Real Madrid Give Bayern Munich a Lesson in Counter-Attacking Football

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2014

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Bayern Munich's Pep Guardiola is one of the most tactically innovative managers in world football. He proves that despite having a particular style, there are still alterations that can be made to affect the outcome of matches.

Guardiola regularly tinkers with his personnel and formations, along with quirky variations such as full-backs operating centrally with the ball.

What isn't a surprise is his fondness for ball retention. Bayern, like Barcelona before them, aim to keep possession as much as possible, moving the opposition around in order to create openings.

"Guardiola has given his players a different system with more flexibility," said Xabi Alonso to the press before Wednesday's match between Bayern and Real Madrid.

"The foundations of the team are similar, but during the match there is more variation and more depth."

It was Alonso that could clearly be seen gesticulating to his teammates to calm down just seven minutes after kick-off.

Bayern did what everyone expected, keeping the ball and making it difficult for Madrid to manoeuvre up the pitch.

There was a moment when Pepe stepped out of defence and won the ball back, but the fast pressing from Bayern meant he quickly lost it. The Portuguese defender started to give chase before throwing his arms up in the air in frustration and dropping into the back four.

By his standards, it was refrained, and the team's patience as a whole was swiftly rewarded. Guardiola's fluent 4-1-4-1 formation was outnumbering Carlo Ancelotti's 4-4-2, but the Italian was unperturbed.

The plan was to isolate the Bayern centre-backs and use the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema upfront. There was little opportunity to do this in the opening exchanges, but the effectiveness of the idea was there for all to see shortly afterwards.

For nearly 20 minutes, Bayern were all over their Spanish counterparts. Then, after Pepe blocked a Toni Kroos shot, the ball fell to Benzema at the edge of the Madrid area. Few would have envisaged him sticking it in the net just five passes later.

The ball was worked out wide to Ronaldo; his clever penetrative ball down the line for Fabio Coentrao was inch perfect. The left-back laid it across for Benzema to tap in and open the scoring against the run of play.

Not long after, Ronaldo missed a glorious chance that you would normally expect him to finish. Bayern continued to keep the ball and create a few efforts on goal, but Madrid was more incisive in attack.

With minutes until the end of the first half, Madrid almost doubled their lead. Angel di Maria's side-footed volley cleared the crossbar after the Argentine was guilty of leaning too far back.

The second half continued in much the same way as the first; Madrid's zonal wall was virtually unbreakable.

This led to Los Blancos growing in confidence and increasing their possession contribution. It allowed them time to recover and gave Munich a different entity to consider.

Something in the performance was reminiscent of Bayern's destruction of Barcelona from last year. Though, Madrid weren't nearly as clinical and still need to move up a couple of gears in order to replicate it completely.

At the other side of the city, many were quick to announce that Jose Mourinho had given a tactical masterclass in the first semi-final. In that case, they will be struggling for superlatives to describe Carlo Ancelotti's side on Wednesday evening.

Unlike his predecessor, Ancelotti's team were as good in attack as they were defensively. The tie is set-up perfectly for the trip to Germany, especially with Ronaldo and Gareth Bale a week better off for fitness.