Tactical analysis: How Bayern’s high line killed a comeback against Barcelona

How Bayern’s high line killed a comeback against Barcelona – tactical analysis

Written by Bayern Central (May 13) – FC Bayern München fought in its Champions League semi return leg against Barcelona but its attempt at a comeback was destroyed by a high defensive line. A detailed look at how it unfolded.

In this shorter than usual tactical analysis, I will review the first 30 minutes of the game and make the following two points.

  1. Using a back two instead of a back four backfired. As soon as Die Roten reverted to a back four, they were able to stop Barcelona’s attack.
  2. The defence went too high on the wrong plays.

Pep Guardiola’s boys basically used Medhi Benatia and Jérôme Boateng as a back two. Rafinha and Juan Bernat were wing-backs, not full-backs. They played high and wide.

3′ Forced clearance

When Barça sent two guys forward to press while keeping three other men in the midfield, CBs and Xabi Alonso were easily prevented from building from the back. They had to go for the long pass, or clear, which is what Boateng does here.

3rd minute

Few options

5′ High line exposed

A natural solution to stop dangerous attackers when you play a high line is the offside trap. You have to time it perfectly not to get burned, though. On this play, Ivan Rakitic goes on a run, unmarked. Alonso is too slow to get back and Manuel Neuer has to make two saves in a row.

5th minute


7′ Going even higher

On this play, there are no full-backs, and barely wing-backs. Rafinha almost is a winger, while Bernat is entirely out because he plays from a super advanced position on the left. Alonso is covered. Bayern is as narrow as it gets.

7th minute

“What do I do here?”

8′ Getting the basics right

Notice something here. The Reds form a back four. What can Barça do? Nothing.

8th minute


10′ Proper marking

Bayern scores an early goal. Ivan Rakitic goes on the flank to start something, but there is full coverage from a back four and pressing ahead. The challenge is easy work for Benatia.

10th minute

Danger averted

11′ Not learning

Back to our old problems. Barcelona is ready to press and cut off passes in the midfield, unless they are long and high. Bayern is once again under pressure in a very dangerous situation.

11th minute

A bad pass and a swarm of Catalans can come forward.

12′ CB adventure

Now, this is something. Boateng goes forward and hopes to deliver a decisive pass to the attack. A good weapon, but he faces a strong U-shaped defence from Barça midfielders. Again, one wrong move and they can come at us because there is just one defender.

12th minute

Extra risks.

15′ First Barcelona goal

On the first goal, the offside trap goes bad. Philipp Lahm is tracking back but he does some ball watching. Bernat is not in a position to help the defence and Suarez is about to escape to create the play that will kill the mood, then the tie.

15th minute


21′ Getting the basics right again

How defending logic comes back at times… a narrow buildup from the back is going nowhere. What does Bernat have to do? He slips back in the left-back position to relieve the pressure.

21th minute


23′ Keeping it narrow… then adjusting

Are you familiar with this? Despite what we previously learned, the Reds go back to building narrowly from the back.

23rd minute

Going nowhere

How do you fix that? Full-backs. Three seconds later, Rafinha and Bernat are closer and it suddenly becomes easier to make a good first pass.

23rd minute


24′ One more example…

… that shows why a back four works. Messi sees that he cannot make a good forward pass here, so he turns to the left and looks for other options.

24th minute


29′ Second Barcelona goal

The final straw: everyone is high and nobody covers Suarez on a kick taken from the back by Barça. He goes on and combines with Neymar for their second goal.

29th minute

Too high. Just too high.

Final thoughts

Sure, this tie was lost in the first leg. Conceding three goals without scoring one at Camp Nou was disastrous for Bayern’s chances to progress. That Bayern was able to fight and create chances, scoring two more goals despite fatigue is worth a medal.

Yet, the screenshots and information above are food for thought. Tactical mistakes were made. Some of the basics in football cannot be avoided. If you are too narrow, without enough support from defenders on the flanks, your ability to build things up is limited. And the odds are against you.

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