It was a hectic 2:2, in which Bayern secured their place in the Champions League semifinals, for the fifth consecutive year in a row.
3 things we noticed:
1. Benfica’s great defense only holds up for one half
Already after the first leg not only Pep Guardiola was full of praise for the defensive performance of Lisbon, which was unorthodox as well as disciplined. The team of Rui Vitoria again attacked high up the pitch in the second leg and narrowed the usable space by also applying an enormously high back four.
The defensive strategy of the Portuguese record championship was divided into three phases. 1. High pressing, 2. Closing down the midfield, 3. Defending the penalty area.
When Bayern succeeded at bypassing the first pressing line constructively, Fejsa and Renato Sanches moved closer to their own back four, while Salvio, Gonzales and Pizzi were trying to push the opponent to the sidelines. Since Benfica’s back four was not dropping back and instead courageously played their offside trap, Bayern was often forced to play the ball to the wings even 40 to 50 meters away from Benfica’s goal. Because Benfica also greatly shifted to the ball near side, they often already succeeded there – far away from their goal – to create 2v1 situations against Ribéry or Douglas Costa. Only after Bayern was able to free themselves out of these situations did the backline around Jardel retreat back to their own penalty area.
Despite the experiences from the first leg, Bayern looked quite overwhelmed and had problems to create goal scoring situations against this defensive concept in the first half. Müller often waited at the offside line for a chipped pass, but the ball almost never found him. The equaliser just before half-time was the second real scoring opportunity of the game. Hardly any opponent has defended in recent months and years with such a high back four against Bayern. It was impressive how well Lisbon played this in the first half, despite limited individual potential.
With the 1:1 the home side probably lost a little faith in their own chances. In the second half the gaps in Benfica’s defense were significantly larger – also because Lisbon was forced to play a bit riskier now. Up to the 2:2 Bayern had their strongest phase and should have sealed the win early. Nevertheless, the strong defensive performance of Vitoria’s team for 80 minutes in the first leg and one half in the return leg should not be forgotten.
2. Rehearsed set plays
From the reactions of the players and also from coach Pep Guardiola after the 2:1 by Thomas Müller one could feel it. Something special had happened. The relief about the preliminary decision was mixed up with mischievous delight. After the game goal scorer Müller revealed to the German television why: “This was well-rehearsed and of course you are happy when it works.”
Alonso hit a long corner kick to the back post, Martínez headed the ball back into the middle and Müller only had to push it over the line. Besides Müller two other Bayern players waited entirely free for the lay off by Martínez. Two other corners also created danger for the Lisbon goal.
The relationship between Pep Guardiola and set plays is a complicated one. After Bayern played every corner short in the early days of the Catalan coach, Bayern moved away from it recently. However, the set plays under Guardiola have never been very successful – even if there have been some good options from free-kicks.
How important set plays can be in the Champions League Bayern experienced firsthand in 2013 and 2014. In the semifinals in 2013 against Barcelona 2 of the 4 goals were initiated from set plays. The following year, there were also two goals from set plays by Real Madrid. At the absolute top level something like this can make the difference. It is important to see that this is clearly recognized by Guardiola.
3. Two old men are reliable
Too many Bayern players did not reach their normal form in the games against Benfica. That is one of the reasons why in the end it was a little bit closer than it should have been considering the balance of powers. While key players like Douglas Costa, Alaba and Thiago clearly didn’t reach their potential in Lisbon, two older semesters convinced with resolute performances. Philipp Lahm (32) and Franck Ribéry (33) were the best Bayern players on Wednesday. Both pushed their team with their runs again and again. Especially in Ribéry’s game far from everything worked out, but both wingers – alongside Vidal – were the clear top performers.
Lahm created the 1:1 by Vidal with a sharp cross, had two more good scenes in the penalty area and set up two shots on goal as well. Additionaly he intercepted five balls (team high) and thus repeatedly stopped Benfica’s attacks with his good anticipation.
Ribéry created unrest on the other wing with his tireless dribblings. Five times the Frenchman was fouled, three times he won his dribbling and he also had two shots on goal. As mentioned above: Not everything worked out, but compared to the very unlucky display of Costa it became clear how important Ribery is for Bayern in this phase of the season. The old warhorses were reliable.
|SL Benfica – FC Bayern 2:2 (1:1)|
|SL Benfica||Ederson – André Almeida, Lindelöf, Jardel, Eliseu (88. Jovic) – Fejsa, Renato Sanches – Pizzi (58. Guedes), Carcela-González, Salvio (68. Talisca) – Raul Jimenez|
|Bench||Paulo Lopes – Luisao, Nelson Semedo, Samaris|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Lahm, Martínez, Kimmich, Alaba – Alonso (90. Bernat) – Vidal, Thiago – Costa, Müller (84. Lewandowski), Ribéry (90.+2 Götze)|
|Bench||Ulreich – Rafinha, Rode, Coman|
|Goals||1:0 Raúl Jiménez (27.), 1:1 Vidal (38.), 1:2 Müller (52.), 2:2 Talisca (76.)|
|Yellow Cards||Carcela-González / Martínez|
|Referee||Björn Kuipers (Netherlands)|
|Attendance||66,000 (sold out)|