Welcome to the latest edition of Tighe's Tactics Board, where we take a tactical and analytical look at UEFA Champions League action from Wednesday and Thursday night.
On the agenda this week: Bayern Munich's free-flowing, yet solid, display and Porto's...failings.
A Team of Two Halves
Bayern Munich's 3-1 victory in Moscow marked the club's sixth successive away victory and 10th successive win overall in the UEFA Champions League, breaking two records and etching their names into the history books of the competition.
It was a little flaky at times—no pun intended—as the snow fell heavily on the outskirts of Europe. Playing at minus-6 centigrade on a slippery surface is incredibly difficult, with misplaced passes and misjudged balls the theme of the opening 10 minutes.
It eventually led the visitors to record their lowest pass-completion percentage of the tournament so far—albeit a pretty impressive 88 percent—and Javi Martinez in particular struggled early on.
CSKA Moscow sat relatively deep when Bayern had the ball, looked to win it in high areas and spark quick counterattacks for Ahmed Musa to seize upon. Given that threat, it was of the utmost importance that Bayern's free-flowing midfield settled into a solid shape quickly when off the ball, and Pep Guardiola restored Martinez to a holding role to ensure stability in the area.
Bayern's formation has been described as a 4-1-4-1 this season, but the differences between that and a 4-3-3 are minuscule at times. Their defensive shell was a definite 4-3-3 shape, with Martinez, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos settling in to absorb pressure.
Moving forward Kroos would become a "shuttler"—a near-box-to-box type player—moving up and down the pitch to join Arjen Robben in attack or Martinez in defence.
This defensive system was regimented, with Martinez the designation holder, Kroos dropping in to form a midfield-pivot at times, and Lahm just ahead to provide the first challenge.
Trust Guardiola, then, to create the complete opposite at the other end of the pitch, as the attacking trio of Robben, Mario Goetze and Thomas Mueller did nothing but interchange all game long.
Goetze was designated as the centre-forward on the team sheet, but it took him a matter of seconds to drift away from this position. Robben replaced him, creating early confusion in Leonid Slutsky's defensive ranks, and the outcome was a quick four vs. five inside the opening minute.
Throughout the game, whoever was playing in the centre-forward's role would rarely play on the shoulder or linger on the last man. Here we see Robben as the CF, but both he and Goetze are a good five yards from the back line.
Centre-backs become easily agitated when the attacking system changes so frequently, and they become worried when they have no one to mark. That leads to mistakes, rash moves and ventures forward that teams like Bayern can punish.
For Goetze's stunning second, he's able to take on (and beat) several defenders drawn into his run, while Mueller uses a sly move to block off the final defender and create space for a shot.
This dynamic system, in which Bayern are organised in defence, yet release players to attack in salvos, appears to be the finest in Europe right now.
FC Porto: Masquerading as a "Team"
Porto have been the dominant force in Portuguese football for some time now, and with a 2004 UEFA Champions League title under their belts, they have forced their way into recognition when talking about some of Europe's finest teams.
Vitor Pereira snuck this side into first place in the Liga Sagres right at the end of last season, eventually claiming the title for the third successive year. They're a consistent presence in European competitions and groom some of the finest players in the world.
Unfortunately, under Paulo Fonseca's leadership, the Dragoes look a cheap imitation of the sides both Pereira and Andre Villas-Boas once presided over.
It must be noted that key players Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez left over the summer, but it's not even a question of quality, more an issue with cohesion, shape and team play.
Atletico Madrid did them a huge favour early on Wednesday, holding Zenit St. Petersburg to a draw and giving the Portuguese club the chance to overtake their Russian rivals with a win over Austria Wien.
But they drew, 1-1, after falling behind early in the first half. A chance squandered, and inexplicably so.
Porto's issues are not widely covered and analysed among English-speaking websites and papers, but despite their presence at the summit of the Liga Sagres, there are very real concerns about this side.
It starts with the fact that this set of 11 players appears to have been chopped in half.
Porto play a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it's more like a back six and a front four. The front four press when the back six stand off and vice-versa, there's no connection, no chemistry and no link.
Moutinho is a huge miss here—few players in world football are as capable as he is at knitting the lines together and creating fusion between defence and attack—but Fonseca's deployment of Lucho Gonzalez is also a problem here.
The Argentine is accustomed to playing a flat central midfield role and doesn't appear to be enjoying Fonseca's use of him as a No. 10. He lacks the pace and agility to create opportunities in tight spaces and visibly wants to drop back and help his midfield.
The disconnect between the two halves in this team could not have been more apparent for Austria Wien's goal, scored after 10 minutes following a woeful clearance from Danilo.
The Brazilian right-back was backed up in his own territory, and while his ball forward was awful and invited the pressure that led to a goal, you have to ask the question: Why did he play it?
The answer: He had no other option.
His centre-backs are being pressed by the opposition and his nearest defensive midfielder—usually the outlet that drops in to help in these situations—is around 30 yards away. Remarkable.
Steven Defour has been asked to link the two "entities," as we'll label them, but his hit-and-miss season continues and he struggles to string it together like Moutinho would.
It's telling that one of Lucho Gonzalez's best moments of the match came when he was tearing back toward his own goal, putting in a goal-saving tackle to halt an incisive Austria Wien breakaway.
Porto are getting by on the virtue that their roster is extremely strong, but in the Champions League—where every detail is scrutinised and exploited—they're being found out.
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