Real Madrid produced an efficient performance and take a valuable 1-0 lead to Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena next week. Karim Benzema got the all-important goal in the first half and condemned Pep Guardiola, as a manager, to his 1st loss at the Santiago Bernabeu.
There is a satisfaction in seeing a plan work to perfection and Carlo Ancelotti must’ve felt that after watching the European Champions hit a white wall. Guardiola’s Bayern – just like any other team coached by the Catalan – revel in monopolizing possession but last night his Italian counterpart would’ve reveled in how pointless it was made to look. Infinite sideways passes led nowhere, innumerable crosses into the box were gleefully gobbled up by Pepe and Sergio Ramos and even tactical reshuffles were laid to waste as everything seemed to hit a dead-end. To Guardiola all this was hardly new as his all-conquering Barcelona side were regularly confronting sides whose preferred choice to go camping was outside their own penalty box. But to a lot of his players, that look was emblazoned clearly on their face, ‘What do we do? This is like hitting our heads against a wall over and over again.’
To be fair to Bayern it didn’t start that way. Early on the Bavarians looked a ball of unrelenting energy dead-set on killing the tie as quickly as possible. With Phillip Lahm deployed in the midfield role instead of right-back, Pep had made his intentions clear: you won’t be seeing the ball and if possible you won’t see it at all!
David Alaba and Rafinha – Bayern’s wing-backs – bombed on with alarming frequency while the imposing Mario Mandzukic exerted a significant physical influence in the heart of Los Blanco’s box. Toni Kroos had an early sighter, Arjen Robben an even better one still but the breakthrough didn’t come. Perhaps it’s this detail that made the home team believe even more that if we can hold on and just hit them on one break, it would prove lethal. All of this sounds good in theory but in practice it’s impossible if you don’t have the ball. Cristiano Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure on the left, not one touch of the ball as the game seemed to pass him and his fellow forward Karim Benzema by. And that’s precisely when Bayern erred and the Portuguese pounced.
A German attack broke down and two quick passes later their players were darting towards the Bayern defenders akin to mosquitoes seeing fresh human blood. Ronaldo picked up the ball and then with a brilliant through ball picked out the galloping Fábio Coentrão who breezed past Jerome Boateng and laid on a perfect pass for Benzema to tap in. If there was ever a sucker punch than this one was it and boy did it sting. Bayern were rattled and a mere six minutes later they should’ve been two-goals down but for some uncharacteristic finishing from Ronaldo as the 29-year-old skied the ball from 6 yards out with just Maneul Neuer to beat. Guardiola barked instructions from the sidelines but his side weren’t responding. The continuous jabbing was creating very little in terms of opportunities while Real were landing massive uppercuts with each razor-sharp break. Angel Di Maria wasted another brilliant chance as the Argentine was unable to keep his half-volley down.
Los Blancos could look back on these chances after 180 minutes as crucial in turning the tie but would they be made to pay?
The 2nd half began brought a slight hint of proactivity from Real as Ronaldo’s angled shot was turned away by Neuer but the home side settled on the successful first half patter of repelling wave after wave of Bayern possession. As the minutes clocked by, commentators and pundits were still puzzled Pep hadn’t made his changes and as if to admit his own mistake, the Catalan finally brought Javi Martinez on for Rafinha and Lahm was re-instated as right-back. However Bayern’s relentless jabbing were finally paying dividends as Coentrao – who thus far had put in a magnificent shit in denying Robben – but exhaustion was setting in and the Portuguese needed regular interventions from Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric to contain the marauding Dutchman. The introduction of Thomas Muller instantly changed the patterns as now Real were regularly up against two players in the box. On the score sheet Muller’s impact would’ve also been immediate but his curling left footed effort was deflected off Rafael Varane.
Having knocked on the door all night, Bayern finally had the chance to score a vital away goal but Mario Goetze’s volley was brilliantly parried by Iker Cassilas. The former Dortmund man had the goal at his mercy but wasn’t clinical when his manager and his teammates would dearly have hoped for it. Ancelotti’s men were finally being put under the pressure which they should’ve been from the minute they scored as the likes of Robben and Muller were causing chaos in the opposing box. The Italian would’ve had his heart in his mouth when Muller fell like a sack of potatoes and protested wildly for a penalty but none were forthcoming. Full-time brought relief as Bayern’s mafia like control of possession was scant consolation as Real had the goal and the chances.
Real need no reminding of their awful record in Germany but in their manager they’ve someone who has never lost to Bayern as a manager. Tonight he had a plan, one which brought La Decima ever closer!