Three set pieces and a counter attack settled an amazingly easy semi-final second leg at the Allianz Arena as Bayern Munich were shredded by a Real Madrid side carrying out a gameplan to perfection.
Real qualified for the Champions League final for the first time since last winning the tournament in 2002 after annihilating the German champions over two legs thanks to an extremely effective, if rather simple strategy that was carried out to perfection. Rarely did the away side look in danger of conceding in the second leg with every player performing their duty excellently, particularly when juxtaposed with their opposite numbers.
Both sides made one change from the first leg, with Thomas Müller coming in for Rafinha for the hosts and Gareth Bale returning from illness for Real in place of Isco.
Müller’s introduction meant the obvious switch of Philipp Lahm to right back and a move to a system loosely resembling the 4-2-3-1 employed by Jupp Heynckes throughout last season with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos playing as a double pivot and Müller playing off Mario Mandžukić.
It was expected that Carlo Ancelotti would return to the 4-3-3 that he has used for most of the season with Bale back in contention but the Welshman instead mimicked Isco’s role in the first leg, tucking in from the right flank and tracking David Alaba’s forays when out of possession.
From the outset, it was clear that Bayern intended to play at a higher tempo than last week. In the very first minute, Franck Ribéry, a peripheral figure in Madrid, picked up the ball and drove straight to byline while on the other side, Arjen Robben could be seen gesticulating furiously towards a ball boy after the game stopped for a Bayern throw-in.
It’s interesting to consider whether this was a tactical ploy by Pep Guardiola or simply the natural adrenaline that comes with starting the home leg a goal down. While the passing was too laboured at the Bernabéu, the drastic increase in pace this time out also appeared to have the defence on edge – seven minutes in, Jérôme Boateng lunged in to deflect a cross into a dangerous area when the ball was running through to Manuel Neuer and then lashed the clearance wildly into touch, again under little pressure (Toni Kroos berated his teammate, trying to instill some calm in him). The crazy start seemed to affect Neuer too, who miscued a header after racing from his line to sweep a long ball over the top.
This seemed to benefit Real. They appeared happy to come further up the pitch than in the first leg (again, perhaps a tactic or else just a natural reaction to how Bayern began), with Xabi Alonso and Luka Modrić pressing Kroos and Schweinsteiger when they got the ball in deep positions and Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Bale staying in advanced positions when Neuer had the ball for goal kicks.
They had plenty of opportunities on the break last week, largely due to accurate passes in transition. This happened again here and one particular occasion summed it up nicely – Ronaldo dropped deep, drawing Boateng with him and popped the ball off to Ángel Di María, spinning in behind for the return. Suddenly, the visitors were in: Boateng was out of the game, Kroos, Schweinsteiger and the two full backs were ahead of the ball and Dante was left isolated. The move eventually ended up with a Real corner that Sergio Ramos headed home to leave Bayern needing three goals to progress.
The inclusion of Müller made sense if the game had settled into the controlled dominance that Guardiola usually wants – an extra body in the final third, one with clever movement and a knack for scoring important goals. However, despite occasionally causing problems when moving into the middle of the ‘square’ formed by Ramos, Pepe, Alonso and Modrić, the home side were essentially a passer light and ball retention became more difficult than usual (in this regard, they missed Thiago Alcântara).
Whenever moves broke down, Real could break extremely easily, particularly after going 2-0 up thanks to another Ramos header from a set piece. With Lahm and Alaba playing extremely high (and narrow in Alaba’s case), the visitors could take Kroos and Schweinsteiger out of the game with one vertical pass and set up chances for Di Maria, Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo to run at the horrendously exposed centre backs.
The third goal was the embodiment of this pattern. Ribéry conceded possession cheaply to Bale on the edge of the Real penalty area, allowing Di María to play (another) pinpoint forward pass to the feet of Benzema, who teed up the man who started the move to break through the centre of the pitch.
As can be seen in the picture, the away team now a 3v2. The players circled in yellow are Bayern men Bale simply outpaced, while in red is Lahm who made the decision to close down Di María when providing some cover (and additional) pace for Boateng instead of leaving him one-on-one with Ronaldo may have made more sense. The Portugal captain finished for 3-0, and essentially killed the tie.
The goal was actually quite similar to another scored by Ronaldo in a Champions League semi – his second in the 2009 game against Arsenal at the Emirates. The presence of pure pace and accurate passing in a counter-attack make it pretty much unstoppable.
Guardiola replaced Mandžukić with Javi Martínez at the break, perhaps acknowledging the mistake he made with his initial selection. Müller became the centre forward with the substitute at the base of the midfield triangle, giving Bayern more balance and control of the ball.
It’s hard to say whether this was down to the change itself or simply the natural drop-off from Real due to them being so far ahead. Ironically, Bayern actually began to do more of what they should’ve been doing since the first leg, getting Robben and Ribéry to double up on one flank and working better shooting positions. Martínez also showed his worth by matching Bale for pace on a rare second half break from the visitors around the hour mark, while fellow substitute Mario Götze quickened proceedings and may have scored after a clever piece of skill in the penalty area.
Alonso and Modric star
Across the 180 minutes, Real were better than their opponents across the board, epitomised by the performances of their midfield duo who were excellent in both games. Modrić was crucial in starting their quick counters with snappy forward passes while his partner Alonso was particularly good at doubling up on Robben as soon as he cut inside Fabio Coentrão to find space for a shot.
This tie, as well as last year’s semi where Bayern dispatched of Barcelona with similar ease will lead to inevitable premature discussions about the ‘death’ of tiki taka and possession football. In reality though, Real simply outplayed than their opponents both home and away; the reigning champions were sloppy with the ball and generally looked devoid of ideas when it came to getting past the intimidating figures of Ramos and Pepe.
Pep: “We played very badly with the ball, it’s my fault. When you play badly, you defend badly as well” (SkyD)
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) April 29, 2014
The loss of Alonso for the final is hugely disappointing for Real: much of what they’ve done well this season has been since his return from injury in December. That said, the showpiece will be a very different game, one in which the initiative will probably be with the team chasing La Decima, whoever their opponents prove to be.
David Kennedy, Pundit Arena.
Read More About: Bayern Munich, counter-attacks, flipping the triangle, gareth bale, high line, jerome boateng, luka modric, manuel neuer, Real Madrid, sergio ramos, set pieces, tactics, Top Story, xabi alonso