Ross Eaton writes a detailed tactical analysis about the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg that ended Bayern Munich 4-2 Juventus.
After a dramatic 2-2 draw in the first leg, Juventus travel to the Allianz Arena in Germany to face Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg ended 2-2 at the appropriately named Juventus Stadium following Pep Guardiola’s Bayern going into a 0-2 lead. Readjustments from Massimillano Allegri which saw the men from Turin adopt a more direct style for the latter stages causing Bayern’s makeshift centre-back pairing of Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba serious problems.
Going into the second leg Bayern were still without key centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber, with Javi Martinez still a doubt, making a centre-back partnership of Kimmich and Alaba/Benatia likely. Other than that pairing, Bayern had their strongest squad available with Pep even commenting that he now has the best, yet so difficult dilemma of having to leave such talented players on the bench.
Juventus went into the second leg without as much depth as their counterparts, largely down to injuries. The Old Lady were without Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Paulo Dybala and possibly Mario Mandzukic. Despite having obvious desire to win the famous trophy, Max Allegri is not obsessed with the Champions League and insists Juventus’ season will still be a success if they fail to advance to the next stage of the competition. With Juve on track for their fifth Scudetto in a row, as well as being in the Coppa Italia Final, this statement by their manager doesn’t seem too far off being correct.
Bayern Munich: 1. Neuer; 21. Lahm, 32. Kimmich, 5. Benatia (Bernat, 45′), 27. Alaba; 14. Alonso (Alcantara, 100′), 25. Muller, 23. Vidal; 7. Ribery (Coman, 59′), 11. Douglas Costa, 9. Lewandowski.
Juventus: 1. Buffon; 26. Lichtsteiner, 15. Barzagli, 19. Bonucci, 33. Evra; 16. Cuadrado (Peryra, 88′), 6. Khedira (Sturaro, 67′), 11. Hernanes, 12. Sandro; 10. Pogba, 9. Morata (Mandzukic, 71′).
Bayern lined-up in a relatively standard 4-3-3 formation. In goal was Neuer. Lahm, Kimmich, Benatia and Alaba were the back-four, with full-backs Lahm and Alaba frequently moving infield when in possession. As 6 was Xabi Alonso. Ahead of him Vidal and Muller, which surprisingly meant Thiago was left on the bench. The three forwards were Douglas Costa, Lewandowski and Ribery.
Juve played in a shape not too dissimilar to a 4-4-1-1. Buffon was in goal. In front of him Lichtsteiner , Barzagli, Bonucci and Evra. As the double-pivot Khedira and Hernanes started, and flanking them were Cuadrado and Alex Sandro. Paul Pogba played primarily in the left halfspace behind main striker Álvaro Morata.
A New Defensive Approach
In the opening leg, Max Allegri’s Juve defended in a deep-mid block for the majority of the game, only managing to compete with Bayern in the second half, notably when they began to press higher. From the start of the second leg however, Juventus pressed Bayern in a high block.
Looking at the starting line-up on paper, Juventus were expected to play in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. When pressing Bayern however, Juve transitioned into a 4-4-2, with Paul Pogba moving alongside Álvaro Morata to press Kimmich and Benatia. Due to Bayern often building up through their full-backs, in the halfspaces or even wings, this could mean Morata and Pogba would find it difficult to press as Bayern would usually have an overload in most situations in build-up. In order to limit the influence of one of Bayern’s key players in build-up, Phillip Lahm, Paul Pogba defended intelligently. If Lahm was to remain on the wing, Pogba would press Kimmich quickly, but would angle his run in a particular way to block any pass to Lahm on the wing. Below is an actual situation from minute 12.
When Lahm moved infield however, in his inverted wing-back role, Pogba would instead drop off and leave Morata to press Bayern’s centre-backs or mark Alonso.
In the first leg, Bayern dominated the centre of the field, largely due to often having overloads with the inverted movements of Lahm and Bernat into the halfspace. In order to prevent Bayern so frequently having these overloads this time around, Pogba tracking Lahm cancelled him out as a potential ‘overloader’. Another player who nullified the threat of Bayern’s inverted wing-backs was Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian right-midfielder was tasked with dealing with Alaba, and in doing so, was excellent, I will speak about this later in the analysis. Xabi Alonso was the final Bayern player who Juve saw as key in central dominance, so he was kept under close watch by Sami Khedira. If Alonso didn’t drop between Kimmich and Benatia(Alaba in second half), Khedira would leave his position alongside Hernanes in the double-pivot to press. If Alonso did however drop in between the centre-backs, Khedira would then maintain his position as 6.
With Khedira pressing Alonso and Hernanes often stepping forward to mark Muller, this allowed Juventus to maintain very good vertical compactness, a key component in a high pressing 4-4-2, which made escaping the press extremely difficult for Bayern as there was almost no space in behind Juve’s first pressing layer for players to move into to and receive the ball from the defence.
Lack of Penetration
Despite being poor defensively, the weakest area of Bayern’s game in the first half was arguably their attack. The inclusion of Vidal/Alonso over Thiago, the absence of Robben through injury, the exclusion of Coman from the starting line-up for Ribery and lastly the inclusion of Benatia at centre-back with Alaba at left-back, rather than Alaba at CB, Bernat LB all played a part in Bayern’s attacking woes. Another factor which obviously played a part was Juve’s defensive structure, which was excellent.
Firstly we will look at how the role of Juan Cuadrado seriously limited Bayern’s threat from deep. David Alaba, one of Bayern’s key players in build-up, was suffocated by Cuadrado throughout the game, in particular the first half. As Alaba moved into advanced positions in the left halfspace, which he frequently did due to playing as inverted full-back, Cuadrado would track the Austrian and attempt to block any passing lane to him from deep in Bayern’s build-up. This limited Bayern’s opportunities for penetrating as Alaba is a player they rely on finding between lines to carry the team forward from build-up to attack. When Alaba was in possession in deep areas, things weren’t much better. As soon as he received the ball, Cuadrado would be on him very quickly in order to prevent him playing vertically easily. This too, prevented penetration from Bayern as Alaba is very good at breaking lines with passes but wasn’t able to do this when being pressed so quickly.
Despite their best players being nullified in build-up, there were still areas in Juve’s structure which Bayern would be capable of exploiting, with the correct execution. For example, when Cuadrado pressed Alaba, this opened up Cuadrado’s standard defensive position(Bayern’s left halfspace)which created space for Ribery or Vidal to run into.
Due to personnel, the Bavarians weren’t able to exploit this. Due to Ribery not being as sharp as he was a year ago or two ago, the Frenchman wasn’t able to exploit the few seconds of freedom he found in the left halfspace, and Cuadrado was often able to recover and support Lichtsteiner defensively.
Another reason Bayern weren’t able to exploit this gap as well as they’d have liked was down to poor execution of passes, and slow circulation. Though not the player he used to be, more could have been asked of Xabi Alonso in possession. Alonso was often too slow in his circulation(so too was Vidal notably)which again, gave Cuadrado time to recover back to his standard defensive position.
Another problem was their poor execution of passes. Despite there being a relatively wide passing lane to play through, if the right angle was found, it still wasn’t an easy task to break the line to find Ribery in the left halfspace. This wasn’t a task Vidal or Muller could consistently complete, which meant lots of attacking oppurtunites were wasted by Bayern. The inclusion of Thiago Alcantara would have significantly improved this.
Bayern’s Wing-Orientation Forces Juve into Altering Their Defensive System
With Bayern chasing the game, Pep Guardiola was forced into making changes. At half-time, Juan Bernat came on for Benatia, which saw Alaba move to centre-back while Bernat took up the left-back role. This change saw Alaba often move into midfield alongside Vidal to help penetrate Juve, another reason for the switch was that Bayern began to play in a very high line with lots of space behind them with the risk of being in lots of a 1v1’s, Alaba is far more competent than Benatia in these situations, which was proven in what may be Benatia’s last appearance under Pep. Bernat stayed a lot closer to the wing than Alaba did and was tasked with supporting Ribery in providing width on the left. A significant point in the match was the introduction of Kingsley Coman. Many had questioned the decision to bench the in-form youngster who funnily enough, is on loan from Juventus to Bayern, and when he came on, he proved Guardiola wrong. His addition to the fold saw Vidal pivot, and Costa played primarily in the right halfspace, although he was given freedom to dribble into the centre as well as pairing up with Coman on the right to overload the wing, a move which Pep Guardiola has shown he loves. This was the change which forced Juventus into a back-five.
In order to cope with Bayern’s wing overloads, Alex Sandro dropped into the backline, creating a back-five. This move allowed Sandro to press the ball, while the left center back Evra could shift over and support him by defending the halfspace, or Douglas Costa if he drifted onto the wing.
As Bayern played a very high line in the second half, this forced Juve into a very low block, eventually being forced into defending on their 18-yard-box for the last 15 minutes. This was a massive turning point in the game as due to defending Bayern’s relentless attacks in search for a late equaliser, Juve grew fatigued and were forced into making changes. Most significantly, Struaro for Khedira and Pereyra for Cuadrado. In the last minutes of the game, Juve were extremely tired and mistakes began to occur. Alex Sandro was struggling to cope with the fresh legged Kingsley Coman in particular and in the end, this was the battle where Bayern’s superiority won them the game.
In the end, thanks to some excellent recovery substitutions by Pep Guardiola, Bayern won 4-2, a thrilling 6-4 on aggregate. However, Juventus deserve huge credit for their performances over the two legs, in particular the first half of the match at the Allianz Arena. Massimillano Allegri’s side showed one of the best tactical performances ever against a Pep Guardiola team, in the first half. His side nullified the Bavarian’s threats in all areas of the field and deservedly rushed into a two goal lead.
Unfortunately for the men from Turin, they couldn’t hold on and Bayern’s substitutes ultimately won them the game, with Bayern in the hat for the next quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Written by Ross Eaton.
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