Bayern have lost 4 of their last 5 away matches to Spanish opponents since eliminating Real Madrid in their successful 2001 run to the final but that did not deter what turned out to be a routine win against Villarreal in their opening match of the group stage. A goal in each half from Kroos and Rafinha ensured that Bayern continued their impressive start to the season season, winning their 7th consecutive match in all competitions, keeping a clean sheet in each.
Villarreal on the other hand have had opposite fortunes, winning just one of their first four matches of the season prior to this game. Coach Juan Caros Garrido picked a more defensive minded line up, leaving out Cani and having to do without one of their primary playmakers, Valero. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes too made some changes and surprised a few people by leaving out one of their better performers this season in Luiz Gustavo, instead opting for Tymoshchuk. He also fielded van Buyten alongside Badstuber in the back, pushing his first choice center back Jerome Boateng out to the right, a move that many thought would be detrimental against the quick and technical Nilmar and Rossi.
Passive Villarreal give Bayern the edge
As mentioned above, the usually attack minded Villarreal approached this match rather conservatively. Usually aggressive from the beginning, Villarreal chose to sit back and were all too willing to allow Bayern the possession, hoping instead to the catch them on the counter. Villarreal’s midfield consisted of three defensive minded players in Senna, Marchena and Soriano so there was an invariable gap between midfield and attack, making it difficult to get around Bayern’s central midfielders and for Nilmar and Rossi to receive a consistent stream of service. Approaching the match like an away fixture might not have been the best decision against players as dangerous as Müller and Ribery and they were made to pay for it just 7 minutes into the match. Ribery made a trademark run down the left before spotting Kroos in the middle who redirected the pass right past Lopez to give Bayern the lead. It was not the last time Bayern would beat Villarreal out wide.
From a tactical perspective, Bayern do not play much through the middle and instead like to focus the bulk of their attacks out wide. With players like Robben, Müller and Ribery few can blame them, even if it makes their game a bit predictable. Therefore every time Bayern had the ball they looked for Müller on the right or Ribery on the left. The French winger was especially involved and seems to have rediscovered his best form this season. Garrido’s decision to have his side absorb rather than expend pressure put them on the back foot throughout the half and made it easy for Ribery to always have a go at Gaspar and Zapata. Villarreal were compact in the center though and handled Gomez well, or rather, Bayern’s tendency to direct all their attacks towards their target man once they receive the ball out wide was always met successfully with the offside trap. We would later find out that Gomez struggled with an injury and that might explain his sluggish performance in the first half.
As the half progressed and Villarreal saw how vulnerable Bayern were dealing with their quick attackers they were more willing to push forward. Early in the half a ball over the top caught Van Buyten out and Rossi was clear on goal, denied only by a point blank save from Neuer. Fortunately for Bayern, Rafinha replaced the slow Van Buyten on 23 minutes after what looked like a hamstring injury. The quicker Boateng now played in the center but Villarreal were still looking to make Bayern’s central defenders their primary target. Villarreal became a bit more comfortable towards the end of the half and Gaspar forced a save from Neuer right before the break. It was Bayern went into the break happier though, having more of the ball and looking quite comfortable despite the few nervous moments at the back. They looked more stable after Van Buyten walked off and kept the composure they have shown in the league this season.
Villarreal’s flanks an open hunting ground for Bayern
Inter Milan lost against Schalke in last year’s quarterfinals under similar circumstances. The Italians packed the midfield and neglected their wide areas, which Schalke were all too happy to use. Instead of adjusting at half-time, Garrido made just one change, bringing on the more offensive Cani for Senna to chase the game more effectively and provide a link between midfield and attack. Heynckes meanwhile took off the injured Gomez for Petersen and curiously enough, it was the substitute who had the first two chances of the second half but could not keep his composure in front of goal.
Villarreal were now more focused on getting the equalizer and went forward in numbers and by doing so risked conceding another goal. Without their third man in the middle, Villarreal were also more open in the center of the pitch and Bayern continued to take advantage. Petersen again found an opportunity to score after receiving a pass from Schweinsteiger, cutting past Zapata, and curling a shot to the far right corner, forcing a save from Lopez. Schweinsteiger himself had a go at it soon after from long range but failed to beat Lopez. As the first half indicated, Villarreal’s narrow midfield left the flanks isolated, essentially becoming free highways for Lahm and Rafinha to operate. Bayern found it easy to use those wide areas to create further goal-scoring chance and they did just that on 76 minutes. Playing as high as a wing forward, Rafinha collected the ball on the right, nutmegged Soriano and slotted the ball in the net. It was the final nail in the coffin of a very languid Villarreal. Heynckes brought on Gustavo for Kroos to close out the match and a very one-sided second half.
Bayern may not play with the dazzle and creativity they did under Van Gaal but the side is more balanced now and seems on its way to cutting out their defensive mishaps. Against Villarreal, they put in a disciplined performance and were rarely troubled. Under Heynckes, Bayern players are more positionally disciplined than they were last year and are less impulsive in their decision-making. Their near perfect start to the season continues and it bodes well for the rest of their Champions League campaign. Villarreal on the other hand are yet to play at their best this season and proved that the 5-0 loss to Barcelona on the opening day of the league was not just an indication of their opponent’s superiority but of their early season deficiencies. Home matches in the Champions League are usually where a team picks up the bulk of their points if they want to progress from the group and with a loss here Villarreal have made it that much harder for themselves.
Man of the Match
Toni Kroos – Franck Ribery makes a strong claim as well but Kroos deputized well in Müller’s position. The midfielder took his chance well on the first goal and set up Rafinha for the second. He completed 60% of his tackles and balanced between attack and defense quite well. Heynckes has recently put pressure on Kroos to step up his game and become more of a goal threat and this performance was indicative of a step in the right direction.
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