Bayern 2-0 Juve: Bayern’s pressing prevents Juve bringing their strike duo into play

April 3, 2013

The line-ups after Robben replaced Kroos early on, because of injury

Bayern take a commanding lead into the second leg, after a dominant first leg performance.

Jupp Heynckes named his expected side – Luiz Gustavo came in for the suspended Javi Martinez – although Toni Kroos’ early injury pushed Thomas Muller inside, with Arjen Robben introduced on the right.

Despite strong rumours Antonio Conte would select a 3-5-1-1 formation, he went for the usual 3-5-2 with Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella (his least favoured strike duo this season) upfront.d

This was all about Bayern – they pressed excellently and Juventus struggled to put together good attacking moves, or bring their strike duo into play.

Alaba goal

Bayern went ahead within 30 seconds – before there was even a chance to even assess the formations. But with both in their expected shape, it was clear the Bayern full-backs would be crucial – able to motor forward without any direct opponents. David Alaba’s long-range, deflected strike was a completely unpredictable opening to the match, but there was always likely to be a strong emphasis upon Alaba and Philipp Lahm getting forward unchecked.

Indeed, Juve didn’t have anyone specific to deal with those two players (who are significantly more dangerous full-backs than Juve ever encounter in Italy). There were three different groups of players broadly concerning Lahm and Alaba – sometimes the two wing-backs moved forward to pressure them, while sometimes the two shuttlers, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, would move out wide. Then, there was the fact Juve played with two proper forwards, discouraging Bayern from leaving just two centre-backs in defence with little support – although with Daniel van Buyten and Dante getting the better of Quagliarella and Matri, both Lahm and Alaba felt comfortable enough to push forward.

Bayern press

The major feature of the game, however, was Bayern’s pressing. They played high up the pitch and immediately closed down Juve’s defenders when Gigi Buffon tried to pass out from the back. In Serie A, Juve’s opponents generally only commit three players into the final third without the ball, and Juve can pass the ball out through the back three and Andrea Pirlo, before gradually working it forward into midfield.

Against more consistent pressure, Juve struggled. There were a couple of nice passing sequences when they played out, but there were far more misplaced passes and concessions of possession close to their own goal. In this respect, Bayern simply appeared far more mobile and energetic than Juve, and dominated the first half because they completely prevented Juve building attacks, and getting out of their own half.

Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli were often unable to play accurate forward passes:

While Pirlo and Bonucci’s diagonals were ineffective:

Robben and Ribery

Kroos’ injury will harm Bayern in the long run, but in this particular game it actually worked nicely. Kroos had failed to press Pirlo effectively the last time they met, and his injury meant Thomas Muller came inside to occupy Juve’s deep-lying playmaker. Muller’s a particularly disciplined player and performed that job well, but equally crucial was the impact of replacement Robben down the right.

Because Juve’s wing-backs were pushing high up the pitch and weren’t being tracked all the way by the Bayern wingers, it was useful to have two direct dribblers who could pick up possession and immediately exploit the space ahead of them. Ribery and Robben both wanted to cut inside onto their stronger side – because there were gaps either side of Pirlo that Bayern could storm into, this worked particularly well. Ribery was probably the livelier of the duo, but Robben found himself in more promising goalscoring opportunities, and should have added to Bayern’s lead.

Juve forwards

Conte’s major decision was starting with two forwards rather than just one (with Marchisio behind) – unfortunately, Juve were extremely weak in this area of the pitch. Quagliarella moved deeper towards the play while Matri provided more of a static target, and while there were a couple of moments where Juve’s forwards nearly combined, Conte didn’t get enough from either of his strikers.

Matri was unable to hold the ball up, and Quagliarella didn’t offer runs in behind – they would argue they didn’t receive great service from the midfield (a legitimate argument), but Juve knew that by using two strikers, they were risking being overrun. The order of the day was about direct balls forward, to work the two-against-two situation, but Juve’s forwards simply didn’t perform well enough.

Vucinic was ill and unfit to start, but it’s worth reiterating Conte’s use of strike partnerships this season:

  1. Vucinic and Giovinco – 14 times
  2. Matri and Giovinco – 7 times
  3. Quagliarella and Giovinco – 6 times
  4. Matri and Vucinic – 6 times
  5. Vucinic and Quagaliarella – 4 times
  6. Matri and Quaglirella  - 2 times (until last night)

Granted, Matri and Quagliarella had both scored on their two previous appearances together (in the 2-0 win over Celtic, and the 2-1 weekend win over Inter). That indicated promise, but there’s a reason Conte doesn’t usually use them together.


Their poor performance was in stark contrast to Mario Mandzukic’s excellent display as Bayern’s lone centre-forward. He didn’t get himself a goal, but he did pretty much everything else – he teed up the second for Muller, he had a fantastic running battle in the air with Giorgio Chiellini, and also spent periods back helping his own defence.

His pressing from the front encouraged Bayern to push up and support him, while he also helped pressure Pirlo on the few occasions Muller found himself elsewhere. This was a classic ‘defensive’ centre-forward display, and just as Bayern used the ball quickly when they won it, playing through the two wingers, their defensive transitions were also very impressive – they were back into a good shape quickly. For the second ‘first leg’ in a row, Mandzukic’s work to get back and keep Bayern compact was vital.

Juve stabilise the game

Surprisingly, Conte made no substitutions at half-time. However, Juve did have a different approach – they played much more cautiously and sat deeper. Bayern were now enjoying possession in the centre of the pitch (which probably suited them, as they were able to slow the tempo of the game at 1-0 up) but they didn’t have the same threat with Ribery and Robben running at an exposed defence.

Now, Bayern threatened from shots from distance – with Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio sitting deeper, Pirlo started to press higher up, which conceded space in a central zone front of the defence. This was one area where Muller didn’t exploit the situation as well as Kroos may have – although he did score the second goal, just when you thought Juve were settling for a 1-0 defeat.

Juve subs

Then Conte swapped both his forwards, with Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic both on upfront. Immediately they looked more promising – the movement from both was better, with Giovinco dropping off the front and giving more ‘depth’ to the attacks.

Juve seemed to hold onto the ball better, and now Stephane Lichtsteiner became a threat down the right – he moved forward to cut the ball back for a Vidal chance, then charged into the box and was harshly booked for an apparent dive. Later, Conte removed Federico Peluso to bring on Pogba, with Marchisio going left-ish – but Juve threatened little, and this was a comfortable Bayern win, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Gustavo controlling the game excellently from the middle.


It’s important to remember that this match was only 0-0 for around 30 seconds – Alaba’s freak early goal put Bayern in control from the outset.

Still, Bayern’s performance was extremely impressive. For all their quality on the ball (their dominance of possession is now expected) it was the unfashionable things they did well here, particularly without the ball. They occupied Pirlo – “I am the first to say I’m not satisfied with my performance, as I made many mistakes in such an important match and it’s disappointing,” he said. He finished with his lowest pass completion rate in a Juve shirt.

They also pressed Juve’s defence. “Bayern kept the tempo very high and we struggled to emerge with the ball,” admitted Chiellini. And, most crucially, Mandzukic led the line, led the pressing and provided a great target for long balls – against three of Europe’s best centre-backs, he emerged victorious.

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