For the first time, Pep Guardiola will be Barcelona’s enemy. The Spaniard returns to the Nou Camp in the Champions League, understandably dominating the pre-match build-up for his Bayern Munich side’s clash with the Catalan club as a result.
Beyond the obvious emotions the former midfielder will experience upon re-appearing infront of 98,000 fans that once adored him, Guardiola faces an almost impossible task: trying to stop the Blaugrana’s prolific front three.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have combined for 108 goals in all competitions this season, tearing defences apart at will, most recently in 6-0 and 8-0 routs of inferior La Liga opposition, as their understanding with each other has grown.
On Barca’s current unbeaten streak of 16 games, there have only been two where one or more of the potent trio hasn’t found the net. On both occasions they won 1-0.
Guardiola was adamant that no plan in the world can stop Messi, the genius Argentine he shared his greatest days in management with, but has implied that keeping possession will be key to stymieing the trident’s dominance.
In order to keep the ball, Bayern may start out in a 3-5-2 formation, loading the midfield and allowing them to move bodies forward or back in transition on the pitch.
The beauty of the system, however, beyond pure ball-retention lies in the man-for-man matchup it combats Messi, Suarez and Neymar with.
With each of the Barca troika occupied by a Bayern defender, the wingbacks can tuck in off the flank to supply additional support, while covering any runs the three may look to make on the outside of the centre-halves.
Of course, simply posing theories on how best to stop such a prolific set of players is far easier than executing it and 4/1 odds about a Munich win does everything to illustrate that fact.
But, if Guardiola gets his tactics right it could well be a perfect homecoming.
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