Leverkusen put in a hugely impressive Camp Nou performance but still lost 2-1; UEFA.com's Graham Hunter explains how Barcelona beat the power of the press.
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Bayer Leverkusen gave one of the most intelligent, best-planned displays of pressing at the Camp Nou in recent times, but it wasn't quite enough. And the hard fact is: that tactic is rarely sufficient to stop the Blaugrana genie escaping from the bottle. When talent goes head to head with tiredness, talent always wins.
Leverkusen's foot-soldiers ended exhausted and their general was shell-shocked – but both these sensations are what visitors to Camp Nou who don't possess utterly exceptional ruthless finishers almost always leave with.
A simple plan
Leverkusen allowed Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano, to start playing out from the back as normal. However, as soon as either man picked up possession the harassment by Javier Hernández and Karim Bellarabi was exceptional.
As Leverkusen pressed the European champions, preventing them breaking through the first line, midfielders Lars Bender and Christoph Kramer chose brilliantly when to add a third and fourth man to the athletic pincer-movements. Barcelona repeatedly gave the ball away or were caught in possession.
The crowd whistled their impatience – something which nettled both Piqué ("it's easy to support when things are going well") and Neymar ("it's much more difficult when the fans aren't with us") after the match. Statistics backed the visual evidence. The top two passers at half time were Barcelona's centre-backs as they shuttled possession back and fore searching for openings.
At half time Luis Enrique ordered a tactical re-jig, moving from 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2, with Luis Suárez and Sandro up top but Neymar now in behind them. Bender and Kramer were given much more work to do with the Brazilian in the No10 position nullifying their ability to press.
"The coach saw things we couldn't and his tactical alteration helped hugely," the Uruguayan said after the whistle. "Leverkusen's tactics meant that not as much football as usual was played but we demonstrated why we are champions."
'Chicharito' missed a close-range chance he'd normally finish easily. Was tiredness from 50 minutes of relentless pressing sprints already a factor in that? It appeared so.
Leverkusen's men out-ran Barcelona by almost 5km in the first half. In the second half that gap had plummeted to under 2.5km. Gradually, they ran out of steam. Post-match, Roger Schmidt admitted: "We deserved a point against the best team in the world in their stadium. We defended with passion. But we were exhausted – then Suárez scored a world-class goal."
La Masia to the rescue
Though Andrés Iniesta's hamstring injury, in context of Barcelona's existing problems, was unwelcome, Barcelona can take comfort from the way their three home-grown substitutes – Jordi Alba, Munir and Sergi Roberto – turned the game as Leverkusen tired.
Alba crossed and Roberto reacted most quickly to Munir's saved shot to make it 1-1. Munir then slalomed and slipped past three tired defenders then squared for Suárez to fire past Bernd Leno. 2-1. Kudos for to Schmidt and his players for 80 minutes of strategic athleticism, but three points to Barcelona, their 'never-say-die' talents and tactical savvy.