Reported Manchester City target Pep Guardiola is no closer to the Bayern Munich exit after losing 3-0 to Barcelona, despite his tactical master plan coming undone after just 15 minutes at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
The experiment to start the Champions League semi-final first leg with three at the back and right-back Rafinha on the left of the defence was quickly ditched, but the feeling that Bayern were beaten by the brilliance of Lionel Messi and by their own injury problems dominated the inquest into the first-leg defeat.
Guardiola could be seen frantically shouting to senior players Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm after a quarter of an hour to revert to a back four after a flurry of early Barcelona chances.
But it was actually in the latter stages of the game that Bayern conceded and even the absence of a single shot on target by them was not used to bury the manager.
Bayern have a difficult summer ahead, with Guardiola unlikely to sign an extension to the one year he has left on his current deal and an ageing squad in desperate need of renovation. But there was no “Pep out” furore yesterday when the Bayern party arrived back in Munich.
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings
1/24 Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Pressured by Bayern front line in attempt to hurry passing game. Escaped when Lewandowski missed cross but had fairly little to do. 6/10
2/24 Dani Alves
Played a key part in quarter-final win over PSG and went close to scoring but denied by Neuer. Booked for pulling back Lewandowski. 7
3/24 Gerard Pique
Censured for taking out Lewandowski shortly before hosts went ahead. Kept position but not troubled as much as may have feared beforehand. 6
4/24 Javier Mascherano
Stationed in makeshift back role he has become accustomed to. Rushed and harried by German visitors but calm in control and in his decision-making. 6
5/24 Jordi Alba
Played his part both at back and going forward, never stopping running all night. Beaten by Müller early on. Forced Boateng to rush a clearance. 7
6/24 Ivan Rakitic
Scored winner against Man City and was again the Croatian cog who kept the Catalans ticking over. Constantly probing and picking out team-mates. 8
7/24 Sergio Busquets
Laid the groundwork to allow his more celebrated colleagues to shine further upfield. Strong in the tackle and careful in possession all night. 6
8/24 Andres Iniesta
Delightful ball over Bayern back line was not converted by Alves. Danced through German midfield on occasion. Brought down by Benatia. 7
9/24 Lionel Messi
What else can be said? Smacked shot straight at Neuer but drove past German for first before impudent, glorious second. Set up the third for good measure. 9
10/24 Luis Suarez
Has been in superb form and started with menacing intent. Went down easily early on in optimistic penalty shout before being denied by Neuer. 7
Denied within sight of the goal-line by desperate block from countryman Rafinha. Halted by onrushing Neuer before curling over. Wasteful with shots. 7
12/24 Best off the bench: Xavi
Integral to Barça’s three Champions League triumphs of the last decade but reduced to bit part in what may be his final days at the Nou Camp. 6
13/24 Manuel Neuer
World’s number one No 1 did not look like being beaten before final 15 minutes, denying Suarez, Alves, Messi and Neymar. And then it all fell apart. 7/10
Formed part of experimental back line and struggled to keep check of home side’s runs. Made vital block as Neymar slid in but unable to prevent late goals. 6
15/24 Medhi Benatia
Caught playing offside as Suarez was allowed to race through alone and Guardiola’s risky formation was hastily altered. Booked for foul on Iniesta. 5
16/24 Jerome Boateng
Touched Suarez over in area but with nowhere near enough intent to cede spot-kick. Made to look foolish – one of many – by Messi for hosts’ second. 6
17/24 Philipp Lahm
Had hands full with defensive duties as the Spanish club made the early running. Brought down Messi to halt one attack before the interval. 7
18/24 Xabi Alonso
Former Liverpool man was first to enter the referee’s book. Linked up well with Lahm as he was booed by home crowd for his Real Madrid links. 6
19/24 Thiago Alcantara
Instrumental in last month’s thrashing of Porto and saw shot momentarily trouble Ter Stegen. Has work to do to match heights of Barça last night. 6
20/24 Bastian Schweinsteiger
Struggled to influence proceedings as he enters twilight of career. Fortunate to stay on pitch after coming-together with Suarez. 5
21/24 Juan Bernat
Diminutive Spaniard carelessly gave away possession to Messi to allow Argentine to open the scoring. Did not impress on return to his homeland. 5
22/24 Robert Lewandowski
Lacked vital touch as ball was fired in to him underneath the Barça crossbar by Müller. Kept close to Alves after break to limit damage from left flank. 6
23/24 Thomas Muller
Worked forward line well and also dropped out to the wings to retrieve lost causes. Beat Alba to feed Lewandowski but lost at sea as Barça prevailed. 6
24/24 Best off the bench: Mario Gotze
Entered fray after Barcelona went ahead in an attempt to provide more firepower but unable to achieve parity before Barcelona sealed victory.
Criticism had come from other quarters. Gary Lineker called the high pressing employed by the Germans as “tactical suicide” on Twitter. And Javier Mascherano said after the game: “We know that Pep always plays to win and they came to press high, but sometimes when you do that you take a risk with the players that we have.”
Guardiola’s decision to employ Rafinha on the left of the defensive three was not without precedent. The quickest player in Bayern’s defence was deployed there to track Messi’s diagonal runs from the right touchline.
But once Messi switched to the centre, changing places with Luis Suarez, there was less point in the Brazilian playing out of position and he shifted back to familiar territory as Bayern reverted to a back four.
Rafa Benitez used right-back Alvaro Arbeloa to the same effect against Messi and Atletico Madrid tried it with far less success with Jesus Gamez this season.
Guardiola’s team did have the larger share of possession and that was something he highlighted after the game. “We wanted to dominate possession and push them back,” he said. “We wanted them to have to run more than us. But when you play with three at the back you have to make sure you do those things, and we were not able to. With four at the back we were more solid but then we lacked the ability to cause them problems up front.”
Guardiola seemed most upset about Barcelona’s third goal. “With a 2-0 we have more of a chance in the second leg,” he lamented of the late strike by Neymar.
Midfielder Alonso laughed at a reporter who asked after the game if he believed a comeback was possible in the second leg. Even if Guardiola fails to produce an incredible turnaround, he needs a home win next Tuesday.
Bayern have won the league and are out of the German Cup so the second match represents a final of sorts – one that will restore some pride.
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