Preview: Atlético Madrid – FC Bayern Munich

Scouting report


A couple of inches on David Alaba’s shot in the first leg. Thomas Müller’s penalty and the individual error by Jérôme Boateng in the return leg. One can reduce last year’s semi-final matches to very few, unlucky situations. On Wednesday Bayern will meet Atlético again.

While Diego Simeone’s team is pretty much unchanged, Bayern Munich on the other hand is currently undergoing a change of style in their game, which will be tested on the highest level for the first in the game in Madrid.


The centre is the key

For good reasons Diego Simone is considered as one of the best coaches in the world. He not only had a lot of success with his team in the last years, but he also perfected his tactical system to make Atlético become the currently most unpleasant side to play against in Europe. In their 4-4-2 against the ball they are very compact and nicely staggered to give their opponents no chance to control the centre. Instead they direct the opposing team to the wings and into their pressing traps, to recover the ball and play it fast into their own attacking zone.

The most recent victim of this approach was FC Barcelona, when Atlético took home a 1-1 from the Camp Nou. Barcelona’s passmap depicts their lack of control over the centre. Even the seemingly best team in the world wasn’t able to dominate the centre and had to attack down the wings. If one has the individual quality of Barcelona it’s also possible to create chances by beating the defence on the flanks. You need quick transitions from one side to the other to create isolations for your 1vs1 players.

If you don’t have these qualities on your wings, you can try to operate with overloadings, but Atlético is so good in their positioning, it’s very rare to outmanoeuvre them to create numerical advantages. Nevertheless Bayern were able to use this element in the second leg last season. Constant transitions form one side to the other, high tempo and creating triangles all over the pitch. Bayern also employed a highly effective counter-pressing, which almost robbed Atlético from all their chances to counter.

A look at Bayern’s passmap from last year’s semi-final second leg also shows Atlético qualities, but Bayern were able to get the ball into the centre and to dominate the game in possession. Xabi Alonso put up a fantastic performance in possession as well as in his counter-pressing. Currently Thiago has taken that position in the Bayern game and he has done it very well. The 25 year old also has a big advantage compared to Alonso, because he is able to open up the game vertically even when under pressure.

In this important zone Ancelotti will have to choose between Alonso and Kimmich. If Alonso will start, Thiago will most likely move to the number 8 position. Thiago will have a decisive role in Madrid nonetheless, whether on the 6 or on the 8. He currently is the most important player in the centre. His switches and his escapes form pressing traps are essential for Bayern’s game. If Thiago has a good game, Bayern are on the right track. Vidal is another player who is set for the starting eleven. The Chilean brings the necessary aggression against the ball into the game, which is needed to prevent Atlético’s transitional play.

Joshua Kimmich is another Bayern player who used his chances to impress on the number 8 position. His passing is very secure and he brought in that lacking element of offensive thread from the centre. He repeatedly entered the penalty area and supported the attackers, when needed. With him on the pitch, Thiago would most likely move to the number 6 position, but since Alonso was rested in the last game, he will probably start against Atlético. No matter which three players Ancelotti will choose, they have to control the centre. With and without the ball.

How can Bayern prevent the dangerous counters?

Diego Simeone’s team would not be so unique and uncomfortable, if controlling the centre would be the only challenge against them. You cannot have 100% of the ball against them and so chances for their transitional play will occur. The midfield trio of Koke, Gabi and Saul has the task to get the ball forward to their other world class attackers Griezmann, Carrasco and Gameiro. Their alternatives Torres and Correa aren’t too shabby either. Griezmann is the player to watch out for. He’s a complete attacker and together with his fellow attackers he will challenge Bayern’s defensive line.

In their last encounter Bayern solved this issue with the Guardiolaesk counter-pressing. Atlético scored both goals after individual errors. In the first leg no one played the tactical foul against Saul and before Griezmann’s goal it was an overeager step out of defence by Jérôme Boateng, which opened up the path for the Frenchman. These individual errors have to be prevented, of course.

Antoine Griezmann entschied mit seinem Auswärtstor das Halbfinal-Duell der beiden in der vergangenen Saison. (Foto: Guenter Schiffmann / AFP / Getty Images)
Last year’s semi-final was decided by Antoine Griezmann’s away goal.
(Photo: Guenter Schiffmann / AFP / Getty Images)

The game will look different this time. Ancelotti doesn’t employ the same high level of counter-pressing. Bayern will drop back after they will lose the ball to defend out of a compact block. This will grant Atlético more time on the ball. In theory, this will create chances for Bayern’s transitional play, which they have to use cleverly.

The biggest issue here will be discipline. In the last games Bayern made easy errors without the ball. Especially in their away games they created a bad staggering when one or two players moved out of the formation. Thiago and Vidal are these type of players, who like to aggressively attack their opponents, but when both of them attack this creates a hole behind them in midfield. Sometimes Bayern is in between Guardiola’s counter-pressing and Ancelotti’s deep-block approach. These moments should be prevented in Madrid, otherwise the strong Atlético central midfield will be behind Bayern’s last line of defence quickly.

Of course, Bayern hast to defend actively and not get too passive, but that’s even more challenging when playing with a midfield pressing. Only if the five time Champions League winner defends clever and compact in the centre, they will create counter-attacking moments to use. The players will have to be patient. Atlético has mastered the challenge of pouncing on the ball in the right situation and using their pressing traps with deadly precision. How good are Bayern in these situations?

Structure, triangles and penetrating power

Ancelotti’s team won’t get that many chances to counter. Their structure in possession will be more important. To stretch Atlético’s formation Bayern will need width in their game, as well as clear positioning and many fast switches from one side to the other. Bayern has to keep Simeone’s 4-4-2 moving at all times to be able to create cracks in Atlético’s formation. Since Ribéry is in top shape it would be one option to overload the right side and then use e.g. Thiago for a fast switch to the Frenchman.

Atlético will create pressure at the side-line. If Bayern manage to solve these situations, they will gain some space. Against Hamburg this didn’t work. To get out of the pressing traps you need passing options in the half-spaces. By using triangles the quality of the passing can be high enough to break free.

The verticality in Bayern’s game will be a decisive point again on Wednesday. You need verticality in your game to create penetrating power, but Bayern has overreached it from time to time. It’s a thin line and the record champion will need a concentrated and fluid ball circulation, minimizing turnovers.

How strong ist Bayern really?

This question will be answered on Wednesday. Especially on the road Ancelotti’s system seemed to have some little flaws and unknown moments of lost control, but it was successful. A game in the Vicente Calderón is be one of the biggest challenges in European club football. Can his team control the centre with good structure? Will Bayern create enough penetrating power? Can they contain Atlético’ counter-attacks? These main questions will determine the outcome of the game and in the end it will show how strong Bayern really are right now.

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