'Coco' Show Carlo Ancelotti Benefit of Pace and Width to Bayern Munich

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2016

Douglas Costa's introduction helped tip the game in Eindhoven Bayern's way
Douglas Costa's introduction helped tip the game in Eindhoven Bayern's wayCHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

Come on, fellas, make your minds up! Mats Hummels confidently stated to kicker he had found Bayern Munich's UEFA Champions League win at PSV Eindhoven "quite honestly not so difficult" (in German) while Arjen Robben—the subject of a touching standing ovation from the fans who first witnessed his talents on the European stage—had the polar opposite opinion.

"It was difficult," the Netherlands international told kicker (in German). "In the first half, we didn't have any conviction and played much too slowly. That means you don't get into good situations. We have to play the ball out better. It wasn't a good performance from us. We have to learn footballistically, because we always make the same mistakes. We qualified, but if we play like that in the last 16, we'll have problems."

Despite Hummels being in a position to have a more-than-valid opinion, the accepted wisdom is that Bayern—despite Robert Lewandowski hitting the woodwork three times in addition to his two goals—were not at their best.

"It was tough at the start, but we slowly got into the game and just about managed to win in the end. It was important to control their counter-attacks and not to lose confidence after going 1-0 down," coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted, per Bayern's official website. "We played quicker after the break and created more chances. Bringing on Coman and Costa I tried to change the system to send in more crosses. It was good."

It was undoubtedly the introduction of the latter duo on 64 minutes that turned the game decisively in Bayern's favour in Eindhoven.

Not that they had not dominated before that: 64 per cent possession, 12 attempts at goal, six on target, to their opponents' two at the half-time interval. But Bayern's play was sluggish, their passing ponderous rather than the crisp clip required to shoehorn their opponents, quite happy to defend with all 11 men in their own final third, out of position. Even Robben, whose heels have looked rocket-fuelled in recent games, was laboured.

Yes, Lewandowski had found the woodwork, but the most important stat of all—the score—was level, and only because the Italian referee had cancelled out one bad decision (allowing the PSV goal when scorer Santiago Arias was clearly offside when the initial effort was sent Manuel Neuer's way) with another (a debatable penalty award).

Ancelotti had clearly seen enough to convince him that his 4-3-3 system was not working against opponents who were supremely well-drilled and persistently resistant to Bayern's advances through the middle of the pitch.

It was clear width was required to provide Lewandowski with more space in central areas, and more ammunition in front of goal. It was no coincidence that Bayern's penalty stemmed from one of the rare occasions in the first half when the Bundesliga champions got behind the home back four and crossed in the shape of Philipp Lahm.

Coman and Costa were already out warming up in the chilly Eindhoven air within minutes of the start of the second half, and though Ancelotti persisted until after the hour mark, he eventually gave in and switched 4-3-3 for a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2.

The former Chelsea FC and AC Milan boss' idea behind his beloved strategy is to get more of his forward players into the box to get on the end of crosses provided by his full-backs, a la Lahm for the penalty. However, with PSV—like so many of Bayern's opponents in the Bundesliga and early stages of European competition, Atletico Madrid excepted—parking the team coach squarely 30-35 metres from their own goal, there simply is not the room for the full-backs to get forward.

That is where "Coco" come in. The pair performed brilliantly under Pep Guardiola in 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 last season, and in the space of a handful of minutes on the pitch against PSV, they showed they will be vital to Bayern's success this season.

Both have pace in abundance and that precious commodity of being able to beat their man one-on-one, both of which are vital ingredients in the type of situation Bayern found themselves in. PSV could close the spaces—the passing lanes, they would call them in ice hockey—and watch Bayern play the ball about in front of them all night, happily claiming an unexpected point courtesy of their fortuitous goal.

What they—and they are not alone in this—could not cope with was individual flair. Costa provided it on the left 10 minutes after coming on. When he came inside with the ball at his feet, the PSV full-back had to go with him, creating the space for David Alaba to overlap. The Brazilian's absolutely stunning pass did the rest, allowing Alaba to cross for Lewandowski to snaffle up the match winner.

Coman, too, might have had a hand in a goal, but after beating his man on the right and crossing, the France international saw Costa head down for Lewandowski, who, instead of completing a hat-trick, secured an unwanted but nonetheless historic trio of woodwork strikes.

Later in the game, the youngster, who has been overlooked by Ancelotti in favour of Franck Ribery when the elder Frenchman has been fit, burst past his man who only just recovered sufficiently to prod the ball out for a corner with a desperate lunge.

It was great to see, especially given how lost Coman had looked as part of the front three in a 4-3-3 in the DFB Pokal game against FC Augsburg six days earlier. As Ancelotti has said, Coman and Costa's game is not getting into the box themselves, but much more about getting the ball into it. Which raises the question: Why has he tried to use them for anything else?

The duo's introduction spread PSV, isolated the full-backs one-on-one or forced the hosts to double up on the Bayern wide men, freeing space through the middle into which Arturo Vidal happily charged to join Lewandowski and Thomas Muller in the penalty area, giving Ancelotti's side a far more potent threat.

It only lasted for just over 20 minutes as Ancelotti reverted to type with the introduction of Renato Sanches for Muller five minutes from time, but it had already been enough to win Bayern the game and secure qualification for the knockout stages. It may also prove only a brief departure from the norm, but "Coco" showed Ancelotti he can use them to change the shape of his side and, with it, the shape of Bayern's destiny.

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