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.
The 2011-2012 Serie A campaign had promised so much for AS Roma, they had just gained new American owners who had promised to back them financially to allow the Giallorossi to once again compete in the transfer market, they had managed to prise former Barcelona midfielder Luis Enrique away from his coaching position with the B team of the Catalan giants to appoint him as the new head coach with the expectation that he would bring the ‘Tiki Taka’ football that had in recent years revolutionised FC Barcelona to the Stadio Olimpico. However the campaign proved to be one of major disappointment for Roma with Enrique’s methods not quite connecting well enough will all members of the squad and as a result of inconsistent performances by the team it was to be a year of mediocrity from Roma with ‘I Lupi’ finishing in seventh place in Serie A and as a result not qualifying for any European competition for the 2012-2013 season. At the end of the season Luis Enrique was dismissed despite having a year left on his contract and the iconic Zdenek Zeman returned to the club for his second spell in charge. Zeman often revered by the Roma fans for his revolutionary tactics and relationship with the players in particular Francesco Totti, has set about rejuvenating a Roma squad that has been bereft of real quality for a number of years and has shown this with his as yet sensible and economical behaviour in the transfer market this summer.
It was announced last week that Fabio Borini was to become Brendan Rodgers’ first signing at Liverpool with Roma allowing their young striker to be reunited with the former Swansea manager at Anfield for a fee of around €13m. This was a move that was met with a certain sense of unease by the Roma faithful with fans questioning why they had allowed their second highest goalscorer in the previous campaign to leave the club without any sign of a replacement signing on the horizon, however Zeman did indeed have a plan. Borini had in his only season with the Giallorossi scored nine goals in Serie A only two behind Daniel Osvaldo’s eleven and whilst this low number of goals from their two main strikers may well be a reflection of Roma’s poor final league position it must be remembered that it was a debut season in Rome for both players. The general expectation was that Borini would kick on for Roma next season with the ever ageing Francesco Totti expected to play even less of a part in the club’s campaign with his fantastic footballing career ebbing quickly towards its end. Borini’s record of ten goals in twenty six appearances was on the whole impressive for a debut season at a club of the magnitude of Roma and his performances even saw the Bentivoglio born forward earn a place in Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for the European championships in Ukraine and Poland although the former Roma striker did not make a single appearance throughout Italy’s route to the final of the tournament which they would go on to lose convincingly against the irresistible Spanish.
It was made evidently clear by last season’s collective lack of goals that Roma would need to replace Fabio Borini and Zdenek Zeman set about completing this goal quickly, there was the annual link between Roma and Fiorentina’s talismanic Montenegrin forward Stevan Jovetic which is the same with any top club in Italy once the transfer window opens and whilst it seems like he will leave the Florence based club sooner rather than later his destination will not be Rome. Rumours then started to appear in the Italian media that Roma were indeed interested in signing the co-owned Genoa and Siena forward Mattia Destro with the former Internazionale man moving closer to a permanent move to Genoa with ‘I Rossoblu’ submitting an offer to secure full registration of the player however this was no guarantee that he wouldn’t leave Genoa straight away just mere assurance that they would receive a full transfer fee. Mattia Destro in his debut season with Siena registered twelve goals in Serie A perfectly illustrating just why he had been on the books of Internazionale Milan, this goal tally just two behind Jovetic alerted several of Italy’s top clubs with reported interest from AC Milan as they look to try and replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic following his record breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain however the interest from Milan was purely speculation with representatives from both Siena and Genoa simply meeting in Milan to discuss the deal for Destro involving their clubs respectively. Destro’s high level of performance in Serie A in the past season very much like Borini was noticed by Prandelli and he was included as backup in the final twenty three man squad for Euro 2012 however with no injuries Destro did not travel to the tournament.
It has often been said that Zdenek Zeman works fantastically well with forwards with his tactical system often giving them great opportunities to get forward and put themselves in positions to score a significant number of goals, which is indeed something Roma need to improve on from last season. Roma icon Francesco Totti last week said this of Zeman and the Czech’s tactics ” With Zeman’s playing system, I could score 20 goals a season even as an old man” This bodes well for young Destro who following his impressive year with the Tuscan club last season will be looking to impress even further in the Italian first city and it is expected that a forward pairing of Destro and Osvaldo will work wonders for Roma in the upcoming season. The deal agreed between Genoa and Roma for Destro is in financial terms an astute move from AS Roma with them agreeing to pay just €7m for the twenty year old forward. This leaves the overall profit made from the sale of Borini and the signature of Destro at €6m with this money being spent in yet again another wise way by Zeman on the signature of American international Michael Bradley to sure up the Romans in the centre of midfield.
With Roma having replaced a striker with a slightly younger model who in the past campaign scored more goals and having also made a profit of €6m it is considered that Roma are working the transfer market to their favour thus far this summer, after last summer’s heavy spending to try and force the club into the upper echelons of European football quickly it appears that with Zeman at the helm the Giallorossi are taking a much more patient approach to the transfer market purchasing players when it is necessary and for the right price. This can only bode well for Roma in the upcoming Serie A season as they look to re-establish themselves among Italy’s elite of which they have been apart from for far too long.
Written by Chris Winterburn