In what should have been another chapter in the story between two tactically brilliant coaches with a long history, Bayern Munich met Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in what was actually a display of sheer dominance from the European champions. Manchester City displayed some very serious issues in maintaining control of the center of the pitch; issues that the Bayern machine mercilessly exploited.
The Manchester City Setup
Manchester City walked into today’s match with what was a decidedly odd tactical setup. While many outlets called it a 4-2-3-1, it was more akin to an empty bucket 4-4-2 as Sergio Aguero pushed up and played as striker alongside Edin Dzeko. In response, Samir Nasri tucked more centrally into midfield attempting to fill the void in space left by Aguero’s absence.
Unfortunately for City, Nasri was completely ill suited to this work as fast rapid passing of Bayern Munich frequently left Nasri stranded between positions covering what amounted to empty space as Phillip Lahm ruled the midfield and Rafinha ruled the right wing.
In addition, the lack of central midfielders left Bayern with a man advantage in the center as Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Kroos matched up against Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. This mismatch along with the hyper-aggressive press from Bayern throughout the match took the entire center of the Manchester City midfield out of the game and let Bayern impose their will on the entire night’s proceedings.
The City Adaptation
As the second half began, in an attempt to match up against Bayern’s superior positioning and press, Aguero began to drop deeper and Nasri stayed left. While it did nothing to reduce the Bayern dominance through the midfield, it did stifle their advances down the right wing. From that position, it allowed Manchester City to maintain some defensive control of the match. While it did nothing to prevent the brilliance of Thomas Muller in scoring the second of the Bayern’s three goals, it did lead to a reduction in high quality chances from Bayern and a match more shifted towards the midfield. While the shift did stifle wing play, Aguero’s half-hearted attempts at marking Lahm generally did nothing to address Bayern’s man advantage in midfield.
With the substitution of Alvaro Negredo for the nearly invisible Edin Dzeko, City transitioned from a two man press to a very high single man press. The whole intent was to force Bayern into deeper, less advantageous positions. However, City’s continued inability to mark or address the man-advantage in midfield beyond the occasional attempt from Aguero, just lead to Bayern dropping deeper and springing out on rapid counterattack forays forward. It was one of these that directly produced Bayern’s third goal.
Ultimately, Pellegrini had to address the problem in his team (i.e. Sergio Aguero) by substituting David Silva for the Argentine. The Spanish international proved to be the catalyst the hosts needed as they dragged themselves into the match with Alvaro Negredo’s goal. The change from the second striker role of Aguero to that of a classic #10 in Silva saw Bayern’s man advantage disappear in midfield, allowing City to finally bring Yaya Toure into the match. City by this time were unfortunately down by three goals and dealing with a Bayern squad that was still threaten to run the score up into the stratosphere – even after being reduced to 10 men.
The Bayern Formation
Guardiola played this entire match with Thomas Müller taking the spot of Mario Mandzukic in the front line which was a move so inspired it left the City defense with no idea who to cover. No single player in the Bayern team had what could even be considered a defined position in attack as they constantly shifted, rearranged and moved. While in games past there has been a definite limit to how high and inside the midfield pushed with the stationary Mandzukic as a striker, the seemingly spastic, for lack of a better term, movement from Thomas Muller gave Bayern the ability to interchange at will between any two positions on the pitch, with the sole exceptions being both centerbacks. The constant shifting and overlapping lead to zonal overloads that we are seeing with ever increasing frequency and that are ever more frequently putting Bayern players in very dangerous attacking positions.