By Stevie Grieve
In the Champions League Semi Final between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the score was decided by one player's ability to find space when there is little available, despite Bayern Munich’s best attempts to control the space around Lionel Messi, particularly in the 1st half.
For the 1st half, Bayern played wide and looked to enter the attacking phases from the CF drifting wide then playing 1v1 on the side and attacking from there, while Barcelona played more direct from central zones in transition, looking to use Suarez’ tenacity behind the Bayern defence, or with lots of circulation which kept the ball and looked for a breakthrough from quick combinations around the goal or in 1v1 play.
The 2nd half changed for Barcelona when Iniesta, Neymar, Messi and Rakitic all played directly through the channels, looking to cut inside and combine with centrally based players; Suarez or Neymar on the last line of the defence, with Alba and Alves staying deeper and making late runs outside the play.
The main danger was always through an ‘inverted’ player, cutting inside, particularly Messi from the right channel, where all 3 goals came from, and several chances created from here.
Messi attacks the back 4 diagonally from the channel between the lines
Messi is in clear space and will use the run of Suarez to push back the defence to attack more space, eventually looking to complete the attack from a shot or a combination to shoot or switch play to Alba on the far side.
As Messi’s route is blocked, he reacts to play a (somewhat predictable) 1-2 with Neymar who will turn his back to goal to release the pass back to Messi.
With nobody able to track his run, Messi shoots 1st time from zone 14 from Neymar’s lay-off (and clever block) to allow Messi to shoot under no pressure on the run, which is saved.
Messi in a deep position; looking for penetration behind the high line
When Messi is in the final 3rd, and behind the opposition midfield, often he will look to complete an attack himself. If he is in a deeper role, if he can eliminate a midfielder and look for a pass behind the defence, he will often look to play diagonally into a run from the blindside attacker, Neymar.
As Messi cuts inside Lahm, he can scan and deliver a pass behind the defence into the run of the far side attacker, into plenty of space. Neuer reacts and recovers the pass before Neymar can score.
This time, Alonso has left Messi’s zone to press Alves 2v1, which leaves Messi open as the ball evades the pressure. This leaves Messi free to take 2 touches before shooting as Lahm is too far from the ball to close him down and stop the shot.
As Messi has enough space to shift the ball, Neuer must be expecting the ball to be curled into the far corner. Instead, Messi closes his hips and with minimal back lift, scores from 22m.
Messi playing on the last line of the defence
Messi drifts into the gap between Bernat and Boateng, with Rakitic able to find a straight pass through the channel into Messi’s feet to give him a 1v1 on the last line of the defence.[wpsharely id="2988"][/wpsharely]
Messi is in his favourite zone, able to cut onto his left foot and open up the goal, with a 1v1. Here, he dribbles past Boateng and chips the ball over Neuer for a fantastic 2nd goal.
In the 1st half, Bayern ensured Barcelona could only attack with straight passes into Messi who would play in a wider area and very deep. The 2nd half change to have Neymar and Suarez higher and Neymar slightly narrower, with Iniesta and Rakitic closer to Messi with Alves higher, gave Messi more freedom to move closer to the middle and get between the lines more often.
These little changes impacted the defensive shape of Bayern and often allowed an easy pass across midfield into Iniesta to attack diagonally when Messi was blocked. Eventually, the spaces became bigger and Messi scored 2 from the right side channel, and assisted the 3rd.