Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich: 6 Things We Learned
Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich looked on paper to be the more attractive of the two Champions League semi-finals, and so it proved. Real Madrid won Wednesday’s first leg 1-0 in a match with far more goal-mouth action than the previous night’s meeting between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti maintained his unbeaten record against Bayern Munich, and in the process, subjected his opposite number Pep Guardiola to a first-ever defeat at the Bernabeu as a coach.
It was an intriguing tactical battle. Bayern dominated possession, while Madrid stayed compact in defence and counter-attacked dangerously, with their goal and a few other presentable chances coming from quick breaks forward.
Here are six things we learned from Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich.
Benzema Ends His Goal Drought
Karim Benzema had gone seven matches in all competitions without scoring prior to Wednesday night’s fixture, but he ended his drought by tapping in at the far post from Fabio Coentrao’s cross for the first and only goal of the match.
Even when he doesn’t score, Benzema contributes to the team with his strong hold-up play. His willingness to drop off the front draws defenders and helps create space for the wide forwards to cut infield towards goal.
Carlo Ancelotti will nevertheless hope to see the Frenchman add a few more goals to his tally in the coming weeks.
Cristiano Ronaldo Makes a Difference
"Cristiano gives us an explosive edge, the potential to create chances and score goals,” Xabi Alonso explained in a pre-match press conference (per AS), and Ronaldo did indeed prove decisive.
Madrid’s top-scorer had missed each of their previous four matches with knee and hamstring problems, but with Gareth Bale limited to the bench by a bout of the flu, he returned to the starting XI on Wednesday and was involved in most of Madrid’s best attacking moments.
Ronaldo split the away defence with a superbly weighted through ball to Fabio Coentrao in the build-up to the only goal of the match, fired over the crossbar off a Coentrao cross and saw two good second-half efforts parried away by the Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
He was substituted for Bale in the 73rd minute to widespread applause. With another week to regain further fitness, he is sure to have an even more prominent role to play in the second leg.
Modric and Alonso Take Charge
Carlo Ancelotti emphasised the importance of working hard and staying compact in his pre-match press conference. While his defence performed well, it was the two midfielders in front of them, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric, who stole the show.
Borussia Dortmund had worked the ball around Madrid’s midfield too easily in their quarter-final second leg, and this semi-final was a far more disciplined performance. Modric was very proactive, pressuring Bayern’s midfielders while seeking opportunities to nip in and win the ball; Alonso sat in behind, staying alert to sweep up anything that got past his teammate.
Modric also excelled himself in possession. As per WhoScored, he completed 97 percent of his 34 passes, including one superb through ball to Fabio Coentrao in the build-up to a good chance for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Beyond that, he was always willing to receive the ball under pressure and take on the responsibility of turning away from his markers to create space and move his side forward.
Ancelotti would love to see a repeat performance from the pair in Munich next Tuesday.
Bayern Prove Themselves Susceptible to Counter-Attacks
In the build-up to the match, Marca noted that Pep Guardiola had spent a lot of time mulling over his defensive options, keen to find a combination capable of coping with the pace and power of the Madrid attack.
The stomach problems that limited Javi Martinez to the substitutes bench may have forced Guardiola into a late reshuffle, but the starting XI he sent out onto the Bernabeu pitch had few answers to Madrid’s swift, sharp counter-attacks.
On the goal and on a few occasions thereafter, Madrid were easily able to exploit the space between Rafinha and Jerome Boateng on the right side of the Bayern defence. With better finishing, Madrid could easily have had another two or three goals to show for their efforts.
“Madrid are the best counter-attacking team in the world,” Guardiola admitted afterwards, as per AS. Next week he faces the daunting task of bringing more offensive incision to his side while also limiting a Madrid attack that is likely to feature fully-fit versions of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Guardiola Must Be More Adventurous in the Second Leg
Bayern unsurprisingly dominated possession, but they lacked a real cutting edge in the final third and only forced Iker Casillas into serious action on one occasion in the 90 minutes.
Pep Guardiola selected a three-man midfield of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, and while they manoeuvred the ball with the efficiency you would expect from such accomplished players, they provided little in the way of verticality.
Bayern needed something more: an additional runner from midfield to give the Madrid defence something extra to think about.
With Franck Ribery easily snuffed out by Daniel Carvajal, Mario Mandzukic drifting across the front line to little effect and Arjen Robben starved of someone to link up with when he darted inside off the right flank, Bayern struggled to create many chances of note.
The introduction of Mario Goetze and Thomas Mueller for the final quarter-hour led to two of the better chances of the match for Guardiola’s side, and those players should both be in his thoughts for the second leg.
Bayern will have to be more adventurous if they hope to overcome their first-leg deficit and progress to a third consecutive final.
Bayern's Post-Title Downturn Continues
Since wrapping up the Bundesliga title back in late March, Bayern have lost three and drawn two of their following eight matches.
“We secured the league title a while back and that has made us drop our rhythm a little,” Pep Guardiola admitted to AS in the build-up to Wednesday’s match.
After a performance that was decidedly lacking in inspiration, Guardiola has his work cut out to get his side focused and ready for what is sure to be an intense occasion in Munich next Tuesday.