MANCHESTER UNITED VS BAYERN MUNICH
01.04.2014

Depending upon your outlook on life this was a match to relish or fear. Many saw this quarter final against the reigning World, European and German Champions as a match to be feared. Others saw it as an opportunity to pit our wits against the very best. After an encouraging result at the weekend we were in ‘let’s relish the challenge’ camp.

PERSONNEL

In: Ferdinand, Carrick, Giggs, Welbeck and Valencia.
Out: Rafael, Fletcher, Mata, Kagawa and Young.

KEYPOINTS

  • This was a disciplined United performance. Moyes tactics worked well, the team works hard and executed the plan to the letter. United conceded possession and never seemed that concerned about Bayern’s ability to retain the ball. Instead they focused on team shape. The consequence was that for all their possession, (in the region of 80%), Bayern didn’t create that many clear cut chances.
  • United defended on a narrow front and determined not to chase the ball. This allowed Bayern space in wide areas, a potentially dangerous game when the opposition has Ribery and Robben. But it worked as defending on a narrow front cut the link through the spine of the side and denied the wide player the space to run into. Muller was isolated.
  • When United got hold of the ball they moved it forward quickly in an attempt to stretch the game, get beyond the Bayern press and make the Bayern team turn around towards their own goal. Welbeck was critical here with his astute running and pace. He played well until he ran out of legs in the second half. If only he had a little more composure in front of goal.
  • You can hear more of our thought on the game here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/manchester/manutd/manutd_20140402-1907a.mp3 on the podcast of BBC Radio Manchester’s Red Wednesday show the game.

FIRST HALF

The pattern of this game was set right from the start. United’s formation was a 4-3-3 with Fellaini, Carrick and Giggs in midfield on a narrow front. The full backs, Jones and Buttner also defended fairly narrowly. Together with a central pair of Ferdinand and Vidic in the middle these seven formed a solid barrier defending the width of the penalty area. Ahead of this group were Valencia Rooney and Welbeck. Valencia and Welbeck are pretty quick and although Rooney isn’t the quickest he is no slouch. When Bayern had possession of the ball, (which was most of the time), these three dropped deep. When United got hold of the ball these three ran forward in an attempt to stretch play and counter attack.

abGFYQFaoh United in the first half

The first few minutes were a microcosm of the half. Bayern had all the possession. Kroos was at the base of midfield with Schweinsteiger and Lahm ahead in the central midfield. All three were fairly mobile with Kroos generally staying slightly deeper. They passed the ball well retaining possession but they couldn’t get through the centre of United’s team and Muller as the centre forward was as a consequence starved of service. As such they tended to push the ball wide to Ribbery and Robben. They both like to run with the ball and cut inside. Neither is a ‘get to the byline and get a cross in’ sort of player, but United’s tactic meant that all the space was out wide. They like to cut inside and shoot or play low cut backs to others. United’s shape with both full backs narrow and United’s midfield sitting narrow and deep meant that there was little space for their runs. They generally ran into trouble and ended up recycling the ball across the pitch or back to Kroos to start again. The sum consequence of this is that Bayern for all their possession had very few chances in the first half.

In contrast to this United were more direct and had a great chance in the first few minutes. This came on a break as United moved the ball forward quickly to Valencia. He picked out Welbeck who still had a lot to do. He managed to turn and make something of a difficult ball before shooting past Neuer in the Bayern goal. The score was disallowed however for foot up. If this chance did nothing else it gave United hope and the confidence they could cause Bayern problems and also made Bayern aware that this was going to be a contest. If United had gone into the game solely on the back foot the chances are that eventually they would be overwhelmed. This chance demonstrated that Bayern would always need to remain vigilant at the back. They were instantly aware that United could hurt them.

United’s strategy worked well throughout the first half because of United’s discipline. They worked hard to keep their shape and did not chase the ball. In the face of Bayern’s domination of possession there could have developed a temptation for the midfield three to push higher in an attempt to win the ball. This would have allowed space ‘between the lines’ for Bayern to push into. This never happened, instead United sat deep and narrow, waiting to tackle or intercept when Bayern tried to move towards the edge of the United area.

There were a few downsides to all this. Firstly when United won the ball if they did not manage to move it forward quickly they were pressed by Bayern who invariable won the ball back. This was perhaps when Bayern were at their most dangerous when United were perhaps momentarily out of shape with Bayern winning the ball in a high position. Fellaini noticeably was a problem here. On several occasions rather than passing the ball long he delayed and invariably turned into trouble being overwhelmed by the press. As has been observed previously he needs to think and act quicker.

Secondly United expended a huge amount of energy running without the ball to retain their shape. This had an impact later in the game and will no doubt be a factor if the same tactics are employed in Germany.

Space to Exploit Space to exploit

Late in the half United perhaps the best chance of the half when on the break Rooney fed Welbeck who managed to muscle his way past the last defender and bare down on goal. He then hesitated, not seeming to know which option to take, eventually he tried to chip Neuer but without conviction and the German keeper saved with comparative ease. Whilst some people will no doubt focus on Welbeck’s inability to take this chance his worth to the team in the first half was clear. Firstly he is quick and strong, he will chase down a loose ball and in this type of game, (we saw the same in the Real Madrid tie last year), and he is fearless in all but his finishing. He is prepared to run at people before they get set. The early forward pass in his direction then suits him. He will take it on and run at people stretching the play rather than holding the ball up and awaiting support. His pace then frightens people. With Valencia and Rooney often feeding him with diagonal balls into the space left by Alba and Rafina forward runs and then busting a gut to get up alongside him, and with Javi Martinez as a makeshift centre back the Bayern defence did not look comfortable when put under pressure.

SECOND HALF

Again United made a halftime substitution, this is becoming a habit. Giggs came off to be replaced by Kagawa. It was later revealed that Giggs had been feeling his hamstring towards the end of the first half. In terms of position Kagawa took up Giggs position on the left of midfield but with Valencia dropping deep and Welbeck and Rooney pushed on so United’s shape looked like a 4-4-2 for a while.

Bayern continued to have the majority of possession and they also appeared to be making more of it. United looked tired. It’s hard to say whether the change of United’s shape was deliberate, it seems unlikely, but for a while United seemed to have lost their way. Rooney then dropped very deep replacing Fellaini who went so high that he was playing as a striker. United now took any opportunity that presented itself to launch the ball towards Fellaini, especially from a dead ball situation. This is interesting as United employed this tactic on Saturday against Aston Villa. Was that a rehearsal? If United got a goal kick or a free kick in their own half they employed this tactic every time.

Passing Stats

United don’t feature at all on the top passing combinations

Then out of the blue and from a corner BOOM!! United scored. Vidic rose and headed almost over his shoulder to score. He was unmarked revealing a clear weakness. This came from nowhere but was just what United needed. One felt that if it stayed at 0-0 for much longer Bayern, who were beginning to pull a tired looking United about would eventually score. As it was the goal settled United down and although Bayern equalised a few moment later as with Welbeck’s early chance in the first half the goal game United renewed strength and belief.

As mentioned above Bayern scored nine minutes after United. After the goal United might have scored again but they did push forward perhaps a little too much. Muller had been ineffective throughout the game as the Bayern centre forward and was replaced by Mandzukic. Almost his first touch was a header into the path of Schweinsteiger who shot home. Fellaini did not track his run.

So at 1-1 would Bayern go on and win. Moyes has been much criticised this season for all sorts of reasons but he should be praised here. He now got United back into a 4-3-3. Buttner was removed and replaced by Young. Jones switched from right back to left back. Valencia now dropped to right back and Kagawa  and Carrick and Young played across the midfield with Kagawa to the left and Young to the right. Fellaini went upfront to the right with Rooney central and Welbeck left. The game now adopted the shape and pattern that it had had for much of the first half with Bayern pushing forward and their two wide players looking to push inside. It never really came off for them.

abGF2ltaI United late in the second half

Fellaini didn’t have a particularly good game up front but he was a handful and looked more like the player we saw at Everton, making life hard for defenders and preventing Alaba from getting forward in support of Ribery. Welbeck did a similar job on the left.

On 84 minutes Welbeck came off to be replaced by Hernandez. He played through the centre with Rooney pushing wider to the left. United held out and in the last minute Schweinsteiger was dismissed for a foul on Rooney. He will miss the second leg.

CONCLUSION

This was a good tactical performance from United who were disciplined. But for a spell at the start of the second half they executed the plan well restricting Bayern to a small number of long range shots.

Teams Shape

Both teams were fairly narrow.

They live to fight another day. Can they produce a similar performance in the second leg? That will be difficult as Guardiola will work on a plan but what is clear is that Bayern are vulnerable to pace and do not defend set pieces well. Moyes needs to match Guardiola’s plan.