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In the Zone: How Real Madrid pulled off their stunning win against Bayern

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse Real Madrid's incredible semi-final win against Bayern.

Real Madrid celebrate their dramatic victory with their fans
Real Madrid celebrate their dramatic victory with their fans

Real Madrid produced another of their remarkable recoveries against Bayern München on Wednesday night to reach their 18th European Cup final.

In this article brought to you by FedEx, the UEFA performance analysis unit, working together with the UEFA technical observer, shines a light on the key tactical features of a dramatic semi-final second leg against Bayern at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Team formations


Threat of Vinícius Júnior

The first aspect under the microscope is the mobility of the Madrid front three of Jude Bellingham, Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior. If substitute Joselu emerged as the late hero, it was Vinícius Júnior who took the Player of the Match award. "Every time he had the ball he didn't even think, he just went straight away to take his man on," said the match observer. "His direct play was a constant threat which gave Madrid belief in the victory. His approach to the game was contagious and his numerous one-on-one situations helped to create the all-important first goal for the home team."

In the Zone: Threat of Vinícius Júnior

Clip one of the video above displays the movement of all three front players, beginning with a penetrating run by Bellingham. As the sequence unfolds, we see the three taking up positions close together, towards the left side of the pitch. The observer noted their interchanging as they looked to receive the ball in half-spaces on the left side.

From this first example, it is also worth highlighting how Toni Kroos drops deep on the left, while Dani Carvajal advances on the right to deliver a dangerous ball that Rodrygo just narrowly fails to reach.

Vinícius Júnior is the focus of the second and third clips, which illustrate his directness. In clip two we see him undaunted by the three Bayern defenders drawn towards him to attempt to block his route into the box; with his speed and trickery, he still creates the opportunity for Rodrygo.

Clip three shows another of the Brazilian’s surges inside from the left which ends with him drawing a brilliant save from Manuel Neuer. The statistics underline his impact: 12 take-ons (seven successful); seven ball carries following a 1v1; and six crosses from open play. As a measure of how this compared with other attacking players, the next highest number of take-ons was four, as produced by team-mate Rodrygo and Bayern’s Alphonso Davies.

Bayern's extra man in the middle

In the Zone: Bayern's extra man in middle

To switch the focus to Bayern, they asked questions of Madrid with their ability to find the spare man in midfield. As the match observer identified, they managed to create overloads behind the Madrid forwards, with Jamal Musiala dropping back to link up with midfielders Konrad Laimer and Aleksandar Pavlović – as we see in the first clip which ends with a driven ball across goal from Serge Gnabry. "When Laimer and Pavlović had the ball, they had spells of possession because they found the spare man," said the observer.

Musiala dropping off and driving the ball forward has been a feature of Bayern's campaign and his role is highlighted again in the second clip when he pops up in the space between the Madrid front and back lines. "Every time the spare midfielder appears, it's worth highlighting the defensive line of Real Madrid which is quite deep and gives a lot of space," added the observer.

In clip two specifically, we see Aurélien Tchouameni and Kroos drawn to the two holding midfielders and Musiala dropping deep again. The observer explained that Madrid’s strategy involved Rodrygo dropping to support the midfield two but as the video illustrates, this did not always happen. "In that central area Musiala was very clever to get the space," he added, "and he was the one who turns to start the counterattack for the goal."

Bayern's threat on transitions

In the Zone: Bayern's threat on transitions

"They are a really difficult team to play against. They were really good in transition." This was Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's verdict on Bayern afterwards and with this third video we explore the German side’s threat on the counterattack.

Thomas Tuchel's men were quick to react following regains from deep with the front two and wingers menacing Madrid with their forward surges. Clip one from the first half shows the four Bayern men breaking – and the speed of Davies, sprinting up the left, is particularly striking.

The second clip features the breakaway that brought the Bayern goal from Davies, who had replaced the injured Gnabry before half-time. As the technical observer reflected, Bayern had several similar moments where the final pass was not there but this time, they made it count. Musiala carries the ball forward before feeding Kane who finds Davies with the pass, setting up a 1v1 situation which the Canadian exploits magnificently. "Musiala could find a little bit of space and Kane dropped and they had Davies penetrating behind with a great finish," said the technical observer. "Davies was really good to come on and get the tempo straight away. He defended very well and was very disciplined and the finish is fantastic."

Afterwards, Tuchel praised Davies, usually a full-back, for the way he defended against Carvajal on top of his attacking contribution. "It is the first match where Alphonso Davies plays left winger for us because there is no Kingsley Coman," added the Bayern coach who also lamented missed opportunities as well as the diminishing of his attacking options during the match. "We were not clinical enough in our counterattacks," he reflected. "If we were more clinical and more calm in the opponents' half then we could have created a decisive chance for the second goal."

Madrid's aggressive press at goal-kicks

The last feature identified by the technical observer is Madrid's aggressive approach at Bayern goal-kicks. "You had six players high up, ready to push into the defensive third of Bayern," said the observer. This was a brave approach, though, with Madrid's players going 1v1 across the pitch, one reason for the concentration of numbers upfield may have been the fact Bayern's two holding midfielders were dropping towards their own penalty box.

In the Zone: Madrid's aggressive press

In this final video, we have highlighted not just the numbers high up the pitch but the way in which Carvajal followed Musiala deep, coming inside and swapping tasks with Antonio Rüdiger to avoid the centre-back being dragged out of position.

Clip two shows the same two players and once more that strip of space between the halfway line and the Madrid front players is evident – hence Carvajal's efforts to get tight to Musiala to prevent him linking with Kane and progressing the ball. And did Madrid’s ploy work? In the view of the observer, it did prove effective in stopping Bayern from progressing and securing regains. "I remember one moment when Kane gets the ball and switches the play and Alphonso Davies is on his own but overall they won the ball back many times," the observer added.

And finally … the Bernabéu factor

Those who tell you lightning does not strike twice have evidently never spent an evening at the Santiago Bernabéu. After all, the manner of Madrid's late comeback – with those Joselu goals after 88 and 91 minutes – had clear echoes of Rodrygo's last-gasp double against Manchester City in the semi-finals two years ago. As Ancelotti reflected afterwards: "It has happened again… a crowd who push, a stadium that helps, a fantastic atmosphere, and players who don't stop believing it can be. It is something magical."

Madrid had begun this season's home programme in this competition with an added-time winner against another German side, Union Berlin, and their history of comebacks means the home crowd never stop believing. According to the technical observer, "from a technical and tactical and physical point of view, there is no rational reason why Real Madrid in the last few Champions Leagues have produced some incredible things in the last ten minutes at home.

“That is the craziness of the Bernabéu and it’s incredible how the psychological aspect in football is so important,” he added, noting how such an atmosphere can take players "out of their comfort zone" and lead to a situation where "one of the most experienced keepers makes a mistake", as happened to the hitherto outstanding Manuel Neuer – Bayern's best player according to Tuchel – for Joselu's equaliser. Suddenly, a game "well controlled by Bayern" was turned on its head.

Hence Tuchel's rueful quip at the finish: "You have to be in the shower to be sure you beat them."