Tactical Analysis: Bayern Munich lose to Real Madrid as Los Blancos control the pitch and deny them space

Martin Rose

Bayern Munich had real struggles trying to build coherent attacks at the Santiago Bernabeu and most of the issue was the lack of presence in central midfield.

For the first 15 minutes of Bayern Munich's 1-0 loss to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, it looked like the Bayern Munich of old were back. Their 4-2-3-1 formation was dynamic as Bastian Schweinsteiger drove the Bayern Munich offense forward with great wing play from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. At one point Bayern Munich had nearly 90% possession to start the match while Madrid looked clueless.

But that early dominance was less a product of their dynamism, and more an artifact of the bad setup Carlo Ancelotti used to start the match. Using a standard 4-4-2, Cristiano Ronaldo was very ineffective tucked in centrally. His pressing duties caused him to be continually stuck in transition positions. While the intent was to free Ronaldo to find free space to work his magic and use Isco and Di Maria on the flanks, it didn't work as Bayern Munich controlled the center of the pitch with Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos. This central dominance gave Rafinha and David Alaba free license to push forward helping to drive the Bayern Munich attack forward.

But as the match wore on Ronaldo drifted farthere toward Bayern Munich's right side, specifically looking to target the space vacated by Rafinha. And with one well struck ball and a brilliant run from Coentrao, Ronaldo made Bayern Munich pay for their fullbacks being too aggressive. Karim Benzema's tap in at the back post for Real Madrid was the first nail in Bayern Munich's coffin in this match and the end of their dynamism.

With a goal advantage, Carlo Ancelotti dropped his midfield into a modified 3 man midfield using Isco and Di Maria on the outside wings. With the intense numbers in midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger was cut off from joining in attack. This left Mario Mandzukic isolated and alone against both Real Madrid centerbacks. If furthermore gave Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben limited options in penetrating the Real Madrid defense. Forcing them wide to combine with the fullbacks, or attempt to beat Real Madrid with individual skill, played into Real Madrid's gameplan further. While Franck Ribery's form and the complete absence of an first touch ability exacerbated the issue, eventually Bayern Munich were left with few actual options in attempting to break down the Real Madrid defense.

Without a central attacking midfielder to mark, Luka Modric was freed from any defensive responsibility which gave him free license to be the creative genius he is in transition play. He obliged by turning Ronaldo and especially Di Maria into nightmares for the Bayern Munich defense.

It was a problem Bayern Munich had no solution for with their lineup. Without a true CAM, or the ability to drive through the center, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben ended up sliding centrally for each other in an attempt to provide outlets for each other. As we've seen in many other matches, this allows the oppositions to compact defensively and eliminate their width. This makes their defenses that much more potent and hard to break down. With the isolation Mandzukic experienced he began to drift all over the park in an attempt to open channels for Ribery and Robben, or in vain attempts to get involved. The ability of the Real Madrid fullbacks to contain both Ribery and Robben from getting around them, left Pepe and Ramos with no incentive to chase Mandzukic, preferring to protect Iker Casillas' goal.

The Javi Martinez substitution for Rafinha was an intriguing move designed to free up both Schweinsteiger and Kroos in the middle to have creative license to roam, and while that move worked conceptually, the lack of any continued attacking presence centrally, left them with the same set of problems. This move also came with a decreased reliance on possession as Bayern Munich looked to stretch the field.

It wasn't until the introduction of Thomas Müller and Mario Götze that Bayern Munich were able to gain a foothold in the match. With Müller and Götze, Bayern Munich were finally able to use effective interchanges with Mandzukic to open up the Real Madrid defense by dragging the centerbacks and holding midfield around like toys. Thomas Müller was able to find space from which to combine with a newly resurgent Arjen Robben and Mario Götze. Only an unlucky slip from Müller and a poorly placed, but otherwise fantastic, rocket  from Götze brought Bayern Munich within a hair's breadth of tying the game.

The frustrating thing is that none of these issues are new. Bayern Munich has struggled to maintain width and effectively use a CAM since Thiago went down injured. Bayern Munich has struggled all season to contain counterattacks. Bayern Munich has struggled all season against sides with good transition games. However, all these issues manifested themselves very clearly as Carlo Ancelotti read the Bayern Munich playbook and followed it to a the letter of the law. Ultimately, a 1-0 loss at the Bernabeu is an acceptable result given the quality of this Real Madrid side. Next week's tie back home at the Allianz Arena is going to be Pep Guardiola's biggest tactical battle of the season. Let's hope he plays his cards right, because tonight he played almost every card wrong.

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