Bayern had the ball, Real had the chances. In truth, a 1-0 scoreline will probably disappoint the hosts.
It’s possible to draw parallels with the previous evening’s semi-final at the Calderón, where Atletíco dominated the ball while Chelsea looked to defend. However, the manner in which Real approached the game was (as expected) entirely different, with quick, fluid transitions and a number of good opportunities created.
Carlo Ancelotti named the side that beat Barcelona last week in the Copa del Rey final with the exception of fit-again Cristiano Ronaldo replacing matchwinner Gareth Bale, who was struggling with a flu. In that game in Valencia, Real lined-up in a 4-4-2 similar to the one that Ancelotti began the season with but they were 4-3-3 to begin with here, with Isco on the right of a front three and Angel Di María in midfield where he has played for much of the season.
For Bayern, Pep Guardiola had a number of decisions to make. Manuel Neuer and David Alaba were fit to start after injury and illness respectively and Rafinha also played, with Phillip Lahm in midfield. Mario Mandzukic lead the line with Mario Götze and Thomas Müller on an under-strength bench.
Bayern dominate possession
The first fifteen-or-so minutes consisted of Real chasing Bayern. The visitors completely dominated possession, looking bright and shifting the ball from flank to flank with Kroos instrumental in providing cross-field balls to change the point of the attack. Real couldn’t get close to their opponents and instead focused on not letting them get behind them, blocking crosses as Bayern looked to get the byline. On the rare occasions that they regained the ball, they were wasteful, with Bayern snapping into tackles in midfield and turning over play once more.
So far, so good.
However, it only took one exception to change the complexion of the tie. Karim Benzema, dropping deep when his side were defending, contested a 50-5o with Lahm midway inside the Real half and suddenly they were away. As Coentrão raced forward, Di María and Ronaldo combined to draw Rafinha forward, allowing the Portuguese forward to play an inch-perfect pass for his full back to run onto. One-on-one with Jerome Boateng, Coentrão played the perfect cross for the on-rushing Benzema to tap home. Simple, effective, direct football. With genuine quality.
Back to 4-4-2
Immediately, presumably as pre-outlined by Ancelotti, Real went back to the 4-4-2 that was so successful at the Mestella. Isco switched the left, Di María played an energetic box-to-box role on the right and Ronaldo played off Benzema. Moments later, a similar move to the one that brought the goal resulted in their #7 skewing a good chance wide. Three passes and a shot – it was two for the goal.
Bayern, on the other hand, continued to pass and pass but rarely got anywhere with it. Frequently Alaba got into good positions on the left but failed to pick out a man in the middle while Dani Carvajal did an excellent job in negating the threat posed by an out-of-sorts Franck Ribéry. Having started the game so brightly, Bayern were predictable and laboured in possession, just as they were in the last round at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
As the game went on, Real’s opportunities to counter became more frequent. In Carvajal, Ronaldo and Di Maria they had genuine pace and dribbling ability, while Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric both had terrific games, competing off the ball and playing accurate, snappy passes to start breaks. This was what set them aside from Chelsea the night before – while they defending doggedly, there was a clear intention to play clever passes out from the back when Bayern gave the ball away (compare that to the instance where John Terry launched the ball into the Atletíco corner early in the second half of the first game).
Guardiola changes things
Visibly frustrated on the touchline, the Spanish manager had Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry swap flanks at the start of second half, possibly because Carvajal looked completely untroubled by the Frenchman’s forays. He made a customary swap, bringing on Javi Martínez for Rafinha with Lahm going to right back and then replaced Ribéry with Götze. Müller then came on for Schweinsteiger leaving the formation looking more like a 4-2-3-1, with Kroos and Martínez behind a rotating trio of Robben, Götze and Müller.
In response, Ancelotti withdrew the yellow-carded Isco for the more defensive Asier Illarramendi meaning a return to a more 4-3-3 system with Bale on for Ronaldo. They continued to counter-attack and exploit Bayern’s high line and only wastefulness prevented them adding to their tally.
Change in intensity
Throughout the second half, Bayern were genuinely dreadful, looking completely devoid of attacking inspiration beyond getting to the byline and cutting the ball back. They were ponderous and sluggish on the ball and generally lacked a spark in trying to unlock the Real defence.
Only in the final few minutes of the game did the step things up, with the substitutes to the fore. A scramble near the right corner flank ended up with the ball falling to Müller who crossed for Götze to fire straight at Iker Casillas. Moments later, Müller had a penalty appeal turned down after tangling with Alonso following a Mandzukic knockdown.
However, that intensity was absent for the previous 85 minutes and was indicative of a real off day for the European champions – despite having 72% of possession. Real were excellent, breaking with purpose and intent and may rue the chances that they miss – Ronaldo’s in particular in the first half was one that you would expect him to score.
Guardiola will surely look to change things for the second leg, despite the knowledge that his side can hardly play so poorly in two games running. Since securing the Bundesliga title, their performances have slipped and momentum can be difficult to regain once it’s lost. Ribéry owes his side a big game after disappointing at the Bernabéu while Lahm may return to right back. Mandzukic may also be one to miss out.
For Ancelotti, more of the same. Bale and Ronaldo should both be fully fit so Isco is likely to miss out if they go 4-3-3 again. However, the Italian may want to keep one of them in reserve and look to mimic the system they used for the majority of the first leg with Isco playing narrowly from the left.
David Kennedy, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By LauraHale (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.