On Wednesday evening Bayern played against Atlético Madrid and the game did not disappoint the high expectations. High tempo. Many chances and in the end a perhaps little lucky win for the home side. Bayern did not reward themselves after a good second half. A complicated but not impossible starting position for the second leg in Munich.
3 things we noticed:
1. Atlético’s defense dominated the first half
Before the game the praises for Atlético’s defense were numerous and especially huge. Diego Simeone’s team managed to almost exceed the expectations in the first half against Bayern.
Atlético’s players moved as a perfect unit at the beginning. After a dashing start with high pressing the home side moved a little further back in the course of the game and defended the entrance into the box from 30 to 40 meters in front of the goal close to perfection. Clever 2v1s on the outside. Robust duels by Gabi and Augusto in the center. Especially Gabi dominated the central midfield at will. In the first half alone the 32-year-old alone had seven successful tackles. Left-back Filipe Luis also showed an outstanding defensive performance.
Guardiola’s idea to sacrifice Müller for another number eight was quite understandable. Bayern wanted to get in the back of the four-man midfield with Vidal and Thiago, while Costa and Coman stretched the pitch horizontally. If when this idea worked, Atleti moved very skillfully and consistently towards the ball and often conquered it. Guardiola’s idea didn’t work out for 45 to 50 minutes almost completely, also because unaccustomed individual weaknesses in Thiago passing game were added.
It fit into the picture that a 30 meter shot and two standards for a long time remained the best Bayern opportunities. Bayern had troubles to get into the penalty area for the first 50 minutes. From more than 300 Bayern passes only four made it into the box. Only later on it got much better.
2. Small adjustments help Bayern’s offense
There certainly wasn’t one single reason why Bayern played so much stronger in the second half. Physically, Bayern were now significantly better in the game, clearly won more duels and even conquered the ball in counter pressing. Whether Atlético’s increasing dropping back was planned or forced is difficult to answer.
It is clear that Bayern now created chances in the penalty area with recognizable patterns. Vidal moved as significantly further up the pitch and acted almost as a second striker up to the substitution of Müller. It was striking how the Chilean alternately with Lewandowski positioned himself on the right corner of the penalty area, so as to form a triangle with Lahm, Thiago, Costa or Coman. Two good chances were thus created with fast, short passes on and in the penalty area (Lewandowski, Costa).
Until his substitution Thiago increasingly tried to create overloads on the left flank near the penalty area, but with less output than on the opposite side. The interaction with the hesitantly advancing Bernat was far from being as productive as Lahm’s involvement.
Vidal’s higher positioning also provided for more access in the counter pressing. More than one long ball was recaptured early. The offensive minded substitutions from Guardiola with Ribéry and Müller, however, led to a weakening of these structures. The pressure decreased and Atlético gained safety. Vidal had a foot in 8 shots on goal in the end.
The second half should give Bayern courage for the second leg. Atlético is not invulnerable, despite the outstanding mix of collective and individual class against the ball. The missing away goal does hurt, especially due to the overall good second half. It’s not unlikely that three or more goals are needed in the second leg to advance to the next round.
3. Bayern defense with light and shadow
With Lahm, Martínez, Alaba and Bernat Guardiola again trusted in a newly formed back line that had collected only a few minutes in this combination. Looking back after 90 minutes, the defensive balance of Bayern was decent. Atlético had eleven shots (six in the penalty), five of them in the first 12 minutes. In the second half, only one clear chance was added.
The combination of Alaba and Martínez worked well overall, although they don’t necessarily complement each other optimally. Lahm again played very strong. The remaining question is the inclusion of Bernat, who did not have a good match for weeks and who made the impression of the odd one out in the backline.
Despite this decent overall balance the weak initial phase cannot be forgotten. Much has been said about tactics before the game. At the end it was a solo run by Saul Niguez against four or five Bayern defenders that created the match-winning goal. The complete Bayern defense looked really bad in this scene. Up until the goal in the 11th minute Xabi Alonso and Thiago had completely lost control of the center of the pitch. Bayern let themselves be surprised, although Guardiola had repeatedly warned of Atlético’s dangerous early start before the match. At least Alonso found into the game with some good defensive actions.
The counter-defense, which worked well on Wednesday, with two exceptions, could be the key for the second leg. If Madrid succeed in scoring in Munich, it is very, very difficult to uphold the dream of the final. Guardiola, who then probably can rely on Jerome Boateng again, will have to find the right combination within his now large selection.
|Atlético Madrid – FC Bayern 1:0 (1:0)|
|Atlético Madrid||Oblak – Filipe Luis, Savic, Gimenez, Juanfran – Augusto, Gabi – Saul (85. Partey), Koke – Griezmann, Torres|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Bernat (77. Benatia), Alaba, Martínez, Lahm – Alonso, Vidal, Thiago (70. Müller) – Costa, Coman (64. Ribery) – Lewandowski|
|Bench||Ulreich – Götze, Kimmich, Tasci|
|Goals||1:0 Saul (11.)|
|Yellow Cards||Saul / Costa, Neuer, Benatia, Vidal|
|Referee||Marc Clattenburg (GB)|
|Attendance||52,000 (sold out)|