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Om Arvind writes a detailed tactical analysis about one of the most historic matches in European football, the 1960 European Cup Final which ended Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt.
The 1960 European Cup Final was a match that had massive repercussions across world football. Not only did it define the values, mores, and vision of Real Madrid as we know it, but the dazzling football conducted by the great Alfredo Di Stéfano, the insatiable Puskás, and the magical Gento, sparked the imaginations of a generation of football fans. Sir Alex Ferguson stepped out of the stadium as an impressionable 18-year-old, completely seduced by the beauty he had witnessed. The sight of the mighty Di Stéfano and co., inspired young Alex to replicate the sharp flair of Los Blancos in a Manchester United side that would dominate the face of modern football.
This match was also the point where English and Scottish fans finally conceded that Real Madrid were the greatest club of all time. Curiously enough, 4 consecutive victories against Europe’s finest were not as convincing an argument as a 7-3 goal-fest at Hampden Park. It seems that the evidence of Real Madrid’s superiority was simply irrefutable once seen with one’s own eyes.
But underrated in all of this was the fact that Real Madrid were a team ahead of their time. In an age where tactics were thought of as unsophisticated and almost non-existent, Miguel Muñoz implemented the sort of measured, thoughtful football one might expect to see in a rough imitation of a Pep Guardiola side. This futuristic approach contrasted heavily with Eintracht Frankfurt’s basic route one tactics, leading to a one-sided affair that was predictably dominated by the royal whites.
Real Madrid (3-3-4): Dominguez // Marquitos – Santamaría – Pachín // Vidal – Di Stéfano – Zárraga // Canário – Del Sol – Puskás – Gento
Eintracht Frankfurt (3-2-2-3): Loy // Lutz – Eigenbrodt – Hoefer // Weilbächer – Stinka // Lindner – Pfaff // Kress – Stein – Meier
Los Blancos’ 1960 dream team played fluid, fast, and attractive football.
While Muñoz certainly had a plan, he recognized that his starting eleven should be given a great amount of freedom to express themselves due to the immense skill that they possessed. Thus, it is hard to characterize Madrid’s “structure” in possession when Puskás, Di Stéfano, and Del Sol, moved as and where they pleased and when coaches at the time may not have thought in such terms.
Instead, it is more useful to think of this Madrid side as “organized chaos” – a cliché, but a very apt description of Muñoz’s team.
The floating parts of this Madrid machine caused absolute chaos for opposing teams. Eintracht Frankfurt (along with most teams at the time) used a man-marking system in defense, which was thoroughly dismantled by the deep positioning of Di Stéfano and the deep runs of Puskás and Del Sol. As commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme noted, Frankfurt finally gave up on trying to mark Di Stéfano in the second half, when they realized that he wasn’t operating as a forward.
However, it would be wrong to assume that Muñoz simply let Madrid’s players do their own thing. Real’s manager astutely took advantage of his player’s individual qualities by implementing a framework of rapid short passing networks that possessed distinct patterns.
Instead of simply looking to clear the ball long when regaining possession of the ball, Real’s center backs (in particular Santamaría) chose to hold onto the ball and search for a short pass to either Zárraga, Di Stéfano, or Vidal. With Frankfurt’s forwards choosing to close down Madrid’s center backs, play was often forced wide. In this case, Canário and Gento would drop deep into their own half to receive the ball, before quickly flicking it back to the center.
Key to this style of build-up from the back was Alfredo Di Stéfano, who would gravitate to the wing in question and present himself as a central passing outlet.
Once he received the ball, he would look to either quickly shift the ball to Zárraga or Vidal (who would then look to pass the ball out wide), or would attempt to charge forward with the ball at his feet.
As Madrid advanced into Frankfurt’s half, Los Blancos’ patterns of play became more varied. If Di Stéfano was the player prancing forward, he would look to play through balls into forwards Puskás and Del Sol. If the pass wasn’t on, one of Puskás or Del Sol would drop deep to create quick one-two opportunities to advance into the final third.
If play advanced from out wide, Gento or Canário would look to use their trickery and pace to charge down the flank themselves. If they were cut off, they would try to play the ball to the center to one of the three central midfielders, who would then choose to quickly spread play to the other wing. This pacey flank-to-flank passing style continually forced Frankfurt to adjust their defensive shape, thereby creating holes and gaps that Madrid’s clever attackers could exploit.
Once in the final third, Real looked to adopt a balanced approach between working the ball into the box and firing in crosses from Gento and Canário. In order to maintain their attacking pressure and retain possession of the ball, Madrid’s central midfielders would position themselves close to the box, while Madrid’s wide center backs would sit 10-20 yards away from it. This structure without the ball allowed Los Merengues to pick up botched clearances and loose passes near Frankfurt’s goal.
But that was likely the most Muñoz instructed his men to do in this phase of the game, for the final third was where Madrid’s players experienced the most freedom. Di Stéfano would move wherever he please, which most often meant making late runs into the penalty box, while Puskás and Del Sol would roam freely to create one-two passing combos (especially on the left-wing to exploit the legendary pace of Gento).
The result of such an organic system was the creation of immense overloads in midfield. With Frankfurt still using the common 3-2-2-3, central midfielders Stinka and Weilbächer were outnumbered by Di Stéfano’s positioning as a central midfielder, let alone the deep movements of Puskás and Del Sol. Thus, as Kenneth Wolstenholme smartly noted, Real Madrid always had the extra man, making them virtually impossible to stop.
However, it is important to note that while Real Madrid certainly preferred to hold onto the ball and patiently probe the opposition, they were not averse to executing quick transition attacks. They specifically looked to exploit Frankfurt when defending corners, as the Germans chose to leave only two players in defense in these situations.
If the keeper, Dominguez, managed to claim the corner, he would look to immediately launch a pass towards Puskás, who was often positioned near the halfway line. Puskás would either control the ball or flick the pass on to Del Sol, who would charge straight towards goal to have an attempt himself.
If a Madrid player intercepted the corner, they would attempt to play the ball to Gento, who would be positioned as a passing outlet deeper than Puskás or Del Sol. Once Gento managed to turn and face the opposition goal, he would look to combine with his forwards with one-two combos to exploit the space in behind Frankfurt’s defense.
Frankfurt played in the common formation of the time – the 3-2-2-3. In today’s terms, this would entail having three center backs behind two defensive midfielders. In front of them were two attacking midfielders, who looked to supply a central striker and two wide forwards/wingers.
When compared to Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt’s system within this formation looked rather primitive. The fanciful build-up through the middle and the utilization of passing triangles out wide were non-existent, as Frankfurt always looked to reach the opposition goal in the most direct manner possible.
Their primary pattern of play once they won the ball in their own half, was to pass the ball back to their keeper, who would then pick the ball up (the back-pass rule did not exist back then) and launch a pass up field.
These long balls were primarily aimed at target man Stein, who used his impressive strength and height to challenge for the ball in the air and flick passes on to wide forwards Kress and Meier.
Both of these wide-men were impressive dribblers and they used their skill and pace to drive down the flanks and stretch Madrid’s back-line. Due to Gento’s somewhat lackadaisical commitment to tracking back in comparison to his counterpart Canário, Frankfurt almost exclusively attacked down Madrid’s left-wing.
In order to support Kress and Meier’s wing play, Lindner and Pfaff would position themselves behind Stein and the wide forward in question (Lindner on the right and Pfaff on the left), to pick up loose balls and feed passes into the channels.
This strategy was pretty successful in the opening stages of the game, as Frankfurt’s direct style initially put Madrid on the back foot. Real’s sluggish start to the game consistently gifted the opposition the ball, allowing Frankfurt to pepper Madrid’s back-line with long passes. While Santamaría and Marquitos dealt with their challenges quite well, Pachín, who was of a level below his partners and was receiving less support from Gento, was often beaten by the Stein-Kress connection.
Ironically, it was Santamaría who made the crucial mistake, as he charged up the pitch only to make a weak clearance that fell to Kress. The wide attacker laid the ball off to Lindner, who played a pass down the line to Stein. With Santamaría out of position, Stein raced down the byline and crossed to a free Kress, who finished to make it 1-0 in the 18th minute.
Thus, while Real Madrid were still trying to find their rhythm, the Germans were very much a match for the All Whites. But once Los Blancos found their footing and began to pass accurately, Frankfurt’s frequency of attacks dried up, meaning their low percentage attacks were less likely to come to fruition.
There was an attempt to play more controlled football in the second half, as Weilbächer looked to form rudimentary passing triangles with Lindner and Kress to advance the ball down the flank, but such play was sporadic. Even after such measured possession play, the plan for getting the ball into the final third was the same: an aerial pass to Stein or a long ground pass down the wings to the wide forwards.
The German’s sole moment of short passing play from the defensive third to the final third came in the 74th minute, with the score at 7-2 and Madrid hardly trying (Vidal played a back-pass that essentially assisted the eventual goal that resulted from this play).
Thus, Frankfurt really only threatened after Madrid had gone 6-1 up and had lost focus.
Alfredo Di Stéfano: The stories about Alfredo Di Stéfano’s greatness are not exaggerated. Saeta Rubia really was a total footballer who controlled every aspect of Real’s play. While many think of Di Stéfano as a forward, his positioning was more akin to that of a central midfielder. To then go on to try to characterize Di Stéfano in today’s positions – deep-lying playmaker, roaming playmaker, defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, attacking midfielder, etc. – would be impossible, for he was everything at once. Not only would he receive the ball from the keeper and look to control play like a deep-lying playmaker, but he would roam up the pitch to combine with his teammates and progress play like an interior in a 4-3-3. He can be best described as Real’s hook in possession, or midfield general, for everything flowed through him. Sometimes he was so obsessed with controlling every aspect of the game, that he could be seen taking the ball off his fellow teammate so that he could manage things himself!
Once in the final third, Di Stéfano turned into an attacking midfielder who would tantalize his markers with reverse step-overs and feints, before looking to feed Madrid’s four attackers. As the ball went out wide, he would turn into a center forward and make runs into the box.
He even defended a considerable amount, something that today’s stars would loathe to do.
His peerless mix of technical mastery and physical supremacy allowed him to effortlessly carry out all his duties, meaning he was essentially a one-man positional overload in every phase of the game.
Simply put, Di Stéfano was the greatest player of his generation and was the man most responsible for Real’s success.
Ferenc Puskás: Ferenc Puskás was easily Real Madrid’s second best player and greatest goal scorer at the time. He possessed technical qualities in attack equal to that of Di Stéfano and was Real Madrid’s primary free kick and penalty kick specialist. Aside from his excellent dribbling, movement in the box, and powerful left-footed strikes, Puskás was also quite skilled at link-up play. Preferring to let Del Sol act as the spearhead of the attack, Puskás liked dropping deep to aid Di Stéfano and combine with Gento.
Paco Gento: Paco Gento was arguably the most exciting player in the world at the time. In games, it looked like he was an entertainer first and a professional footballer second. It was not uncommon to see Gento repeatedly attempt sombreros, nutmegs, and rabonas, even if it came at the cost of possession.
Despite this inefficiency in his play, he was Madrid’s most important outlet in attack due to his incredible pace. All counter-attacks were aimed at him and the Puskás-Gento one-two combination was a nearly unstoppable pattern that ensured a free cross out on the left-wing. He was also a skilled goal scorer and generous assister, making him one of Real’s most proficient attackers in their long and storied history.
Canário: While the above three men are perhaps known by most Madrid fans, Canário most certainly isn’t. Underrated and forgotten due to the dazzling brilliance of some of his teammates, right-winger Canário was a fantastic player in his own right. Possessing a high level of skill and top-end pace, he was capable of replicating Gento’s acts on the right flank, while providing greater overall balance.
This was because Canário had an immense work-rate that enabled him to cover the entire right-wing. In today’s terms, he would probably be classified as a right wing-back, for he tracked back to aid Marquitos just as frequently as he forged forward.
Canário’s tireless engine undoubtedly provided his side with much needed defensive stability, a quality completely ignored due to Real’s reputation as an attacking force.
Jose Santamaría: More well known than Canário, but not nearly as famous as the likes of Di Stéfano, José Santamaría was inarguably Madrid’s best defender. In an age where Muñoz’s team went up against sides who nearly always employed route one football, Santamaría’s ability to anticipate and intercept aerial passes was crucial to his side’s defensive effectiveness.
Santamaría could even hold his own against the biggest of strikers, like Stein, due to his impressive physical make-up and his powerful leap.
Once in possession, he possessed the technical skills and mental calmness to evade pressure and feed the ball to Di Stéfano and retain possession.
Erwin Stein: Arguably his side’s best player in the 1960 European Cup Final, Erwin Stein was a formidable striker who possessed all the qualities of today’s target man. He was tall, strong, good in the air, technically adept at heading, and lethal at finishing. He was also incredibly quick, allowing him to get in behind opposing defensive lines via through balls and possessed above average dribbling ability.
Due to Frankfurt’s strategy, he was probably their most important player, since the success of his side’s attacks depended largely on his ability to win fifty-fifty duels.
Versus Real Madrid, he initially gave Santamaría and Pachín a torrid time, before scoring an impressive consolation goal in the second half to complete a good individual performance.
Richard Kress: Richard Kress was Frankfurt’s most involved player vs. Real Madrid due to the German’s penchant for attacking down the right flank. Much like Gento, Kress was insanely quick and possessed neat close control and an eye for goal. His combinations with Stein were crucial in giving Frankfurt any impetus in attack and he often dropped deeper into the right half space to feed Lindner as an overload down the wing.
Unfortunately for him, his opening goal was not enough to subdue Los Blancos, but his strike allowed everyone to wonder whether Frankfurt were going to upset the mighty Real Madrid for one brief moment.
Egon Loy: Egon Loy was Frankfurt’s goalkeeper and primary playmaker. He was a key part of manager Paul Osswald’s route one plan and Loy’s long passes were powerful and often surprisingly accurate.
He was competent as a shot-stopper vs. Real Madrid, as he made several good saves (his save on Puskás’ free kick was rather spectacular) but he was overwhelmed by Los Merengues’ finishing prowess at the end of the day.
Thus, Madrid’s creative, intelligent, and flowing style of football completely overwhelmed Frankfurt in a 7-3 goal-fest that is known as the greatest European Final of all time. This victory marked the high point of Muñoz’s side, while also symbolizing the end of an era. Madrid would lose to Barcelona in the round of sixteen of next year’s European Cup, ending Los Blancos’ domination of football. Real would never again repeat their feat, but the glory of this galáctico period defined Real Madrid as an institution and elevated the importance of the trophy that would later become the Champions League.
While many of the people involved in this historic moment have passed on, the significance of this match to the sport as a whole will live on forever.