Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona – The end of an era & the final chapter for the game’s greatest team.

Barcelona now have a game that closes the chapter on their glory. They will win La Liga this season and the history books will show their continued success at winning trophies but this was a night where they were absolutely dominated on the game’s biggest stage.

It was also a performance from them that had been coming. They barely showed up in Milan, never got out of second gear in Paris and when they stuttered in Munich they were absolutely obliterated. One and a half excellent home performances when they got home allowed them to get this far but there will be no further progressing after this stage for Barcelona.

When Thomas Muller, the game’s star performer, made it 4-0 with just under ten minutes to go it was a fitting reminder to the visitors that they best not concentrate on two of the goals being unfairly allowed by the officials. Although they’d have a point, the scoreline absolutely reflected the performances of both sides.

Bayern Munich pressed smartly, passed brilliantly, spread the field intelligently and beat Barcelona in every department. They certainly deserve the credit they will receive but this was a night to focus on the closing of a dynasty.

Barcelona’s six successive semi finals in the Champions League is a remarkable run and their two losses within that came only when two teams, both down to 10-men, shut up shop and stopped them from scoring at the Nou Camp.

For the first time in their great run they were beaten by a team who could do what they set out to do. There will be no comeback this time around.

“I’m drained and I need to fill up. The demand has been very high,” said Pep Guardiola when he announced he was leaving the Barcelona bench during last season. Few disputed his claim and fewer thought of his key players, the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, who might have felt the same way.

The magnificent trio have played together for a number of years but you’d be hard pressed to find a game at any level where they were outplayed like this. Messi was clearly not fit, afraid to step into his stride when he received the ball and regularly dropping deep to lay off a pass and not have to make a run. He simply should not have played but who’d be the coach who would ever not play him if he is telling you he can?

Xavi and Iniesta, two of the greatest players Spain has ever produced, struggled to get any grip on the match but, in truth, were let down by many of their teammates.

No players in world football have played close to the amount of minutes these two footballing masterminds have played in the past six seasons. Those who have followed their careers closely have been waiting for the burnout to hit for sometime. During Euro 2012 some thought their heavy schedule would catch up with them only for Iniesta to be the best player at the tournament and Xavi to takeover the final, leading Spain to a magnificent 4-0 win over Italy.

The pair, who have each claimed an incredible 17 winners medals in the last five seasons, have had some incredible highs in this great game but tonight they fly back to Barcelona demoralized with images stuck in their head from one of the biggest lows of their sparkling careers.

At 33, Xavi, surely a future Barcelona manager, will know only too well what went wrong and what will be needed to make sure this is not repeated. Javier Mascherano is a fine player but should never have been the only recognizable centre-back in the squad when (and not if) Carles Puyol was injured. Starting a 22-year-old centre back in Bartra in a monumental match wasn’t a risk, it was idiotic. He is certainly no Raphael Varane.

It is time for Barcelona to stop playing roulette with the art of defending and go get any of Mats Hummels, Daniel Agger or Laurent Koscielny. Comfortable on the ball is an important requirement, of course, but a defender who is simply good in the air, who can take command from set pieces is essential. If he is a world class defender there is a pretty good chance he is decent technically. Look at Puyol, for example.

And this is where the Barcelona’s philosophy has to be tested and pressed. They have lost some smart football minds in the last two years – do not underestimate the loss of Txiki Begiristain – and it is time for them to reinvent themselves while sticking to their principals. 4-3-3 and the art of treasuring the ball will never change but for them to move forward they simply have to recruit better. While they wasted money on Alex Song, Bayern went in their backyard and found Javi Martinez. For an iconic club like Barcelona that cannot happen again.

Dani Alves has become a massive problem. His link up with Pedro on the right in Munich was admirable for the first quarter of the match but after that it just became suicidal. Bayern exploited their wide areas all game long and Alves not once, even at 3-0 down, looked like a right back. With the excellent Jordi Alba on the left, Barcelona need a defensive minded right back who has the ability to pick his moments when he goes forward, instead of a right back who regularly leaves gaps the size of parking lots behind him. On this night poor Bartra never stood a chance playing next to the Brazilian.

Barcelona will be back but absolutely must learn some key lessons after being taken to school by Bayern in this first leg. While Xavi and Co spend the next few months thinking ahead any one who loves football should take some time and think back at what this team and their greatest players have achieved. Some called them the greatest team to ever play the game. Whether they were or not they, along with their national team, led a passing revolution that changed the game and forced others to be better.

Without Barcelona’s performances in the last six seasons, Bayern Munich do not produce a performance like this tonight. The lines have met each other once again on the circle of footballing life.

Every dynasty comes to an end eventually, the best ones are the ones who pave the way for others to continue their way.

Milan 2-0 Barcelona – Clinical Milan put on a clinic.

Starting Lineups

Max Allegri sprung no surprises in his starting XI as Stephen El Shaarawy returned from a knee injury and was preferred to M’Baye Niang. The positioning of Kevin Prince-Boateng was the biggest talking point heading into the game and he operated on the right handside.

football formations

Jordi Roura picked an XI everyone expected for the visitors, after Xavi was pronounced fit, with only David Villa unavailable for selection.

football formations


  • This was an absolutely fantastic performance from Milan. To understand why they were able to accomplish what they did in the second half you need to have witnessed the foundation they laid down in the first.
  • The first 45 minutes was a clinic from a team playing Barcelona. In Kevin-Prince Boateng & Stephen El Shaaraway, Allegri had two players who were a threat when they had the ball but, more importantly, were defensively disciplined without it.
  • In effect, they played as wing backs, allowing the back four to squeeze together in a narrow line up against a centrally focused opponent. The longer the first half went, the more the likes of Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas stayed central. The centre-backs were terrific not sitting too deep, to allow space in between the lines, and maintaining concentration when not even having a specific man to mark in a forward position.
  • Watching Milan defend as well as they did is nothing new but what is new is this Milan and that makes it even more impressive. With the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Clarence Seedorf  and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their side last season they caused Barcelona many in-game problems throughout their four encounters but many of those issues were forgotten by most when looking at the scorelines of 2-2, 2-3, 0-0 & 3-1.
  • Having changed personnel and gotten rid of the experience they had, just makes this Milan result even more impressive.
  • Aside from their transfers, the two biggest differences on this night, from last season, was how clinical Milan were with their finishing and how poor Barcelona were in stepping up the tempo. For all of their possession in the first half, there was a lack of speed in their pass, something that remained even when they went behind.
  • The goal that opened the scoring had some controversy on it but to focus on that would neglect the reason for it happening in the first place. Victor Valdes had an uncharacteristic long clearance up field and it was poor, allowing El Shaaraway to pounce and press immediately. Dani Alves then had to track back and again showed he isn’t great at defending when running towards his own goal, as he committed a silly foul on El Shaaraway. From the ensuing free kick, the ball hit Cristian Zapata’s hand but he had hardly any time to get out of the way before Boateng unleashed a wonderful strike past Valdes.
  • Barcelona’s issues remained at 1-0 until they removed the ineffective Fabregas for Alexis Sanchez. The former Arsenal man just never got any space to operate in against a disciplined backline and Sanchez was needed to provide vertical runs across the defence. His inclusion made a small difference but the visitors still rarely posed a threat to Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal.
  • The second goal, ten minutes from time, came via the same route as the first. From a throw-in by Jordi Alba, Milan’s midfield pressed immediately as the exceptional Massimo Ambrosini and Boateng closed down the Spaniard and then sent substitute M’Baye Niang into a flank vacated (once again) by an advancing full back. El Shaarawy (yes, he was everywhere) then lobbed the ball over to Sulley Muntari whose sweet left foot strike made it 2-0. It was a great, clinical goal and one that exposed Barcelona’s fragile defence. At the time, despite not playing well, they were only down by a goal but were far too open in the build up to the goal.
  • The San Siro erupted into a party and in the middle of it was Mario Balotelli who, like many in Milan this evening, will surely enjoy this night as they should. Allegri’s system was exceptional but it was a night for his players who put the plan in place what he drew up. The back four did exactly what they needed to do from minute one to ninety, Ambrosini and Riccardo Montolivo were brace, intelligent and disciplined in midfield and the wide men countered as brilliantly as they defended. All-in-all it was the perfect game to play against Barcelona and Milan now head to the second leg on March 12th as favourites. Between then and now expect the home team’s brilliance to be talked up but for them to now progress they will have to produce something very special and this Milan side will have to be nothing like the one on show in this game. We must not forget Barcelona’s only conquerors in the last four years of this competition won their first leg against the Catalan giants (Inter Milan & Chelsea).

Stats provided by Infostrada

  • AC Milan ended a seven CL match winless streak against Barca. This was their longest winless streak against any given opponent. Their longest winless streak against  specific opponents now is three (against Galatasaray, Real Madrid and FC Porto).
  • Kevin-Prince Boateng scored his fourth CL goal. Mickael Essien is the only Ghanaian player to have scored more CL goals: 11. André Ayew is also on four.
  • Sulley Muntari scored in his CL debut match for AC Milan. The last Milan player to score in his first CL match for the team was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored two in his first CL match for Milan in September 2010.
  • The last time Barcelona lost a CL match by a two goal margin or more was also in Milan: away at Internazionale in April 2010 (3-1).
  • FC Barcelona fielded nine Spanish players in the CL knock out phase for the first time in their club history. Only Real Madrid have ever started more Spaniards in a Champions League KO match (10 against Juventus in March 1996).
  • Xavi played his 126th CL match, overtaking Clarence Seedorf (125) into fourth place of most appearance makers.

El Clasico: Real Madrid 1 Barcelona 1 – Madrid’s makeshift back 4 plays a high line & forces Barcelona to play on the counter.


Real Madrid had multiple problems with key defenders missing. Marcelo and Pepe were injured while Sergio Ramos was suspended. Jose Mourinho picked Michael Essien at right back, moving Alvaro Arbeloa over to the left. Two holding defenders kept close, not counter attacking, and keep defensive and get away with it, even at home, due to their selections.

football formations

Stand-in Barcelona boss Jordi Roura had much less problems to deal with, recalling the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba who were all rested at the weekend.

football formations


  • This was a fantastic game of football. Being out of the title race and being forced to play a makeshift back four, I expected Jose Mourinho to tighten things up in this game but the match played out in the exact opposite way.
  • Played at a breathtaking pace, it was stretched for the entire first half with both teams taking it in turns to attack their opponents.
  • Finding space in wide areas was the key. Michael Essien vs Jordi Alba was a fascinating battle and neither full back was ready to give in and stay deep. It was no surprise that the Spanish left back worked hard to bring width to his side but Essien’s ambition countered some of what his opponent could bring and played a large part of Madrid’s best attacks.
  • Madrid, typically, pressed high and quick immediately. Barcelona were dispossessed inside their own third four times in the first half, including 30 seconds in when Cristiano Ronaldo got in behind Dani Alves and was chopped down by Gerard Pique.
  • Barcelona were guilty of this charge once again after 27 minutes, allowing Jose Callejon to supply Karim Benzema with their best chance of the half.
  • It is practically impossible to put Barcelona’s system into a formation (they did start the way the graphic shows above) due to their movement and Cesc Fabregas started to play a key role in the change of momentum late in the first half. The former Arsenal man covered for Sergio Busquets as the deep man in midfield between the two centre backs early but would soon move forward, often running on past Lionel Messi, something Messi’s false nine required.
  • To counter the runs from deep positions, Madrid’s back four played much higher up the pitch to stop the opponents playing close to the box. Barcelona responded by pressing much higher than they did previously and it was that which led to their opening goal on 50 minutes.
  • Messi pressed Xabi Alonso, won the ball back and supplied Fabregas with a great pass before the Spaniard slotted the ball past new man Diego Lopez.
  • Barcelona were now in control and should have scored another when Andres Iniesta sent Fabregas in, only for the exceptional Raphael Varane to intercept. The 19-year-old defender was marvellous from start to finish and would later get a goal to cap a complete performance.
  • Entering the final third of the match and still down 1-0, Jose Mourinho had seen enough. Callejon paid the price with Luka Modric coming on in his place to played in the Ozil role with the German immediately going over to the right.
  • The change forced Alba to stay deeper a little but on 67 minutes he advanced too far forward and left his team vulnerable. Sami Khedira broke forward, played a great ball to Ozil who then crossed for Ronaldo in the six yard box to do the rest. It looked a certain goal until Pique swept in on his magic carpet and performed a true goal-saving tackle.
  • Six minutes later the visitors should have doubled their advantage when Pedro was sent in all alone but shot just wide after Lopez never left his line. It was the second time the goalkeeper stayed very deep in his goal by not cutting down the angles and the second time he wasn’t punished for it.
  • Madrid took advantage of Pedro’s poor finish when Ozil – again on the right – sent in a precise cross for Varane to head home with eight minutes left. It was quite fitting that the defender got the goal as he was their best player even before he scored. His pace in the backline allowed Real to play higher up the pitch, he never lost concentration against arguably the hardest team to defend against or and kept his composure throughout, which is something that can rarely be said about Ramos and Pepe.
  • On a night when many top players excelled, Varane was the best, leading a makeshift back four that never looked out of sorts. Their strategy of a higher line forced Barcelona into playing more on the counter than they usually do and for this Mourinho’s men probably just about deserved a draw, despite Barcelona missing key chances.
  • The draw sets up an intriguing second leg at the Nou Camp in three weeks time to see who gets to the final of the Copa del Rey. If it is anything like this one it will be a real treat and Varane has left his manager with a decision to make.

One night in Barcelona to witness greatness.

A man shifted awkwardly in the seat beside me. He wasn’t anxious, far from it in fact, just inside a place where expectations were understandably high and, for this minute of the match anyway, not being met. He held tight the flag of Catalonia which was grasped inside his fist and occasionally in between his teeth in moments such as this. The world’s best player had just given the ball away again, a regular occurrence in the opening ten minutes. He didn’t look himself, not sharp to a pass and lazy in distribution and my temporary neighbor was disturbed by it.

Five minutes later he received a pass, and as the defenders in front seem to part like the red sea, he slotted the ball to the side of the goalkeeper with considerable ease. 1-0 Barcelona, Lionel Messi. Fitting it was him who was the instigator for 99,000 plus all standing in my first ever Camp Nou experience. Seconds earlier, some had already stood in awe as arguably the greatest player Spain has ever produced, Xavi, dribbled his way around four opponents deep in his own area to help start a play that led to the goal. The magician had seemed to be running into one blind alley after another but somehow, with incredible close control and technique, escaped the onrushes of the Zaragoza players and came out of the huddle with the ball where it belonged. At his feet.

It was to be Xavi’s night. Sure, Messi would score again, a blinder of a strike from 25 yards out on his left that found such a precise angle to steer its way into the net, yet it was Xavi who passed and moved time and time again. Alex Song, still finding his way in this side and still culpable of giving away a ball now and again, a sin in this city, also opened his Barcelona scoring account on a night when the home side won 3-1 but even his goal had to go through the main men before he was allowed to finish it off.

Some say Barcelona don’t take corners properly, but this side is obsessed with keeping the ball and with the game 1-1 after half-an-hour, Xavi played a corner short to his partner in crime, Andres Iniesta. Messi then came deep to receive the pass before weaving his way towards the byline and withdrawing defenders away from their spots. Song, now free inside the box, waited for the pass to come from the Argentine and knowing full well it would arrive he was ready to side foot home.

Three goals and three significant pieces of evidence stored in my memory from a whirlwind trip to Barcelona. 18 hours in total, two spent in an airport, one on a bus, another in taxi’s, two spent shopping, one eating, five spent sleeping and six spent in and around Camp Nou. Beside the goals, the memory bank stored the standing ovation for Carles Puyol, back from injury, who lasted 75 minutes. Barcelona fans are blessed with many things these days but having a player and personality like Puyol wear their shirt is close to the top of the list. My head archived the Alba-Iniesta-Villa threesome down the left that so intelligently worked together to create overlaps throughout the game. They made it look far easier than it is. I will recall the megastore which was mega, the atmosphere around the stadium with stalls selling anything you can imagine connected with the club, and the feeling that took over me at the final whistle.

For many inside the Camp Nou that Saturday night it was just another game but for those there for the first time, like me, I’d hope they got the feeling I got at the climax. As one world class player after another walked off the field, the famous Barcelona anthem bellowed out for one final time that night and I said to my friend that must have been what it was like to watch Real Madrid in the 1950s.

Barcelona have not always been successful and have never been this great for this length of time. Watching them play in 2012 was a special time. I’ve seen enough sport in my time to know the difference between watching good and watching great. I was fortunate enough to watch the Australian cricket team of the late eighties and nineties dominate their sport. Watching Wigan Rugby League team during the same era brought the same spine-tingling emotions, as did watching Ayrton Senna at the wheel of a Formula One car. Another level.

I’d often tell people how different the sport of Formula One is live in person than on television. You see so much more than what a programmed, slow-thinking television director shows you, plus you need the strength of all of your senses to sample it the right way. Watching Barcelona is very similar. You just see things you don’t on TV. With Pep Guardiola no longer in charge, Barcelona are under different stewardship now, in Tito Villanova, yet the same magnificent showings continue. They are a box office hit, a must-see show when they are in any town and I am just thankful to have witnessed one of the greatest sides of all time in person. No wonder the smile never left my face.