This was arguably the most awaited match of the quarter-finals of the Champions League this year as it pitched two European powerhouses in Bayern Munich and Juventus, who have a long history in this competition, against each other. Bayern are on course to banish the ghosts of Munich 2012 and at the same time give the perfect farewell gift for their departing coach Jupp Heynckes. Juventus on the other hand are looking to return to the upper echelons of European football and a lot rides on them as they are the sole representative from Serie A remaining in the Champions League.
What transpired at the Munich Arena was a masterclass performance from the Bavarians who ran the show, right from the word go. A 2-0 victory, which should have easily been more in the favour of the Germans, ensured that they are already favourites to reach the semi-finals. The Italians’ defeat was their first loss in the tournament this season. Football matches are always fodder for talking points and some of them did turn up during Bayern’s win.
Kroos’ injury was a boon to the Germans
Toni Kroos has really blossomed under the tutelage of Jupp Heynckes. The 22-year old Bayern youth product has really made the Number 10 position behind the striker his own this season by striking a formidable understanding with striker Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Muller. However his injury early on in the Champions League game against Juventus would have seen Bayern fans being a little skeptical as his replacement Arjen Robben has a mixed relationship with the fans.
Much maligned for his reluctance to pass and still being given stick for his penalty miss during last year’s final, the Flying Dutchman gave a performance that was worthy of applause against the Italians last night. The former Chelsea man gave Federico Peluso a torrid time with his pace and dribbling abilities. He almost doubled the Bavarians lead as soon as he came on when his snapshot was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.
|Robben tormented the Juve defence during the game|
His direct running and ability to beat the player with pace is different from the playmaking abilities what Kroos offers. Robben’s introduction into the fray saw the pace of the game being upped and his combination play along with Phillip Lahm was a delight.
But the Dutchman was guilty of overrunning his dribbles on many occasions and resulted in goalkicks to Juventus when he was better off passing the ball into the 18-yard area. It can be said with certainty that Peluso’s ineffective shift for the Turin giants last night would mean that Kwadwo Asamoah will return to the fold in the second leg. The Ghanaian is a much more tricky customer than the Italian and one who is not afraid of running at players. It would need a player of the trickery and pace of Robben to ensure that the former Udinese man does not have a free reign on the left-hand side of midfield.
Mario Mandzukic – striker or defensive midfielder?
Juventus’ 3-5-2 formation has been an enigma to many teams that have come up against them in the Champions League. It is an unusual formation which would be very effective only if you have the right personnel for it. And the Bianconeri do have such a roster. With Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio hunting in packs in the middle of the park and the ‘Duracell Bunny’ like wingbacks, Juventus have one of the most potent midfields in Europe.
Juventus ruthlessly exposed the fallacies of the 4-2-3-1 formation when they dismantled European champions Chelsea at Turin back in November. Quite simply the double pivot was overwhelmed. Bayern ran a similar risk when they were set up in the same formation against Antonio Conte’s side. However Jupp Heynckes is a well-seasoned coach and he instructed striker Mario Mandzukic to drop a little deeper into midfield to ensure that the Juventus defence do not attempt to play their way out of defence like they are accustomed to.
|Mandzukic had a different role to play against the Bianconeri
The Croatian striker who is amongst the goals in the Bundesliga gave a Gattuso-esque performance as he was seen hounding the ball when Juventus were in possession which more often than not resulted in the Bianconeri relinquishing their hold on the ball and making schoolboy errors. The normally calm Gigi Buffon was a worried man in the Juve goal as Mandzukic’s constant harrying of his defence saw them opting to pass back to the keeper who was the subject of the Bayern striker’s attention too.
During the first half the former Wolfsburg man drifted into a left-side midfield position in between Andrea Barzagli and Stephan Lichtsteiner. With the Swiss full back being kept in check by Franck Ribery, Mandzukic was the scourge of his former teammate Barzagli as the defender looked totally uneasy against the 26-year old who once fashioned a chance for Ribery to punt the ball into the penalty area after he dispossessed the Italian defender with a superb tackle.
The second half saw the Croatian shift himself onto the right side where he engaged in a enthralling battle with one of Italy’s finest defenders, Giorgio Chiellini. The 28-year old defender was seen tussling with Mandzukic which drew the ire of coach Heynckes who felt his striker was being given a raw deal by the referee Mark Clattenburg.
However Mario did set up Thomas Muller’s second goal when he unselfishly squared it for the 23-year old to take a two-goal cushion to Turin. In short Mandzukic gave a performance that was worthy of the applause he received from the Die Roten fans as he was their unsung hero during the game.
Bayern win the midfield battle
Everything that a team considers a strength always can be countered sooner rather than later. Barcelona’s possession based game was once thought to be impossible to play against until teams like Real Madrid, Chelsea and AC Milan showed the way to nullify it. Similarly Juventus’ 3-5-2 formation bamboozled many across Europe, but teams have figured out a way to bypass the central midfield trio of Vidal, Marchisio and Pirlo.
Bayern, who rely on wing-play to carve open defences, did exactly that when the midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luis Gustavo shifted the ball wide which meant that the likes of Vidal and Marchisio were drawn out of position to wider areas and left Pirlo exposed.
|Pirlo would want to forget about this game quickly
The former AC Milan medio is one of the best playmakers with the ball at his feet, but he is not equally effective off the ball which saw him being shut down by Bayern’s double pivot and Mario Mandzukic.
Bayern’s emphasis on wing play saw them punt in as many as 18 crosses during the game and minimized the influence of Juve’s wingbacks as they struggled to get out of their own half for the majority of the game.
Pirlo made just one pass that threatened the Bayern defence and was dispossessed thrice during the course of the match. Just a solitary key pass from one of the world’s best playmakers was not a sign of him having a bad game. It was more of how well the Bavarians implemented their plan to keep the midfielder in check.
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.