This was probably the more anticipated of the two semifinals in the Champions League. As Liverpool fans we don’t feel that way but for neutrals this is as good as it gets. Two of the biggest heavyweights in this sport with as much star power as you’ll see at one time. Probably more than a World Cup game.
I mean I was looking forward to this as a neutral. Yes, I am a Red first but I love this sport more than I love anything other than my dog so when a game of this caliber happens it gets my juices flowing.
But this game was a huge disappointment. I thought this was a very poor game to watch. Neither team played well at all as I will get into more detail about, but to get these two teams out on the pitch at the same time to see this type of product was a bit of a letdown.
Real Madrid won the away leg 2-1. Joshua Kimmich got the scoring started to give Bayern a lead in the 28th minute before Marcelo tied things up in the 44th minute. Marco Asesnio gave Real Madrid the lead in the 57th which held up for the 2-1 win. They will be going home with the edge which is the same edge they went home with last season when these same sides met in the quarters.
1. How does Madrid keep doing this
This Madrid team is a very odd team. If you haven’t watched them a ton over the last 3 seasons you probably think that a team is on the verge of playing for their 3rd straight Champions League crown is doing it in dominant fashion, but it’s the farthest thing from reality.
I am not going to go back and look at every game from the past 3 years in this competition and analyse which games they were outplayed in, but I have watched every single one of those games and there is no doubt they have been outplayed at least half the games if not more.
Hell just look at this season. They were probably outplayed by PSG in the first leg of their tie, against Juve they were definitely outplayed in the second leg and even in the first leg it was not like they dominated Juve or anything like that. I mean in their 2016 and 2017 campagins they really only impressed me in the final against Juve when I finally threw my hands up and admitted it was impressive but they haven’t been that impressive too often.
So how do they keep doing it? I mean it can’t just be good luck that they keep getting it done in this competition, can it?
If you listen to genius pundits on TV or Twitter or on a podcast they will just give the generic line that it’s a mentality thing, they know how to win without actually saying what that actually means. I love when people say that, it’s basically a way of trying to sound smart when you actually have no idea what you’re talking about.
It’s generally the same recipe when this does happen. They will get dominated for large stretches but survive thanks to their great center back pair of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. Now remember this teams biggest weakness is probably defensively but it’s not their center backs these two are life savers for them, then you’ll have a big save or two from Keylor Navas despite his flakiness, they will take advantage of any mistake their opponent makes and then Ronaldo or some of their other ridiculously talented attacking talent will do something spectacular to pull the game out for them.
I know Ronaldo stans don’t want to hear this but he has a tendency to be very quiet throughout games to then score a couple out of nowhere to be the hero. He doesn’t influence games like he used to but he’s far from being the dominant player who dominates the game for the entire 90 minutes like he once did.
That’s Isco nowadays for them. He’s the key that makes the whole thing run, but it is incredible to see them win this way time and time again. If this happens once or twice fine you say they were lucky but when they’re on their third season of doing this in this competition there is definitely more to it than just being lucky.
The weird thing is with all the talent they have it just doesn’t seem like this is a recipe a team like this should be following but it keeps happening. Zinedine Zidane has made this formula work and he has his players believing that if they can weather the storms that with all their talent that they will ultimately break through.
But to be honest we need Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries on the case this doesn’t make sense. This game against Bayern Munich was the same exact way as so many others have gone for Real Madrid over the past 3 seasons.
The biggest thing for me is that I think they don’t miss a mistake. Every team makes a couple mistakes throughout a game and against these guys they don’t miss one. Like the Rafinha mistake that led to the Asensio winner.
This game followed the same recipe. Bayern was by far the more dominant side in this but they couldn’t finish and weren’t clinical enough in the final third to create better chances.
When you’re a team like Real Madrid and have won this way more often you’re going to be comfortable in this position and you won’t get rattled or be botherd having to deal with this kind of pressure.
Even when Joshua Kimmich put Bayern up 1-0 in the 33rd minute on a play that was poor goal given up by Navas and a play that Marcelo was way out of position it didn’t phase them.
I still don’t think they were the better side in this game but they’ve proven time and time again that if you’re going to beat them especially in this competition you better deliver a knock out blow because if you let them around they will eventually make you pay.
2. Bayern’s tactics
Bayern started this game out by playing a 4-1-4-1 with Javi Martinez as the lone holding midfielder. The attacking quartet in front of him were Arjen Robben on the right, Franck Ribery on the left, and Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez playing in the middle behind lone striker Robert Lewandowski.
This was no doubt an aggressive formation but the idea behind this was to take advantage of the play on the wing.
Real Madrid tends to play very narrow with their 4-4-2 diamond formation so the best way to attack them was on the wing, so the idea behind this was to attack them on the right with Robben who obviously likes to cut in on his left foot and come at them on the left with Ribbery.
Unfortunately for Munich Robben had to come off in the 8th minute with an injury, which forced them to bring on Thiago Alcantara for him.
Now if anyone follows me on Twitter saw me tweet at the time that this was maybe a blessing in disguise for them as Alcantara is a better player than Robben at this stage of both of their careers. This I couldn’t have been more wrong about and this was because of the tactics of Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes. As I alluded to they wanted to attack from the wing, but what happened is due to Robben coming off they changed their formation and played more of a 4-3-3.
Alcantara and Rodriguez and even to an extent Martinez passed circles around Madrid but they weren’t able to get the ball between the lines or break them down in the final third. Martinez completed 41 passes at 95.3%, Rodriguez completed 64 passes at 90.1%, and Alcantara completed 62 passes at 92.5%, so no doubt they were efficent but a lot of it was just around the middle of the park where they didn’t threaten Madrid at all.
Now they didn’t have that threat on the wing from the right that they were hoping to have with Robben and Kimmich wasn’t able to get up the wing like you may expect from him or he did on his goal. Part of that may have been due to not wanting to leave the space for Marcelo to exploit. That was part of the point of Robben to take advantage of the space that Marcelo frequently leaves behind him.
What Heynckes got really wrong was that he should have moved to a 4-2-3-1 versus the 4-3-3 they were playing. He needed to move either Alcantara or Rodriguez up to the 10 role play Ribery on the left and Muller on the right with Lewandowski up front to have a play maker in a more attacking position. Instead you got a lot of possession and a lot of passing with the midfield 3 that was all well and good but wasn’t nearly threatening as it needed to be.
Had he done that either Alcantara or Rodriguez may have been able to find the small gaps for Lewandowski or Muller which would have given them more quality chances.
3. Not clinical enough
Yes, Bayern got the tactics wrong but they still should have come away with a better result if they were more clincial.
I talked about Ribery on the left. They went to him all night and he had a high involvement in this game but I thought he was terrible maybe a but unlucky but his quality needed to be much better.
For all the space and opportunities Ribery had he needed to be much better than he was if he had been this result would have been much different
It wasn’t just Ribery though. Lewandowski and Muller were also poor. To be honest it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Lewandowski play this poor.
- In the first half Ribery probably scores if not for a poor first touch off of a Alcantara ball that sent him in all alone.
- Lewandowski had a free header off of a Rodriguez free kick he headed right at Navas. Anywhere else this was a goal.
- Muller had a half volley that looked to be headed for a goal but Ramos blocked that attempt.
- Ribery found himself along the goal line and attempted to play it across to Muller but Varane and Ramos teamed up to prevent it from getting to Muller.
- Muller and Lewandowski ran into each other when they had a open net which prevented them from scoring on an empty net.
- Tolisso sent Lewandowski in all alone but missed wide on a play that a player like Lewandowski scores on 99 out of 100 times.
This was their night. Plenty of chances but maybe some bad luck but they can blame themselves too. If they were just a little more clinical they should have had one or two more at least.
Then on top of all that they gifted Real Madrid their winner. Rafinha got caught in possession at midfield on a play that he should have had no problem with but he coughed it up to Lucas Vazquez when he was trying to play a simple square ball to Kimmich. This led to a 2 on 1. Vazquez then played it to Asensio who took advantage of the mistake with a cool finish.
On the night Bayern had a 60% to 40% possession advantage, they outshot Madrid 17-7.
There is no doubt that this was a frustrating night for them. They have to feel like they were a bit unlucky but they should be mad at themselves too.
Yes, Madrid was really bad in this game and didn’t really deserve anything out of it, but Bayern Munich wasn’t much better. If they were they probably would be going to Madrid for the second leg with a win and not the same 2-1 deficit they had last season.
By no means do I think this is over. This team isn’t going to be phased going on the road for the 2nd leg but they will have the horror of the last 4 years in this competition to take with with them. Including being not out by this Madrid team 2 out of the last 4 years if they can’t find a comeback it will be 3 of 5 getting knocked out against the same team.
One thing maybe they can use for confidence is that Real Madrid has maybe looked better on the road as they had at home.
Look at the last round they won at Juventus but lost to them at home. In the round of 16 against PSG it’s fair to say PSG was much tougher at the Berenbau than they were at home. Maybe it was because they had Neymar then but it shows this team is beatable at home.
4. Random thoughts
- Injuries hurt Bayern in this. We talked about Ribbery’s game earlier, but it made me wonder if they had Kingsley Coman out there instead of Ribery. No doubt Ribery is an all time great but this is 2018 and in 2018 I would rather have Coman’s entire package of skill, power, and pace over Ribery’s smarts and grit. You also have to wonder if David Alaba being in there instead of Rafinha would have given them even more of an advantage down the left. Watching that game I wondered to myself often if Ribery had this much space on the left what could have Coman done with it but what could have Coman and Alaba done with it. Plus Rafinha made the crucial error maybe Alaba doesn’t make the same mistake. They were also without Arturo Vidal, would have him and Alcantara been able to do much more damage? Then if course Jerome Boateng went down with an injury in the first half, this one didn’t cost them but could it cost them in the second leg. Injuries have been a factor for them every season so no doubt they may have to look at the fact that maybe they have too many injury prone players. It seems to be an issue for them every season. There is no team in Europe that can deal with injuries as much as them but at the same time they picked a bad time to be missing certain guys.
- Marcelo’s equalizer was ridiculous. There is no doubt he has his flaws as a player but that finish was sublime. His wandering sometimes hurt them but he makes makes up for it more than he doesn’t either his ability in the attacking 3rd.
- This definitely was a bit of let down to watch especially in terms of quality, but second legs are generally more wild so I expect this one next Tuesday to be crazy.