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In the Zone: Benfica 0-4 Bayern performance analysis

UEFA's Technical Observer panel reviews Bayern's victory at Benfica on Matchday 3.

In the Zone: Benfica's high press
In the Zone: Benfica's high press

Bayern München have achieved their best start at the midway point of a UEFA Champions League group stage, but they had to work hard for this victory against a Benfica side whose aggressive, brave high press caused them problems for the first 70 minutes.

Here UEFA's Technical Observer panel assesses the German champions' 4-0 win at Benfica on Matchday 3 which made it 20 games unbeaten on the road in this competition. Bayern, missing coach Julian Nagelsmann because of illness, had to work hard to break down a resilient Benfica side but ended the match rampant, showing their ruthlessness with four goals during a late 15-minute flurry.

Goals

Highlights: Benfica 0-4 Bayern
Highlights: Benfica 0-4 Bayern

0-1: Leroy Sané (70)
A magnificent free-kick strike delivered by the left foot of Sané from some 23 metres – in the same week, incidentally, that he was awarded Bayern’s September goal of the month award for an earlier free-kick against Bochum.

0-2: Everton, own goal (80)
Joshua Kimmich’s cute lofted pass picked out Serge Gnabry’s clever run behind the home back line and the Bayern substitute’s low cross was met by the head of Benfica subsitute Everton, who turned the ball into his own net.

0-3: Robert Lewandowski (82)
Gnabry’s powerful surge down the right ended with a cross which Sané turned goalwards, with Lewandowski applying the final touch for his 25th goal in his last 19 UEFA Champions League appearances.

0-4: Leroy Sané (84)
Another goal emanating from Gnabry on the right; he fed the overlapping Josip Stanišić whose cutback was converted by Sané for his first brace in Bayern colours.

Best Player

Selected as the UEFA Champions League Player of the Match, Kingsley Coman was described by technical observer Roberto Martínez as "the perfect outlet" for Bayern on their left flank. Disciplined in his position, he had the beating of his opponents time and again and teed up both of Bayern’s disallowed goals. It is worth revisiting the fabulous shuffle of his feet that took him past Diogo Gonçalves before his cutback for Thomas Müller's disallowed goal – a piece of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brilliance.

Coman on 'great game' from Bayern
Coman on 'great game' from Bayern

Features

From Benfica this was a brave display in which they tried to counter Bayern's dominance as best they could. This bravery was evident from the first minute when one of the three Benfica centre-backs stepped into the Bayern half, keeping track of an opposition midfielder in an attempt to disrupt the visitors’ build-up (a tactic we will return to in the next section).

There was plenty of industry too, notably from central midfielders Julian Weigl and João Mário who organised the hosts’ attacking patterns. The latter’s technical quality and ball control were crucial in affording them some precious time on the ball on a night when Benfica had a 39% share of possession. Further upfield, their front three worked hard on the initial high press and they had chances too on the counter, notably when Roman Yaremchuk held off Dayot Upamecano on a run from the halfway line before flashing a shot across goal (35 seconds before the award of the free-kick which brought Bayern’s breakthrough).

For their part, Bayern's approach was consistent throughout as they looked to build from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and play through the Benfica line of pressure. It did not work every time but their confidence and belief did not waver. Indeed they looked to score whenever they had the ball, with quick, dynamic attacks featuring the width of Coman and Benjamin Pavard, and clever interactions between the more central quartet of Lewandowski, Müller, Sané and Marcel Sabitzer. And when the breakthrough did not arrive in the first hour, they then profited from the introduction of Gnabry, a winger in place of a full-back (albeit Nagelsmann did once use Gnabry as a wing-back when he had him on loan at Hoffenheim in 2017/18).

Team formations

Benfica’s starting formation was a 1-3-4-3. The front three were always ready to rotate positions and work hard on the initial high press. Darwin Nuñez had the best chances on the counterattack, taking advantage of a high position with Yaremchuk, as Rafael Silva would drop into midfield to assist with defensive duties.

Benfica played through Bayern on a few occasions with the execution of this system and created the best opportunities through positional play.

Off the ball, Jorge Jesus’s men switched to a 1-5-4-1 which meant Nuñez dropping too and Yaremchuk staying alone up top. In this shape, with the wing-backs joining the centre-halves in a five, Benfica were hard to break down, keeping very compact and defending their final third with lots of bodies and impressive intensity – and helped by a high-quality display by goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos (99) who made four saves.

When pressing high, this was a fluid system with one of the three centre-backs stepping into midfield at times to defend one of Bayern’s attacking players, creating a 1-4-3-3. This demanded both courage and aggression and – at least until the second goal went in – they did it well, particularly Jan Vertonghen (5).

Benfica’s 1-4-3-3 formation when pressing high
Benfica’s 1-4-3-3 formation when pressing high

Bayern set up in a typical 1-4-2-3-1 formation out of possession, showing impressive understanding and synchronisation between the players with excellent distances between the lines. They defended high as a team, reacting quickly by pressing the opposition straight away and right up the pitch.

That template morphed into a 1-3-4-3 in possession with Thomas Muiller (25) coming inside from the right into the pocket behind Lewandowski (9), Pavard (5) advancing high up the field on the right and Coman (11) pushing higher on the left. Bayern’s attacking resources are such that they could replace Pavard with Gnabry after 65 minutes, a fresh injection of power and directness which had a telling impact on the final outcome.

Bayern’s 1-3-4-3 formation in possession
Bayern’s 1-3-4-3 formation in possession

Coaches' assessments

Jorge Jesus, Benfica coach: "Bayern are a very powerful team. For 70 minutes it didn't look like we were going to lose 4-0. They put us under a lot of pressure. Until their opener it was an open game. We did everything, but in the end we lost."

Dino Toppmöller, Bayern assistant coach: "It was a great team performance, without singling anyone out. We started well in the first half and had some chances. But we also have to recognise that we played Benfica, who you don't beat just by turning up. In the second half, we did well with a better structure. The second goal opened the floodgates. All in all, it was a deserved victory."