On the 5th of August the last remaining FC Bayern players on holiday head back to work at Säbener Straße. Because of this, the coach of the men from Munich had to go without a few players in the last game of the US tour as well. Franck Ribéry was also not in the squad. The Frenchman was missing with complaints relating to his adductor muscle, but should be able to train again soon according to the club’s information.
In case you missed it
Ancelotti lined up with a back-four in front of Ulreich, with the defence consisting of Rafinha, Feldhahn, Martínez and Alaba. Further forward it got more interesting. Alonso took on the number-six position behind Thiago and Vidal. Lahm and Bernat took up positions on the flanks, and Green acted as the lone striker. The absence of Ribery also meant that Ancelotti went for 4-1-4-1, rather than a 4-3-3. It was also the first match in which the Italian had not a single winger available. His solution was to push the full-backs further forward than before, with Lahm and Bernat shifting inside.
Real Madrid also played in a rather unspectacular formation. In front of goalkeeper Casilla were Carvajal, Varane, Ramos and Marcelo. The midfield was notably made up of Casemiro, Lucas Vázquez, Modric, Isco and James. In attack, Zidane selected Morata. The Spaniards tried to constantly overload the flanks in their 4-3-3 and to damage the back-four of Bayern, which was a little make-shift.
Both teams were defending high in the initial phases of play and so there was also the first big test for the record champions’ build-up play. Both Real and Bayern tried to play very vertically and quickly to grab the lead. After Ancelotti’s men then got some control over the game, Zidane’s side dropped back into a deep midfield press. A half chance for Green (8’) as well as a dangerous free-kick from Alaba (10’) were the first highlights of the encounter.
Subsequently Bayern dominated the game and penetrated the final third particularly through quick switches of play and good combinations in the centre. After a powerful long ball by Alonso, Vidal had the next good opportunity (12’). The first small chance for Real was in the 15th minute when Isco prevailed on Bayern’s right-hand side, but eventually found himself without support in the centre. What was interesting to observe was that Ancelotti this time lined up in defence in a 4-1-4-1, rather than 4-4-2 as before.
Bayern were able to combine well in advanced positions time and time again, but dangerous situations came about only too rarely from these combinations. Again it was a free-kick from Alaba that led to a dangerous shot on goal. The ball struck the post, however, from about 25 metres out (26’). The first time there was danger from open play was when Green found himself clean through on goal after a good pass from Alaba. The shot, however, was harmless (29’).
Despite rarely penetrating the area, it was a very good performance from Bayern. Thiago in particular had a lot of joy in the game. After a performance worth seeing, the Spaniard had a chance to crown his game with a shot from distance, only to see Casilla produce a strong save (34’). Until half-time not much more happened, and so Real Madrid fortunately went in at 0-0 at half-time.
For the second period, Zidane brought on Kovacic, Asensio and Nacho for Modric, James and Varane. Bayern went without a change. The first half-chance after the change of halves went to Real in a harmless volley from Morata (52’). However, the general run of play didn’t change. Carlo Ancelotti’s team continued to be dominant, while Los Merengues had to wait for chances on the counter attack. In the 56th minute the German champions made their first change. On came Bento, for the impressive Alonso.
It was the newcomer who then made the first big mistake, unnecessarily presenting Marcelo with the ball. He played Morata through with a lofted pass. However, the Spaniard missed his team’s first big chance and so the game continued scoreless (60’). Real now became more dangerous. With a shot from distance Isco almost grabbed the opening goal just two minutes later, but the post saved Bayern. Zidane made more changes and brought Danilo, Ødegaard and Lienhart on for Carvajal, Isco and Ramos (63’).
The first good chance for Bayern fell to David Alaba in the second half. The Austrian shot over from a tight angle on goal (68’). The game then began to become more disjointed. It was notable that Bayern didn’t quite have in the tank to go the full ninety, and so Real enjoyed more and more phases of possession. Also the many fresh players on the Spanish side made their presence felt. Even so, big chances were scarce on both sides. While Zidane brought on Llorente, Tejero and Mariano, Ancelotti sent on Pantovic for Martínez.
And then, out of nowhere, Real Madrid took the lead. Thiago arrived too late, and eventually didn’t commit the foul against Danilo. The Brazilian got the opening goal from about 18 metres out (78’). In the 81st minute the equaliser almost came, but Thiago’s free-kick went just over Casilla’s goal. The score didn’t quite reflect the events of the game, but Real were somewhat better in the second half. Overall Bayern were, in spite of that, the dominant team, but weren’t able to get the rewards for their dominance.
A shot from distance by Benko (84’) opened Bayern’s closing attacks. Vidal (86’), however, was unable to grab the goal from a good position. Ancelotti meanwhile changed it up further. The heavily-involved Thiago left the field and in his place Öztürk was able to collect a few first-team minutes. As Mariano missed the last two chances of the game (90+1’, 90+2’), it remained 0-1 to Real Madrid. Eventually it was in spite of the score a very good performance from Bayern. Particularly when you consider how many players the record champions were missing from the spine of their team.
3 things we noticed
1. Controlled performance
Bayern’s performance was reminiscent of a slightly-modified version of Guardiola’s positional play. The Catalan mercilessly dominated the opponent through possession of the ball, and so it was in the game against Real Madrid too. However, there were also the quiet phases that we’ve recently addressed more often. Bayern fell back again once or twice into a deep midfield press and tried to counter on turnovers. The latter didn’t quite work perfectly, but it was exciting to observe how FC Bayern controlled Madrid even without the ball over wide stretches of play.
Zidane’s men had barely any chances in the first period and were barely able to get started with so little possession. Although the reigning German champions lined up with a back-four, which they don’t often use in competitive games anymore, Real didn’t manage to carve out clear opportunities. An important factor here was Feldhahn. The 29-year-old convinced, not for the first time, with an engaged and solid performance. Alonso too was extremely important out of possession. He was the fixed reference point in the centre. His team-mates orientated themselves around him.
With the ball, too, Bayern’s appearance was even more structured. Both Vidal and Thiago occupied the half-spaces. They also pitched diagonally backwards while Alonso found the right balance between deeper and higher positioning. The full-backs pushed forward a lot this time and acted more as wide-forwards in possession. That will have also been the reason as to why Alaba started as a left-back. Bernat and Lahm shifted inside more than nominal wide players and so were often positioned in the half-spaces. With Vidal and Thiago as the links, all the important spaces on the pitch were always well-occupied. The positional play of Pep Guardiola seems then not to have been forgotten, even if the team clearly ceded more possession to the opposition. At the end it was only 53% for FC Bayern.
2. Strong centre
It was impressive how in the first half this Bayern side dominated a team who had chosen a line-up that would probably challenge for the title in any league. A large reason for this dominance was the afore-mentioned centre of Bayern. Xabi Alonso leading the way as the metronome. The 34-year-old is currently hinting that he is still being relied upon. Even under pressure he made smart decisions. In the right moments the ex-Madrid player picked the vertical passes, but also calmed the more and more hectic phases. He perfectly chose when to pitch up between the centre backs. When the opponent defended higher up, Alonso formed a back-three with Feldhahn and Martínez. If Real dropped back into a deep press, the Spaniard positioned himself much more offensively.
Thiago has an important season ahead of him. So far, his performances have been encouraging
Vidal and Thiago also showed promising performances. While the Chilean covered every blade of grass in his typical manner, the Spaniard convinced like at the start of his time at Bayern. The 25-year-old seems to have understood his situation. He looked enthusiastic, more daring and tracked back importantly too. Particularly important though were the many tight situations he was able to work out of. Sure, we have to wait to see how he presents himself in competitive fixtures, but his performances so far are offering encouragement that Thiago has realised how important this season is for him. He’s now entering the perfect age for a professional footballer and has to prove that he can bring these performances to the table consistently. If he stays fit, he has a good chance to become an important player for the record champions.
3. Still tough without true wide players
If you wanted to criticise something about Bayern’s performance, it’d be the lack of penetration into the opposition area. For that you can blame the absence of the four flank dribblers, with all of Bayern’s dominance. Without these kinds of players, the centre becomes ever more important. Time and time again, Bayern tried to isolate both Alaba and Rafinha. Eventually Bernat and Lahm offered themselves in the half-spaces on either side in order to make chances through quick combinations. That worked well once or twice, but it lacked that final precision. Also, one-vs-one situations were almost non-existent. The few chances that resulted from those weren’t used either.
Here, of course, the absences of Müller and Lewandowski play a role, but it’s still necessary to get the rewards for good performances. Teams like Real Madrid punish you from these opportunities immediately. With two full-backs and Julian Green in the forward line, that was difficult this time around. Bayern did create some good situations, even if they weren’t able to exploit them. It’ll probably continue being tough in the future if Ancelotti has to go without his four one-vs-one players. His solution with attacking full-backs and wide players roaming inside does seem to be one with future potential, though.