One day, after the four famous Barcelona-Real Madrid games in 2011, the Bernabéu dressing room rebelled against José Mourinho's plans. Why should a big team behave like a small one? The answer was obvious: the Portuguese coach understood that his footballers were not capable of competing against Guardiola's and he tried to protect them (or to protect himself) with blatantly defensive approaches. The results, despite winning a Copa del Rey, saw the fans, the dressing room and, finally, Florentino Pérez, run out of patience.
Tuesday night at the Camp Nou is not exactly the same but, in essence, perhaps we would find elements of it to question the path that Koeman chose to try to protect his players (or perhaps, protect himself) from the feared Bayern and another 8-2. What we saw showed us Koeman went beyond respect and settled in fear.
Barça were overcome by pressure from Bayern. How is it possible that the team could not get the ball out from behind and was forced to play permanently long? Do you know how many times? 33! Note: Ter Stegen, 14; Araujo, 6; Pique, 4; Eric, 3; Alba, 2; Roberto, Frenkie de Jong, Gavi and Balde, 1. Of the 33 long balls, only four created a second Barça play. A terrible fact.
Lack of habit is misleading footballers who have done this operation countless times. Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Eric, Piqué and Alba - all the defence except Araujo, who suffers with the ball at his feet - played, plus Pedri, Sergio and Frenkie de Jong - the full midfield - and they were crushed by Bayern. Why?
Because everything is forgotten if there is no repetition and training, a thousand and one times, ad nauseam. Suddenly trying to get the team to play long and take advantage of a newcomer like Luuk de Jong to drop long balls - how many times was this worked on during the week? it doesn't seem like the best solution. There is no other way than to go back to the basics.
The team does not feel comfortable playing with three centre backs, among other things, because the players have not been educated for it. And even less if the drawing becomes a 5-3-2 rather than a 3-5-2. Do you know that Eric -62 passes- and Piqué -61- were the Barça players who intervened the most in the game? This data explains the equality in possession with Bayern, 50%, but it was useless, on their own ground, a Tiki-Taka (derogatory version of the Cruyffista method) in every rule. This has nothing to do with Barça’s DNA.
The harsh reality is that Ter Stegen touched the ball more times with his feet -44- than the two forwards put together, Memphis -28- and Luuk de Jong, -15-. The order was clear: avoid the risk of transitions and losses. The outcome? Pulling back the lines so much was useless: 17 shots and three goals, two from errors by Memphis and Yusuf. And zero shots between Neuer’s sticks.
With the absences and the current squad it is clear that Barcelona is not expected to walk over Bayern but, once again, inferiority is not overcome from improvisation. Every time the team strays from the method it crashes.
If there are no forwards….
Barcelona’s official version is that they played with two forwards, LDJ and Memphis because there were no more. Yusuf Demir could have been the third but Koeman also saw him as able to make a difference from the bench. However, weren’t there other options?
If the team doesn’t have forwards, play without forwards. In attacking play you can make chances by dominating the ball and circulating it through midfielders until you get close to the area and make chances, shoot at goal and score sometimes.
The coach's problem is that he has long decided to move the focus that metaphorically shines on the team. Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola placed it on the center of the field; Luis Enrique took it to the attack because he had a unique trident and, now, Ronald Koeman has decided to focus on defence. If this is the way, many things will have to change, and not only in the first team of the club. The board has the last word.
And, now, reaching the point of desperation where you speak about physicality. History is cyclical. After every failure, the classic argument about physique. Let it be clear: Barcelona would never have run more than Bayern. Not with Kipchoge, Nageeye, and Abdi, the top three in the Tokyo Olympics marathon. There are styles and then there are styles.
Sergio, Frenkie and Pedri play good football but they, nor three Messis, would be able to beat Kimmich, Goretzka, Musiala, Muller and Sane. Five beat three. What’s half-time for? Why did nothing change? Ball, or chaos.
Play with kids?
Barcelona ended up with Mingueza, Araujo, Pique and Balde in defence. De Jong, Gavi and Pedri in midfield, and Yusuf, Memphis and Coutinho up front. Youth to the fore. There’s no need to worry about whether this should be Koeman’s team going forward, because it would be throwing the kids to the lions. However, their presence will be crucial for the construction of the future of the new project. Equilibrium but presence. A lot of presence.
And patience. Because youth makes more mistakes than experience but also shows more energy on the grass. Look at Gavi and Balde. And they also get the fans going.