Friday, May 2, 2014

A couple of thoughts from Real Madrid's incredible win over Bayern

Real Madrid's incredible 4-0 Champions League win over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena  came as quite the shock. Here are two thoughts from Tuesday's game.

1. Real's pace matched up well against Bayern's high line
Bayern enjoy possessing the ball in their opponents half and pushing their fullbacks into advanced areas. When they concede possession they press high up the pitch to win it back and hold a high line. These tactics have the potential to leave a side vulnerable to counterattacks and Real Madrid are the strongest counterattacking side in the world. Real Madrid played a 4-4-1-1, defending with a narrow midfield bank of four and leaving Benzema and Ronaldo higher up the pitch to spring counters. Ronaldo provided an initial outlet pass when Real won the ball back and Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale broke forward with deep runs from midfield. No other side in the world boasts three players with the combination of pace and technique possessed by Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria. When they're given space to run into on the break they're virtually unplayable.

From the outset Bayern's high line looked vulnerable. In the 9th minute Neuer was forced out of his box to head a Di Maria ball over the top that nearly put Benzema through on goal. The German keeper scuffed his headed clearance and was fortunate when Bale wasn't able to take advantage, the Welshman putting his volleyed effort at an open net over the bar. The writing was on the wall however. Six minutes later Xabi Alonso won the ball at the edge of his own penalty area and provided an outlet for Ronaldo. He flicked cleverly for Di Maria breaking down the left sideline who played a diagonal ball over the top of Bayern's high line for Benzema. Dante's last ditch tackle prevented Benzema from getting a shot off but it earned Real the corner that Ramos would score the opener from.

With Bayern needing three goals and forced to chase the game, Real were able to maintain their deep, tight defensive positioning and invite pressure before exploiting space in behind the Bayern midfield on the counter. This was a masterclass of organized team defending and lethal counterattacking football highlighted by Real's third goal, one of the best team goals you'll see this season. In Real's penalty box Carvajal, Modric and Pepe all close down on Ribery and force him into a bad pass that falls for Bale at the edge of the penalty area. Bale plays a square pass to Di Maria who finds Benzema breaking into the right channel. This run from Benzema is an intelligent one as he forces Dante into a wide position and leaves a huge gap in the middle of midfield between Dante and his center back partner Jerome Boatening. Bale sprints forward beyond Toni Kroos into this gap and through on goal. He lays a pass to his left for Ronaldo to tuck home for a record setting 15 UCL goals.

 2. Pep Guardiola should not be sacked at Bayern
Following Bayern's treble winning 2012-2013 season, the expectations placed on Guardiola in his first season were always going to be nearly impossible to satisfy. How do you improve a side that won everything?

Things went swimmingly in the league- Bayern remarkably clinched the title with 7 games remaining without having lost up to that point. From there they hit a deep in form, drawing with Hoffenheim before losing consecutive games to Augsburg and Borussia Dortmund. Guardiola deserves criticism for the complacency that set in that quelled momentum and almost certainly contributed to their heavy defeat Tuesday. However, Bayern may yet still win a domestic double as they face Dortmund in the league cup final May 17. I can't help but feel there's something seriously wrong with football culture if a manger gets sacked after winning a double and making a Champions League semifinal in his first season in charge. It was an embarrassing defeat for Bayern but it seems insane to base a managers body of work over the course of a season on one two-legged tie.

Yes he was up against a manager also in his first season but Ancelotti is more flexible in his tactical approach and therefore doesn't require the same length of time to allow his players to adapt to his style. Guardiola by contrast is more rigid in how he requires his sides to play. His approach and the personnel he has used differ from Jupp Heynckes last season and it will therefore take players time to gel into his system. Given time the understanding between manager and players will improve as will performances on the pitch. The big question that may determine Guardiola's future is whether Bayern supporters and the board want to continue to see their club play Guardiola's patient, horizontal possession style. Honorary club president Franz Beckenbauer has on more than one occasion voiced his displeasure at what he views as Guardiola's boring style.

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