Bayern München 2 – 1 Real Madrid – Last minute winner gives the Bayern advantage

Bayern maintained their unbeaten home record against Real in Europe (9 wins, 1 draw) with an excellent team performance against a disheveled and nervy Madrid side.  A late goal by Gomez decided the match after Ribery and Özil each scored earlier.  In what was an exciting, albeit typically ferocious and antagonistic meeting between these two sides, Bayern took control of the game in the first half and never relented until they were eventually rewarded for their persistence.  Madrid had a good spell in the opening stages of each half but never reached their best, suffering from a mismatch of tactics and some poor individual performances.  In the end it was a deserving win for Bayern and a great lead going into what should be an intense second leg.

Lineups and Formations

Having rested five players at the weekend and admitting that his side had been fatigued following their midweek loss against Dortmund last week, Heynckes resumed with his preferred line up.  The only exclusion was that of Müller, instead selecting a midfield of Schweinsteiger, Gustavo and Kroos playing off Gomez.

4-2-3-1 was the order of the day for Heynckes and Mourinho who also returned Coentrao, Di Maria, Alonso and Benzema after resting them over the weekend.  Özil was picked to start in his 100th official match for the club over Kaka with Higuain and Marcelo benched, the latter being the only surprise exclusion at the start.  Theoretically Mourinho included a more defensively sound player in Coentrao, hoping the Portuguese left back would contain Robben.  Some also speculated that he would take a more defensive approach with three central midfielders like he has done in some matches against Barcelona but he decided otherwise

Heynckes said before this match that it will be more tactical than anything else and in the end he was right.  Mourinho’s approach initial approach and subsequent changes ultimately hindered them against motivated and focused Bayern.  This is how the match unfolded.

First Half – Bayern control the game and Madrid out of sync

Real started with the bulk of possession, which is not surprising considering they have averaged more than any other side left in the competition bar Barcelona.  For the first 10 minutes Bayern could not get out of their own half and Madrid nearly capitalized on that in the seventh minute after Özil played a defense splitting through ball to Benzema but Neuer’s awareness kept the ball out.  That short spell of domination was then broken when Ribery found his way into the box from the right, beat Ramos, but went to ground appealing for a penalty.  Webb waved him off but Madrid were phased.  Momentum slowly started swinging in Bayern’s favor.

Real Madrid have been particularly poor defending set pieces this season and they were exposed again on Bayern’s first goal.  Kroos’s corner on seventeen minutes was not dealt with well by Ramos and Ribery took advantage by reacting faster than anyone else by pouncing on the loose ball and beating Casillas.  It was the first time Madrid had fallen behind in the Champions League this season and it paved the way for Bayern to take full control of the game.  The best chances Madrid mustered in the first half came from free kicks won outside Bayern’s box but Ronaldo never managed any of them on target.  Schweinsteiger nearly doubled Bayern’s lead on twenty-one minutes after Ribery set him up but his love driven shot went just wide.

Surprisingly Bayern won the midfield battle.  The problem stemmed from Özil, Di Maria, Benzema and Ronaldo constantly going wide, leaving no one to support Alonso and Khedira and ample space between their backline and midfield.  Maybe Mourinho wanted to neutralize Bayern’s strengths on the wings but it had a detrimental effect elsewhere on the pitch.  Kroos meanwhile dropped throughout the half, outnumbering Madrid in midfield and helping them control the flow of the match.  It was an atypical performance from a side normally associated with organization.  Madrid distinctly lacked synergy in their play in this match.  Özil was mostly frustrated and double teamed on the right.  Schweinsteiger and Alaba did a good job keeping him out of the game and rarely allowed him to cut inside or play into the middle.

Moreover, when Madrid’s players went wide there was a lack of reciprocity from the players around them. Benzema for example constantly looked to go out wide to the left but no one came into the middle to provide him with an outlet. And at times Di Maria came centrally but lacked support in front of him. Özil and Benzema regularly go out wide in La Liga but against a more organized side like Bayern and a midfield outnumbering them it was simply not effective. Meanwhile, Arbeloa was Madrid’s weak link in defense and Ribery had a go at him the whole first half and always looked like giving away a free kick in a dangerous position.  It was the kind of pernicious situation that Mourinho and Madrid rarely found themselves in this season.

Second Half – Mourinho’s changes prove costly

With their performance waning in the first half Mourinho had to make adjustments at the break and Madrid came out looking like a different side.  After trying several permutations in the attacking third in the first half he chose a more straightforward approach  Özil no longer started from wide positions but stayed centrally where he was able to string together an otherwise disorderly offense. Without the volatility of four roaming attackers there was now more focus in Madrid’s attacks and fifty-two minutes in a Madrid counter attack leveled the game.  Benzema, from the center this time, played Ronaldo through on the left, his shot parried away by Neuer.  Benzema picked up the rebound and squared it to Ronaldo whose cross into the box was finished by an oncoming Özil.  Bayern’s defense blinked for the first time in this match and it cost them a goal.

For a moment it looked as though Madrid were finally ready and able to take charge of the game but in a rather puzzling move, Mourinho pulled Özil and brought on Marcelo.  Perhaps Mourinho wanted to inject a bit of energy for a fatigued Özil but Marcelo’s role itself was peculiar to say the least.  Filling in neither in his natural left back spot nor on the right, Marcelo drifted all over the pitch with little impact other than to give away free kicks.  Or maybe it was a reaction to Heynckes taking off an unfit Schweinsteiger on sixty-one minutes which meant that Kroos had to play even deeper alongside Gustavo with the more attack minded Müller on to chase a second goal.  Theoretically it meant that Bayern’s numerical advantage in midfield was diminished but Marcelo’s positioning certainly doesn’t indicate a clear intention to take advantage of that.  Mourinho also brought on Granero shortly after, a move that many may have anticipated earlier in the game to match Bayern’s three central midfielders and now to hold on to the draw, but by then the fallout was nearly irreversible.

Gone was Madrid’s central creative figure in Özil while Bayern’s stability in midfield only increased.  The passing statistics tell the story.  Overall, Bayern outpassed Madrid 334 to 288 and players who are usually strong on the ball like Alonso and Khedira misplaced a combined 13 passes.  Their usual fluency was obviously missing and it may have been a case of too much tinkering by Mourinho who is rarely ever flustered tactically but against Bayern a cogent plan from the beginning seemed to be missing.

This allowed Bayern to continue to press until Madrid eventually capitulated and it could not have come at a worse time.  Coentrao, who was having a horrid time against Lahm, went to ground too easily in the ninetieth minutes, was beaten by Lahm and allowed to send an unchallenged cross for Gomez to tuck away.  Casillas could have come to claim the cross but the writing was already on the wall well beforehand.  Mourinho’s seeming satisfaction with a draw allowed Bayern to continue to play their game almost unchallenged.  An analogy with Borussia Dortmund may best depict what happened. Whereas Dortmund exerted a tremendous amount of pressure against Bayern, Madrid more or less sat back and invited it.  In other words, Dortmund did not allow Bayern to play their natural game, cut them off out wide and even moreso in the center.  They did not need an invitation from Bayern, they went at them continuously from beginning to end.  Mourinho may have taken a cue from his performance against Bayern while in charge of Inter two years ago but the same is not applicable to this Madrid side, who are more geared towards attacking an opponent than defending against them.

Final Verdict

After a forgettable week in the Bundesliga, Bayern put on their best Champions League performance against a big side in years.  Heynckes came in with a clear game plan, use their strengths in wide area, namely Ribery and Robben, to exploit Arbeloa and Coentrao, and for the most part did so rather effectively.  Ribery specifically was strong and won 21 duels compared to Arbeloa’s 9.  Even more impressive was Bayern’s handling of the game in the middle, with and without Schweinsteiger.  Kroos had another impressive showing with a match high 76 touches on the ball and completing 48 passes.

The two times Real Madrid lost a first leg 2-1 they were eventually eliminated.  Mourinho rarely gets outcoached in matches, especially in the Champions League, but far too many questions have to be asked of him following this game.  First, why were Madrid’s players so wide in the first half?  If the instruction was to have a go at Bayern’s fullbacks why did he not readjust earlier after seeing his side struggle for half an hour in the first half?  Furthermore, why was Özil withdrawn early in the second after he helped Madrid get back into the match after kickoff.  Was he right to settle for the draw and set up more defensively and what was Marcelo’s role in the game?  Madrid was struggling to absorb Bayern’s pressure and looked nervier with every passing minute in the second half.

Mourinho is in the unfortunate position of having the Clasico against Barcelona sandwiched in between these two Champions league fixtures, which is perhaps complicating his planning for all three.  Either way, a goal down Madrid will have to outscore Bayern in Spain, a task that won’t be easy against one of Bayern’s most prolific ever sides. In the end, Barcelona may well prove to be Madrid’s undoing in the Champions League without even having to play them there.

You can an extensive reaction from Jupp Heynckes’ about the game on here.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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