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Preparation pays for Magath

Published: Tuesday 22 February 2005, 23.17CET
FC Bayern München coach Felix Magath's tactics left visitors Arsenal FC frustrated.

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Published: Tuesday 22 February 2005, 23.17CET

Preparation pays for Magath

FC Bayern München coach Felix Magath's tactics left visitors Arsenal FC frustrated.

By Duncan White

Perhaps it was the thick band of snow which encircled the Olympiastadion pitch, but Arsenal FC were certainly caught cold by FC Bayern München in their UEFA Champions League first knockout round, first-leg match.

Tactical victory
The 3-1 victory means Bayern have one foot in the next round and it was largely down to the way their coach Felix Magath had prepared his players. This was a comprehensive tactical victory for the home team.

On the ball
Bayern were tuned in from the kick-off and took the lead after just four minutes. Their players all knew their respective roles on the pitch and did not take time to settle in their system. Arsenal, by contrast, took time to adjust to their formation and never hit the tempo that can make them such dangerous opponents.

Resilient defence
Magath certainly outhought opposition manager Arsène Wenger. The impressive centre-half pairing of Lucio and Robert Kovac are the foundation of this Bayern team, and with Oliver Kahn inspirational in goal, they are an extremely difficult side to break down.

Demichelis key
However, the key to Magath denying Arsenal the fluidity they so crave was the deployment of Martin Demichelis in front of the back four. The Argentinian was only in the side because Michael Ballack is out injured, but his performance was intrumental in suppressing the visitors' attacking instincts.

Too many cooks
Wenger's team like to play on the edge of the box, threading passes through for pacey team-mates. Yet while Thierry Henry, Robert Pirès, Fredrik Ljungberg and José Antonio Reyes are all fleet of foot, none is an orthodox striker. This meant that all four tended to drift in the same areas around the box - the area that Demichelis was so expertly patrolling.

Lack of focus
Henry - a converted winger - and Reyes got in each other's way down the left, while Pirès and Ljungberg had similar, albeit less acute problems, down the right. The absence of Dennis Bergkamp was certainly felt, but Arsenal also lack a striker who can attack the penalty spot and hold the ball up. There is nobody for Arsenal to go to when flustered in possession and Magath had his team pressing remorselessly.

Flanking moves
Another benefit from Magath's system was that Demichelis could cover for the attacking runs of Bayern's French full-backs, Willy Sagnol and Bixente Lizarazu. This allowed Bayern to overlap down the flanks and get crosses in for Roy Makaay and Claudio Pizarro. The home team certainly perceived an aerial vulnerability in the English champions, who missed the physical presence of injured Sol Campbell.

Touré errors
The big England international has forged an impressive partnership with Kolo Touré, but the latter was not his usual composed self. While his defensive partner Pascal Cygan had a solid game, the Ivorian defender was twice exposed in the air. First he failed to deal with what looked a straightforward punt by Kahn that lead to Bayern's opener and then he lost his man, goalscorer Pizarro, for the second.

Ballack dilemma
While these errors were uncharacteristic of one of Arsenal's more consistent performers, it is certain that Magath and his team will be targeting set-pieces as a means of finishing off this tie in the second leg at Highbury. The main worry for the Bayern coach now is how to fit Ballack into a team that performed so well.

Last updated: 23/02/05 17.55CET