Champions League preview: Barca must learn from Bayern and find some width

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT & Opta, available now – to preview Tuesday night's Champions League action...

Bayern Munich v Marseille, Tue 19:45Opponents know all about the threat of Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben cutting inside from the right flank onto his left foot, but Marseille found out last week that there is a more complex threat from that wing when playing Bayern.

Thomas Muller, the man who theoretically plays behind Mario Gomez in the 4-2-3-1 shape, actually spends most of his time moving towards the right of the pitch. Look at the pattern of his passes received (below), and it appears as if he’s a right-winger.

That movement has two effects – firstly, it allows Robben to drift inside into the centre of the pitch and exploit the space Muller has created. Secondly, it means Bayern often have three players on the right flank – Robben, Muller, and Philipp Lahm moving up the outside from full-back.

Since Marseille’s two players on that flank naturally pick up the two greater attacking threats, it meant Lahm was left free – and he completed more passes than any other player last week. Bayern will look to retain the ball in the second leg, and Lahm will be a key player in that.

Barcelona v AC Milan, Tue 19:45Maybe the pitch was to blame, but it was surprising how little Barcelona tested AC Milan down the flanks in last week’s 0-0 draw at the San Siro. Milan’s narrow 4-3-1-2 formation means the full-backs are often left free, and Max Allegri’s side can be vulnerable to a quick switch of play from one side to the other.

Part of the problem was that Barcelona played Andres Iniesta in the left-sided forward position. Iniesta is a fine player, but he prefers playing an attacking midfield role, and when used as a forward he tends to come inside into his natural position anyway. Pep Guardiola probably played Iniesta there in order to give Barcelona more options in midfield – Milan have a four-against-three advantage in terms of pure formations, but it meant Barca were unable to stretch the play. With Carles Puyol used at left-back, they had no width down that side.

Cristian Tello’s arrival from the bench provided Barcelona with a real outlet on the flank – he properly stretched the play, as you can tell by the difference between the passes he and Iniesta received. Guardiola should go with a true wide forward – Tello, Pedro Rodriguez or Isaac Cuenca – to exploit Milan’s weakness in wide zones in Tuesday evening’s second leg.

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