This match was a slightly strange one as Bayern Munich got a goal and dominated during the early stages of the game, before Real Madrid made some changes and levelled the score. But as the game started to peter out midway through the second-half, Bayern snatched a deserved late winner. There were 6 main tactical features from this game, all of which are looked at in depth below:
1) Kroos vs Ozil
Both teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, but the key difference were the players employed in the central attacking role of the ‘3’.
Bayern’s central midfield and attacking zones comprised of Luiz Gustavo as the primary holding midfielder, captain Bastian Schweinsteiger as the passing midfield axis (much like what Xavi does for Barcelona), and Toni Kroos playing ahead of these two players.
As for Real, their central midfield looked similar on paper: Sami Khedira provided the hustle and bustle alongside regista Xabi Alonso, while Mesut Ozil was the central playmaker in front of them.
Yet Kroos and Ozil clearly had very contrasting inclinations. Kroos, who is more than capable of playing deeper in midfield beside Gustavo and/or Schweinsteiger, was very willing to drop back into deeper zones to pick up the ball and pass it on. Ozil on the other hand, is very obviously an attack-minded player, and often stayed high up on the field.
The differing roles of Kroos and Ozil – despite theoretically playing in the same position on paper – had a huge effect on the game. Kroos’ dropping back resulted in a 3v2 numerical advantage in central midfield for his team, and Bayern then proceeded to overpower Real in that area for much of the game.
2) Mourinho’s reaction: switching Ozil and Di Maria
Real manager Jose Mourinho didn’t win all his titles by being tactically ignorant, and he quickly realised the problem that his side were facing. In his attempt to stem the Bayern flow of possession in central midfield, he swapped the positions of Ozil and right-winger Angel Di Maria. Out of Real’s 3 attacking players of Ozil, Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria is very much the player with the highest defensive awareness, and without making a substitution, the change was a sensible one.
By the time Mourinho had made this tactical adjustment, Real were already a goal down after Franck Ribery had pounced on a loose ball from a Bayern corner and lashed it home. Ozil and Di Maria stuck to their new positions for the rest of the first-half, and Real were just about able to stop Bayern from adding another goal to their tally.
Come the second-half though, and Mourinho obviously wanted to get back into the game, moving Ozil and Di Maria back to their original positions. It was a gamble that initially paid off, firstly because the Bayern players seemed to relax a little at the beginning of the restart (and Real thus enjoyed more possession), and secondly because Real’s equaliser came from a counterattack where Ozil stayed high up the field during a Bayern free-kick.
3) Heynckes’ substitution: Muller for Schweinsteiger
Real’s goal came during the 53rd minute of play, and Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes made his only substitution of the game 8 minutes later, taking off Schweinsteiger and putting on Thomas Muller. In anycase, this substitution resulted in Kroos dropping back into Schweinsteiger’s deeper midfield position and Muller taking Kroos’ attacking midfield position.
Muller is a much more offensive player than Kroos, and had little desire to track back or drop deep like Kroos did. In other words, Muller’s positioning was similar to that of Ozil’s, and now both teams were numerically matched 2v2 in central midfield: Gustavo and Kroos versus Khedira and Alonso.
Schweinsteiger had only just returned from a lengthy injury lay-off, and though this substitution was possibly due to concerns over his fitness, it also signalled Heynckes’ intent to take a risk and throw caution to the wind in search of a winner.
4) Mourinho’s substitutions
The 2v2 situation in central midfield lasted all but 8 minutes, as Mourinho rang his own changes late in the second-half. Ozil was substituted for Marcelo, who played in a left-ish central midfield role. Real now had 3 central midfielders although Marcelo, who usually plays at left-back, was hardly familiar with his central midfield role.
In the 79th minute, Mourinho removed Di Maria for Esteban Granero – a natural central midfielder – and Marcelo moved into a strange drifting position that was difficult to pin down. Now, Real had 3 true central midfielders in Khedira, Alonso and Granero.
Mourinho’s substitutions showed that he was happy with the away goal and the 1-1 scoreline: by strengthening his central midfield he sought to retain possession, take control and see out the game.
5) Bayern’s wing play
The problem with Mourinho’s substitutions was that it caused plenty of upheaval within Madrid’s line-up. Ozil, Di Maria and Ronaldo all had at least 2 different roles throughout the game, while Marcelo’s exact responsibilities and positions were so varied and ever-changing that it was difficult to keep track of.
This lack of organization encouraged Bayern to push forward, and despite their numerical disadvantage in central midfield, they still managed to grasp possession. In fact, Bayern achieved an impressive 55% ball possession in this game, against a Real side that averages 60% per game.
Still, having possession is of little use unless it’s put to productive means. And Bayern were certainly effective with the ball, seeking out their star players Ribery and Arjen Robben whenever possible. Both were playing as inverted wingers and naturally looked to cut infield a lot, but the key was the overlapping runs from Bayern’s fullbacks that occurred throughout the game.
Bayern skipper Phillip Lahm got forward to support Robben whenever he could, attacking the wide space Robben had vacated from coming infield. Young David Alaba – a central midfielder by training but has found his place at left-back in recent times – wasn’t as gungho as his captain but was still adequately offensive.
The two fullbacks helped create 2v1 situations in the wide areas, as Real’s wide players (Ronaldo Di Maria Ozil) didn’t track back to help out defensively.
Lahm made important attacking contributions: 4 key passes and 5 crosses. 3 of his crosses found a teammate: one was a super ball which should’ve been converted by Mario Gomez, although the same combination did result in an assist for Gomez’s last-gasp goal. That Bayern’s winner came from their wing play was no shock, as the Bavarians had outnumbered and exploited Real’s wide areas for the whole game.
6) Real’s broken team
One reason for Real’s blunt attack in this game was their lack of possession which has already been analysed above, but another factor that aggravated their inability to create clear-cut chances was the absence of any players to connect midfield and attack.
This might not be a problem when facing weaker opposition (and Real have had a relatively easy route to the Champions League semi-final thus far), but this was a real pressing issue in this match against Bayern. Real’s 4 attacking players didn’t track back, their midfielders stuck to their deeper central positions, and their fullbacks didn’t advance forward at all.
As such, there were massive gaps between midfield and attack, massive gaps that Bayern effectively filled and used to their advantage (like in central midfield). Even when the ball did get to one of Ozil, Di Maria, Ronaldo or striker Karim Benzema, there wasn’t enough support from their other teammates. A player like Milan’s Kevin Prince-Boateng would’ve been greatly useful for Real in this game, a mobile hardworking midfielder who links the midfield and attack.
Real looked disorganised and without the necessary link players, they didn’t play as a cohesive unit – surely a requirement for all Champions League hopefuls. Out of all the features of this game, the fact that a Mourinho team looked insecure and unsure of it’s individual responsibilities was the most surprising one. It is a feature that Mourinho will definitely address come the second leg of this tie.
Heynckes can consider this a tactical triumph after responding to how his own Bayern team looked like a broken team during their title-decider against Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago, and lost that match. Kroos’ role was very much significant in this game, especially so when compared to Ozil’s.
Mourinho definitely understood what was happening in the game, as shown from his substitutions. His Real team looked all out of sorts – Opta stated that this was the first time Real had conceded from a corner in the Champions League this season – but at least he returns to Madrid with a precious away goal. If there’s one thing that Mourinho has proven himself to be over the years, is that he’s a winner, and a winner who learns from his mistakes.