14th August 2020 was a dooming day for Cules across the world. Barcelona ’s heaviest defeat since the year 1951 came in a manner which no one will be able to forget atleast for the next decade. So, what exactly go so wrong for the tactical genius Quique Setien? Let us have a look.
Inception of disaster
It all started three days before the matchday, when reports from reliable Spanish media outlet Sport suggested that Quique Setien is planning to go ‘Anti-Bayern’ with a 4-man diamond midfield. The midfield comprised of Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong and the former Bavarian – Arturo Vidal. The idea behind the same was to stifle Bayern’s creativity and support the best player in the world – Leo Messi. Once again, the plan was built around the man who has been carrying the team since the post MSN era along, Lionel Messi. Once upon a time at Mes-Que-Un-Club, there were no special plans for any opponent. Their possession heavy style with a sprinkle of switch-wing play used to bring wins as well as glory.
Now it has totally changed over the past few years. Anyways, Setien was indeed correct in reading the opposition. Bayern play a 4-2-3-1 with heavy emphasis on the wings. A diamond midfield would have been an ideal way for Barca to stifle service to Robert Lewandowski out wide by allowing the midfielders to efficiently support the fullbacks. At the same time, it also allows Setien ‘s men to outnumber Thiago and Goretzka in midfield. This should have helped opening up opportunities to play Leo Messi and Luis Suarez into dangerous goal-scoring positions. But how did this plan go wrong and so wrong that the goals started pouring and leaking down all the way?
Press to depress
The answer remains the same here as well as against the loss vs Liverpool last season. High-Press.
Bayern’s pressing in their game vs Setien ‘s Barcelona was a huge factor why they won the game in such a convincing manner. Particularly in the first 31 minutes where Bayern raced into a 4-1 lead, Bayern’s starting front six made 19 ball recoveries in the middle & attacking thirds. Barca’s front six made just 6. [There you go Anti-Bayern (chuckles)].
The intensity of Bayern’s pressing was borne out through the starting position of their players . Their defensive line was extremely high – which then allowed their front line to push up high when Setien ‘s men were building & still not surrender too much space in midfield. This is illustrated by the starting position of Bayern’s attackers even from Barcelona’s goal kicks .(image below)
The price paid for passivity
This high defensive line made the Bayern defense shaky as well. This was proven by Barcelona from 6’ to 20’ when they were running all over the place with the pace of Nelson Semedo, Leo Messi and Jordi Alba. Barca created three chances in those minutes (one hitting the post).
But from the 20’, the defensive approach of passing back swooped in and creating the play from back started. It was so strange that Ter Stegen was seeing more of the ball than the ‘Diamond’. Almost every time, Barca played a backwards pass into their own half, it acted as a trigger for Bayern’s front six to re-initiate their press. Perisic’s goal is a perfect example. Boateng with the possession running at his turtle pace went for the long ball straight onto the feet of Semedo. However, instead of running ahead, he played the pass back to Roberto who got immediately converged by four Bayern players. Consequently, he gave the possession to Serge Gnabry. Gnabry got Pique committed(like he fell for Shakira lol) and assisted Perisic who finished in a very sharp manner. Roberto was the culprit, eh?
Nope. It was Semedo who played the unnecessary back pass. Considering the fact that Bayern have such a high press with a tank load of gas in their bodies, it was a suicidal decision indeed for Setien ‘s men.
The reward for fresh dynamism
The synchronized pressing up the pitch from the whole Bayern front six, would leave Barcelona’s centre-backs with very few passing options and hence they would pass it back to Ter Stegen. Surprised right? Quique Setien couldn’t contain the press even with a world class centre back like Pique at his disposal. The Bayern attack was prolific throughout the season. As a result, to make those line breaking passes without the fear of getting outnumbered on counter was something the Barcelona center halves were keeping in mind. But the press was so high that even to make those passes to midfield was a difficult task. The Bayern front six were pushing up the pitch in-sync like an army squadron making the task almost impossible.
Bayern also showed elements of Klopp’s famous counter-pressing – this is the art of pressing the opposition immediately after you have lost the ball to the – they did this particularly when they lost the ball in wide areas, where the opposition’s passing options are more limited (image above).
The significance of rapidity
So, what was the missing piece in Setien’s tactics which was making Barcelona feel like a second-tier side who couldn’t contain the press conceding eight (sobs)? Pace.
Pace in the midfield as well as attack was the key which could’ve unlocked Bayern’s defense in the most likely manner. Back in 2011, when the Blaugara won the Champions league, it was said that against Barcelona the higher you press, the more they will make you toil and sweat. The press was contained by Barcelona by the trio of Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets. These midfielders could play those line breaking passes to the ever quick Leo Messi and Pedro. Back then, Iniesta had that burst of pace, which to some extent Frenkie De Jong does possess. However, barring him no one is quick in the midfield at the moment.
What the Blaugrana midfield needed was a quick midfielder with an extremely high pressing power and an equally well judgement. It would’ve been a right pin to the point if Setien had brought in Riqui Puig at half time. Puig could’ve been the horsepower which the midfield badly lacked.
Another huge mistake by Quique Setien was not to give few minutes to the returning Ousmane Dembele. Modern day football has showed that pace matters a lot and the French winger if not the fastest, is one of the fastest in the world as on date. Setien might’ve deployed his tactics spot on but the lineup selection as well as the substitutions were shitpiece.
Setien might’ve read the opponents wisely, but he failed to deliver the promise of style during Barcelona reign. He claimed that he wanted to “win everything”. Furthermore, he set out to do so by playing in the right way. The Barca way. Ultimately, he achieved neither.
With his sacking confirmed and Eric Abidal leaving the role technical secretariat as well, the club is open towards a set of changes in the first team.
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