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Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich: Tactical Analysis | Solid defense & quick counter wins it

With 14 Champions League titles between them, this match was always going to be special. Two of the biggest, most decorated and in-form teams in World football faced off at the Sanitago Bernabeu in the 1st leg of their Champions League semi-final. It was a closely fought battle, and a contrast of two different approaches. While one dominated, the other emerged victorious.

Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich


Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich: Formation

Real Madrid: Casillas, Ramos, Pepe (Varane 73′), Carvajal, Coentrao, Alonso, Modric, Isco (Illarramendi 82′), Di Maria, Ronaldo (Bale 73′), Benzema

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Boateng, Dante, Rafinha (Martinez 66′), Alaba, Lahm, Kroos, Scheweingsteiger (Muller 74′), Ribery (Gotze 72′), Robben, Mandzukic

Goals: Karim Benzema (19)


The approach to this game from Real Madrid was strikingly similar to what ex-boss Mourinho did with Chelsea in Madrid, the previous night. But while Mourinho’s tactics (despite getting the result) left most viewers frustrated, Ancelotti’s Real left many in awe. The Spanish giants displayed a perfect example of how teams can soak in the pressure of possession based opponents and hit them on the counter- quickly, swiftly and efficiently.

While the game started, it was quite intriguing to see Real Madrid sit so deep, as personally that wasn’t something I expected them to do at home despite Bayern’s preference of keeping the ball. But clearly Ancelotti had studied Bayern in recent Champions League games, where they struggled to impose their same dominance against the likes of Arsenal & Man Untied despite controlling possession. What Ancelotti would have inferred from his research is how Bayern struggle and lack a Plan B when faced against a well set & organised defence. Quite like how Barcelona have been known to do in recent times, even at the hands of Bayern themselves last season.

Ancelotti’s system, on paper, was simple and obvious. Sit back with two banks of four, invite them in, shut them out and quickly get the ball out to Real Madrid’s attack. We’ll get to the defensive bit later.

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In attack, Real Madrid were able to efficiently implement their counter-attacking game plan due to the raw pace in the side with the likes of Ronaldo, Di Maria, and Coentrao. The first goal came as a result of this and is arguably the best example of what a quick-counter attack system must entail.

The ball was won back to halt Bayern’s passing game, Ronaldo played a clever pinpoint through ball to Coentrao whose low cross found Benzema perfectly and left the Bayern defence stunned.

This process continued throughout the rest of the game. Ancelotti was clever by putting in two men upfront, Ronaldo & Benzema, while also having the likes of Di Maria in midfield. It aided them perfectly in catching Bayern on the break. A lone-man would possibly struggle to get into the attack, as Fernando Torres did in the other semi-final. Real Madrid possessed the right system and personnel for it; they’ll probably feel aggrieved at not having scored more goals.


Now to have the counter-attacking system to work, Real Madrid needed their defense to be solid and organised. The defensive half no doubt stuck to their task and so did the midfield, but we must realise that the midfield included the likes of Di Maria & Isco whose defensive strength isn’t one to depend on. No doubt they carried out their tactical duties well and maintained their organisation, their strengths though, obviously lie in attack and lack reliability defensively. Same goes for Benzema and Ronaldo ahead of them.

Thus, to ensure their defensive gameplan was effective, they required the more defensively adept players, Luka Modric & Xabi Alonso, to be at the top of their game, and they most certainly were!

Real Madrid Action Areas

This gives you an idea how deep Real Madrid were. (via Squawka)

Alonso & Modric sat just ahead of the defence in the central midfield area. There job was to ensure that no Bayern creativity came through the centre from the likes of Schweingsteiger and Kroos. It was a simple task of making it compact in midfield, but one that required a lot of concentration and hard-work. Alonso has always played that central deep role but Modric has developed well into it since his attacking midfield days at Spurs.

Their real effort was seen in wide areas. Bayern’s main attacking threat was always going to be down the wings with two of the best wide men in the sport, Ribery & Robben, and the advancing full-backs in Alaba & Rafinha. Negating this was going to be crucial in preventing Bayern from having a say in the game.

Both Modric and Alonso were crucial in covering those areas and assisting their full-backs in the process. No doubt defensively the full-backs did do a good job, especially Dani Carvajal who kept Ribery’s flank quiet, making 4 tackles and 4 interceptions in that wide area, but they couldn’t have done it without their midfielders. More than winning back possession, they were instrumental in just getting across to cover the areas and forcing Bayern Munich into backward and lateral passes, preventing any penetration from the flanks.


It has long been discussed now whether Bayern are a better side this season or the previous one under Jupp Heynckes. We ourselves have discussed it here, here and here. Now, as we’ve already mentioned, yes Bayern did lack a Plan B and failed to create any meaningful chances until Gotze got a shot off on goal, late on. Criticism has been pouring in on how Guardiola has made Bayern into a Barca, while they were perfectly alright playing Jupp’s more direct way. Certainly, we will agree on that. But to direct criticism their way is a bit off.

Let’s look at this rationally. At the Bernabeu, Bayern Munich could certainly have done with a different approach, but Real identified the benefits of sitting deep and did just that. Bayern were being given the ball as much as they wanted and had to carve out chances; and when a team sits deep in two banks of four, what real choice do you have?

Most of Bayern’s attack was being attempted down the right with very little coming from the central positions. They tried crosses, but that didn’t work. They tried taking the ball into the box but were completely shut-out, rather than aiming criticism Bayern’s way, one should praise Real Madrid for the manner in which they prevented Bayern’s attack. The early goal obviously helped as Real decided to sit-back even further and rely on the counter.

Bayern Take Ons

Bayern struggled to penetrate into the box, failing to take on their opponents (via Squawka)

Bayern would have been hoping that Real forced themselves forward a bit, allowing gaps to open up but the Spanish organisation stuck, and left the Germans completely clueless. It’s hard to see what any other side would have done in a similar situation. For example, Atletico were left frustrated by Chelsea at the Calderon, and Simeone’s men are a side who rely on the counter but when faced against a defensive set-up, they had no choice, they passed it around and attempted the same thing again.

It was no different with Bayern, they couldn’t do much else than pass it around and stick to their system as nothing else was on. If a side sits back, and is organised in their task, it’s really hard to find a way through without attempting pretty much the same approach.

Even criticism levelled against the big players, Ribery & Robben, was a bit harsh as again there wasn’t much else they could do. They occupied the same position they usually do, and attempted to play it  in from the flanks. More often that not they were forced to play it back into their defence; that was the general theme of the Bayern game that was forced upon them. One thing we did learn though, is that Guardiola’s system has it’s weaknesses. The approach of the opposition is obvious, but the quality of them is vital too, something which the likes of Real and Chelsea possess. Stick to the organisation, and Bayern will find it extremely difficult.

In absolute terms, it’s nearly impossible to break the organisation because you’re relying on external factors such as fatigue, inidiviual errors, lapse of concentration etc, not something you can depend on but something that forced you to try the same over and over again, which Bayern did.


The result hasn’t done much in terms of the complexion of the tie, there’s still all to play for. One thing this result has done though is made people question the possession based approach; a fair, albeit over-exaggerated, criticism. On the night Ancelotti got his tactics spot on and gave Guardiola his first Bernabeu defeat. He has come to the stadium before and done exactly the same and got the right result, this time though, he was shut-out, with his tactics labelled ‘predictable‘, true but they’ve always been so. The result was thus a testament to how well Ancelotti and his men did. The final score of Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich seemed a bit unlucky on Real’s part, who could have easily scored more.

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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