The first week of April represented the return of Champions League football in Europe as the top 8 teams looked to land early blows in the battle to qualify for the semi-finals. In case of the tie between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, the general feeling was that the above mentioned early blows could well be knockout ones with the German powerhouses the favourites coming into the first leg. For both sides, the domestic league is all but done and dusted in extremely contrasting circumstances. Bayern have already been crowned Champions while United have only Europa League qualification to play for. With the defending European Champions looking to be the first side to defend the title in the Champions League era, the game represented both an opportunity and another potential embarrassment for David Moyes. To the relief of the United manager, and indeed fans, their side held their own and head into the 2nd leg behind in the tie (on away goals of course) but still very much in it.
Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich
Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Buttner (Young 74′); Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Giggs (Kagawa 45′); Rooney, Welbeck (Hernandez 85′).
Bayern Munich: Neuer; Rafinha, Martinez, Boateng, Alaba; Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Kroos (Gotze 74′); Robben, Muller (Mandzukic 63′), Ribery.
United set up deep with the duo of Ferdinand and Vidic using their experience
The home side came in as underdogs, not something they’re used to, but it was a role that Moyes and United seemingly accepted. Sitting deep, shutting out the opposition and causing problems on the counter, christened the ‘smash-and-grab’ approach, has long been considered the blueprint for away teams in the 2-legged knockout fixtures in the Champions League and it was the same approach that United adopted although they were the home side on this occasion. The below image shows a phase of play from the first half with Toni Kroos lining up a shot against a wall of red. The shot was eventually charged down by Michael Carrick. With Bayern willing to bide their time and play Guardiola’s possession based style of football, United preferred to let Bayern come at them and soak up the pressure.
Blocks and tackles were the theme of the night for United with the experienced duo of Ferdinand and Vidic using all their years of experience and positional acumen to snuff out Bayern’s considerable attacking acumen. There were numerous moments of concern but by and large the defence will be satisfied with their performance against one of the deadliest attacks in Europe. One must acknowledge Buttner’s performance at left-back as well who stood in for the suspended Patrice Evra. Not really known for his defensive abilities, the Dutchman played a less attacking role and all in all dealt with Robben adequately. The number of blocks and tackles in the final third were noteworthy as shown in the below image.
Robben and Ribery link up on multiple occasions despite playing on opposite flanks
Inverted wingers continue to be used heavily throughout Europe and Bayern Munich are no different. In fact there few duos better than that of Robben and Ribery or ” Robbery” as the witty caption goes. Despite starting on opposite flanks, Robben and Ribery both tended to cut in-field and when they did, they were quick to seek out each other rather than use Muller who started up-front. In fact the combination play between the two was a constant threat to the United defence throughout the night.
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One such incident is highlighted below. Ribery drove at the opposition defence and fed Robben the ball. Ribery instead of staying still continued his run which created an overload on Buttner. The Dutch full-back had to front up to his man Robben who wasted no time in sliding his teammate in behind the defence. This eventually led to a chance for Muller who couldn’t redirect the cross towards goal although in the young German’s defence the cross did arrive at an awkward height.
Welbeck’s pace and direct style poses problems to Bayern’s central defence
Like the City game a few days back, Welbeck’s position was a subject of much discussion when the team news came out. Personally, I felt that Moyes had plumped for the trio of Carrick, Giggs and Fellaini in central midfield with the Belgian’s aerial prowess being used to receive early balls played out of defence and also perhaps to try and disturb the passing rhythm of the Bayern pass masters in midfield. However, Welbeck was deployed in a central role, at least in an attacking capacity, with a 2 man midfield behind him and this choice was vindicated throughout the 90′ albeit without any solid return. The partnership of Martinez and Boateng never looked at ease against the England International and Bayern will hope that the returning Dante will fare better in the 2nd leg. United used Welbeck’s pace and movement as an outlet, an outlet that was much needed in the face of increasing Bayern pressure. United will be disappointed that they couldn’t make more of this. With possession off the ball being a novelty, they needed the distribution from central midfield to be spot on. Fellaini though had a very disappointing first half as his wastefulness not only curtailed United’s attacking threat but also only served to increase the pressure on his defence.
Welbeck did in fact have the ball in the back of the net early on which was disallowed due to a marginal high boot call by the referee. After this came the biggest moment of the game for Welbeck as he was played through on goal by Rooney courtesy a Boateng slip. To be honest, Welbeck looked like he almost had too much time on hand and in the end his unconvincing chip was read by Neuer.
Bayern Munich full-backs are given space which is utilized only after Mandzukic is brought on
The Bayern full-backs Rafinha and Alaba got into promising positions mainly due to the fact that both Jones and Buttner were understandably preoccupied with Robben and Ribery. This meant that the overlapping full-backs were a constant threat. However, this threat was somewhat diluted by the fact that Muller was deployed as a front-man for Bayern. Muller is a gifted footballer and Guardiola would have obviously had his reasons behind his inclusion but in hindsight perhaps Mandzukic was the better option. The Croatian striker’s physical presence could have been useful especially when complimented by the delivery provided by the full-backs. In fact, it was no coincidence that Mandzukic played a key role in Bayern’s equalizer. Rafinha went on another of his forays forward and swung in a cross. Mandzukic peeled off Ferdinand who had no choice to follow him. This in turn created space for the incoming Schweinsteiger who made no mistake.
Where does this leave them?
With so many people expecting a mauling, United held their own but still might regret both Welbeck’s miss and their defensive lapse which led to Bayern grabbing an important away goal. All in all it was a stubborn team performance if not a vintage one and United will head to the Allianz Arena a week from now with the belief that they can turn things around. For Bayern, it was yet another game in which they dominated possession. However, there will be a bit of a concern about how uncomfortable the defence looked at times. With the title wrapped up, they can afford to rest their key players.
For more Tactical Analysis of the biggest games across Europe, head this way.
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