JESUS AMEN’ my advice for u is after the uefa champion league” RESIGN PLEASE TITO. VILANOVA!!!!!

  7. FC Barcelona Rocks! says:


  8. FC Barcelona Rocks! says:

    Dear Lord, please take away Alexis and give me Robert Lewandowski!

  9. FC Barcelona Rocks! says:

    Has it occurred to anybody that Messi has all the required qualities to succeed Xavi as the future midfield general of FC Barcelona?? He just has to work on his pressing, and defensive part of the game, which i’m very confident he could do better than Fabregas could…….Messi, Iniesta Busquets midfield. Messi keeping it simple and dribbling into the box whenever needed. Tello and Pedro providing width, speed ….and Lewandowski scoring tons. This will also mean that we will see Messi, Tello, and Lewandowski sharing the goals. Less predictable perhaps??

  10. Fredegar says:

    Part two of the healing process (and no that’s not anger): watch Dortmund play brilliantly in front of an amazing support! What a team they are.
    Of course part three (depression) will come soon enough when they will be dismantled in the summer. There are many players in this Dortmund team that would fit well and bring something more to our team (for me a special mention goes to Gundogan who would be a worthy successor of Xavi), but the one I would most see in a Barça tracksuit is Klopp!
    As for Lewandowski FCB Rocks, the word is that he’s already signed for Bayern. Pretty sad, I agree…

  11. Blue Devil says:

    Regarding Lewandowski: he does not have a release clause. Apparently he has agreed terms with Bayern, but Dortmund will not let him go. He either sits out his contract until 2014 and joins FCB as a free agent then, or he transfers out of the BL for 30 mio Euro plus.

    Regarding the two CL semis: what Barca, Real, Arsenal, or Man United don’t have is a lone striker who scores, is good on the ball, and is defensively strong. Lewandowski and Mandzukic have been spectacular this season. As soon as Barca’s system with the false nine doesn’t work they don’t have a Plan B (=the lone striker up front).

    Barca had narrow escapes against Milan and PSG, but Bayern is in a different league, and it showed.

  12. barcacentralomer says:

    Nic I agree with most of the stuff that you’ve covered. However there are some areas where I have a different perspective. For starters I don’t think that the Barca playing style needs a radical overhaul and moreover this is something that certainly can’t be done this season or even over the course of a single season either. There is the need though IMO to tweak the playing style when we come up against teams who are very good at executing their Plan A which to a large extent neutralizes our strengths. If we don’t want a Plan B then we should be thinking along the lines of developing and being able to deliver a Plan A (ii) or even A(iii) if the need arises. For example, the Spanish national side employs a double midfield pivot aka Alonso and Busi, maybe Barca can try to execute that with Busi and Song/Masch. Then there is the alarming tendency to be over-reliant on a single player – with Messi’s goals as a % of total Barca goals increasing with every season. Surely we can stay true to our style and simultaneously continue to to evolve and improve with time.

    The players are the ones who do the talking on the pitch and every team would love to have the midfield riches we possess and the magician called Messi. I don’t there’s any argument about the talent of this squad. However there are certain players like Alexis and Villa who have not been able to do justice to their immense talent. It makes little sense to chop and change every season but if a player has been unable to perform despite being at Barca for a number of seasons, maybe its best for both that the player tries his luck elsewhere. There’s also the hunger issue where if a squad wins everything over a relatively short span (like Barca has been doing), the motivation to carry on performing at that high level tends to dip after a few seasons. Perhaps succession planning is another area which needs improvement as we clearly don’t have anyone who’s been groomed over a long period to take over when the likes of Xavi,Puyol and Iniesta hang up their boots or like Valdes have decided they want to move on.

    Tito is a champion for having the strength and courage to lead Barca to a La Liga title despite his serious health concerns and he deserves all our support and encouragement. However, no arguments on the coaching staff needing reinforcements. Jordi Roura has done very well too but without any disrespect to him, the best football side in the world need a master tactician and not an ex-scout to partner Tito. Again I hope and pray Tito makes a swift and complete recovery because its unfair to evaluate someone’s football management skills when they’re in the fight of their life.

    Finally, the Barca board and its notorious transfers team. I agree Nic, that Rosell’s team has brought financial stability unlike the transfer madness seen in the Gaspart years and to a lesser extent in the Laporta era. I think the problem with various signings during Pep’s reign and Tito’s first season is that we’ve focused on bringing in very good players who have failed to live up to their expectations and hefty price tags primarily because someone in the Barca think tank thought these players would fit in quickly and/or could be moulded into playing a different role at Barca. The biggest transfer blunder I’ve ever seen in my life was the Ibra sham. The bizarre CB trio of Henrique,Caceres and Chygry, Hleb,K9 are some more examples of Barca’s transfer bunglings in recent years. Alexis and Villa are two more I feel have not been able to fully adapt at Barca despite being here for quite some time. Then there are the decisions about the type of players we need and the ones that are actually brought in.At the end of last season, almost everyone agreed that Barca needed a CB yet our transfers team was more concerned with bringing back Cesc. Song was IMO signed to provide competition/cover for Busquets and the departing Keita than as a CB. The obsession of converting players into different roles has to be toned down and specialist players for specific positions need to be considered. The Neymar news is worrying because again I think we’re going in for hype and a big-name signing instead of focusing on very good players who will be able to adapt quickly to the Barca style and the role that’s envisaged for them over here.

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