Raghunandhanan Narasimhan writes a detailed tactical analysis about the UEFA Champions League match that ended Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid.
Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid went into the final round of fixtures of the Champions League group stage matches having already seen their spots in the next round booked. The match was a dead rubber as Atletico had sealed top spot before the match. Bayern lost their away fixture at the Calderon 1-0 when the two sides previously met. But they were in imperious form at form in European competitions having won their last 14 matches at home.
Bayern Munich: 1. Neuer; 13. Rafinha, 5. Hummels, 27. Alaba, 18. Bernat; 23. Vidal, 35. Sanches, 6. Thiago; 10. Robben, 9. Lewandowski, 11. Douglas Costa.
Atletico Madrid: 13. Oblak; 16. Vrsaljko, 2. Godin, 16. Savic, 19. Lucas; 14. Gabi, 8. Saul, 6. Koke, 23. Nico Gaitan; 7. Griemann, 10. Carrasco.
Low block from Atletico:
With the match not having any consequence on the final group standings, Atletico were happy to cede possession to Bayern and defend deep. The low block from Atletico stifled Bayern’s attacks well with Bayern not able to enjoy much space in the final third. Atletico were in their customary 4-4-2 with Carrasco and Griezman up top. The two forwards did not press very high though and were tasked with cutting out the vertical passing lanes for the Bayern defenders. The 4 bank midfield from Atletico was very compact. The organisation from Atletico was much dependent on their ability to cover spaces and this made sure that they were not caught out too often by a ball far wide player who was usually free.
The 4-4-2 from Atletico is distinct here. Vidal has dropped in between Alaba and Hummels and is possession of the ball. The Atletico midfield is positioned such a way that a ball to any of the wide Bayern player will be seen to by the ball near wide Atletico player. The positioning from Atletico was not man oriented with Renato Sanches being seen free here. However there is no free vertical passing option for Bayern here.
With Bayern settled well inside Atletico’s half all ten outfield Atletico players were camped inside and suffocated space in the middle. Whenever one of the Bayern midfielders dropped collect possession and moved forward, the ball near Atletico winger and the near side midfielder would step in to press the Bayern player. The natural passing option would be back to the defender again and this made Bayern’s penetration suffer.
With Robben in possession, we see the immediate ball near midfielder and winger( Saul and Gaitan) move to cover Robben. The backward passing options are left free while we see that Robben has nowhere to go and has to pull the ball back. This situation however sees Bernat and Costa on the far side left free because of the compact structure from Atletico. A switch of play is easily made by using Vidal here.
Despite the switch we see here that once Costa cuts inside there are nine Atletico players in the middle. This very deep low block renders the situation useless for Bayern with Costa unable to get a shot through or needle in a pass.
Despite sitting deep, Atletico had two of the best early chances courtesy of their counter attacking play. Bayern defended in a 4-4-2/ 4-4-1-1 with Thiago up front.
Robben is not the best when it comes to defensive duties. By ball watching and not covering Gaitan, Sanches and Vidal are forced to move towards the ball. This however led to a lot of space in between the lines that was exploited by Atletico. Added to this, the unfamiliar combination of Hummels and Alaba in central defense led to Atletico having the first clear chance of the game.
Now once the ball is played to Koke who has moved in from the right side, Vidal is faced with a dilemma to whether move to Koke or track Griezman( circled). This sub optimal reaction from Vidal leads him to no man’s land as Koke releases Griezman with a single touch, who in turn played Carrasco in.
Griezman’s movement was another factor in Atletico’s build up play whenever they had possession in Bayern’s half. Hummels often followed him but not beyond a zone. Atletico attacked mainly down the left and Gaitan’s pace was a major outlet to how they progressed.
Bayern circulate possession with ease but struggle to create openings
Despite Atletico’s organisation, Bayern circulated possession with ease. Thiago had a free role and was found roaming in between the lines in order to receive the ball. With Alaba and Hummels playing in central defense, Bayern had two good ball playing defenders who could play the penetrating passes vertically. With the full backs taking advanced positions, Hummels and Alaba split wide with Vidal often dropping deep to receive the ball. As mentioned earlier, Thiago was further up the pitch to be a more creative influence and also use his technical superiority to navigate through the sea of Atletico bodies when congested. Renato Sanches dropped down too and was always available as the immediate passing option to link play. With this set up they could easily pass the ball and move forward.
When Bayern are near the half way line, Atletico do not squeeze the space much and are content on sitting back in their solid shape. However with Thiago well equipped in finding space, the gap between midfield and defense is exploited by him. The quality of passing from Alaba makes it possible for the pass to go through. There were few instances like this in the match but Atletico’s defense sniffed out most of the danger with their organisational prowess.
Bayern have adopted a very wing oriented approach in attacking under Ancellotti. Their main attacking source is down the flanks with Costa and Robben seeing a lot of the ball. There were not many instances though where they could actually get in behind the line and cause havoc. Atletico’s set up also encouraged a lot of balls thrown into the box as they had two defenders who are excellent in air in Godin and Savic. An early opportunity for Douglas Costa also came down the flanks with Oblak getting in a good save.
With opportunities scarce, Bayern’s wing play also saw Robben moving to the left wing and create a pseudo overload. With Costa and Bernat stationed on the left flank, Robben is in possession of the ball. The presence of Thiago in the half space coupled with Saul not moving to press Robben meant that Robben could pick out a penetrating pass with ease. Again, Atletico’s solid back line was adept at dealing with any ball into the box. It must be said that the decision making from Bayern wide players in the final third was also susceptible as they did not make use of the opportunities wisely. This is also a clear example of how Costa benefitted from Bernat’s presence high up the pitch. With Bernat on the flanks, Costa could move to the half space. This had two advantages. The situation always led to a 2v2 down the flank while it also helped beat the Atletico’s compact structure via vertical passes to Costa from the back.
Atletico’s varied pressing range helped Bayern in a way to build their play up. Atletico pressed high when they lost the ball or when Oblak kicked the ball upfield. When the second ball was claimed by Bayern, Atletico hounded Bayern. With their quality though, Bayern could navigate their way through the press and this meant there was space in the midfield and further up the pitch. The other times Bayern managed to enjoy space up top was when Atletico had set pieces. When Atletico lost the ball, Bayern could counter quickly with Robben or Costa. That being said, such instances were one offs in the match and did not affect the tie to a game changing extent.
The match being a dead rubber, especially for Atletico who had managed five wins out of five previously, there was not much intent from Atletico in the match. Bayern managed to score via a brilliant Lewandowski free kick. Both teams had were not very keen on hitting the gas, though Bayern managed to boss the proceedings courtesy of the possession they enjoyed. Atletico defended with relative ease and it took a moment of magic from Lewandowski in the first half to decide the result of the match.
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Raghunandhanan currently resides in India and is an avid follower of the Premier League. A fan of Manchester United, he is looking into being a full time writer of football analysis. He enjoys tactics and dreams of getting into football management someday. Check out his blog at theblindsideweb.wordpress.com for a look at his work.
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