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Apr 2012

We have had the first installment of the series of the four matches which make up the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League and which will decide the two teams that will contest the final in May, and last night the first of them was held in the same stadium where the final of the most prestigious tournament will take place.

At this stage of the competition you can guarantee intense, close matches with passion and high work rate, and at worst there are no holds barred from beginning to end. And last night’s match lived up to expectations. We will analyse it to see if we can pick out the key issues and developments that the game produced from start to finish.

Bayern Munich 2 - Real Madrid 1

The first thing we should say is that from the start both teams went with a 1-4-2-3-1 system. Bayern had Bastian Schweinsteiger as one of the midfielders, on the left alongside Luiz Gustavo and with Toni Kroos higher. Real Madrid made changes from their previous games, with Angel Di Maria on the right and Fabio Coentrao coming in as full back.

The Munich side didn’t move the ball quickly from the back at the start and the Madrid side were dropped in their own half and not pressing with a lot of intensity. Neither of them wanted to make mistakes, both knowing that the other team are dangerous on the counter attack, both have strength in attack and they didn’t want to lose the ball and be punished for it.

Nevertheless, the German players had to attack at home and you could see the danger created by Real Madrid’s counter attacks when after 6 minutes, Bayern lost possession in midfield and allowed a penetrating pass between the centre backs for Karim Benzema to put his shot straight at Manuel Neuer. In the next few minutes, there was another run by Benzema between the centre backs and a couple of corners for the team in white.

Real Madrid’s strategy on the pitch was clear. Regain quickly and play behind the centre backs. Though when they played out from the back, the light pressure by Mario Gomez or Toni Kroos on Xabi Alonso forced the centre backs to come out with the ball and almost always play long for Cristiano Ronaldo or Di Maria or behind the defenders looking for Benzema.

On a quarter of an hour, Bayern had a penalty claim for a foul on Ribery. Although Sergio Ramos had a slight hold of Ribery’s shirt, there was very little contact to stop him and that may have been the reason it went unpunished.

The first goal of the game came after 16 minutes from a second ball at a corner. Frank Ribery, thanks to a static Di Maria, latched on to a second ball and put it in the net with Luiz Gustavo in an offside position, but due to the speed of the action it is debatable whether he influenced the situation.

Real Madrid could not pick out Alonso and their game became mainly long balls from the back, usually from Pepe, but they created very few opportunities in the opposition goalmouth.

Bayern though were once or twice able to get Philipp Lahm and the more reserved David Alaba forward, though the latter took over half an hour to get forward for the first time as he was more worried about defending against Di Maria than attacking.

At this point, Mourinho moved Ozil to the right with Di Maria central, but this had little effect on Madrid’s attack although it did allow the opposition full back, Alaba to go forward a bit more which in turn gave Benzema the opportunity to run more often behind Bayern’s left back.

In the first half, there was little else of note. Maybe a counter attack and shot against the bar by Mario Gomez, but generally, Bayern went in clearly happy with the score at 1-0.

No change

After the break, there were no changes to the teams but there was a variation. Di Maria came back over to the right and Real Madrid played more diagonal and straight balls behind the German defence.

On 47 minutes, there was a move that often occurs with Real Madrid. A free kick in midfield and a player takes it quickly to play long behind the defence and mount a surprise counter attack.

After 51 minutes there was another attack with Lahm committing defenders which allowed Robben to go inside and shoot. Just a minute later, Real Madrid took advantage of a regain on the edge of their box and mounted a counter attack which ended with an equaliser from Ozil after a good piece of play from first Ronaldo and then Benzema. At 1-1, the tie had swung in the away team’s favour.

From then on the game continued in a similar vein with Bayern trying to get the second goal.

There was a strange incident in this period when there were 2 yellow cards shown for consecutive fouls in the same move by Alonso and Coentrao after the referee had played the advantage.

Jupp Heynckes substituted Bastian Schweinsteiger and brought on Thomas Muller who took up his usual position behind Mario Gomez while Kroos dropped more alongside Luiz Gustavo in midfield.

At this juncture, the home team’s threat was coming from Lahm’s attacks and the away team’s was coming from their quick counter attacks or long balls, but neither of them were dominant.

Having said that, Real Madrid started to try to control the time left. Marcelo came on for Ozil and went in to midfield on the left to help Coentrao on that side.

Bayern pressed more and were a bit of a threat from set plays with a good chance after a second ball from a wide free kick that Mario Gomez put over.

In the 71st minute there were some statistics which confirmed how close it was: passes for Bayern 292 and 295 for Madrid with exactly the same success rate, 72%.

Next, Ronaldo moved over to the right and later Granero came on for Di Maria and went to play in front of the midfielders to defend this area better.

Alaba got forward for the first time on 80 minutes. Ribery had a chance on 81 minutes and instead of shooting was unselfish and passed back for a defender to cut it out.

As for Real Madrid they continued to play as they had, counter attacking when they could, but actually they were not too much of a threat.

Higuain came on for Benzema but it changed nothing. Lahm was still getting forward and crossed for Mario Gomez to head which was a warning of what was to shortly come.

After 86 minutes, Bayern had another penalty claim for a foul on Mario Gomez by Coentrao although Sergio Ramos had already cleared the ball. Why can’t the 5th or 6th assistant referee be on this side of the goal to get a different view to the linesman or referee?

And to make the return leg more exciting, in the last minute of regular time, Lahm got in again on the right and crossed once again for Mario Gomez to finish. The difference on this occasion was that he scored to make it 2-1 which gives Bayern a slight advantage in the return in the Santiago Bernabeu.

The match ended with Marcelo lucky to receive a yellow for a foul on Muller when he had no chance of getting the ball. The match was getting heated and it was lucky it was near the end.

From what we have seen, it’s clear that we are going to have another interesting game in Madrid.