UEFA Champions League

Pep Guardiola Right to Defend Bayern Possession, but Penetration Wins Matches

Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola, holds the ball during a first leg semifinal Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

Bayern Munich suffered a Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat against Real Madrid on Wednesday evening, losing 1-0 to the Spanish side despite enjoying a huge majority of possession during the 90 minutes.

It has led to calls from some that Pep Guardiola has taken Bayern back a step since taking over last year, with Glenn Hoddle and Franz Beckenbauer both disappointed with the lack of threat shown by the Bundesliga champions, as per Sky Sports.

Guardiola, naturally, has defended both his players and his own tactics, citing a need to control the game against Real's greater "athletes" by dictating the terms of the game. He's absolutely right, but as multiple-title-winning Guardiola knows better than most, it is penetration, not possession, which ultimately dictates the outcome of key fixtures.

 

Real vs. Bayern

As per whoscored.com, Bayern enjoyed a majority share of possession, 72 percent over the entire game yet managed less shots on target than their home rivals, just four to Real's five.

A quick look at the number of passes made by players on the pitch indicates just how much control Bayern had in the midfield area: Xabi Alonso made 40 passes, the most of any Real player, but every starting outfielder with the exception of striker Mario Mandzukic surpassed that tally for the German team.

Toni Kroos, in the heart of the Bayern midfield, made 120 passes during the game with a 98 percent success rate—but how many were passes into the penalty area? None.

Toni Kroos passes vs. Real Madrid, via Squawka
Toni Kroos passes vs. Real Madrid, via Squawkasquawka.com

Bayern made four key passes inside Real's box during the match, just one more than their opponents.

Beckenbauer (ex Bayern-Bayern chairman): Possession means nothing when the opponent takes its chances. We can be thankful we only conceded 1

Vamos Real!!! (@Vamos__Real) April 23, 2014

Five minutes of intense football from Bayern out of 94. Not enough, far too late. Real luscious on counter but may regret missed chances.

— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) April 23, 2014

 

Pace and Movement in Attack?

Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery of course represent two of the very finest inside forwards in world football, but both are at their best when coming infield off the flank with the ball at their feet.

Neither has the repetitive, automatic inclination to run in behind the defence at every opportunity—not to say they never do it—while striker Mandzukic is also prone to dropping out of the front line at times, rather than looking to sprint in behind. He is mobile, with good movement, but does not possess great acceleration.

Bayern have nobody who drives into space behind defences in the manner of Ronaldo or Gareth Bale
Bayern have nobody who drives into space behind defences in the manner of Ronaldo or Gareth BalePaul Gilham/Getty Images

In any normal match it doesn't matter; Bayern are an extraordinary team with genuine top-class talent in the final third, and they can create goals in a huge variety of ways. But passing in front of the defence doesn't hurt if the opposition is determined, organised and lucky enough.

On those occasions, direct runs and pace must be looked at to exploit the smallest gaps and the most imaginative passing.

 

Big Chances

Guardiola mentioned Real's approach as a reason for his team's huge possession-based tactics, per Sky Sports:

They are the best counter-attacking team in the world, they have legs, they are athletes. They are football players, but mainly athletes.

I did not want to have the typical German game of back and forth. I wanted a lot of possession and we managed that in parts. But we did not finish our chances well. 

He also, however, mentions the chances his team missed.

They were neither as numerous, nor as presentable, as those Real Madrid had on the break. Cristiano Ronaldo should have scored when in space inside the area, Angel Di Maria should have scored also and Karim Benzema did so.

Whether in open play or on the break, whether by brute force, careful build-up or ingenious vision, it is penetration behind defences, not possession in front of them, which gives opportunities on goal. In this regard, Real beat Bayern in the first leg, and it is this that has put them in the driving seat for the Champions League final.

 

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