Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.
It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.
Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.
Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.
Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.
Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.
Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.
Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.
The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.
From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.
Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.
The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.
Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.
Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.
His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.
What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.
Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-5 Manchester City
It would be unfair to criticise Tottenham Hotspur for not playing a conservative system at home however when you look at the talent in Manchester City’s forward line you really feel the game was lost by Tim Sherwood’s system choice prior to kick-off at White Hart Lane this evening.
Tottenham Hotspur continued with the 4-2-3-1 system the club has been using for the majority of the season however as we have seen since Tim Sherwood’s arrival as Head Coach Nabil Bentaleb was deployed as a holding midfielder. Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson were positioned as part of the attacking midfield trio with both players interchanging between a central and left wing position throughout the match.
Manchester City started the match in control, Aguero’s early chance after just four minutes should have been the warning Spurs heeded however Manchester City continued to break through the host’s midfield with such ease. This was a direct result of the positioning of Bentaleb in relation to Dembele. Bentaleb has done nothing wrong, he was right to drop slightly deeper in order to perform his duties as a holding midfield player however this left Moussa Dembele on his own in the middle of midfield which is fine if a) you aren’t facing Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Fernandinho or b) if you have a more mobile holding midfielder able to cover the majority of the space.
Dembele on his own could not contain the forward runs of Toure and Fernandinho and the two bypassed him with ease before moving the ball onto either Navas or Silva who were entrusted with the task of creating chances for the as ever impressive Sergio Aguero. Eriksen and Sigurdsson really needed to work much harder to drop back into the space and help Dembele out yet neither appeared willing to do so although in fairness to the players this is something which should have been thought of by Tim Sherwood prior to the match.
The lack of numbers of midfield for Tottenham also rendered any sort of pressing game within their own half impossible and Silva and Navas both benefitted from time on the ball which allowed them to pick the perfect pass. David Silva’s assist for Aguero and City’s opening goal was a perfect example of this.
Tottenham did show they could be a danger going forward with Adebayor’s first run in earnest against Martin Demichelis making the experienced Argentine look out of place, however Tottenham simply could not keep hold of the ball long enough to bring Adebayor into play.
Half-time saw Sigurdsson drop into the middle of midfield as part of a midfield three with Capoue and Bentaleb as Tim Sherwood recognised how his side had been completely overrun for the majority of the opening forty five minutes and Tottenham instantly improved. There was more control about their play and the hosts held much more of the ball and looked as if they were going to get back into the match. Danny Rose’s sending off and the resulting penalty really ended the match as a contest as it is impossible to play against a team as well organised and rich in quality as Manchester City are with less men on the pitch.
The match was over as a contest from this point and Manchester City as you would expect kept the ball well and treated the remaining half hour as a training exercise. Tottenham by no means disgraced themselves this evening and will perhaps feel aggrieved with regards to the sending off however the real mistake was made before the game in trying to outplay a team as strong as Manchester City with only two in midfield.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4