Tactical analysis: Bayern reverts to useless possession play again

Only Arturo Vidal and Franck Ribéry managed to break the tight Benfica scheme throughout the entire first leg of Bayern’s quarter-final tie against Benfica. The team struggled to read the game properly.

Bayern lined up a very familiar startelf, which could be said to be a 4-1-4-1 of sorts.

To be fair, I do think that Pep Guardiola’s initial scheme was well-thought and suited to do two things. The first was add a bit more speed to the buildup.

Arturo Vidal was tasked with a box-to-box role that would pre-emptively nullify the sort of pressure Benfica might have put on Xabi Alonso. Secondly, Guardiola wanted an aggressive approach to disarming incoming attacks from Benfica. Again, Vidal was his man for that.

I will also make a point of defending Juan Bernat. Many a Bayern fan has relentlessly hammered the young Spaniard because of his less-than-satisfactory performance. As they have it, Bernat is insecure defensively and rarely makes good choices when overlapping in attack. Although it is true that he has not had an exceptional season, and is looking less and less able to hold his own at Bayern, that criticism is absolutely unwarranted after this game.

Bernat provided the assist for Vidal’s goal, and although he is not nearly as good an attacking partner for Franck Ribéry as David Alaba is on his best day, he was not bad at all. In fact, he constantly tried to find the Frenchman. Bernat-to-Ribéry was the highest passing combination of the game, with 28 successful passes. As for his defensive performance, I can only recall one really heinous mistake in an aerial ball, which did cost a chance for Benfica.

Other than that?


Yeah, shut up. He was actually quite good. It is really easy to hammer a player when you are already biased and all you can see is their mistakes. It takes real objectivity and football knowledge to recognise when your least favourite player puts in a decent display. If we did not pour down too hard on Joshua Kimmich after two of his mistakes allowed Juventus to equalise in Turin, it simply is not coherent to hammer Bernat like some Bayern folk has after this game.

Selective complaining. Gotta love it.

Anyways. Rant over. On to tactics.

First half: Yes, this works!

Bayern Central has insisted for quite some time now that the whole of Europe has played around with the antidote to Guardiola’s total control system for ages. Tiki-taka is not necessarily a thing of the past, but the blend that Guardiola had Barcelona play in his tenure is not as overwhelming anymore.

This is why it was nice to see Bayern play something a little more dynamic.


As you can see here, Vidal is trailing ahead of Thiago, looking to provide a passing option and add numbers to the attack. This is good.


About 50 seconds later, Benfica have gotten possession and are using the wing to attack. Vidal has trailed back some 70 metres and is in the middle of both centre-backs. Surely enough, Benfica try a cross and it is King Arturo who clears it.


A few touches directed upfield later, Ribéry is in possession in the attacking third. Notice how only himself and Robert Lewandowski are in the frame.


Not ten seconds later, four more players, namely Bernat, Thiago Alcântara, Thomas Müller and Douglas Costa, have joined the attacking effort. None of them are going to be relevant to it.


Sure enough, it is Vidal himself who ran all the way upfield to finish the play he had started by regaining possession for Bayern. This was the sort of dynamic football that Bayern are precise enough to employ at speed and dazzle the opposition. It is no coincidence that such a play ended up in a goal. By the time Vidal headed the ball, not nearly enough Benfica players had returned to defend the entire thing.

These dumbfounding two minutes are the summation of much of what Bayern attempted in the first half. Benfica were so stunned by conceding this early that they simply reverted to almost parking the bus. This made it that much more difficult for Bayern to find the sort of spaces they did in that play.

Second half: No, don’t do that!

With Benfica halfway between defending the result and attempting to get an away goal, Bayern saw themselves more threatened than they did in the first half. This caused them to revert to Guardiola’s possession dominance.

You know what happened next. Benfica attempted to press forward slightly more, and attempt counterattacks. Those were not as fast as Juventus’ were, but still enough to trouble die Roten.


Benfica changed their 4-4-2 for a substantially more aggressive three-man forward pressing line that sat ahead of three midfield men and the back four. If Bayern managed to overcome the pressure, the 4-4-2 came back.


The tactical panorama was looking more and more grim for Bayern, who now struggled to find spaces. They created that for themselves. By counterattacking, Benfica made themselves vulnerable to the sort of quick play that paid off with a goal in the first half, and Bayern neglected to repeat that sort of approach. This took all the bite from Bayern’s attacking motions.


They did manage to break the deadlock at times, but failed to make the right decisions. Here, Lewandowski has broken free. Kingsley Coman is incoming at speed, and a low cross could have left the young Frenchman one-on-one. Lewandowski opted to continue the run and cut inwardly. By this time, three quarters of Benfica had crowded the box.


Bayern stubbornly reverted to a somewhat obsolete style of play that no longer works against top-notch opposition. It happened against Frankfurt and it happened against Benfica in this game. The silver lining is that this team does know how to play quickly and dynamically, and when they do it, they are damn near unstoppable.

Surely someone has to see it.

[su_label] Post editor: Michel[/su_label]