- 1. Football is about much more than just footwork
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Both sides kept adjusting their positioning and tactical formations throughout most of the match and both sets of players were able to interpret the changes and different tasks and movement that different positions required. Apart from the goalkeepers, centre-backs and the centre forwards (and even so...), virtually every other player had to keep reinterpreting the diverse challenges the match insisted on posing as both managers fine-tuned their teams in search of the advantage point. In comparison to, for instance, last weekend's Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United, it becomes clearer and clearer why the Premier League is falling behind the European wagon.
- 2. Tactical (in)flexibility
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On the other hand, FC Porto coach Julen Lopetegui made the odd-sounding claim that his team held no surprises and that everyone knew how the Dragons played. Sure enough, the first half was the perfect mirror for both coaches' stances.
While Guardiola kept almost the same starting XI (Holger Badstuber taking Dante's place), the side had little to do with the eleven men that took to the pitch at the Dragão. The Spaniard even went as far as saying that Bayern were not ready for Jackson getting so tight to maestro Xabi Alonso on the first leg, but that they were ready for it when the second leg came around.
Indeed, Xabi Alonso hardly ever got himself in between the centre-backs and for most of the first half his role resembled a simple game of shadows, making sure his movement dragged Jackson Martínez out of the way so that Jérôme Boateng and Badstuber had the necessary space and time to progress with the ball or pass it with some purpose. FC Porto went through the whole first half without being able to adjust to that simple manoeuvre.
Furthermore, the Spanish coach played his full-backs Rafinha and Juan Bernat in a narrower position, rather than hugging the touchline - with Phillipp Lahm and Mario Götze providing width. This allowed Bayern to have significantly more passing options and bamboozled FC Porto's men, who were unable to understand whether to mark their supposed direct opponent or the one that kept popping near them.
- 3. The coach's hand
|Julen Lopetegui will have been doing |
a lot of this last Tuesday.
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Given the Portuguese side's need for technically skilled players at the back so that the team had time on the ball when they got it back and the fact that facing Bayern hardly ever calls for a less mobile player stationed out wide, it was hardly surprising to see the Mexican player being replaced with Ricardo half an hour into the match.
On another note, it is equally hard to ignore the fact that FC Porto came out like a deer in headlights, afraid to use the third way between pressing or parking the bus that had worked so well last week. While it's true Bayern were much more accomplished with their pressing when transitioning into defence and effectively stifling the Portuguese side, it is undeniable that the Dragons were a bit further back than at the Dragão, which yielded a huge distance to Bayern's goal whenever they had the chance to win the ball back.
Whether by design or the inability to put his players at ease before such an important match, Lopetegui's European reputation took a serious dent here, as anyone curious enough about the first leg's result to tune in for the return leg won't have been impressed with FC Porto's first half.
- 4. The vulnerabilities of 4x3x3
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Even though Bayern seemed positively outmanoeuvred at the Dragão, the Spanish coach clearly learnt his lessons and went with a very different approach this time around, drilling holes in what seemed a very static strategy from FC Porto.
In fact, Guardiola stretched FC Porto out wide with Götze and Lahm, but made sure there were plenty of passing options in the middle. As mentioned on the first leg's preview, Óliver Torres and Herrera can sometimes take too long to occupy the necessary positions in front of their defence and Guardiola surely noticed it. With Robert Lewandowski often dropping back with his back to goal, there was also Thiago Alcântara and Thomas Müller lurking around, which meant FC Porto's holding midfielder Casemiro was much less sure of whether to press or cover the space.
Last night's match was surely a definitive reminder of just how vulnerable the 4x3x3 formation can be if the opposition knows how to pick the pockets of space that invariably form around the holding midfielder and behind the interiores - or shuttlers. The time FC Porto took to take notice of those changes was crucial to Bayern's incessant pounding.
- 5. What does it all mean?
For Guardiola this emphatic win was most definitely a sigh of relief. With last season's debacle against Real Madrid in mind, crashing out against Europe's minor opposition, for all their history, would have deepened the sense of perceived crisis in Bavaria and truncate the Spaniard's wiggle room. While they seem under control, success in domestic competitions would no doubt be insufficient for the club's (almost impossibly) high demands and might bring Guardiola's project into question.
Therefore last night's win - and the way it was accomplished - will serve as the perfect panacea for Bayern's ailments and provide Guardiola with the much-needed time to bring some of the key players back, rather than being forced to watch the rest of the Champions League on the telly. On another note, the demolition of FC Porto will serve as notice for anyone that might think - at their own peril - that Bayern were already with one foot out Europe's door.