At the beginning of last week, the odds were pointing at an all-Spanish final in the Champions League. After the draw I wrote about how the German sides should counter what were the Spanish sides that were favored to beat them. And counter they did. Here’s how they did it.
Bayern 7 – Barcelona 0
Such a one-sided number can be used to refer to domination of shots, corner kicks, fouls, etc. But unfortunately for Barcelona, they were outscored by seven goals. The only major offensive stat that Barcelona dominated over both legs was possession, with 63% and 57% in the first and second matches respectively.
This was no different a strategy than that which I had suggested.
Bayern are actually a team that can counter Barcelona’s midfield possession game, but if Heynckes has been observing the last few rounds he’ll go for the counterattacking strategy despite playing the first leg at home after seeing PSG go home on away goals.
Bayern took full advantage of Barcelona’s conspicuously absent high-pressure, and used their skillful midfielders not to dominate the match but rather to pressure and counterattack with the kind of danger everyone from Celtic to Celta has done this season. Rather than taking the side head on, Heynckes allowed a Barcelona diminished by injuries and an apparent lack of tactical nous to sputter, stall, and fall flat. And the German sides’ goals rained in from there.
Klopp 4 – Mourinho 0
While the first tie saw the use of a familiar tactic against Barcelona, the second showdown of the tournament between Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Madrid’s Jose Mourinho was just as interesting as the first. Back in the first round I had commented (before this blog’s existence) that Klopp out-Mourinho’d Mourinho by playing the same lightning fast counterattacking strategy that saw Madrid set records last season. A lot had happened between the ties, Madrid had found form and were odds-on favorites to win the tournament. But the matches here were played in the exact same fashion.
Dortmund again gave the ball to a Madrid side that would rather counter, and were slightly out-possessed by an opponent that looked as uncomfortable attacking as defending. The first leg was characterized by two periods of concentrated attacking pressure by Dortmund that led to Lewandowski scoring a hat-trick in the first ten minutes of each half. Dortmund pressured high and interrupted Madrid’s buildup, man marking Alonso while Gundogan (who had been man marked by Pellegrini) was allowed free reign to dominate the midfield, shifting the momentum in their favor. Down low, Dortmund cut out passing lanes and largely avoided danger.
The second leg saw Mourinho field a more adventurous midfield with the reintroduction of Di Maria allowing Modric and Ozil to play in their most fruitful positions. But despite an initial lapse in concentration from Dortmund, Madrid missed four clear chances in the first half before Dortmund again shut them down. Switching to a fabled three-man defense and scoring two late goals was not enough to overturn a three goal deficit and make up for another 180 minutes where Klopp out-foxed Mourinho.
I realize this is not the name of the of the rivalry between Borussia and Bayern, but in light of the two best teams in the tournament beating the odds and preventing el clasico in the final, I think we are poised for a classic game. A lot has been said about the end of respective eras, as much for Barcelona where I don’t think it applies, to Real Madrid as Mourinho all but confirmed his imminent exit, to Borussia who appear about to raided in the transfer market. But I’ll save these thoughts for future posts in anticipation of the delightful final in a few weeks.