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Defending Counter Attacks – A point for Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich to ponder on?

Bayern Munich’s demolition at the hands of Real Madrid raised a few questions about the German side’s ability to deal with high quality counter attacking teams. Alankrith Shankar states that the problem has still not been dealt with entirely and provides a potential solution.

Under Pep Guardiola, Bayern have always pressed high up the field, sometimes so high up the field that the only person behind the half way line is Manuel Neuer, who is very happy to deal with any problems that the defence may encounter while playing such a high line. The flip side of this is some times counter attacks are so fast that playing a high line means you will leak a goal or two on the counter.

Guardiola Neuer

Which is exactly what happened against Dortmund in the Modern day Klassiker as Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan combined well to start a counter, before Aubameyang drove in a perfect cross for Reus to head in to the back of the net. Not only in the Dortmund game, the draw at Monchengladbach, where Bayern were extremely lucky to come away with a point, (thanks to Manuel Neuer). Even during the annihilation of AS Roma, the high line was constantly tested by Gervinho’s runs. In fact, Roma almost equalised ar 1-0 doown through a counter attack but Neuer kept Bayern ahead. He even pulled off that ghost save to deny Gervinho’s (again) shot, to try to keep his clean sheet intact. He ended up conceding to that man, Gervinho eventually through another brilliant counter attack.

Even in the return fixture at the Allianz Arena, Roma had numerous opportunities to score a few through counter attacks. Far too many times, when Destro did get the ball, he was too quick to try to pick out direct runs of Iturbe and Florenzi, and more often than not, failed to pick out the forward runs and gave possession back to Bayern Munich. Had Destro managed to play in the correct ball to the wingers (Iturbe and Florenzi), Bayern would have surely had more problems than they seemed to have in defending. Counter attacking football seems to be the easiest way to get behind the lines of Bayern’s defense right now and when you have quick wingers like Gervinho, Reus or Aubameyang in your side, it is the obvious strategy the side is going to employ.

The words counter attack, seems like it would and should be the first thing on the tactics board for a team of Bayern’s stature to work on in training. They play a high pressing system, but what they have been working on so far, is clearly not the correct method. Point being, Bayern have never defended counter attacks well under Pep Guardiola. Everyone of course still remembers the demolition by Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final return leg at the Allianz Arena and also the Super Cup at Signal Iduna Park against Dortmund at the start of this season. Pep did do it in the Pokal final against Dortmund, but has fallen prey to counter attacks by Dortmund, twice after that final win. It is a chink in the armour and is something that Pep needs to rectify soon enough. The chemistry of Boateng and Benatia is growing as every game goes past and the unpredictable Boateng is in hot form right now, so if it is not rectified right now, it never will is what I think and if it doesn’t get rectified, we will see another massacre like the Real Madrid game soon enough in the Champions League, something no Bayern fan would ever want to watch ever again.

Having said that, there are a few games where Bayern have defended counter attacks effectively. I know that I am contradicting myself, but in my defence, the number of games in which Bayern have defended counters properly are decidedly in the minority when compared to the number of games Bayern haven’t. Taking the Manchester City game at the Allianz Arena for example, Bayern defended the counters brilliantly. They got numbers behind the ball. The central midfield duo of Alonso and Lahm were always ready to track back and constantly moving in a back and forth motion, alternating their runs, thereby giving the back line, that 1 extra player to help when the counter attack started, but that is exactly what they’ve missed in almost every other game this season, getting away with it thanks to… Manuel Neuer.

Maybe it’s Neuer’s presence that gives the defence some overconfidence which they should shed. Maybe it doesn’t. But whatever it is, Pep has got the international break at the perfect time. The side is attacking brilliantly while the centre-backs are improving by the game. The only thing real negative is the defending of the counter attack and Pep could ask no more than a few days of working things out on the drawing board to devise a strategy soon, which the team can certainly implement once they get back to the training grounds after their national duties.

Written by Alankrith Shankar

Alankrith Shankar

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