By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
Pep Guardiola arrived in Madrid on Wednesday night having never lost in seven matches at the Santiago Bernabeu. But when he wakes up on Thursday morning, he will do so knowing that Carlo Ancelotti is the coach in pole position to reach the Champions League final after a tactical masterclass saw Real Madrid beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the semi-final first leg.
The Spanish side grabbed the only goal of the game in the face of a near 90-minute onslaught by the reigning champions, with Ancelotti’s men proving that possession is not always nine-tenths of the law.
The only goal was stunning in both its simplicity and its execution.
Rafinha was pulled out of position, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo to fox Jerome Boateng with a perfect through-ball for Fabio Coentrao. The full-back’s cross was turned home by Karim Benzema and Real Madrid had a lead which seemed barely believable given the balance of play over the preceding 18 minutes.
The Blancos continued to surrender possession with relish, and yet it was they who had the better of the chances thereafter. Ronaldo blasted over after being played onside by Boateng, before Angel Di Maria got his technique all wrong when attempting to trouble Manuel Neuer from the right of the six-yard area.
Each missed opportunity felt like a massive moment in the course of the tie, but Bayern simply could not make Madrid pay. They had plenty of possession and as much territorial advantage as they could have wished for, but when it came to the final ball there was simply nothing there.
In truth, Ancelotti had made his defence almost impenetrable. There may be much finger-pointing in Bayern’s direction having failed to score despite bossing the game for so long, but it was the Spanish side’s incredible discipline and concentration which ensured there was next to no space in which Guardiola’s men could work.
It took Bayern the best part of 84 minutes to force Iker Casillas into a save of any real note, but even then the Spain captain barely had to move to block Mario Gotze’s goal-bound effort. That it had taken the European champions so long to have a serious sight of goal said much about Ancelotti’s plan being carried out so magnificently.
On another night, Ronaldo and Di Maria may have been the villains thanks to their misses. Most game plans which focus on a bolstered defence heavily depend on a high conversion rate with the rare sights of the ball a team does eventually enjoy. But this was a different night.
So confident is Ancelotti in his side’s ability to hurt Bayern on the break with searing pace and clever movement, he knows that a one-goal lead in this tie is monumental. It may not, by itself, win them a place in the Lisbon final next month, but it gives them a massive leg-up heading for Munich. While Guardiola will be left second-guessing whether he should ask for something different from his men in six days’ time, the Italian knows that his plan has worked once and will do so again.
During his eight years in charge of AC Milan, it was in the Champions League that Ancelotti excelled most. He was European champion twice, and but for a once-in-a-lifetime collapse in Istanbul he might have had a hat-trick. Now tasked with leading another of the world’s biggest clubs to continental glory, he is relishing the tactical battle that such a task entails.
It’s Ancelotti 1-0 Guardiola at half-time.
Follow Kris Voakes on