Champions League Preview: Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid


By Nate Baker

I’ve watched the first leg in Madrid twice, and although I didn’t take notes, I was very interested in studying two managers who are considered the best in the world who have proactive and gifted team.  It was always going to be interesting to see how they would adapt to challenges presented by both.

Carlo Ancelotti set his team up in a 4-4-2 looking to break on the counter.  I didn’t see the Copa Del Ray Final, but apparently they set up this way against Barcelona as well, and according to the Guardian, he plans on setting up the exact same way.

Pep Guardiola set his team up win a 4-3-3 shape that looked to retain possession for long periods.  The center-midfield of Lahm, Kroos and Schweinsteiger worked almost as a three-man pivot, stretching into the seams at times to out-number in central areas.  Schweinsteiger looked to power forward when the ball was penetrated further up the field, in particular when wingers Robben and Ribery received the ball in wide positions in the final third.

In the end, I think Pep got criticized a bit too munch for the team’s performance and the lack of clear cut chances Bayern created.  Every minute leading up to Madrid’s break through was dominated by Bayern, and they did have chances (there was a Kroos blocked shot from close range just before Benzema’s goal).

I do think Pep does make some tactical changes moving into tonight’s heavily anticipated second leg, and if we are to believe Real Madrid will set up the same way, then this second leg is very much about what Bayern will do tactically.

Pep is the best manager in the world, so it will be interesting to see what he does, but below are five things I think we all can look for tonight, and are changes that I believe will give Bayern the upper-hand in tonight’s match.

1. Changing the shape of the center of midfield

I don’t think we will see the triple-pivot that we saw at Madrid.  Pep set up in this manner to keep possession for longer periods, sacrificing attacking opportunities but also limiting Madrid’s ability to counter-attack.  That strategy did and didn’t work in the end, but now Bayern have to chase the game a bit. I would expect Muller to come into the line-up and play higher up the field.  This will provide a goal-scoring threat in the space behind Mandzukic, and a central target to penetrate to within the build-up.  Muller is also such an intelligent player who can interchange with Robben and Ribery (a point, I will hit on in a moment).

2. The role of the Outside Backs in the build-up (Alaba’s Role)

The one thing I heard harped on when leg 1 finished up was Pep’s decision to play Lahm in midfield, and how this is the sole reason, why Bayern were unsuccessful getting forward on the flanks.  I disagree with this notion.  I thought Rafinha performed better than Alaba, and did his job well.

One thing, I don’t understand in regards to Bayern’s build-up play is the role of Alaba.  You can use your remote numerous times, pause your television and find Alaba in-field and higher than any of the three central midfielders.  Alaba is such a good player and has has obvious qualities in his pace, left foot and his ability to stretch the field horizontally and at times vertically. He and Lahm (who i believe will start at right-back) need to stay wide in the build-up to stretch Madrid’s outside mids.  The main reason they need to do this feeds into maybe the most important tactical change, I think Pep will look to make.

3. Robben and Ribery need to find find the ball centrally on the weakside

Too many times Bayern’s wingers received the ball wide in the final third, which played into Madrid’s hands.  This allowed them (with the OB taking a more narrow position) to double each winger in possession wide with two players (the Madrid Strong-side outside back and outside midfielder).  It was easy to contain for Madrid and was one of the main reasons Bayern was forced into so many crosses.

Bayern was most dangerous when the outisde backs opened up the field’s width, spread out Madrid’s midfield block and allowed Bayern’s wingers (Robben in particlar) to pick up the ball in central pockets and run at the heart of the defense looking to combine in and around the box.

In the 80th minute, Robben did this exact thing after a patient build-up which allowed Goetze and Muller to combine for a shot that went just wide.  Muller also had the option to kick it out wide to an advance Alaba who was deep and provided and option wide.  For me, this is the most important facet of tonight’s match.  Do they look to keep the wingers wide or do they look to penetrate centrally…

4. Bayern’s line-up

The only changes I see happening is Lahn being pushed to righ-back for Rafinha. I also Schweinsteiger and Kroos sitting deeper with Schweinsteiger looking to more work defensively and dropping the deepest of the midfielders in the build-up (similar to his role last season), and as alluded to above, I see Muller playing higher up the field with the rest unchanged.

5.  Subs if Bayern still needs goals late

Martinez can sub in Kroos, and look to push forward in possession similar to his role in last year’s Champions League.  He will add a more aerial threat going forward, sacrificing Kroos is ability to circulate the ball.

I also think Goetze can find pockets of space centrally like he did when he came on for Ribery last game.


My prediction is that Bayern will win 2-0 and advance to the final.




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