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Feb 2012

CSKA, 1-Real Madrid, 1
A tie with a last minute surprise at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where Real Madrid saw their opponents equalise in the last minute from one of the few chances for Leonid Slutsky’s squad. This goal means that the Madrid side will have to finish off the tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Russians played with a 1-4-4-1-1 system dropping off and looking to get numbers in the middle of the pitch. The aim, to stop Real playing, was not always achieved. Real Madrid went with 1-4-2-3-1, with Xabi Alonso deep, Cristiano Ronaldo coming in from the left to cause problems in the middle and at the same time allow Coentrao to get forward. In the first counter attack, almost the first one of the tie, Benzema was injured, an adductor injury after a long ball which meant he had to go off (15 minutes). Higuain came on and Real Madrid played the same way, trying to play simple, always organised and controlling the game from start to finish.

Ronaldo and Callejon swapped wings and shortly after Ronaldo put in a cross as a sign of things to come, making it 0-1 in the 26th minute. Higuain quick to anticipate a defender, then a cross from Coentrao, a mistake clearing the ball and Cristiano finished with his left foot.

The game was fairly balanced, with both teams organised and trying to counter if possible, neither looking comfortable in possession (maybe because of the artificial pitch) and so the first half ended with Real Madrid having a slight advantage.

From the start of the second half, CSKA wanted to press and look to get at the opposition goal. This was better for Madrid: if the Russians were attacking, a decisive goal could come from one of the counter attacks they were having to use. Meanwhile, Cristiano and Callejon continued to swap positions although the Portuguese looked more comfortable on the left. The Portuguese almost finished it off from a ball behind the defence. There was more control of the game in the second half by the Russians, with Seydou Doumbia the only player in the CSKA side to offer anything different but without too much composure, but Real Madrid were still organised, giving nothing away and ready to counter attack to finish it off.

As we said, the match was waiting to surprise us at the end. A free kick for the Russian side, a delivery which was not cleared after a header and Wernbloom beat Casillas ruining his immaculate record in the Champions League. So they start again, and the tie will be settled at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Napoli, 3-Chelsea, 1.

Napoli railroaded through after coming from behind from a goal by Juan Mata in a very open game which was good for the neutral and where Chelsea ended up conceding 3 goals when they lost control of the game.

Napoli started with a classic 1-3-4-3, with their two wide men covering the whole flank, looking to get in the vital spaces and blocking off the English side. Chelsea went with a 1-4-2-3-1 with Bosingwa on the left. He wasn’t long on the pitch. Just after a warning from Edinson Cavani that Petr Cech saved, the Portuguese injured his hamstring which ended his participation. Cole came on just before Cavani had another chance, although this one was offside.

Napoli looked more dangerous as the game went on thanks to their pace and movement of their forwards. However, it was Chelsea who opened the scoring after a mistake by Paolo Cannavaro which Juan Mata punished putting his side in front with an excellent finish (26th minute).

With Mata causing some problems, with Hamsik dropping deeper worried about Cole getting forward and Ivanovic trying to take advantage of their long throws, we were seeing a change in momentum. In the 38th minute Lavezzi equalised with a good shot from outside the box. Just before the break, in time added on, it was 2-1 through a cross behind the defence. Cavani was clinical and changed the scoreline and disheartened Chelsea.

The English side tried to make amends realising what was at stake. David Luiz got forward on more than one occasion. Sturridge tried to make the difference as he has done before, but they were closing him down on his stronger side and Drogba started to threaten. However, in a move where David Luiz failed to clear with conviction, Lavezzi made it 3-1 finishing off the scoring with his second goal.

With the substitutions (Lampard and Essien for Malouda and Meireles), the British side changed to 1-4-3-3 in a desperate attempt to score. Essien, Ramirez and Lampard where in the centre and Mata moved out left but with freedom.
Right to the end the game was open and both teams went from end to end and were too long. There were chances for both sides as the match became frantic but the final result was 3-1.

Olympique Marseille, 1-Inter Milan, 0.

Another late goal gave Olympique Marseille a win in a game which won’t be remembered for its football but was interesting and captivating right to the end. The goal by the older Ayew brother finished the game off.

Olympique were organised in a 1-4-2-3-1 system which was what they have recently been using. They had more possession than Inter but did not control the match even though they spent a lot of time in the opposition half. They tried to build their play with triangles and some mobility, trying to penetrate in the wide areas, more on the right than the left with Amalfitano and Azpilicueta’s overlaps. They looked to play between the lines with Valbuena, Amalfitano and Andre Ayew and in general maintained a good defence-attack balance. In the second half the French side had more intensity in attack and better support arriving from deep, which gave a sense of a threat form rebounds, especially with the second balls after set plays. An example was the Andre Ayew goal in the 92nd minute. Generally, in summary, they tried to build play well but lacked precision in the final pass against the opposition.

Meanwhile, Inter started with a 1-4-3-1-2 to allow Sneijder some freedom. They were more comfortable dropped off, giving them more space to be able to launch their counter attacks taking advantage of Forlan’s mobility and Sneijder’s support. They were some threat at set plays. As the game went on, they defended deeper and had problems defending set pieces as they found for the goal they conceded.

Basel, 1-Bayern Munich, 0.
Although Bayern Munich were stronger on paper and this should have been reflected on the pitch and on the scoreboard, it did not turn out that way and we were able to enjoy a match which was tactically interesting. The state of the pitch didn’t help either team but you could see that both of them knew what they were trying to do.

Bayern, who started with 1-4-2-3-1 system, had the possession. But that was partly because Basel, with a compact 1-4-4-2, were comfortable with their game plan to let them. Dropped off to the edge of their box they were ready to counter attack when they could, doing it well without rushing. When they had possession, they used passing triangles well like they did for Frei’s shot that hit the bar. They had their chances, and marked and defended well. An evident tactic was to defend with the wide midfield players helping the full backs against Robben and Ribery. Knowing how dangerous these players are, there were always two players for them to beat and this made it difficult for Bayern’s wide men to penetrate.

As for the Bavarian team they did what they had to. Switch of play, overlaps in the wide areas, shots from distance, penetrating passes to create a couple of clear chances…In summary, they looked for different ways to penetrate an organised defence the only problem was they were too open at the back which allowed the Swiss to be dangerous in their attacks.

In the second half, Bayern came out with more determination to get a good result, but the home side continued to defend with order and ready to counter. They don’t look a bad team. As we said, they have clear ideas and a good team work rate. Having said that, you could see their vulnerability when you get in to space behind them which was when the Germans could use their pace and the movement of their forwards.

The goal by Stocker in the 85th minute from a pass by the other substitute in the game, Zoua, gives us a very interesting return leg in Munich and at the same time a bit of a problem for the home team. Because if Basel did anything well it was to defend with intensity and order. In Germany they will not come out as much on the counter attack and it will be more difficult to surprise them. Anyway, as we said, the German players try to penetrate with ability all the time and, if they do not get too anxious, this will be one of the key features in the return.