Two historical giants of Europe came into this game on the back of very contrasting domestic success: Real Madrid had earned a pivotal victory over arch-rivals Barcelona over the weekend and virtually secured La Liga, while Bayern Munich were less fortunate as Borussia Dortmund had officially defended their Bundesliga title and had been crowned German champions.
In spite of Real’s first-leg loss to Bayern, it was difficult to overlook the Spanish team as favourites after their respective domestic form, especially considering what a huge psychological and morale-boosting win Real had just posted.
The line-ups were very straightforward: Real manager Jose Mourinho made just one change as Marcelo was preferred over Fabio Coentrao at left-back – perhaps a signal of attacking intent or maybe a response to Coentrao’s mistake which led to Bayern’s last minute winner in the first-leg. Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes stuck to the same line-up as before, with Toni Kroos continuing to be chosen ahead of Germany’s World Cup 2010 star Thomas Muller. Both sides played with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation as well.
The first-half of the match started at a frantic pace before petering out to a boring conclusion after 120 minutes. Neither team seemed willing or capable of taking offensive risks to avoid the drama of a penalty shoot-out, and without much tactical appeal, here are 6 points from the game.
1) Real’s team no longer broken
One of the biggest problems Real had in their first-leg loss to Bayern was the lack of link players between midfield and attack. Real’s front 4 attacking players (Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema) had been too high up the pitch and too far away from their midfielders Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. In Munich, neither Alonso nor Khedira looked to depart their deep midfield positions, and Real’s fullbacks Alvaro Arbeloa and Coentrao didn’t support the attack either. This not only resulted in a lack of possession and control on Real’s side, but caused Real to be supremely disjointed in both attack and defence.
In this match however, that wasn’t the case at all in the first-half. Marcelo, a much more attack-minded fullback than Coentrao, supported Ronaldo at every opportunity and bombed forward into midfield and beyond like he usually does. Alonso and Khedira also advanced much more often. Thus, Real had a much stronger link between attack and midfield mainly through these 3 players.
2) Open first-half
As a result of Alonso’s and Khedira’s more adventurous approach, Bayern were afforded a lot more space in central midfield to counterattack. This was something that suited Bayern considering how they play with inverted wingers in the form of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, two wide men who automatically look to cut inside into central midfield. Just like in the first-leg, Kroos did an excellent job as Bayern’s key link player: dropping deeper into midfield when defending and supporting in attack when needed.
One of the biggest traits of Real’s play this season has been their sharp and lightning quick counterattacks, and when Bayern lost the ball, Real themselves could counterattack. Essentially, the first-half became a frenzy game of counter-counterattacks as both teams lost their midfield discipline and attacked in numbers with little worry for their defence.
This was evident from Real’s and Ronaldo’s second goal, when Ozil drew the attention of Bayern’s central defender Holger Badstuber, Benzema made a clever run to take Bayern’s other central defender Jerome Boateng away. A gap suddenly opened up for Ronaldo in between Boateng and the isolated right-back Phillip Lahm, and all because Bayern’s out-of-shape midfield had not tracked Ozil properly.
3) Conservative second-half (and extra-time)
If the first-half was a whirlwind 45 minutes which promised an exciting spectacle for the rest of the game, the remaining 75 minutes were a massive let-down as both teams became tense and adopted defense-first tactics.
In response to that frantic first-half, both managers understandably sought to control the game and play almost exclusively on the break. After all, the teams were tied on aggregate score and away goals as well, and neither side was brave enough to make the first move.
4) Bayern’s lack of wing play
Bayern’s biggest goalscoring chances against Real in the first-leg came via the wings with fullbacks Lahm and David Alaba pushing forward to create 2v1 situations against Real’s own fullbacks. However, due to a combination of factors, Heynckes’ wide men didn’t have much of an impact in the second-leg. Bayern’s number one priority in the second-half was not to concede anymore goals, and thus Lahm and Alaba didn’t support their wingers Robben and Ribery.
Lahm attempted just 2 crosses, only 1 of which was successful, while Alaba tried 5 crosses – most of which came in the first-half – and was accurate with only 1 of them.
Robben and Ribery themselves only attempted just 1 cross each – both unsuccessful – but more significantly, the two wingers often lost possession when they had the ball. Robben and Ribery were dispossessed twice and 4 times and committed 4 and 3 turnovers respectively.
Ribery put in a particularly poor performance with only one successful dribble, and though Robben got his name on the goalscoring list, he made some poor decisions such as failing to pass to his striker Mario Gomez – who was unmarked in an outstanding central position – in the 67th minute, instead choosing to take on the goal himself and promptly losing the ball.
In fact, most of the width came from Kroos – another indication of how well he played – playing 4 accurate crosses from 9 attempts. It was his cross that led to his striker Mario Gomez winning Bayern’s penalty, although some of Kroos’ crosses did come from free-kicks in wide positions.
5) Gomez’s surprising mobility upfront
Bayern’s sole striker Gomez had been compared to his opposite striker Real’s Benzema after the first-leg, because while Real’s French striker has developed into a hardworking player who works the channels and the flanks, Gomez was accused of being simply a targetman/poacher. To be fair, only Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have scored more goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues than Gomez has this season, so to criticise the German after such a great return of goals seems a tad unjustified.
In anycase, Gomez was unexpectedly mobile in this game. He looked to drop deep into midfield to contribute in the build-up play, something that he doesn’t do very often in other matches. Gomez also created a chance for himself in the 33rd minute by making a clever run down the right which he fired straight at Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas after Kroos had spotted his run.
Strangely, while Gomez was far from his statuesque self, his goalscoring instincts seemed to abandon him in this game. Though he did win the penalty for Bayern’s crucial away goal, he really should’ve scored from the chance he created mentioned above, and also glanced a few headers wide when more clinical finishes would’ve probably at least tested Casillas. His poor control also let him down in the 85th minute when Robben finally did give him the ball; on hindsight Gomez should’ve tried to hit the ball first-time.
6) The game of penalties
Two superb goalkeepers showed their class in this penalty shoot-out, as both Casillas and Manuel Neur – who had cost Bayern 25 million Euros – made fantastic saves from the spot. Ronaldo was the Real player who was most expected to tuck away his penalty with consummate ease but couldn’t convert it while his teammate defender Sergio Ramos was guilty of a horrific penalty miss that was worse than Charlie Adam’s at the Carling Cup final.
Mourinho, the master of preparation and whom Andre Villas-Boas famously learned the importance of detail under, looked shockingly helpless on the sidelines during the shoot-out. It does make one wonder whether or not Mourinho had his team practice penalties before the game; and if they didn’t, then the question of why Real didn’t seek to win the game in normal or even extra-time should be asked.
Mourinho’s quest to be the first manager to win the European Cup 3 times with 3 different teams ended with Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger calmly slotting the ball past Casillas. This was supposed to be Real’s season, after triumphing in the league against Barcelona and after Barcelona themselves had crashed out of the competition. It’s pretty repetitive, but the losing side of this penalty shoot-out will be asked why they didn’t try to earn victory in normal and/or extra-time, especially when one considers how both teams were extremely cagey in the second-half.
The good news for Real fans is that it’s now difficult to see Mourinho leaving Real in the summer after being dumped out the Champions League in this manner, he will surely want to make European history with Real: the next Champions League title Real wins will be their magical 10th.
Heynckes will thank his lucky stars after this game: a penalty shoot-out is far from a lottery as some claim, but the manager is instantly taken out of the equation in these dramatic circumstances. Heynckes could’ve impacted the game before the shoot-out by taking more chances in attack but didn’t, and the shoot-out swung in his favour. He can now look forward to facing fellow odds-upsetter Chelsea in the final with the additional advantage of home comfort: the final is going to be played in Bayern’s own stadium the Allianz Arena.