This post was guest-blogged by Matt Statto. Follow him on Twitter (@ilStatto)
The game everyone has been anticipating is finally upon us, Bayern Munich vs our very own beloved Juventus. A true test of the Bianconeri’s quality, the progression under Antonio Conte and whether or not the team is a genuine contender for the UEFA Champions League crown itself. It’s nights like these we’ve all been waiting for and for many of the squad, it ranks up there with the biggest games of their careers.
In our last fixture just a couple of days ago, Juventus came away with an excellent 2-1 win away at the San Siro against Inter. It was a gritty, feisty game and one which will have taken a lot out of the players, so it’s really important the team has prepared well in terms of regenerating since Saturday afternoon. Bayern on the other hand, produced an absolute walkover against Hamburg, winning an incredible 9-2 (yes, you read that right) and will be full of confidence ahead of the game. It’s highly worth mentioning that they made a number of changes to their first eleven too, meaning many of their key players are fresh and raring to go against Juve. It certainly goes to highlight their strength in depth when they can rest players like Muller, Ribery and Mandzukic and still come away with a scoreline like that against a decent mid-table side.
To assess Bayern’s credentials, I felt it was necessary to choose a fixture against a competitive opposition and an opposition against whom Bayern fielded their full strength team. Initially I was to analyse their performance in the 1-0 cup win against Dortmund, however they had rested Franck Ribery for this game and I was quickly made aware that the dimension of the team’s play changes near entirely when he isn’t on the pitch, such is way in which the attack is played through the french winger. Bayern frequently play with a 4-2-3-1 system and generally play with the same mentality and ideology, therefore I felt it was only necessary to assess them over one fixture and with them using their full strength side in the first leg of the previous Champions League tie against Arsenal, it was justifiable to review the 1-3 victory at the Emirates.
February 19 2013: Arsenal 1-3 Bayern
As I briefly mentioned, Bayern’s formation of choice is a 4-2-3-1. They look to utilise the ball on the ground, building it out in a patient manner from the back, not rushing the ball forward and use well balanced midfielders in the centre of the pitch – one’s who are adept technically in both the art of attack and defence. They possess an excellent balance between attack and defence and are very tough to break down defensively whilst being very proficient in front of goal. They are an excellent side capable of beating anybody. Against Arsenal they fielded their 4-2-3-1 system and were met by another varient of the 4-2-3-1, however one which doesn’t possess anywhere near the same sort of balance in which Bayern have.
Arsenal being a passing team were always going to have a fairly even amount of possession – if not even more in spells – given the fact they were the home side here. This proved to be the case and the possession of the ball was fairly even throughout, but it was clear that Bayern were in control of the game, regardless of whether they had the ball or not. It’s a common misconception that to be in control, you have to dominate the ball, however Bayern’s defensive shape when defending, with concise ball retention when attacking meant they had a balance which was admirable and put them firmly in the position to dictate the way the game was shaped.
Their full backs in Lahm and Alaba were very clever in choosing where and when to make timely runs forward. They understood that playing up against Podolski and Cazorla they were going up against two wide players who’s main intention was attacking and this was demonstrated by their positioning quite high up the pitch. This meant that the Bayern full back duo didn’t have a great deal of space and they also recognised that to go galloping down the wings at every given opportunity may have led to Arsenal being a threat on the break, which as Bayern will know full well, is Podolski’s specialty. And so they chose cleverly when to attack. If Bayern had an extended period of possession they’d make their way forward to support when the moment was right, but when the game didn’t have a rhythm, they stayed back and provided defensive stability, tucking in compactly next to the two centre backs.
The positioning of Bayern’s two wide players in Muller and Ribery is what interested me most in terms of the relation between them and how they will play against Juventus. Against Arsenal, both were positioned quite deep when Bayern were defending. The shape was almost that of a 4-4-1-1 system when Bayern were without the ball, with Muller being slightly more advanced on the right hand side than Ribery on the left – who was always quite deep. This meant that Bayern were compact with two banks of four behind the ball, with Mandzukic in charge of pressing from the front – something he does an excellent job of doing. Kroos tended to just hold his position as a shield in front of Martinez and Schweinsteiger, blocking the passing lanes through to Wilshere.
This was key as it caused Arsenal to have little options on the ball and led to them looking to hit Walcott with some hopeful long balls, which didn’t play to his strengths at all and allowed Bayern’s defence to comfortably mop up at the back. The positioning of both wingers is something I’m very intrigued by and I feel this could be key to how the result goes – which I’ll get to later!
Ribery very much had a free role when Bayern had the ball. I mentioned his disciplined play on the left hand side of Bayern’s midfield when defending, however when attacking he was a whole different sort of problem for the opposition. He didn’t have his best game in terms of end product, but his movement was excellent. He often started deep, within 10 yards of the LB Alaba, but then he’s often spin inside of Sagna and make his way across the pitch, sometimes ending up on the right wing. At other times he went down the line, whilst sometimes driving at the centre backs. He was a real thorn in Arsenal’s side and his unpredictable nature is something Juventus are going to struggle to stop, it’s what makes him one of the best wingers in Europe.
Muller on the right was excellent throughout. He doesn’t possess the technical capabilities of a lot of his teammates, however he makes up for this in pure energy, determination and work rate. I shouldn’t overlook his intelligence either, as his anticipation and positioning in attack is something which is difficult to teach. Muller often looked to pull wide into the right channel, before cutting inside and darting into the space towards the striker Mandzukic. Such in the fluid nature in which Mandzukic is a forward who is more than happy to roam around the front, he’d often open up spaces excellently for Muller to move into. In tandem they worked very well. Peluso/Asamoah and Chiellini will have to be on top of their game to restrict their movement causing great influence.
Keys To A Juventus Victory
A lot of talk prior to this match-up has been about the battle of the two midfields, both rank amongst the best in Europe. In Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio, Juventus have a midfield which possesses a great amount of desire, technique and skill on the ball. Bayern’s midfield of Schweinsteiger, Martinez and Kroos have these qualities in abundance also. Not to mention the strong depth of both squads – Juventus possessing Paul Pogba and Bayern; Luiz Gustavo in order to freshen things up when legs are growing tired, with Luiz Gustavo to start the first leg in the absence of the suspended Martinez. Whichever midfield turns up on the night will give their respective team the greatest chance of progression, however whilst this battle is important, I don’t feel like it’s the key to the victory of either side. That comes on the wings.
What has been determined is Bayern are very strong in the wide areas, Muller and Ribery are very consistent players who have had outstanding individual seasons – they are both match winners of the highest order. Tactically though, a lot could indeed hinge on the bravery of either coach and particularly that of Jupp Heynckes.
You see, a problem with Juventus’ 3-5-2 has always been when the opposition has left the wingers positioned higher up the pitch than normal and not dropped them into a deep defensive position when without the ball. A quick example of this is when a team plays a 4-3-3 when attacking, but drops the wingers into a 4-5-1 when defending. This amongst sides not too interested in intense pressing, or retaining defensive solidity is quite common. However when a team with a lone striker drops the wingers deep, this allows Juventus’ back 3 to be in a 3 v 1 situation when playing out from the back. When a team is as comfortable on the ball in defence as Juve’s is, it’s not the best move as Juventus settle into a rhythm and dictate the game.
The problem comes when the opposing coach is brave – when he takes a gamble defensively. Against Juventus, this has happened a few times this season. The home game against Inter, where Inter stopped Juventus’ long lasting unbeaten streak was a good example of this. Inter played a 3-4-3, but rather than dropping the wide forwards Cassano and Palacio into deeper defensive positions, they were left high up alongside Milito, occupying Juventus’ centre backs. As you can imagine, a 3 v 3 situation led to Juventus becoming very stretched on the counter attack, with the back 3 having very little defensive help with the Juve wing backs pushed up as normal. Inter deservedly won this game and it was a key factor.
If Bayern are to do something similar, it would cause Juventus similar problems, if not more. Ribery and Muller have a stronger work ethic than Cassano/Palacio and if they are instructed to stay high up the pitch and press the Juventus back line along with Mandzukic, this will cause chaos to Juve’s attempts to try and control the game with the ball. Juventus would no longer have a free man at the back in order to play out and would have to resort to longer measures, which then becomes more of a percentage game and this would suit Bayern and their own attempts to control the game.
As the diagram demonstrates, Bayern would then also have space to push their attacking full backs forward. You’d expect Juventus in this scenario to drop the wing backs deeper to support the back 3 and this would then allow Bayern to have ‘free’ men on each flank as both Lahm and Alaba wouldn’t have a direct opponent to force them back. A lot then would come down to how effective the full backs’ attacking play proves to be and if their end product was of a high quality, it could be a decisive factor in a Bayern win.
If Heynckes is less brave and chooses an approach similar to against Arsenal and drops his wingers into a 4-4-1-1 when defending – tracking the runs of the wing backs – this would allow Juventus to be less cautious and gain a greater foothold in the match.
The wing backs would be able to position themselves higher up and Juventus would have that ideal 3 v 1 situation to build out of from the back. Juventus would then be able to use their control to find the midfielders and build attacks with greater ease than an alternative approach which may be needed if Bayern press high.
Buffon’s distribution is up there with the very best and you could imagine this would be a much more preferential situation to him to quickly get Juventus on the attack than having to look for the long ball towards the strikers in the case Bayern were more advanced.
An alternative approach which has been spoken about is for Juventus to sacrifice one of the strikers and go with an additional man in midfield in order to out number Bayern. This would see Marchisio move into the attacking point of a midfield diamond, with Pogba taking his place on one side of the centre midfield.
This would give Juventus a chance to field all of their very strong central midfielders, but whether or not it would work would depend on the team creating significant width when attacking. Normally in the 3-5-2, when the play is built down one side, the striker on that side of the pitch moves into the channel to provide some width in order to help stretch the opposition’s defence, but in what we will call the 3-6-1, there is only a lone frontman and if he was to move into the channel, he’d be left very much isolated in terms of looking centrally for an out ball. This would create a struggle to retain possession and create good quality attacks.
This is unless the wing backs were able to position themselves so high up they almost became forwards when attacking. It would then be the wing backs’ job to provide an option left and right for Vucinic. Occupying the Bayern full backs when attacking, it would allow Juventus an opportunity to dominate possession with the diamond in the centre of the pitch outnumbering Bayern’s central 3.
However once again, a lot of this strategy is dependent on the positioning of Bayern’s wingers, as if they are left pushed high up the pitch when defending, it wouldn’t be safe for Juventus’ wing backs to play with a gung-ho mentality to attacking, as Bayern would be able to make the most of this on the break.
It’s certainly going to be a tough game for both sides, one which is too difficult to call, what’s important is Juventus are focused and stick to the strategic instructions given to them by Antonio Conte in what is going to be an intriguing tactical battle in which Juventini will be hoping results in the team having a solid base to take back to Turin for the second leg.