Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Heynckes’ Cool Aid in the German Forest (Bayern Munich 4 – Barcelona 0)



It may look as simple as players covering their equivalents while on defense, but to have Robben and Ribery effectively negate the impacts of Alves and Alba is a remarkable sacrifice for the 2 attacking players and accomplishment for Heynckes to successfully implement. With Bayern's fullbacks covering Alexis + Pedro and Martinez + Schweinsteiger imposing themselves on Xavi + Iniesta - the partially-fit Messi was effectively lost and trapped in the 'German Forest'

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, so I suppose I will be excused for not writing about Real Madrid right now. Call it a ‘warm up’ I guess for tonight’s game, but here are some thoughts on what I saw last night during the first semi-final between Bayern and Barca.
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What a performance by Bayern Munich! Real Madrid have indeed shown repeatedly this season that we already have the ‘formula’ to beat Barca. Last night, Bayern took that formula and multiplied the dose 10x.
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The match kicked off at 2:45am Singapore time but I was so zonked out from the office yesterday I had forgotten to set my alarm clock. I ‘instinctively’ woke up at 3:05am, cursed myself for forgetting to set the alarm and rushed out to the Living Room to catch the match. I opened the TV to see a dead silent Allianz Arena watching Barca keep possession, pinging the ball about, looking for their openings.
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The German Forest
Messi played his usual ‘false 9’ role, sandwiched between Bayern’s 4 hulks: CBs Dante and Boateng + DMs Schweinsteiger and Martinez. Was Messi going to get lost in this ‘German Forest of Hulks’? Or was he going to get the ball in a sweet spot and slalom his way through these 4 supposedly slow-footed giants?
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The relevant question however was: how was he going to get the ball in the first place? Schweinsteiger and Martinez were superb in forcing Iniesta and Xavi’s passes diagonally to Alves / Alba / Pedro / Sanchez, who suffered the same problem of penetrating the ‘German Forest’. Heynckes’ 2 holding midfield bulldogs kept away passes both vertical (from Iniesta / Xavi) and horizontal (from the flanks) from reaching Messi. Messi’s lack of mobility made things even worse for Barca.
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Heynckes’ Cool Aid
The success of keeping Messi lost in the ‘German Forest’ is cannot be accredited simply down to Bayern’s 2 hulking pivots (Schweini + Martinez), CBs and fullbacks (who thwarted the threat of Pedro and the useless Alexis)… credit must also be given to Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery for putting in impressive shifts to track Barca’s fullbacks. Both are famous for being allergic to defensive duties – so I can only wonder what kind of magic potion / Cool Aid Jupp Heynckes has made the 2 drink to make them so willing to sacrifice and work on the defensive end.
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At 4-0, Robben was still flying out, attempting sliding tackles to intercept balls. This was not the Real Madrid Robben who stood around waiting for an outlet ball for him to dribble up and attempt an individual move (which earned him the monicker ‘the soloist’ amongst German football fans).
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Tempo + Tactics
Jupp Heynckes wasn’t lying when he openly declared that he ‘knew Barca very well’. As he had clearly anticipated, Barca not only started with their usual attempt at possession, but they also used their early domination of possession to slow the tempo of the game to take the sting off. They then planned to gather momentum with their passing maneuvers in an attempt to get Messi the ball in his ‘sweet spots’. With Martinez and Schweinsteiger physically overwhelming Xavi and Iniesta with their size and stamina, finding Messi ‘in the German Forest’ would be down to players on the flanks: it was here ‘Robbery’s’ (Robben +Ribery) willingness to run and deny passing lanes to Messi that turned Barca’s possession completely stale. And this allowed Bayern to do what we all now remember from last night’s game: to use their Strength, Size, and Speed to completely physically dominate Barcelona.
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How fitting was it that my Man of the Match was Thomas Muller? Not quick, not technically brilliant, not particularly impressive yet he was all action, all cunning, all guile, all industry. 2 goals, 1 ‘assist’ (his basketball-style ‘pick’ / screen on Alba).
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Speedy Counter attacks resulted in opportunities for corners and free kicks… and corners and free kicks allowed Bayern to dominate Barca in aerial duels to score goals. Bayern’s achievement last night was not only the product of magnificent tactics. It was also the product of tactics applied magnificently.
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Whiners, Moaners and Losers
I scoff at those who insist that Barca were hard done by the referee over their clamors re: Gomez being offside and Muller’s bodycheck on Alba for the 2nd and 3rd goals. They seem to forget that Pique and Xavi were both guilty of handballs in the box which merited penalties.
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And what about Jordi Alba throwing the ball at Arjen Robben’s face and earning himself a yellow to rule him out of the 2nd leg? It was to me another classless act to verify the fact that he is a loser with no regard or concern to the fact that his team are short of defenders.
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Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Last night’s performance was validation to the world that Bayern was throwing down the gauntlet to proclaim themselves the best club side in Europe. Strong in every department (attack, midfield, defense), physically powerful, technically brilliant and tactically astute: Bayern can play based on possession, based on the counter and are lethal in the air.
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If there is no collapse in the 2nd leg, like their 2nd leg vs. Arsenal (to allow Barca to repeat what they did to Milan) then last night, they might have also proved that they have the mentality individually and as a team, to win it all. Last night, every member of their team had their mojo on, and the collective team unit played with absolute magic.
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And what about Barca? Where did all their magic go? I can only guess that was all gone just like Pique’s hair.