Will Guardiola succeed on his return to Camp Nou?
FC Barcelona will take on Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou. It is clear that neither side will require any motivation before the tie. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, who won 14 trophies in his four-year stint at Barcelona, including two UEFA Champions League trophies in 2009 and 2011 respectively, will be making an emotional return to his spiritual home. The Bayern manager will be greeted by former teammate and current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique.
When Guardiola was promoted to take over Barcelona’s senior squad in 2008, his replacement in the youth set-up was none other than Enrique. After the quarter-final results were out, Enrique expressed his pleasure at meeting his old friend with whom he will lock horns with for the first time. Bayern and Barcelona have met in eight previous European ties. Most recently, Bayern Munich demolished the Catalan side 7-0 across both ties in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League semi-final. Bayern have always done well in away from home, winning three of their last four visits.
Luis Enrique’s tactical intelligence has allowed him transform an evolving style of play, which provides solidity at the back, without compromises in attack. Barcelona’s system is based on attacking, attractive and possession-based football. The system was developed under the managerial reign of Johan Cryuff between 1988 and 1996, which the club has tried to follow ever since. Let’s now examine some of the changes that Enrique has made.
For starters, Lionel Messi now no longer plays as a ‘false line’ and instead lines up on the right wing. Furthermore, Xavi who was once central to Barcelona’s possession-based system will now witness the majority of the tie from the bench. The team ethic is now based on the explosive attacking talent of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have contributed to over 100 goals for Barcelona this season. Although the club continues to focus on possession football, subtle changes have been made to their mode of attack. The team now plays with an aggressive style wide areas, instead of its past obsession with midfield domination
Bayern Munich, who construct their play through positioning, possession and physical strength exploit tactical variations as a strategy to boost their overall plan. Guardiola demands that his players play with a flexible approach that would enable them to change tactics during a game. An emphasis on such tactical flexibility is what allowed an injury plagued Bayern side to demolish a shell shocked Porto within the first 40 minutes in their quarter-final second leg encounter. The return of Thiago Alacantra in midfield will please Guardiola immensely after debilitating injuries to Franck Ribery, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and star attacker Arjen Robben, who will miss the rest of the season. After their defeat to Borrussia Dortmund in the German Cup semi-final, Guardiola and his men will be itching to prove doubters wrong. Bayern Munich will also depend on key centre half/midfield maestro Xabi Alonso (33) to distribute the ball, play the role of a director and drop deep when possession is lost. In the event that he plays as one half of the double midfield pivot, Alonso will have greater freedom to drop in behind the centre backs to receive balls and orchestrate attacking moves.
This tie would also be the moment of truth for Luis Enrique. Results of both semi-final matches and subsequent success in the final will go a long way in determining his destiny at Barcelona.