For a Bayern Munich side that's accustomed to leaving arenas with their heads held high and brandishing their opponents head on pikes after a 5-0 shelling, Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford was probably a frustrating experience for the world champions.
It's even doubly more so, considering that Manchester United's form this season, given their overall talent, has waffled between pitiful and hot garbage. However, in yesterday's game, David Moyes side displayed excellent courage under fire, sticking to their tactical gameplan and using Bayern Munich's weaknesses against themselves.
Bayern Munich's lack of width
Much of the first half of the clash was all Bayern Munich. It was defined by their possession and amazing ability at winning the ball immediately when it was turned over. Despite the clear superiority, it was actually the hosts who had the better chances for the entirety of the first half as they shut down Bayern Munich's movement in the final third and launched long balls that forced the defense in dangerous 1v1 situation with the speedy Danny Welbeck.
Bayern Munich, utilizing both Franck RIbery and Arjen Robben, on the wings have the potential to be extremely dangerous (see 2012/2013 treble). However, for much of the first half, both of them spent far too much time drifting inside far up the field. While a hallmark of Guardiola's reign has using massive zonal overloads to great effect, the presence of all these players pinched in and narrrow left Bayern Munich outmanned in attack against the midfield trio of Manchester United with few effective outlets other then the deep midfield trio of Kroos, Lahm, and Schweinsteiger.
That holding midfield trio was mostly left to their own devices as they dictated possession around the park. While they were absolutely stellar in that role, all three of them displayed an unwillingness/inability to move into the attacking midfield. This left a large hole that was usually filled by either of Ribery or Robben cutting into the center. In many ways, it was a self-fulfilling cycle of possession that Bayern Munich got caught in.
Manchester United defends through the center with an aggressive, yet simultaneously conservative, press
Unfortunately, this played directly into the hands of David Moyes' side who spent much of the first half with a defensive positioning using a bank of five stacked on a bank of four as they continually brought two of their attack midfielders back into defense. With one flank completely abandoned in every attack by Bayern Munich though, the Manchester United defense were free to remain compact through the middle with far superior numbers. This allowed them to press high and challenge the Bayern Munich centerbacks, often using three (or occasionally a four) man press. However, the main feature of their press and defense was that the second possession landed at the feet of Toni Kroos, Lahm, or Schweinsteiger anywhere but deep in Bayern's half, Manchester United immediately backed off and solidified their numerical advantage in midfield rather then committing to continuing the press.
When Bayern Munich were able to successfully use width to their advantage this central midfield superiority often cracked and Bayern Munich found them self in extremely dangerous positions. But often they played narrow football, which played directly into Manchester United's strengths in the first half.
The Shinji Kagawa Effect
At the start of the second half David Moyes brought on Japanese international, and former Bayern Munich nightmare, Shinji Kagawa for Ryan Giggs and shifted to a standard 4-4-1-1 with Kagawa on the left and the standard two striker defensive press. This caused a two-fold effect in the game.
First, it brought an increased edge to the Manchester United counterattack. Kagawa, partnered with Danny Welbeck, saw Manchester United bear down on what is arguably Bayern Munich's biggest defensive weakness: Javi Martinez. For the final 45 minutes of the match Shinji Kagawa was a hurricane, and one that Bayern Munich really had no answer for. He moved all over the pitch picking up passes, springing counterattacks for the hosts, and interchanging masterfully with Wayne Rooney. It was a nightmare I think every Bayern Munich fan hoped they'd never see after Kagawa left Jurgen Klopp's side, but here it was staring us in the face again.
Second, it allowed Arjen Robben to match up one-on-one with Alexander Buttner to devastating effectiveness for Bayern Munich as he repeatedly torched the Manchester United leftback. In addition, it allowed Bayern Munich to begin to assert control through the center of the pitch as Bastian Schweinsteiger became an ever increasingly strong component in Bayern Munich's second half attack. The lack of numerical superiority in the midfield allowed Schweinsteiger more room in the center. This room was further expanded by the width with which Robben and Ribery came out with in the second half. It was this room that Schweinsteiger exploited in his midfield run and half-volley that tied the score for Bayern Munich.
In many ways, this single change lead to both goals on the match as they both were started and created on this side of that side of the field (Kagawa's work on the left won the United corner that Vidic tucked away).
Manchester United reassert defensive control using Phil Jones
With Patrice Evra not available and Arjen Robben doing his best imitation of a meat carver on Alexander Buttner, David Moyes opted to withdraw the Dutchmen for Ashley Young. This coincided with a move for Phil Jones from rightback to leftback. Phil Jones did a reasonable job of containing Franck Ribery in the first half almost unaided, and carried over that performance to the second half as he helped to corral Arjen Robben while Shinji Kagawa did his best in attempting to shred Bayern Munich's defense. On the reverse side, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were deployed extremely conservatively and used their partnership to stymie the Bayern Munich attack on the left.
Overall, it was a strong defensive performance from Manchester United while Bayern Munich did themselves no favors by playing directly into their strengths for the first 45 minutes. While the attacking threat posed by zone overloads and player interchanges is so important to this Bayern Munich squad, it is width that is even more important in order to effectively utilize both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at the same time. It's an important lesson to remember as Bayern Munich heads into the final two months of the season, and one I hope Pep Guardiola remembers from the outset next Wednesday.