Bayern Munich 3, Barça 2 (3-5 agg.), aka “Wait … there was a second half?”

neygoal

In the wake of a match that leaves bloggers struggling with a suitable subject, culers come through for us all:

The second half.

In many ways, the return leg of the tie with Bayern Munich was a complex one for Barça supporters, because it represented so many conflicting feelings:

— Romance vs pragmatism
— The coach we have vs the coach so many still pine over
— A rival that gave us a beating, and a “need” to return the favor
— A fan base’s need for bragging and affirmation

There is so much analysis, so much worrying, so much talking about the now-legendary Second Half, which really does deserve upper case letters, such is its immediate legend status among culers. But let’s dispense with that good stuff, so that we can get to the bad and the worrying.

FC Barcelona is in the Champions League final. It is there because it was the better team over two legs than Bayern Munich. It won the aggregate scoreline and was a superior team in very crucial ways that underscored its current status, on form and despite what too many of its supporters say, as best team in Europe.

Bayern came out fighting in that return leg, as a home team is supposed to do for its fans. Its first goal came from a truly woeful piece of set piece defending, and one that I am sure Unzue and Enrique will be working to resolve in subsequent trainings, not that they really need to because it came down to concentration. Focus is crucial, and it’s pretty hard to focus fully, no matter a team’s intentions, when they are playing a dead rubber.

So Benatia got to head home, unmarked thanks to Busquets, and the Bayern crowd got to scream, chant and sing. But then Barça focused, and began to play its game. In that game, possession built and triangles moved the ball around, probing just as Bayern probed, rather than the one-sided notions that many seem to have. And then Barça stepped on the gas.

What’s funny is that English commentators almost always put Barça goals at the feet of “woeful defending,” which is their favorite phrase. But if you look at both goals, they did exactly what an intelligent opponent is supposed to do, which is take advantage of a weakness. Bayern played as it always does, played in a way that effectively had the Bundesliga over by mid-season: pressing, and with a high defensive line. What made the two Barça goals different for Bayern is that three of the best attackers in the world were facing that defense.

messi

On the first goal, Messi laced an absurd pass to Suarez, a pass that wasn’t credited because it’s easy for commentators during a match to cite “woeful defending,” probably because of a narrative that makes it easier to take credit than give it, much like supporters. So instead of “Holy Jesus what a pass!” deficiencies need to exist, so allow me to say it: “Holy Jesus what a pass!”

It was also a pass that, as it found Luis Suarez, the most lethal 9 in the game for goals and exposed necks, caused the defense to immediately think “Holy crap, what about this stuff here!” A defense has the task of putting out the fire that is facing it. Neymar intelligently made the darting run into the exposed space, taking advantage of having jettisoned his marker, and slotted home. It was an easy goal that was facilitated by a pass that few players in world football can make, thus making a defense look “woeful.”

The second goal was even more absurd as Bayern, again playing a high line, once again had a loose ball fall to Messi. Of all the players in football who you want to have the ball in time and space as a defensive coach, there is one you absolutely DO NOT WANT. That player is Messi. He casually flicked a backward header to Suarez, who was already running because he knew. The hours and hours of training, the anticipation that comes from playing with great players, made him know. And he ran for a ball that once again, found him in stride. And once again, Neymar jettisoned his marker, but had a little bit more to do this time.

Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world. But for all of the talk about how a keeper should never be beaten on his near side, he was facing Neymar, who had the ball in space with all kinds of shooting angles from a curler into the corner to a blast across the face of goal. Hell, Neymar could even have run at Neuer, faked him out and slotted home. In the instant of contemplative paralysis that defines such a match moment, Neymar saw his opening and blasted home to the near side, a shot with enough power and pace to leave Neuer helpless. It was a quality finish that wasn’t as easy as it looked.

Now, whether those were two instances of “woeful defending” or three amazing players doing what they do will depend on worldview and desired narrative. All season, people have been seeing what they want to in this Barça. Reassuringly, it has a coach, a coaching staff and players who give exactly zero craps about any of that stuff. So people can say what they like, and have fun doing it. Meanwhile, Barça is making Berlin hotel reservations.

If you are the more prevalent culer, you will say that “Bayern outplayed us for most of the two legs, as we didn’t have an answer for …” If you have a sense of what this team has been doing all season, and the pragmatism that has governed its behavior, you understand that this team will never, ever win by a mile when all it needs to win by is an inch, that it is wholly unconcerned with the natterings of an entorno that assesses every pass, every glance, every haircut and conspires to find it all wanting in some way. And it is unconcerned with all of that because it is too busy winning.

suarez

The net effect that those two goals had, at the nexus of a stretch of play in which Barça raised its game and imposed its will, is that they ended the tie. If, at the moment of the second goal the match was stopped and the players were asked if they would rather continue, or go have dinner together and get hotel advice from the German players, they would have chosen the latter. Because really, all that could happen from that point is undesirable, namely in the form of injury. Everything that happened after Neymar bashed that second goal past Neuer was irrelevant. Barça played well enough to not concede another in the first half, with immense thanks to a world-beating performance by Ter Stegen, another transfer success of the folks who are inept at making transfers, and that was that.

But there was a Second Half to be played, and it is here where the contention comes from a team that is so many things to so many people. Bayern won the match 3-2, but lost the tie. Many culers wanted destruction, revenge for the 7-0 aggregate shelling at the hands of a different coach, with many different players. They wanted the bragging rights, the satisfaction that lets supporters live vicariously through their heroes, who don’t care all that much about such needs. And there was dissatisfaction.

There was dissatisfaction with the loss, joylessness in the way Bayern scored three goals. THREE GOALS!!!! That it scored those goals against a team that was effectively doing Sudoku puzzles while walking around is immaterial. But here is something else to consider for a team that can’t win for losing among portions of its fanbase, mostly because it has the difficulty of being run by the wrong man:

What if Barça had gone all out, hell-bent on destruction, and wore itself out to the extent that it was toothless and pillow-soft against Atleti on the weekend. What if, in wanting to stamp a mark for eternity on a dead rubber, it cost itself the chance to win the league in the house of the opponent who won the league in their house last season?

The answer is clear, of course: “Stupid Enrique, running the score up against Bayern when he should have been worried about Atleti!”

So the team trapped between a rock and hard place of perception, did what it had to do and what it should have done, which was play so as not to give up 6 goals, because it has a big match coming up, a match that wasn’t already decided.

All the rest is for bench racing.

In the days when the right coach was running Barça, the guy who is now running the team defeated by Barça, his first legs were invariably pragmatic affairs, history tells us. It was smart, because you always want to win the tie in the deciding leg, doing enough in the first leg to ensure that the tie is winnable. It was smart, and tactical.

This Barça is different, because its coach is different, in the ways outlined above. The smart culer would also be willing to bet his house on the fact that Guardiola takes exactly zero satisfaction from his team winning that match, because he and the players knew exactly how hard Barça was putting out, that all they did was win a practice scrimmage against a team thinking more about its next big match.

So, to put that Second Half into perspective: It was meaningless. There are no inferences to be drawn from it, no tactical dissertations to be written about it, no conclusions to be drawn about unfavored players. It was an exercise in playing out the remaining time. Bayern fans will say that their team won, that if only they Barç hadn’t scored three at home, Bayern would have been right there. Those same fans will forget the times Barça was focused with full concentration, and could score almost at will, because fanbases need to forget that stuff so they can feel better about things.

The other fanbase needs to feel better about things in its own way, a way that too often rips at the hide of a team that is having success but going about it the wrong way. That doesn’t make anyone right or wrong. It just makes them part of the most demanding fan base on the planet. And to be sure, there is no romance in pragmatism, nothing that will inspire sonnets. Accountants don’t finish a complex tax return, slam the lid on the laptop and do a celebration dance. That’s their job. On to the next task.

Enrique has this team grounded. As Mascherano said, three matches for everything, or three matches for nothing. That is the sense that this team has, this bunch of elegant, cutthroat pragmatists. Its next match is against Atleti. Win that match, and the last home match against Deportivo, a team that might already know its relegation fate by then, will be one for the Babies and subs. That means rest for the next two big matches, which means no injury risk, etc, etc. And if all of that meant winning by losing, okay. Because you can’t win them all, and history doesn’t record style points, only wins. And Barça won. In a world in which everything is impossible, it is also pragmatic to accept what matters most.

team

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

120 Comments

  1. Lord Eddard Stark a.k.a. Brichimbrodvoken, the vulnerable one!
    May 14, 2015

    .

    Just for the F of it, I was thinking of Fun Scenarios that could transpire over the silly season, given the impression that some significant shuffling will happen. But, then again it always feels that way.

    Klopp announcing his availability.
    Unsure if City will stick with Pellegrini.
    Pep’s situation in Munich.
    Ancelotti facing the boot.
    Elections in Barca.
    So, My mind wandered..

    Crazy Thought – 1:

    – Florentino Perez hires Guardiola.
    – Barca hire Klopp, along with him comes folks like Reus & Hummels.

    Crazy Thought – 2:

    – Bayern fire Pep.
    – They bring in Klopp, who brings his BVB stars, to put the final nail in the Bundesla Coffin.
    – Bayern win the league by 40 points.

    Crazy Thought – 3:

    – Pep announces his move to England to take over City.
    – Gets Pogba as welcome present.
    – The world licks its lips awaiting the Pep-Jose battles.

    Crazy Thought – 4:

    Barca win treble.
    Board loses elections.
    In comes Pep.
    Takes over B team.

    What will probably happen

    – EE, completely devastated by the utter failure embark on another mission similar to what happened in 2009 following our treble. They proceeded to splash it with a new coach with welcome presents like Cristiano Penaldo, Xabi Alonso, Benzema and Kaka.
    Klopp, unable to resist the truck loads of cash and opportunity to play sexy football in the most glamorous club, takes the job and the welcome presents like 90M Pogba (who is paid a shady visit in his home by Zidane, of course) Hummels, Reus and pretty much whoever Klopp requests.
    Culers, then spend silly season already speculating the downfall and proceed to waste all the available time thinking about how EE have become so sexy and likeable. They quickly forget that we have just concluded a hugely successful and historic season.

  2. Cyclops
    May 14, 2015

    Sorry my post wasnt complete
    First, when i talked about perspective, i meant in what way someone is looking at the game….In both legs of that tie, from the perspective of who played more passes, had more possesion , bayern were undoubtedly the better team, so yeah, someone could actually praise them in that regard, but in terms of who was more effective on the night- apprently barca was, now for the mainstream thats what counts, who was more effective on the night… But then details such as who had more passes, are quite irrelevant to the mainstream guy’s, they dont care who outpasses the other, there are more interested in who bashes the other more
    That leads to yo other point, about the fact that there was no talk about barca oupassing bayern when we met couple seasns ago…Now, the reason for that is quite simple, at the time bayern wasnt known to be a possesion based team – atleast not to the level in which they employ it now, so it was a no-brainer that we were gonna dominate possesion and get more passes.. Infact, preceding that game, pundits expected them to be more conservative in their appraoch, while we were expected to be proactive and more expressive, thats says it all, really

    And that a totally different case from what we had this season..Now bayern is expected to dominate possesion irrespective of the team they play against- of course barca is an exception to that expectation, and thats the point..Barca are still seen as a possesion- based team, who are expected to also dominate possesion regardless of the team they play against, and one of the catch of our UCL tie with bayern was who would dominate possesion, who would get more passes, whereas there was no such talk when we played them two seasons ago, you could go to the bayern blog, and you’ll discover that they are consoling themselves with the fact that they had more possesion, while people like me are whining that we had less.. Now Its only people who are somehow connected to the idea of possesional-football who are expected to waste their time viewing things from that perspective.. this is a bayern team who are expceted to vie for possesion same as barca, at the end the onus lies on the fans of the team to disect the game and judge who came out trumps in the battle for possesion, the rest of the world couldnt be bothered by such “borimg” details.
    To illustrate further, when barca lossed out to intermilan in UCL some season back, mostly what everybody was concerned about, was who was more effective on the day, and as it turned out milan was, hence, they all said mourinho pulled a masterclass…We were arguably the only humans on God’s earth, who looked at things from the other perspective: of who played better, who had more passes, but seeing as milan were never expected to compete in that area, the importance of such “details” was next to nil.. The areas in which bayern were good, thing is, nobody is really interested in them, tho’ i cant say those areas are many

    • May 14, 2015

      Every time I think about that Inter loss, I will always think about that header that Krkic pushed wide. Even before the incorrectly disallowed goal from the Toure Yaya “handball,” it should have been over.

    • Shaco
      May 14, 2015

      Didn’t Bojan miss that header when the score was still 0-0?

    • bamculer13
      May 15, 2015

      First of all i find your point of view a bit condescending. In 2013 bayern dominated possession against everybody except us, their coach changed the tactics for the game so the notion that they werent looked as a possession based team is not exactly up to the mark.
      Also the basic point i am trying to make is if you are disappointed with our team this time because how we ceded approximately 53% at an average over the two legs, were you happy when we lost 7-0 on aggregate? because we had far more possession in those game and you focus on minor details. You cannot have different standards because otherwise you come across as someone who just would complain everytime about something.
      I have followed this space for like 5 years. I’ve seen people complain in a 3-0 victory wid 68% possession that how could we give up 3 shots !! Where does this end?? It becomes asphyxiating sometimes.

  3. Cyclops
    May 14, 2015

    Ooops, that was suppose to be …”the rest of the world couldnt be bothered by such *boring* details”..
    Anyways, i hope its all made some sense

  4. Cyclops
    May 15, 2015

    I said, there didnt and were never seen to employ possesional football- TO THE lEVEL IN WHICH THEY EMPLOY IT NOW…
    In the world of football pundits barca were lightyears ahead of them in the art of keeping possesion, they werent ever gonna compete in that area then, thats a fact, just as intermilan were never gonna compete in that area, so the fact that we beat them in that area was useless….
    But now, they’ve got a coach, who everybody thinks is the “Godfather” of Possesional football, and thats couple with the players they’ve got, so thats count for a lot, friend…and try looking at the whole of my statements and not just half of it

    Thats i’m dissapointed just because we didnt had possesion ?? thats ridiculous, i never said that
    Now definately, we would all like to have the majority of possesion, thats a given, but thats not the major point..The major point is they made us looked like barca playing against granada, and thats the bone of contention, nobody likes to be made to look like granada, we had less possesion in the first leg, but that was okay, cause the team wasnt that bad, same couldnt be said for the second leg…
    In terms of moving the ball well bayern had a good game..I even recollect people saying bayern had a great game, now thats just in respect to how they controlled the possesion
    Now i look at things from every perspective possible, i look at things fron the perspective of who was more effective and who played better, so i could understand if somebody is giving bayern credit for those little details… My view is as broad as possible and not narrow-minded, and limited to just the 3 goals scored in Camp Nou

  5. Cyclops
    May 15, 2015

    …And their coach “changd their tactics when facing us”, dosnt that tells yo something ? that there werent up to scratch in that area when they’re pitted against us ? come on,
    He would have tried beating us at our own game then, and not withstanding the crises we had, we would have ripped them to shreds…

    • bamculer13
      May 15, 2015

      The idea of you having a wider view and we mere mortals just look at the scoreline is a bit self fulfilling. Not one person has said that the 2nd half performance was great. anyways i am looking forward for the remaining crucial games and i can only hope the team stops letting you down for once.

    • Cyclops
      May 15, 2015

      Hey, come on bro, are you deliberately doing this ? taking my words out of context…Good lord
      I never for once said i’m a super-mortals and yo a mere mortals- jeez where did yo saw that ?
      I never said yo dont have a wide view, i said, I- for emphasis, “I”, have a wide view, Last i checked i wasnt asked to talk about “you”, i was talking about myself… Its left for yo to tell us if you’ve got a broad view or not, i wasnt doing that ( rolling my eyes)
      And just to add, on the contary not many pepole wanted to talk about the second half, they’d rather pretend it never happened, couple of those who does talk about it, thinks its no big deal..
      So thats, thats…..

  6. Cyclops
    May 15, 2015

    Hey, come on bro, are you deliberately doing this ? taking my words out of context…Good lord
    I never for once said i’m a super-mortals and yo a mere mortals- jeez where did yo saw that ?
    I never said yo dont have a wide view, i said, I- for emphasis, “I”, have a wide view, Last i checked i wasnt asked to talk about “you”, i was talking about myself… Its left for yo to tell us if you’ve got a broad view or not, i wasnt doing that ( rolling my eyes)
    And just to add, on the contary not many pepole wanted to talk about the second half, they’d rather pretend it never happened, couple of those who does talk about it, thinks its no big deal..
    So thats, thats…..

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