Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid: what type of player to use as the number ten?
Mario Gomez scored very late to give Bayern a slender advantage going into the second leg.
Jupp Heynckes’ major decision was as expected – Toni Kroos played in the advanced midfield role, with Bastian Schweinsteiger deeper.
Jose Mourinho played Fabio Coentrao at left-back, rather than Marcelo.
Bayern were the better side over the course of the game here – Real started poorly, got better in the second half, and then conceded a late winner when the game seemed to have died.
The two sides set up broadly in a similar fashion. Both systems were 4-2-3-1, or at least a variation upon 4-2-3-1, and both fielded inverted wingers looking to come inside. This allowed the full-backs forward, although Real’s full-backs are always very cautious away from home in Europe, and it was Bayern’s who got forward to greater effect – most obviously Philipp Lahm in the final minute, to set up Gomez’s goal.
But the real tactical interest came in the centre of midfield. Here, the coaches took the opposite approach. Heynckes reacted to Bayern’s problems in the title decider defeat to Dortmund last week, where Bayern were a broken team. There was a defensive six, and an attacking four – and no-one to link the play. In that game, Heynckes replaced Thomas Muller with Schweinsteiger after an hour, with Kroos moving forward into the attacking midfield role, having started as a holder. Bayern were immediately better, even though they lost.
Here, he started with Kroos in the playmaking role. This was a sign that Bayern wanted to link play more through the centre, wanted to dominate possession, and focus on breaking through Real’s central midfielders. That was a decent approach – despite the fact Bayern usually play down the flanks, Real can be vulnerable to sides breaking through the middle, especially with Xabi Alonso (not the most mobile at the best of times) looking exhausted at the moment.
One could have expected Jose Mourinho to make the same decision – to drop Mesut Ozil, a number ten who focuses on attacking, and bring in another central midfielder – Esteban Granero or Nuri Sahin, perhaps. Alternatively, he could have left out Angel Di Maria and pushed Ozil wide. Either way, with Heynckes’ move widely expected, it would be natural for Mourinho to match him in the centre. This could have meant moving to a 4-3-3, as Real have done in Clasicos.
But Ozil started, and played close to Karim Benzema at the start of the game. He had a half-responsibility to get back and pick up Luiz Gustavo, but tended to amble back in his stereotypically slightly disinterested fashion. Bayern could get the ball quickly into the midfield zone and break directly through the middle.
With Ozil out of the way, Bayern simply had a 3 v 2 in the centre of midfield. Alonso and Sami Khedira didn’t know whether to press or stand off – they were either conceding space in behind, with the defence not stepping up, or allowing Bayern time in the ball in midfield. Kroos played his role very well – generally staying relatively high up the pitch when Bayern had the ball (he and Gomez didn’t really press Real’s defence, but instead played close to the holders, which meant Bayern won the ball from Alonso and Khedira quite frequently, with Gomez notably helping out in this respect) but dropping in and creating an overload when Bayern did win the ball, and helping Schweinsteiger forward to make Bayern fluid in that zone. Gustavo stayed holding and kept an eye on Ozil’s lateral movement, though didn’t feel the need to play goalside of him.
Mourinho clearly realised this problem, and midway through the first half (on 23 mins), switched Ozil and Di Maria. This was a recognition that Real needed more energy and discipline in the centre – of Real’s attacking band of three, it is clearly Di Maria who is the most attentive defensively. Bayern had already taken the lead, but Real were now competing more in the middle. They kept it fairly solid until half-time.
At half-time Mourinho switched them back again – after that period of caution, he now wanted a goal. Ozil was restored to the centre, which was a very risky move that could have gone dreadfully wrong. Instead, it went well – Ozil was told not to bother dropping back into midfield, and instead get into positions to launch breaks – this worked brilliantly for Real’s goal – finished in a scrappy manner, but owing much to the fact that Real defended a free-kick with only six players, leaving their front four in a position to break. The break featured all four players, getting 4 v 4 against the Bayern defence. That was precisely what the system was meant to do.
Real adjusted the way they closed down in midfield – one of the holders sat deeper on a permanent basis, and if the attacking midfielder, Kroos, found himself free, one of the centre-backs would charge up towards him – though the most obvious time this happened was actually when Muller had come on, and Ramos clattered into the back of him.
The Muller change involved Kroos moving deeper into the position Schweinsteiger had played in. It was an attacking move – their number ten was now a forward – but it had been forced by Schweinsteiger’s lack of fitness. This situation, with both Ozil and Muller as the number tens, lasted only eight minutes. Then, Mourinho brought on Marcelo, and Di Maria became the number ten again, helping out more than Ozil in midfield. That lasted a further ten minutes before Granero came on for Di Maria, and now Real truly had three central midfielders, while Bayern had only two, with Muller now playing as a support striker. The situation from the first half had been reversed.
Mourinho’s purpose here was clearly to kill the game. Marcelo, meanwhile, had come on in a strange position that made little sense – first on the left, then drifting about, then over on the right. What he was doing there is unknown, and the fact that the winning goal came from Lahm motoring down the line will make Mourinho wish he’d told Marcelo to stay ahead of Coentrao on the left, the most logical position to use him in if trying to kill the game.
Contested in the centre, won on the flank. Bayern didn’t play particularly well but were certainly the better side – Real lacked structure and organisation during the first half, particularly in midfield.
It is extremely rare to see a Mourinho side overrun so obviously in the centre of midfield. He clearly understood the problems, shown by his constant changes in the attacking midfield role. Perhaps that explained his surprisingly dignified manner after the game.
However, a 1-0 second leg win would take Real through, and they remain marginal favourites.