Film Focus: Real Madrid Soak Up Pressure, Hit Bayern Munich on the Break

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Film Focus: Real Madrid Soak Up Pressure, Hit Bayern Munich on the Break
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A glance at the stats would seem to indicate a dominant Bayern Munich performance on Wednesday.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

While the Bundesliga champions did control 72 percent of possession and complete 90 percent of their passes to Real Madrid’s 79 percent, per WhoScored.com, they failed to make their territorial advantage count and fell 1-0 to the Primera Division giants in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Not that Madrid didn’t deserve the victory.

As manager Carlo Ancelotti said in his post-match press conference, Los Blancos “played well” despite “suffering sometimes” and fared “well” in attack.

“Overall,” the Italian remarked, “I’m happy with my team.”

He had good reason to be, and he could have been excused for some pride as well, because on this night at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, his players executed his game plan perfectly, absorbing the Bayern pressure and creating meaningful chances on the break.

 

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Madrid's bank of four in front of the defense awaits Robben's movement from the right.

Soaking up pressure

Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm combined to complete more passes than the entire Real Madrid team on Wednesday, but rarely did they penetrate deep enough into the attacking third to cause goalkeeper Iker Casillas much of a problem.

The defensive line of Daniel Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao held firm, with the two centre-backs performing at a particularly high level of concentration.

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Bayern switch the ball to Ribery, yet Madrid still have eight outfielders in front of the buildup play.

Only once did Pepe and Sergio Ramos seem to lose their bearings amid the Bayern pressure, but by then, Arjen Robben had effectively run himself out of space and could only roll a harmless effort into Casillas’ waiting arms.

Meanwhile, a second wall of white shirts kept much of Bayern’s possession to the perimeter, with Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric closing down space in the centre of the park and Angel Di Maria and Isco providing cover for Carvajal and Coentrao.

 

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Upon winning possession in the 19th minute, Madrid are able to attack the open space down the left in the buildup to their opener.

Hitting on the break

As the match approached its 20th minute, Bayern had already established the pattern of possession that would run through much of the encounter.

But as Madrid’s first wall of defense collapsed into the second, the hosts were frequently able to win brief moments on the ball, and on one of their first forays into the attacking third, they managed to open the scoring against the run of play.

Cristiano Ronaldo did well to release Coentrao down the left, and after spotting the run of Karim Benzema, the Portugal left-back slid the ball across the face of goal for the France striker to tap into the back of the net.

It was a lightning-quick move that caught Bayern completely off guard, and while Madrid spent much of the remainder of the first half on the back-heel, they were able to create several similar chances after the restart.

 

Help for the full-backs

Ancelotti reserved special praise for Isco and Di Maria at the final whistle, telling reporters their “work rate” had been fundamental to the result.

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Modric helps Coentrao contain Robben.

Isco, in particular, helped Coentrao deal with the threat of Robben, and while the Dutchman did take six shots at target, only one of them provided Casillas any noteworthy trouble.

Modric, too, came to Coentrao’s aid on occasion, and more often than not, both Robben and Franck Ribery found themselves outnumbered in the wide areas.

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