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Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis | Guardiola’s smart use of Lahm & Alaba

Bayern Munich came into the game at Allianz Arena as clear favourites having been slightly disappointed with just a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. A 0-0 would have been enough, but certainly Bayern Munich were always going to go for the win. Man United knew they had to score atleast once to stand a chance of progressing, a task in itself.

Despite a dominating performance from Bayern, the sides went in 0-0 at half time. Patrice Evra gave United a surprise lead early in the second half, only for it to be tied again 22 seconds later as Mandzukic equalised. Goals from Muller and Robben saw Bayern comfortably through to the semi-finals with the final score being Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United.

Bayern 3-1 United

Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United

Line Ups

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Boateng, Dante, Lahm, Alaba, Kroos, Gotze (Rafinha 65′), Muller (Pizzaro 84′), Robben, Ribery, Mandzukic

Manchester United: De Gea, Smalling, Vidic, Jones, Evra, Fletcher (Chicharito 74′), Carrick, Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney, Welbeck (Januzaj 81′)

Goals: Mandzukic 58′, Muller 68′, Robben 76′ | Evra 57′

Guardiola plays Lahm & Alaba in midfield

Pep Guardiola made an interesting tactical change to ensure Bayern didn’t lose the mid-field battle. With major participants of their midfield out with suspensions, Guardiola had to bring on the back-up midfield (which in itself isn’t too bad). But Guardiola realised that Moyes will do everything possible to ensure the midfield area is tightened up to prevent Bayern’s usual play from going through. There were two things which Guardiola did in response, one we’ll discuss a little later, but the interesting one was with his two full-backs.

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Bayern had only Toni Kroos as the defensive minded midfielder, to provide protection to the back line (given the suspensions). Gotze and Muller played ahead of him, with the primary duty of supporting the attack. It meant that David Alaba and Philipp Lahm were made to occupy the midfield on either side of Kroos. Thus Gotze and Muller played well ahead, and just behind Mandzukic. Robben & Ribery (who will be discussed later) took up the duties out wide, allowing this three man midfield set-up, with the two full-backs. The image of the line-ups above will give you a better idea of the set-up that Guardiola employed.

Lahm playing in Midfield vs United

Lahm playing in Midfield vs United

The image above further substantiates the point. 24.75% of Lahm’s game was right in the central area, and up ahead into the attacking central zone as well. It must be said though that United’ poor display in midfield, or to put it in a different way – their absence in the attacking zones (i.e. down the wings) allowed Lahm & Alaba to leave their position and move centrally.

It was an impressively smart tactic employed by Guardiola to compensate for the missing midfielders. Few would have thought of removing the full-backs from their wide position and instead playing them in midfield. It was this tactic that gave Bayern complete control of the game, especially in the first-half, and allowed them to dictate terms. Naturally towards the end of the game, Alaba & Lahm took their positions more defensively as United went all out with nothing to lose; but the damage had been done, and the control- won.

Evra’s jubilation proves costly

While watching Patrice Evra smash that ball into the back of the net, watching David Moyes specifically give Fletcher instructions in the midst of the celebrations, one could have pictured how this game would go. United would shut Bayern down, compact the midfield, and fight for another fantastic European night against the German side.

Unfortunately for United fans, their lead and their hopes didn’t last long. Just 22 seconds after United took the lead on the night and in the tie, Bayern Munich were back in it; they were back in it much before United’s defensive tactics could set in. Right from the restart, ball played wide, United then looked to be getting back into position until Ribery played a cross in and Mandzukic headed home. All in the space of 22 seconds, United went from pulling off an upset with a wonderful strike, to complete heart-break as the tie was level.


Now certainly when you strike a ball as well as Evra did, to take the lead against Bayern away from home, you’re bound to be delighted. But this got in the way of Evra’s professionalism and smartness on the field. He was slow to get back into position, allowed Mandzukic to easily make a move in front of him and made no challenge whatsoever to prevent the Croatian from scoring. You could see how distraught Evra was with himself, and why shouldn’t he be. It was the greatest moment in United’s season when he scored, but just moments later he made a schoolboy error to allow Bayern back in it.

Had United held the lead for a few more minutes, Moyes’ side could implement a complete defensive tactic and prevent Bayern from scoring, as they did for much of the two games. But the quick equaliser was the perfect response which Bayern needed, changing the tie in their favour and allowing them to control the rest of the game.

Robben & Ribery given free role

Continuing on from the first point, Bayern’s two pacey wingers, Ribery & Robben, were given the freedom of shifting anywhere across the attacking zone. Both were often spotted on either side running down the wings/channels and moving in centrally as well.

It was the creativity which they provide, something that the midfield couldn’t, that forced them to move into central positions. In the absence of the regular midfielders, Robben & Ribery (like Lahm & Alaba) thus were seen shifting into central areas and supplying the trio of Muller, Gotze & Mandzukic ahead of them.

But it was again their use of the wings that was most effective. As mentioned earlier, the midfield zone was getting compact with United getting numbers over there and the Bayern full-backs occupying midfield roles as well. Robben & Ribery thus were the only two providing width, much needed width. With United’s half getting compact, the width provided by the duo forced the United defence, and midfielders out wide, stretching the play and opening up pockets of space in central areas.

Between them, Robben & Ribery attempted an incredible 21 crosses, created 11 goal-scoring chances and took 10 shots in total, only 1 of which was on target (the third goal). Their influence on the Bayern side is certainly immense.

Man United provide no attacking threat, don’t even attempt to counter

It was clear that Manchester United would need to first ensure that they prevent Bayern from scoring, before going for a goal themselves. Not setting up defensively would have allowed Bayern in easily, and they would have scored much earlier. So there was nothing wrong with United’s approach in the first leg, and their basic approach for the first leg was understandable as well. However, knowing that Bayern were going through on the away goals rules, it was incredible to see just how defensive Manchester United were.

We must understand that there’s a difference between parking the bus and setting up defensively. What Atletico Madrid did against Barcelona in the first leg and the return leg at the Calderon was a proper defensive approach, making it compact. What Man United did at Old Trafford too was a solid defensive set-up; but what they did at the Allianz Arena was pure desperate defending a la parking the bus. A surprise when you consider that they weren’t in a qualifying position.

For much of the game, the United midfield and defence was inside the box. They didn’t make it difficult for Bayern to get till the attacking zones, they didn’t attempt to win possession back enough, they didn’t attempt to even counter. When you consider that Lahm & Alaba were advanced too, Bayern only had their two defenders Boateng & Dante, back. A quick counter could have easily caught them out, something which Man United didn’t take advantage of.

Man United defensive set up

Man United defensive set up

The above image speaks volumes, the majority of Man United’s play was in their own box (not even their own half). Bayern’s constant attacking threat was also factor which forced United back, permanently. But as a neutral, one was certainly disappointed that United didn’t offer more of a threat. They attempted 6 shots (2 of which were on target) compared to Bayern Munich’s 25.

Where does this leave them?

Bayern Munich are obviously searching for an incredible successive treble winning campaign, but for Man United it’s a case of a patient wait for next season, with the side not playing for anything.

The final score of Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United was no more than what the home side deserved. They were the far better side over the two legs. Man United can be proud of their efforts. Their first leg approach was terrific, and they battled well but they were embarrassingly disappointing in the second.

For more Tactical Analysis of the biggest games across Europe, head this way.


Sami Faizullah

Sami Faizullah

Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar.
Sami Faizullah

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