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In the Zone: How Madrid thwarted Bayern

UEFA's Technical Observer panel and match observer Giovanni van Bronckhorst analyse the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg between Bayern and Real Madrid.

Madrid's Toni Kroos and Bayern's Leroy Sané at full time
Madrid's Toni Kroos and Bayern's Leroy Sané at full time  

The scoreboard read 2-2 at the end of the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg between Bayern München and Real Madrid – a match in which the talking points included the attacking menace of two-goal Vinícius Júnior as well as the role of Bayern wingers Leroy Sané and Jamal Musiala.

In this analysis brought to you by FedEx, the UEFA performance analysis unit – working together with match observer Giovanni van Bronckhorst – reflect on the key tactical themes of last night's contest, notably a telling half-time switch by Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel.

Team formations


Bayern begin with wingers narrow

Performance analysis: Bayern start with wingers inside

The focus of the first video is Bayern's narrow attacking shape in the first period. Wingers Musiala and Sané came inside, which helped give the German side a 6v2 numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch – with two midfielders, two wingers and two strikers.

The first clip illustrates this point with just two Madrid players, Aurélien Tchouameni and Toni Kroos, up against six from Bayern in the area highlighted. Within this shape, we see Bayern attack and create an opening for Sané inside the first minute.

The second example shows Sané on a driving run down the middle of the pitch. From a coaching perspective, it is instructive to note what he does before receiving the ball. To gain space on Lucas Vázquez, he takes a step closer to the full-back as if shaping to go behind but instead steps forward, by doing so gaining more room for himself to collect the ball, turn and drive forward.

Bayern's approach paid off initially, but as Van Bronckhorst observed, Madrid "managed to adjust" by tweaking the position of their own wide players.

Bayern coach Tuchel offered the following interpretation in his post-match press conference when he said: "We had two strikers and two wingers in the first half, and we wanted to support with the full-backs. But then, after 15 minutes, Real Madrid dropped very deep with their wing-backs and defended almost in a back six, so it was difficult to exploit the space behind the full-backs into the box, where we were strong in the beginning of the match."

Real Madrid's direct threat

As Madrid showed against Manchester City in the previous round, they have impressive defensive capabilities, yet even when defending deep they have the speed to spring into attacking mode in an instant. "In the blink of an eye, they can really turn the pace up and cause you problems," said Bayern striker Harry Kane, and this second video offers two examples of the Spanish league leaders' threat from quick, direct play.

Performance analysis: Real Madrid’s direct threat

Clip one, from early in the second half, features Madrid's compact defensive shape as Sané runs into a dead end and Nacho comes away with the ball. Cue the breakaway, with Vinícius Júnior carrying the ball upfield in a sequence which ends with an effort on goal by Kroos. (For the record, it was Madrid's second attempt on target, after Vinícius Júnior's first-half goal.)

The second example shows even more direct play, with Carlo Ancelotti's men going long as goalkeeper Andriy Lunin launches a goal kick downfield. Federico Valverde times his leap perfectly to flick the ball on for Jude Bellingham's run in behind.

Bayern move wingers wide

A key detail of this first-leg contest was home coach Tuchel's tactical switch at half-time. With his team behind, he asked his wingers to swap sides – Sané to the right, Musiala to the left – and, crucially, to get some chalk on their boots by sticking to the touchline. (Indeed, the left-footed Sané could be seen on the pitch during the interval practising taking passes into feet and cutting in off the right wing.)

Performance analysis: Bayern move wingers wide

The first clip of the video above shows us Bayern's wingers now positioned high and wide. Additionally, it shows that they still have their numerical advantage in the middle through Konrad Laimer, substitute Raphaël Guerreiro and Thomas Müller.

Thanks to this greater width, Bayern scored their 53rd-minute equaliser, as seen in clip two. A switch of play leaves Sané running at Ferland Mendy, supported by the overlapping Laimer, and with a fierce strike he draws Bayern level with his first goal since October.

It is worth watching the goal a second time to see the awareness displayed by Müller in letting the ball run on to his winger. As an admiring Thierry Henry said to Müller in a post-match interview for CBS Sports: "You could have controlled that ball; you let it go because you knew you were going to give him time in a 1v1 situation."

Müller, though not the quickest footballer, is a master manipulator of space and he told Henry: "You have to get the guys of the other team moving and, when they move around, you have to be there."

As we see in the third clip, it was another switch of play to a winger, this time Musiala on the other side, which brought the penalty for Harry Kane to score the second Bayern goal in the 57th minute. As such, within 12 minutes of his half-time switch, Tuchel had seen both of his wingers produce a decisive action.

From a coach-education perspective, his change highlights how a coach can affect the course of a game. Tuchel explained: "Our game was too slow, so we went for a little bit more of an aggressive approach to be a bit more aggressive in higher positions and with our passing speed. The [last] 25 minutes in the first half was too slow; we didn't go through the gaps, it was just from left to right and we wanted to play more aggressively."

As further evidence of this greater aggression, while Madrid had won two-thirds (66.7%) of the duels in the first period, Bayern held a slight upper hand (56.8%) in the second.

Vinícius Júnior and the art of playing down the middle

The final feature under the microscope is the movement of Vinícius Júnior, Tuesday's Player of the Match. Ancelotti had said recently of the Brazilian, "There will be more goals the more he learns the art of playing down the middle." On this evidence, the 23-year-old is learning fast.

Performance analysis: Vinícius Júnior on the move

The first clip of the video above provides a closer look at his opening goal, his 20th in all competitions this season. "You have to be focused for those balls," Vinícius Júnior told Movistar Plus afterwards. "Toni always makes things easy [for you] and he gave me a goal."

If Kroos warrants praise for his magnificent pass – one of 15 line-breaking passes from the German veteran in the first period – the goal offers a lesson in the value of clever movement for an attacking player as Vinícius Júnior moves short to go long. He draws Bayern centre-back Minjae Kim upfield then spins behind him and accelerates onto the pinpoint through pass by Kroos.

The movement of Vinícius Júnior is on display again in the second clip as he spins behind Kim once more before getting in another attempt on goal. Ancelotti said afterwards: "He has learned to move well without the ball, and to attack a player [by going] behind. He has learned it well – good movement, and he keeps his cool in front of goal."

"With his movement and how quick he is with the ball, he is always dangerous," affirmed Van Bronckhorst, the UEFA observer, who also noted Vinícius Júnior's role in the lead-up to Madrid's late penalty equaliser, won by Rodrygo and converted by his Brazilian compatriot. "He has people around him but turns away and shows the vision to play Rodrygo in on his right foot away from the defender."

Highlights: Bayern 2-2 Real Madrid