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article imageMadrid's Ancelotti employs successful system to defeat Bayern

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 23, 2014 in Sports
Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey victory was arguably their biggest victory of the season, in which they combined defensive organization and swift counter-attacks to defeat Barcelona without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Unlike previous meetings against top-sides this season, Carlo Ancelotti's side was reactive and was aligned in a 4-4-2; they limited space in midfield, and broke on the counter with pace. Madrid’s approach in their first leg encounter against European champions Bayern Munich was identical.
Guardiola’s initial plan was to start Phillip Lahm at right back and Javi Martinez in midfield, but the latter was reportedly experiencing stomach problems. Here, the former was fielded in midfield and Rafinha started at right back. Madrid welcomed back Cristiano Ronaldo into the XI, but Gareth Bale’s illness kept the Welshman on the bench.
One of the few issues Pep Guardiola has been criticized for during his short managerial career is his conservative approach in knockout round away matches. Since his arrival on the European scene in 2008, Guardiola has enjoyed only four away knockout victories.
It appeared that Guardiola was set to win his fifth during the opening periods of the match as Bayern dominated possession effortlessly. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric engaged in a physical battle in midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger withered higher up the pitch, and Lahm dropped deep to receive the ball before casually drifting into attack.
Schweinsteiger led the press with Mario Mandzukic, and it appeared that he was instructed to prevent Alonso from dictating the match from deep errors. Yet, the German’s presence higher up the pitch hindered his side’s fluidity in the final third, and he appeared out of his element as Bayern’s advanced midfielder .
When Bayern lost the ball, they quickly won it back, but still, they rarely tested Iker Casillas. A wayward Arjen Robben shot, and a tame Schweinsteiger effort was created during Bayern's 16 minute spell of dominance. Bayern's best chance was created when Schweinsteiger’s movement to the right overloaded Fabio Coentrao –– who struggled against Bayern two years ago –– and Mandzukic nodded Rafinha’s cross towards Kroos, but his shot was blocked.
The block was pivotal, as seconds later Karim Benzema won the ball off Lahm, and ignited a quick counter that saw Ronaldo play a delightful ball into half-space for Coentrao, and the French striker converted the Portuguese left-backs low-driven cross past Manuel Neuer.
Now, it was logical for Madrid to target Rafinha, but this wasn’t a case of the Brazilian playing poorly; Ancelotti’s side’s moves were superbly crafted. Ronaldo received a golden chance to increase Madrid’s lead from a Angel Di Maria cross, and while the Portuguese star wasn’t 100% fit, he should’ve put the match out of reach minutes later.
Luka Modric nonchalantly skipped past Kroos and played a magnificent ball behind Rafinha into Benzema, and the Frenchman squared the ball towards Ronaldo, but the Portuguese international fired his shot over the net. The play epitomized Modric’s exceptional display against Bayern.
The Croatian and Xabi Alonso protected the back four superbly by preventing Bayern’s midfield from exploiting space in the final third. The Madrid duo also aided their full-backs and ushered out to the flanks to create a numerical advantage against Robben and the unimpressive Franck Ribery. In the second half, they confidently retained possession, as Bayern’s press deteriorated. Madrid could’ve used Modric two years ago when Kroos dominated Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet this display highlighted the importance of his signing, as he pestered the German whenever he received possession.
Similar to the Copa del Rey final, this was an all-round performance from Madrid. The aforementioned midfielders were integral, Pepe and Sergio Ramos comfortably dealt with Bayern’s crosses, Isco worked hard to protect Fabio Coentrao and prevent Robben from cutting infield, and Benzema’s work-rate was admirable.
“We played well, suffering sometimes and playing well in attack. Overall, I'm happy with my team,” Ancelotti said.
“In the beginning we were a little shy, losing possession at the start and dropping deep. In the second half, Bayern were less effective. The work we did was fundamental. Coentrão has had the help of Isco many times and Di María got help from Carvajal. It was a group effort.”
Guardiola turned to his bench and introduced Martinez, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller. Muller and Gotze provided the penetration Bayern desperately lacked throughout the match, with the latter drifting between the lines to create a chance at the edge of the box that deflected off substitute Raphael Varane. Equally, in the 83rd minute, Muller’s ball from the right flank found an unmarked Gotze in the box, Iker Casillas pushed aside but the German's poor effort from eight-yards out.
“We had a good game and I hope we will improve further next week,” Guardiola said.
“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."
Bayern’s caution at the Bernabeu classified their extensive periods of possession as futile, but Ancelotti’s decision to stick with his successful system reaped rewards as Madrid limited Bayern’s offensive strengths. Guardiola’s side, though, lacked variety in attack, their ball circulation was slow, and they failed to penetrate in the final third.
Ancelotti’s logical approach produced a vigilant team performance built around hard work, detailed defending, and high-octane counter-attacks, thus handing Guardiola his first loss at the Bernabeu.
More about Real madrid, Uefa, Bayern munich, Champions League, Ronaldo
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