Because trends in his sport at the international level are instructive to Clemson men’s soccer coach Mike Noonan, the clinical panache with which German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund recently and respectively defeated Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semifinals is nothing short of a revelation.
That’s due to Spain’s sustained success in winning two consecutive European Championships as well as its first ever World Cup, and the prominence in that side of players from Barcelona. The beautiful possession game that defined both club and country had begun to seem for opponents like an elegant and lethal riddle that could not be solved.
Or not until the shockwave of Bayern’s 7-0 dismantling of Barcelona (the score-line determined in aggregate from two legs of competition, with a match played at each club’s home-site), and Dortmund’s 4-3 triumph over Madrid – results that set up an all-German final.
“The revelation that’s going on in the game obviously has happened over the course of the last couple of weeks, with the results in the semifinals of the Champions League with the German clubs,” said Noonan. “They’re bigger, faster, stronger, more technical, and more tactically astute.
“How do you beat Barcelona? Bayern put a clinic on in that first-leg with a 4-0 win. Earlier, Real Madrid, under (Coach) Jose Mourinho, showed a blueprint of it, when they high-pressed Barcelona with bigger, stronger athletes. Now Bayern Munich has taken that, and Dortmund has taken that, and their play has been fantastic with those bigger, stronger athletes.
“So Barcelona took the beautiful game, and truly made it beautiful, and now a game that’s beautiful and athletic is coming out of Germany. So the game is always changing and is always evolving, and that’s exciting.”
While acknowledging the adjustments and innovations by the Germans, Noonan said that Barcelona’s possession-game will continue to provide a profitable template for teaching U.S. collegiate players.
“We can never be Barcelona, but we can do some things that Barcelona was doing,” said Noonan. “We don’t have the players who can do what they do. We don’t have Lionel Messi. But we can teach making possession a premium, and make people understand that you have to possess the ball under pressure, and that you have to possess the ball with a purpose to get forward.
“It’s what you do when you’re not possessing the ball, that gets you the ball back, and that’s what Barcelona has done so well. Those types of things are just recognition and speed of play, and being organized to pressure and get the ball back. And it’s the places where they win it, and because of the pressure, teams were just lumping the ball over the top to the center-backs, who pick it up and start to play again.”
As for how Bayern was able negate that pressure, Noonan pointed to a potent combination of athleticism and technical precision.
“What Bayern did was to say, ‘Okay, go ahead and put us under pressure. We’ll pass right out of your pressure. We’ll move it, and we’re technical and tactical and physical enough to be able to get by you. And once we get by that first line of pressure, the whole game opens up and you can’t catch us. We’re too big, we’re too fast, and we’re too strong. And, by the way, keep getting the ball out of the net.’”