Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Barcelona

Posted on February 14, 2012 by

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First Half

For a home side in a last-sixteen Champions League tie, Bayer Leverkusen were incredibly defensive. They employed a rigid, hard-working 4-1-4-1, trying to compress the space in the middle of the pitch. The defensive line started off 30 yards away from goal (with the midfield line a further 10-15 yards in front) and slowly retreated as Barcelona made progress.

Leverkusen's rigid 4-1-4-1 system

There was little or no space between the lines (a tried and trusted technique for countering Barcelona’s creative midfielders), and André Iniesta struggled to make any meaningful attacking impact, while Cesc Fabregas spent most of his time in deep positions. Observe how any Barca player gaining possession in dangerous areas was put under severe pressure:

The result of this was fairly easy to predict: Barcelona enjoyed 78% possession, a remarkable share when playing away from home, but were rarely overtly dangerous. They got some joy through Dani Alves down their right-hand-side, but both Leverkusen wingers (Gonzalo Castro (left) and Renato Augusto (right)) tracked back diligently – occasionally forming a back-five/six when under severe pressure. So ultimately, in open play, the home side’s defending was fine (which is admirable against one of the world’s best attacking sides), but at the total expense of any attacking threat of their own. Their 54% passing accuracy was no surprise when you consider that they didn’t allow any of their attacking players the freedom to stay forward and look for space. Evidence of this is the fact that the forward Andre Schurrle, plus wingers Castro and Augusto, had had a total of 47 touches between them at half time (while Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Fabregas averaged 80 touches each).

But ultimately, despite this being the overwhelming trend of the first half, it wasn’t through sustained pressure that Barcelona made their breakthrough through Alexis Sanchez’s calm finish just before half-time. Leverkusen’s sole attacking tactic was to push up from home goal-kicks and look for a knock-down. Guardiola clearly instructed 6’2″ Busquets to drop into the defensive line from goal kicks and head them clear. After one Bayer goal-kick, Barcelona were able to regain the ball and counter quickly – Messi’s pass to the overlapping Alexis was the obvious one, and he had space to finish for the first time in the match.

Second Half

Early in the second half, Leverkusen finally starting making the most of their height, which was certainly their greatest attacking asset in comparison with Barcelona. A period of pressure via free-kicks and corners pinned Barca back, and ultimately Michael Kadlec ran in from the back post to head a fine cross home. Temporarily, it looked that the balance of the game might’ve swung in favour of Leverkusen.

But Barcelona retook the lead very quickly. This time, the Gonzalo Castro hadn’t tracked back, and there was space for Fabregas to thread a pass through to Alexis Sanchez (again), who rounded Bernd Leno and converted.

Castro had a good chance in the 64th minute, after receiving a headed flick-on from Schurrle, with which he hit the post (thanks to the fingertips of Victor Valdes), and later Castro turned creator as his excellent curling cross was headed straight at the ‘keeper by the substitute Stefan Kiessling.

Barcelona remained dominant for the majority of the second half, however, and Messi added a late third goal after being involved in some nice build-up play with Dani Alves.

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Posted in: Football