Manchester United vs Bayern was the match of a possible treble from both side. United went through to the final after a heroic win over Juventus, whilst Bayern entered the final by stopping the giant killer, Dinamo Kyiv. Both team also came from the same group in the group stage phase which consisted of Barcelona, Brondby, United, and Bayern.
This final match was considered as one of the best final in Champions League history with United come back in the final three minutes was the most remembered by many. United were struggling for almost the whole match, but managed to find the way for the famous comeback and claimed the trophy with a 2-1 win. This piece will try to cover the tactical side of this fascinating match.
Alex Ferguson made some surprising tactical adjustment as his side lost two very important element of the tactic, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. He opted to play Ryan Giggs as the right winger but not in a classical sense. Giggs was more to a false winger who cut inside and occupied more centrally. On the opposite flank Jesper Blomqvist started and occupied the left flank. David Beckham, used to be the right winger, was played one of the central midfielder paired with Nicky Butt. The striker duo was filled by Andy Cole and his soul mate, Dwight Yorke. The two modern-style forward duo up front as they roamed and dropped deep to create play and space. At back, there were Gary Nevile and Denis Irwin, on both flank, and Ronie Johnsen and Jaap Stam in the central area.
Ottmar Hitzfeld played with a flexible shape. Lotthar Matthaus was the hybrid role which kept this flexible shape stayed establish. In a deep build up or, occasionally, passive defensive phase (like defending against long goal kick), Matthaus started from the back line and formed the three chain along with Samuel Kuffour and Thomas Linke. In this situation, both full backs, Markus Babel and Michael Tarnat moved slightly forward, occupied the intermediate line. When Bayern progressed the build up, Matthaus would move gradually. His vertical movement was ball-oriented. Matthaus acted as the deepest midfielder behind Jens Jeremies and Stefan Effenberg. But in some specific situation, Matthaus was given license to move further forward and create the play on his own. Mario Basler was the wide forward, he played on the right. On the left side, there was Alexander Zickler. Carsten Jancker was the central forward whose Bayern relied on his aerial presence. Basler and Zickler played in an asymmetrical shape. Basler started his movement from deeper area, whilst Zickler was higher as he needed not only as the wide forward but also the central striker one.
Bayern defensive focus on the first half was top level. Their low block and man to man marking managed to nullify United’s attacking threat. Lotthar Matthaus was the free-man in Hitzfled’s system which constantly trying to create many numerical superiority. Bayern’s both fullbacks played so well and made things harder for Ryan Giggs and Jesper Blomqvist.
Bayern initial defensive shape. Here is the initial shape of Bayern when defending against long goal kick. The assignment was obvious. Each player (especially the defending ones) dealt with their assigned opponent. Bayern’s right full back for United’s left winger and vice versa. Stefan Effenberg and Jens Jeremies for respectively Nicky Butt and David Beckham. Matthaus, the libero, had specific duty. Whe Effenberg moved up, as shown above, Matthaus would roam from the back line to cover the midfielder, especially the area behind Effenberg. By doing this, Bayern transformed from their initial shape to 4-4-2 asymmetrical alike.
One of the Bayern strength was the quick transition from defensive to offensive one. When regaining possession, Bayern could switch between the two quickly. Markus Babel vertical movement in the 3rd minute was the first example. Basler smart flick on was picked by Babel. This was a planned attacking movement, Basler to stay wide, he had to find the space to pass laterally to Babel who made diagonal movement. After receiving Basler’s pass, the right full back made a quick vertical run and managed to beat the United’s CM duo. The second example was from the 5th minute. Another pattern of Bayern’s attack. A direct ball from Jeremies to the left area, was directly one touched by Zickler to Jancker which in turn forced Johnsen to foul the 9. Basler managed to score from this direct free kick.
Three Bayern’s defenders responded to Gary Neville’s throw in to Yorke. Kufour, Linke, and Tarnat closed Yorke down and tried to create numerical superiority. Matthaus anticipated it well, he moved into the area and man marked Cole.
The ball was hacked away by Tarnat and fell to Beckham, who controlled it badly. Jancker dropped deep and tried to take control. He was under a tight marking and challenged by Stam. The loose ball was recovered by Jeremies who made a direct pass to the left area, to Zickler. With a one touch pass, he reached Jancker who made a forward run which resulted Johnsen fouled Jancker. Bayern gained a direct free kick and Basler executed it the way that seemed to be well-trained.
There was compact defence, the involvement of the 9 in Bayern’s defensive phase, ball recovery by the 6, and the quick attacking transition, as shown by Jeremies-Zickler-Jancker attacking action.
The situation from the 6th minute, as shown above, and Babel dribbling, as mentioned earlier, also showed how vulnerable United were when transitioning from attack to defense. United’s CM duo also played their own part why Bayern managed to exploit such weakness.
Let’s take a closer look at United attacking play against Bayern defensive structure. Both team had the identical attacking purpose. They would try to pass the ball directly to the front line. But both team had slightly different approach. When building their attack, United would direct the ball to any of Ryan Giggs or Yorke with Cole occasionally got into such scheme when he dropped deeper and Yorke took the more advanced area. David Beckham was the main player to do this job. He passed the ball to Giggs on the right flank or to Dwight Yorke. Different approach was taken when/if Giggs occupied more centrally and being the 10. One of interesting but simple way to generate this movement, was when Giggs occupied the 10, David Beckham and Nicky Butt collectively dropped off to pick up the ball and at once create space between the 6 and 10, which gave a huge space for Giggs to work on, as shown below.
The possible following plan, was Giggs played one-two combination with any of the United’s forward and made the run into the box. United’s striker duo was found many times dropping deep, as discussed earlier, to the 10 or even close to the 8. It seemed to be the Sir Alex’s way to help his central midfielder stayed stable (referring to the natural weakness of 4-4-2) and, at once, to drag Bayern’s defenders out of their position. But Bayern defending players concentration were on its highest level, as they could still keep the shape remained compact. In the situation as shown by the latest diagram, Tarnat followed Giggs’ movement and nullified all his potential plan. Matthaus acted as the cover for the all the man marking. He supervised all the movement and reacted based on the situation. Here was one of the downside of United’s attacking play occurred. When Giggs roamed to the left, which followed by Tarnat, Bayern’s left back was left wide opened. Lack of covering by United on the left flank was obvious. Gary Neville or Beckham were supposed to cover it, but not or at least they were late to do so. This, in turn, gave Bayern the chance to resort. Particularly Beckham, such task just made him over-used. Beckham had to cover a lot of space (the 6, 8, and 7) which was never easy let alone against such a structured side.
When United circulated in the central area and Giggs was on the flank, the 10 would be occupied by the 9. Yorke took this duty in more occasions than Cole. And Bayern dealt with it well. The 3v2 in the middle line, favour for Bayern, made it hard for United to develop their attack. Beckham as the deep play maker was the one to determine where the ball had to be played. To deal with such United attacking build up, Bayern transformed their basic shape. Matthaus moved up and formed the three-men midfielder along with Effenberg and Jeremies.
Three midfielder blockade, 24th minute. Matthaus stepped up and formed three midfielder chain, along with Effenberg and Jeremies (who acted more to the cover). Each Bayern’s player marked each of their own assigned opposition. In this situation, Beckham passed the ball to Blomqvist. But again, Babel easily headed it away. On the other situation, when Beckham managed to pass it to the 9 duo, Bayern back line could always stopped it (intercepted or hacked it away).
When regaining possession and got their chance to attack, Bayern approached it differently than United did. Their attacking purpose was made a direct pass to Jancker or Zickler trying to exploit the space behind United’s back line. On the other occasion, Bayern played the ball to the flank before releasing (float or low) cross to the center of the box, which the main target was the striker duo. Zickler and Jancker being the frontest two, Effenberg supported them by playing as 10, and Mario Basler took the deeper position. Matthaus and Jeremies played deeper and covered these four. An asymmetrical shape was observed.
Another identical tactical manner from both side was the use of their full backs. Either United or Bayern full backs not the adventurous ones who given more license to attack the flank. They were asked to be more focused to the defensive stability. But Babel was slightly different, his forward movement often like a inverted full back, as he moved diagonally with Basler covered the flank. Apart of this Babel “special” assignment, when it came the time to support the attack, the full backs would just act simply by making a deep-cross instead of byline cross.
The different manner of play was also observed on both team advanced wide-men. The only player who constantly tried to find the byline was Blomqvist but by the very good marking by Babel, he hardly found the space there. Giggs was a false winger, not a classic one. Mario Basler took deeper position compared to Zickler, on the opposite flank. Basler movement was diagonal one, as he moved to the 10 and tried to provide the pass for the striker duo.
In the first half, Bayern defensive system worked to the right and successfully nullified United’s attacking threat. There were two main factors. The first one, was the fluid interchanging between Matthaus and Jeremies. They alternately covered the six and the back line. In one ocasion, Jeremies stayed deep to cover Matthaus forwars movement. This was crucial, particularly when United released their counter attack and Ryan Giggs acted as the 10. This was one of the situation that Michael Tarnat, Giggs’s marker, didn’t always follow the Welsh. Jeremies took control of the duty. This allowed Bayern defense remained secure so provided enough time for Matthaus and Effenberg to drop deep to fill up the central midfield and block any access. The second factor, was Bayern managed to create a lot of numerically advantage situation. In their man to man marking system, Bayern could still maintain the compact shape and created many successful numerical superiority. In almost situation where Ryan Giggs tried to enter bayern defense with his dribbling ability, Michael Tarnat along with any of the midfielders would follow him, one being the main press with the other one being the cover.
Matthaus covering positioning and his attacking sense were both great. In many occasions, Matthaus positioned himself on the right area which allowed him to make ball recovery and lead the counter attack in proper timing. The situation from 28th and 31st minute showed it perfectly. In the 28”, Jeremies followed Beckham and managed to stop him. Matthaus’ top anticipation allowed him to cover it and put him on the right post to make a ball recovery. He made a 40 meter forward run and created a 4v4 attacking situation. In the 31”, Matthaus found the space behind United’s CM duo, in the middle third of Bayern’s area! He made another forward run and decided to make a long 30 meter distance shot which over the bar. Overall, in the first half, his long pass and vertical dribble were just great. Matthaus arguably the best player in the first half.
In the early of the second half, there was no major line up change made by both team. The first adjustment by United was the corner kick set up. In the first half, in every of their corner there was no near post assignment. All Beckham corner kick was oriented to the central area right in front of the 6 yard box. Sir Alex adjusted it. There would be at least one or two players to attack the near post. And two to three player to stay more centrally and one other player to attack the far post from the edge. The other adjustment was the playing manner. In the build up play, Yorke dropped slightly deeper with Cole stayed on more advanced area. Jesper Blomqvist was now instructed to make more diagonal run particularly when Giggs released a float cross into the box.
Bayern responded it by forming a relatively deep block in 4-1-4-1’ish defensive shape, Matthaus being the 6 behind Jeremies and Effenberg. Jancker stayed forward. In their build up play, Bayern made different approach. They needed to keep the lead and invite United players to come out, that was the reason why they seemed to be more possession-based than the first half one. Bayern tactical discipline remained there. The interchanging was able to keep the defensive shape remained compact. When Michael Tarnat pushed further forward, Jens Jeremies swapped and filled the left back post. When United tried to attack the right side, Basler dropped so deep and helped his mates to overload the area.
After 20 minutes into the second half, Teddy Sheringham was featured and Blomqvist was taken out. Ryan Giggs back to his usual position on the left. Dwight Yorke was moved to the right, in defensive phase he filled the right flank, with Sheringham and Cole stayed forward. The situation became like this.
This was how United defending against goal kick. When they entered the attacking phase, Yorke would move up and filled the striker post. Teddy Sheringham dropped off to occupy the 10 and being the catalyst between the middle and forward line. Sheringham was the main target of all high-class long ball kick from Schmeichel. Sheringham played it amazingly as he made it difficult for Bayern’s defenders to deal with his aerial ability. Sheringham made several promising flick on from such situation.
Hitzfeld replaced Zickler with Scholl was proven to be effective for Bayern attack. Let alone United needed to push the equalizer which forced them to leave wider opened space for Bayern to utilize. They made several dangerous attacking situation. With Scholl, Bayern were able to play with another style. His dribble ability was better than Zickler. Scholl also suited to Bayern second half possession approach. with Jancker and Effenberg, Scholl managed to create three big chances for Bayern.
On the other side, the presence of Sheringham (and finally Solksjaer) being the key for United glorious. They occupied the right area and slotted two important goals. As aforementioned, the adjustment of United corner kick also played its own part in this situation. Sheringham was the man to attack the near post which in the last minute his flick on became the assist for the Solksjaer’s late winner.
Bayern defensive organization was amazing. The compactness and discipline were the key for them to nullify all United attacking plan. They created many numerical superiority situation which was very hard for United to break. Lothar Matthaus, in his 37 years old, was one of the best performer. His defensive positioning was great and his attacking vision helped Bayern to build fluid attack from the back.
The loss of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane had helped Bayern midfield to dominate the middle battle more easily. Thanks to Bayern finishing touch that helped United to stay in the match. On the other side, it was Sir Alex tactocal change that enabled them to win this match. His decison to feature Sheringham and Solksjaer was the key. Particularly Sheringham, his presence had provided another dimension of play. His aerial ability and nice positioning as false nine helped his team creating some “new” space on Bayern’s defense.
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