Space Invaders and Space Creators: How Bayern’s attack dismantled Barcelona
Barcelona’s biggest loss since 1946 wasn’t just a normal one. Watching from a far in a crowd-less competition, the game didn’t look fair. How come you would play mere mortals against Skynet’s cyborgs ?
Cyborgs with codes embedded in their system giving them full understanding of positional play, pressing schemes and counter pressing. Perhaps Tobias Escher’s tweet after the game encapsulates what had happened at Estadio da Luz. He said that he had watched a film earlier where a woman killed her boyfriend and then removed his brain and yet it wasn’t the most brutal thing that was on TV.
Bayern Munich were the favorites going into this game, but no one would have predicted this massacre. 8–2 and then Skynet took over earth.
Barcelona’s lineup before the start of the game suggested that it’s going to be either a diamond, a flat midfield or a hybrid system. It was the second choice with Sergi Roberto and Arturo Vidal flanking Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong.
For what it’s worth, the Catalans made a good start after conceding in the first two minutes. Nelsen Semedo and Jordi Alba’s width caused problems for Bayern’s narrow back four which weirdly wasn’t supported. Barcelona could have scored another goal other than the equalizer, but that was it. Only ten minutes before the cyborgs cleared the scene, set up their weaponry, marching slowly in a robotic way as the apocalypse approached.
The Barcelona midfield felt out of place, not in terms of who’s where but rather what to do in this flat four line — doesn’t help when you are against a machine whose AI have taken into consideration the finite number of options you have, on and off the ball.
Thomas Mueller’s famous interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung made the Raumdeuter tag stick. “Hmm, well, what am I? A Raumdeuter? Yes, I am a Raumdeuter. That would be a good headline, right ?” he told the interviewer. A space interpreter. Skynet liked the idea and added the code for space interpreting in some of its cyborgs.
It felt like there was a team of Muellers. But not only space interpreters, space creators as well. The Bayern players moved around, creating space, invading it and pinning Barcelona’s defensive options to make sure the player invading the space is free.
Leon Goretzka snuck behind Barcelona’s midfield a couple of times during the game, unnoticed by the completely lost Barcelona midfield. Here he is seeking a run behind Clement Lenglet who is up the pitch tracking Mueller.
His run forces Lenglet backwards, freeing Mueller to receive in between the lines. The space invader, Goretzka, became the space creator. Mueller received comfortably then switched play to the far side.
It was vice-versa as well, as Goretzka again was ready to go behind the Barcelona midfield, Mueller dropped moving Lenglet way out of position, Lewandowski shifted moving Gerard Pique horizontally, and you can see the space appearing in the defensive line.
Goretzka, now the space interpreter, is making the run inside the box. Joshua Kimmich found him but his shot went over the bar.
This wasn’t limited to Goretzka only. Serge Gnabry as well moved inside to either attack a free space or pin Barcelona’s center backs for Mueller to attack the space. In the build up to Bayern’s fourth goal Mueller can be seen dropping behind both Goretzka and Gnabry, as the latter is pinning Lenglet.
Here, Mueller sees the space and makes a run into that space penetrating the Barcelona midfield while both Lenglet and Pique are stretched by Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski respectively. Jerome Boateng chose the diagonal ball to Lewandowski, but the more reasonable one would have been the one into Mueller in between Pique and Lenglet. Nevertheless, Bayern scored their fourth goal from this attack.
Gnabry was excellent in terms of going inside to pin either of the center backs. Late in the second half after the cyborgs have already eradicated the land, Mueller who is coming from the right side is free behind Gnabry and Lewandowski as both are pinning the center backs. Kingsley Coman should have squared the ball to the original space interpreter, but he didn’t.
As with Goretzka and Mueller, it went both ways with Gnabry and Mueller. A situation here where Bayern are positioned normally could be seen, but Mueller is adjusting his body shape to drop into midfield.
As he drops to provide a passing option, Gnabry moves inside in behind the Barcelona midfield who throughout the game weren’t aware of what is happening behind them.
With Kimmich pushing forward, Jordi Alba has another threat to take care of. Centrally, Mueller moved back to his original position, pinning Lenglet and creating space for Gnabry as Pique was already marking Lewandowski.
At times you didn’t know who was going to pop up in the last line of attack for Bayern. Was it going to be Goretzka? Gnabry? Mueller? It didn’t only surprise the Barcelona defenders, but the player not attacking the space was always on their toes pinning them and preventing them from moving up. This could be seen in Bayern’s first three goals.
In the first when Mueller nicks the ball of de Jong, Goretzka immediately makes a run forward.
Now both center backs are pinned and with Semedo high up the pitch, Ivan Perisic can attack wide easily.
Every Barcelona player is tracking back to defend the counter and the furthest Bayern player here is Goretzka. Meanwhile, Mueller is not tracked ready to make the late run into the box.
You can spot Mueller here calling for the ball in acres of space. A space interpreter as he himself said.
Perisic found Mueller, but before combining with Lewandowski and scoring the first goal of the game only three minutes in, let’s see the current situation. Goretzka’s run moved Lenglet inside leaving de Jong to pick up Lewandowski. Busquets was trying to support Pique against Persisic. This makes the space infront of the defence free for Mueller to attack. Goretzka’s movements eventually created space for the late runner, who was Mueller here.
In the build up to the second goal, Mueller moved inside from the right wing then kept back-pedaling to pin Lenglet and create space behind Barcelona’s midfield for Gnabry.
This allowed Gnabry complete freedom behind the Barcelona midfield and eventually he intercepted the ball which resulted in the second goal for Bayern.
The third was a mix of everything stated above. Goretzka here is starting his run behind the Barcelona midfield as Gnabry is pinning Lenglet and Mueller is just Muellering around.
Once Goretzka is behind the Barcelona midfield, Lenglet is in a dilemma. Meanwhile, Mueller’s positioning is making Alba think twice before adjusting his position.
While the ball is in flight, Gnabry’s run forces Lenglet to go backwards, freeing space for Goretzka to receive. Busquets is late and Goretzka’s ball over the top surprises Lenglet who is beaten by Gnabry to make it 3–1.
Defensively, Bayern had problems out wide where Barcelona’s full backs pushed forward. That was clearly seen in the earlier chances and Barcelona’s two goals on the night. However, Bayern’s pressing gave them the upper hand up the pitch and centrally.
During goal kicks, the pressing scheme aimed at eliminating Barcelona’s build up options and force them wide or long. The diamond shape sees the wingers (Perisic and Gnabry) pressing the center backs, Lewandowski marking Busquets, Mueller on Sergi Roberto, Goretzka on de Jong and Thiago sweeping in behind. The options for Barcelona are either going long or wide to Semedo and Alba who aren’t that threatening in terms of build up and they could easily be collapsed on using Alphonso Davies’ pace or Perisic and Goretzka here.
It’s also important to note that Davies and Kimmich aren’t that high so they can support Boateng and David Alaba against Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Vidal who didn’t drop to support the build from goal kicks.
The long ball fell to Thiago who collected it then played it into Mueller’s path who then headed into Lewandowski for an aerial passage that would have been a wonderful display of art. Lewandowski’s shot went wide and from the commencing goal kick it was the same scenario, this time Boateng collected the long ball.
This shape was a regular during Barcelona’s goal kicks in the first half. In this scenario, Vidal dropped centrally to support the long ball. This meant that Kimmich can push forward more while Davies is keeping equal distance between Semedo and Messi. The Canadian’s pace allows him to reach either before the ball reaches them.
The pressing wasn’t only smart, but also relentless. Cyborgs on the hunt. The scoreline is self explanatory and Bayern’s performance on the day shouldn’t be questioned because of Barcelona’s degradation in performance throughout the year. Bayern’s ultimate test though would be in the next two rounds.
There was a question on Twitter asking who is the best choice of the current crop of players if you had to build a team of 11 clones. Well, yesterday we saw what 3 Thomas Muellers can do.