Barring a tweak in midfield, Bayern’s return leg against Real Madrid felt like a repeat of the first. The Bavarians dominated the game thoroughly, but failed to capitalise and paid the price.
Words cannot ascertain or do justice to just how this elimination feels. In the three seasons that Pep Guardiola took charge of Bayern, the team failed to reach the final as many times. The first, in 2013-14 against Real Madrid, felt the worst. Bayern fans felt like their team could get past Real Madrid with relative ease to book the ticket to Lisbon. Instead, we got treated to a 0:5 aggregate defeat. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the disappointment was far from being as bad.
This, however, feels like 2012 all over again. It’s even worse.
The tactical matter
As I said, Bayern dominated the tie across both legs. We can easily verify this by means of statistics. Yesterday, Bayern made a total of 20 attempts at goal. Eight of those were on target. By comparison, Real Madrid could only muster nine. Where Bayern made 12 clearances, Real Madrid were forced into 27.
These are numbers far away from the tightness and difficulty that a Champions League semifinal implies. The wording is simple: Bayern overran Real Madrid and they did it with relative ease. We, therefore, find ourselves with the paradox of complete dominance and an adverse aggregate scoreline.
The explanation for this paradox lies not in tactics. It lies in profligacy. It lies in Bayern’s chronic failure to translate chances into goals and give Keylor Navas a harder night’s work. This only adds insult to injury. It’s one thing to lose a game where you were dominated and failed to create chances. But to know that Bayern had forced Real Madrid to their knees and failed to finish them off is excruciating.
As such, this tactical analysis is dedicated to pointing out that Jupp Heynckes did exactly what the occasion called for, as he did in München. Last minute team news meant that Corentin Tolisso made the Startelf in lieu of Javi Martínez. Far from looking like a last-minute contingency, it appeared as if Heynckes had indeed planned for this.
Tolisso assembled a sort of double-six with Thiago Alcântara. Both players being naturally offensive, it was important that they made a point of trailing back and shielding the defence as needed. Indeed, Thiago produced a masterful display in this capacity. He produced four interceptions, two of which came inside Bayern’s box. In Javi’s absence, Thiago soared to the occasion with a display worthy of a Champions League semifinal.
By contrast, Tolisso enjoyed more freedom going upfield. In the first half, he provided some incisive passing through Madrid’s lines. However, this changed after the break. His short pass, that resulted in Sven Ulreich’s howler for Madrid’s second, seemed to have an adverse effect. Tolisso could no longer deliver stabbing passes. Rather, he became a chronic short passer, dividing the ball almost invariably.
Still, the presence of both Tolisso and Thiago allowed James Rodríguez to produce a scintillating display. The Colombian was everywhere. He ran back to help Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle in the build-up. He flanked to both wings to further stretch Madrid’s defence. The man even found time to score a goal.
A picture of power
What normally goes on in these tactical analyses is that I select stills from the game to illustrate the movements that help identify a tactical scheme. This proves to be moot for this game because of two reasons. First, the fact that it is wildly similar to the first leg, except for the midfield tweak that I mentioned in the above section. Second, because Real Madrid were essentially forced to camp their box.
This is all the tactics you need to understand for this game, and indeed for the tie as a whole. Bayern’s overwhelming midfield system, which relied heavily on the left wing, was simply too much for Madrid to handle openly. Die Roten sat comfortably in control of the pitch. This simple heatmap replaces every single possible still I could extract from the game.
There is even more evidence to prove this point. For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo only managed to take one shot on target in the entire tie. Having scored five goals in last season’s meetings, this can be explained in no other way than defensive solidity.
The more dominance, the more frustration
I saw a Twitter user throw the statistic of 39 shots across both legs that Bayern attempted. This person said they had never seen a team concede so many chances and still walk out undefeated. This is by no means attributable to a solid Real Madrid defensive scheme. The burden rests squarely on Bayern, who failed to score. The team, from Jupp Heynckes to James Rodríguez, did everything to make sure Bayern didn’t have to rely on isolated chances. But Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and everyone who took a shot at goal, except Joshua Kimmich, failed to produce.
You can win by playing badly. But you can’t win if you don’t score goals. No amount of tactics can explain the fact that a team plays well, but fails to convert.