Bayern Munich – Juventus 4:2 (aet)
A 2-2 draw in Turin in the first leg set up a decisive second leg between two of the biggest clubs in the history of world football. With Bayern carrying two away goals into the game, Juve chose to play aggressively, offering Bayern something very different from what they face week-to-week in the Bundesliga and resulting in a match that was breathtaking for the spectator and a fascinating for the analyst.
Both sides had significant absentees and had to delve into their deep squads. Bayern were missing Arjen Robben as well as the defensive trio of Badstuber, Martinez and Boateng–all out with long term problems. Juve were without the experience of Marchisio and Chiellini while the potent Paulo Dybala was also sidelined.
Juventus’ final third press
The main tactical headline of the game with Juventus’ aggressive yet disciplined pressing of Bayern’s initial build-up phases. They operated a semi-man-orientated pressing system with focus on controlling central zones and forbidding Bayern from making progress through the centre of the pitch via Alonso, Vidal and Müller. Pogba played in an advanced role in the left half-space while Khedira would often push up to support Morata in pressing Bayern’s centre backs and goalkeeper. They always applied pressure to the ball carrier, not giving Bayern any time to find accurate longer passes over the top of their pressure.
The GIF above shows are Morata, Pogba and Khedira are restriciting Bayern from making vertical passes by being horizontally compact around the ball, with Khedira tight to Alonso. Hernanes is in proximity of Müller while Sandro is ready to press Lahm, leaving no covering players for Juventus. Juve tried to anticipate the flank the ball would be played to and moved quickly and compactly to cover the space in this area. As the ball gets played over to Alaba, Cuadrado must apply pressure to Alaba, leaving space for vidal to drop into. Ever aware, Bonucci sprints forward to cover Vidal and intercept the pass into him. This type of pressing may seem gung-ho from Juventus however to stop Bayern progressing up the field, they must ensure there are no weak links in the press, meaning Bonucci has to come forward and intercept while risking a defensively vulnerable situation behind him. This high pressing from Juve was an extremely successful strategy and it exposed some of Bayern’s structural frailties in early build-up. Bayern were shocked as their initial build-up is rarely pressed, and has never been pressed this effectively.
One key factor which set Juventus’ pressing strategy apart from others who have faced Bayern, is how the pressed Neuer. Normally, Neuer’s advanced positioning and involvement in early build-up creates an overload too significant to make it worth pressing their early build up, as Bayern will simply play it around any men you commit and exploit the space behind your pressing lines. Juventus however, anticipated passes back to Neuer and set off rapidly pressing him when it looked as if he was going to receive the ball, using cover shadows effectively to eliminate Bayern’s overload. Neuer was shaken by this and didn’t look as comfortable as usual. This pressing meant Neuer often played short passes into his centre-backs who were equally as stifled instead of his usual lobs over liens of pressure into free midfield options. He often panicked and was forced into clearances that Juve had a high chance of winning.
Benatia is on the ball with Khedira’s body position showing him back inside Juve have 2v1 coverage on Vidal and Müller. Juve’s defensive play was aimed at stopping these two midfielders from receiving the ball. The pass is played back to Neuer. Morata presses Neuer while cover shadowing Alonso. Neuer has to rush his clearance and clears it straight to Khedira, it ricochets of Khedira into Morata whose goal is wrongly disallowed for offside. Juventus’ general coverage and ability to follow Bayern’s movements was exceptional. In his 18 months in charge, Allegri has gradually changed Juventus from a quintessentially Italian side with three exceptional centre-backs and the guile of Pirlo at regista who would dominate with slow possession in Serie A while setting up defensively in big European nights to a team full of athletes dogged in nature. In their off-the-ball play, they were at times reminiscent of Mourinho’s 04/05 Chelsea in their physical nature.
Juventus pressed high throughout the whole of the match, although as the match progressed they understandably tired and struggled to cover as much ground. The intensity and compactness decreased and Bayern found it easier to play through them and exploit space upfield. Bayern used the pace of Ribery and Costa to terrorise the Juventus defence running towards their own goal. Overall, however, Juventus’ pressing was a strategic masterclass from Allegri.
Juve’s own half defensive play
As expected, when Bayern had possession in Juventus’ half the Italians put all eleven men deep behind the ball. Sandro moved into a left-wingback position, giving Juventus a five-chain which combatted Bayern’s ability to create their usual 3v2 wing overloads, stopped Müller and Costa from running riot on the right-hand side, and meant that the centre-backs within the five-chain could push forward to follow a man into midfield and not leave huge gaps behind them. Borussia Dortmund showed the effectiveness of a five-at-the-back versus Bayern earlier this month.
When Bayern had possession in the middle third of the field but in Juve’s half (so the fourth-sixth of the field), Juventus used Morata and their midfield players to keep a compact shape on the side the ball was on, restricting vertical, ground-level passes from Bayern’s deep midfielders and centre-backs.
For most of the match, Juve’s own half defensive play was good. They restricted Bayern from getting the ball into feet in ‘Zone 14’ very well. Lichsteiner would be tight to Ribery when the Frenchman won the ball, meaning Ribery couldn’t knock it into space behind Lichsteiner. Sandro tracked Müller very well when the Raumdeuter was in wide areas and Bonucci restricted Müller’s movements into the ten-space very well also.
As the game moved into its later stages, Juve did start to struggle defensively. They didn’t have the energy to sprint towards Bayern’s wingers to stop crosses, and Pogba was often defensively liable. As I’ll explain in the next section of the analysis, the more Bayern committed to attack, the more Juve struggled.
Bayern’s final third attacking strategy
In the first half, Bayern struggled in the final third. Alaba would push forward into the left halfspace while Ribery would stay out wide. Vidal and Alonso would be involved in deeper possession, Müller would push on and Costa would cut in from the wing into the halfspace. Somewhat due to Juve’s good defensive play, the Bavarians struggled to get the ball into feet in the dangerous central areas where they usually use good combination play to breach the opposition’s defensive line.
Bayern seemed too static while in possession, with players struggling to make effective rotations in the final third. This was possibly due to the fact 8 of the 11 starting players also started against Werder Bremen at the weekend.
Midway through the first half, Ribery moved into a more central position, as Bayern weren’t getting any joy down the flanks as Juventus often doubled up 2v1 very effectively with Cuadrado and Lichsteiner both took care of Ribery while Barzagli, part of a five-chain of course, could occupy Alaba in the left halfspace. This worked well for Bayern, allowing them to keep the ball in the fnal third in the central column of the pitch, something that was not possible beforehand.
The above scene shows how Ribery moving inside made a difference. It gave Bayern an extra presence to keep possession in the dangerous ‘zone 14′ while looking for gaps in the Juve back line. In this case, Ribery and Costa are 2v1 on Khedira. Khedira moves across to press Ribery while Ribery moves it to Costa, who is now being tracked by Hernanes who has had to move out of the defensive line to apply pressure to him. This (also due to some lazy defending from Pogba) opens the gap from Costa to play it into Müller who has a good chance on goal.
Although Cuadrado did score from a counter-attack, having Morata to thank for some exceptional individual play, Bayern’s gegenpressing and defensive transition structure was effective, often pinning Juve in their own first quarter for large periods of the game as they struggled to clear their lines.
Bernat came on at half time for Benatia while Alaba dropped back to centre-back. A key Bayern substitution and one that changed the match was on the sixtieth minute when Alonso came off for Coman. Vidal became a lone pivot while Costa moved into a central position. Costa would drop deep to receive the ball from the centre-backs and then use his dribbling skills to move it into the final third, something that worked well. Bayern tend to look a lot more dynamic without Alonso on the field. His partnership with Vidal has been questionable this season as the footballing synergy between the pair doesn’t seem to be there.
Bayern began to cross the ball into the area more as the game went on. This became a more effective strategy as Juve became less able to apply quick ball pressure in the latter stages of the game. Bayern threw more men onto Juventus’ centre backs and basically played the odds of Müller and Lewandowski running onto crosses 2v2 with Barzagli and Bonucci. Crossing was a very sound strategy considering Buffon is now no longer as commanding in his penalty area when it comes to collecting crosses.
Ribery also became effective as Juventus legs tired. Back in his left-wing area he received the ball with space and attacked the Juventus defence with the ball at his feet.
As I mentioned, Bayern overloaded the centre of the pitch more as the match went on. They began to focus on overloading central areas more and more. Below is an example of how the managed to successfully deliver the ball into Thomas Müller’s feet in the ten-space in the build-up to Bayern’s equalising goal.
This is as typical an incident of Bayern creating space as you’ll see. Lahm has moved forward in the right halfspace on Evra. Coman and Ribery are in wide positions, enticing Juve’s two wingbacks wide. This creates the initial 3v3 situation in the centre. Costa, as he did for most of the last half hour, has received the ball in a deep area. Lewandowski makes a decoy run infield, Barzagli of course stays tight to him however Bonucci is distracted by this run of a player into his zone. Müller can therefore pull off Bonucci and into this space that has been created. Vidal moves up to support him. Müller’s pass to Vidal is cut out by Evra however Vidal immediately challenges him and plays the ball wide to Coman who has acres of space. Coman picks out Müller who has continued his run into the box unmarked. Tör!
Although not in the very late stages of the competition, this match will certainly go down as one of the best in Champions League history. Juventus shocked us all, Pep Guardiola included, and showed why they will become Italian champions once again this season.
For Bayern, it was a story of perseverance. They continued with their overall gameplan and philosophy throughout the game with minor tweaks from Pep as well as some inspired substitutions gave Bayern the goals which, in the end, they deserved.
Bayern’s weaknesses were exposed and I’m sure Rui Vitoria will pick up on these in the run up to Bayern’s quarter-final match against Benfica. The character Bayern showed in adversity was remarkable, and is something they will need to carry forward throughout the competition to deliver Guardiola a Champions League trophy in his final match as Bayern boss.