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Barcelona eventually prevailed thanks to some fantastic Lionel Messi play, at the end of a fascinating, high-tempo contest.
Luis Enrique continues to use Marc-Andre ter Stegen as his cup goalkeeper, with Claudio Bravo dropping to the bench.
Otherwise, the team was as expected. Jeremy Mathieu was ruled out through injury – and it was interesting to see Thomas Vermaelen on the bench following his injury problems – but there were no real surprises, this was Barcelona’s regular outfield starting side.
Pep Guardiola, on his first return to the Camp Nou, was still without key players – particularly Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who were so devastating in this fixture two seasons ago – but also David Alaba.
Guardiola’s team selection was very similar to the XI which started in the cup match against Dortmund last week. The only change was Bastian Schweinsteiger in for Mitchell Weiser, which hinted that Bayern would again use a three-man defence.
Not so much a game of two halves – more a game of four quarters. First, Barcelona were dominant in the opening period, then Bayern stabilised the game before half-time but remained on the back foot. After the break, Bayern emerged re-energised and played their best football, but then Messi took charge and put the tie out of Bayern’s reach.
From the outset, it was obvious Guardiola had selected a three-man defence – like against Dortmund, Rafinha lined up on the left of the trio. Theoretically, it’s useful to have a right-footer against Messi – although the Argentine would later prove he’s capable of beating defenders on the outside, too. Jerome Boateng was up against Luis Suarez, and Mehdi Benatia versus Neymar.
This was, of course, a huge risk against this Barcelona front three. When at Barcelona, Guardiola usually preferred to use a spare man in defence, providing a sweeper if any of his defenders were outwitted by opponents. Here, the risk was huge – if his defenders made a single mistake, or were beaten through trickery from Barca’s front three, the opposition were in on goal. It seemed a hugely dangerous tactic.
The one caveat, of course, is that Bayern did have a sweeper, of sorts: their goalkeeper. Manuel Neuer is probably the most astute sweeper-keeper in history, and he made two dramatic interventions in this match when sweeping outside his own box.
Why was Guardiola playing three-versus-three? Well, because he wanted resources higher up the pitch, allowing him to press Barcelona intensely. It was difficult to deduce Bayern’s precise formation in the first 15 minutes, because they were so determined to go man-for-man across the pitch, shutting down Barca and preventing them from building up play from the back. Barca usually intercepted the ball inside their own half, Bayern’s interceptions were concentrated more in the middle third.