Tuesday saw Pep Guardiola and Rudi Garcia meet at the Stadio Olympico as their teams met in the Champions League. Man City had just conceded a two-goal lead against CSKA Moscow; this signified a chance for Roma to capitalise in their bid for qualification from the group. Everyone expected a relatively close game, with the Italians in a good run of form and stalwart Daniele de Rossi recently back from injury.
After only 45 minutes, the Bavarians had already ensured the three points. It was 5-0.
The game illustrated the marriage between Guardiola’s Spanish influences and the ruthless efficiency historically embedded into Bayern’s culture. All this combined to create the perfect storm as his team ran riot.
Initially lining up in a lopsided 3-4-3, the fluidity with which Bayern played means their play cannot be categorized via such a basic interpretation. Depending on the position of the ball, this shape would be completely different. There were a number of other features of Bayern’s play which contributed to such a heavy win.
When Roma had the ball in the centre of the pitch, it appeared as if Bayern had very little shape. Rather than operating a structured, disciplined approach to pressing (a la Atlético Madrid), Guardiola’s team adopted an approach of controlled anarchy. No matter where they were on the pitch, if Roma had the ball, the nearest Bayern players pressed him relentlessly. If Bayern quickly lost the ball and David Alaba was in the attacking midfield region, then it would be his duty to aggressively press the ball-player rather than attempt to regain position.
This meant Bayern were able to stop a large amount of attacks at source. And when combined with a high line, proved successful at limiting the number of times Roma entered the attacking organisation phase. Throughout the first half, the Italians were unable to reach this phase of play even once. Through a high line and ultra-aggressive pressing, Bayern ensured the only defending they had to do was in transition or the occasional set piece. For a team that likes to spend a huge amount of time on the ball, this makes it much easier to dedicate training time to defending. If Bayern were able to keep all of their opponents to transition alone, then they simply would not have to practise the organisation phase.
All of this limited Totti’s threat and Roma’s attack became one-dimensional hoof-to-Gervinho. The Ivorian had some joy, but he’s clearly not as technically gifted as Totti and Roma suffered.
Intelligent deep build-up
Despite being a staunch advocate of the single midfield pivot, Guardiola used an asymmetric double pivot against Roma. Since the arrival of Xabi Alonso, Bayern have adopted this approach more often and it has aided their first phase of build-up.
The opening stages of the game saw Roma attempt to press Bayern’s defenders. Such pressure near their own goal meant building play was difficult, and the use of a double pivot helped to alleviate this.
There was one particular movement pattern from Alonso and Lahm that was successful in bypassing the first pressing wave. This may have been pre-rehearsed, as it happened on a number of occasions, or may simply have been down to the intelligence of the two players involved.
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As Roma’s initially ferocious pressing began to wane, Alonso was able to build play on his own. This allowed Lahm to take a higher position in the initial build-up, where he was able to make a big impact.
The Lahm, Müller, Robben mini-game
Much like when at Barca, Guardiola is building the system around his most direct threat. Lionel Messi was previously used in a central role, but now Robben is the key man from the flanks. Guardiola employed two of his most intelligent players in Xavi and Iniesta near the Argentine in order to magnify his brilliance. Their equivalents at Bayern are Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller; the two Germans were used in roles that facilitated Robben’s destruction of Roma.
Lahm had to play two roles; not only was he vital in the centre of the pitch, but also on the right. When Robben received the ball, it was Lahm’s responsibility to be his main supporting act. The plan was to ensure that Robben was 1v1 against Ashley Cole, where he could cause a huge amount of damage. Depending on the situation, Lahm would either hold position, underlap, or overlap.
Müller was originally positioned where a standard attacking midfielder would be. When he is played in midfield, his natural attacking tendencies are a source of great frustration for Guardiola. But against Roma he was able to harness this into a valuable tactical role: occupying Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
Müller would cleverly stagger his run, to ensure Yanga-Mbiwa knew he was a danger. He would then quickly cut in between the two central defenders, creating a large gap between Cole and Yanga-Mbiwa for Robben to exploit. This is when Lahm would bomb on and create a 2v1 against poor Ashley Cole. Radja Nainggolan was often far too slow to track, and Lahm’s clever runs created enough uncertainty for Robben to exploit.
One such moment where this triangle contributed to a key moment was the first goal. Watch the goal once. Then watch it again, only following Thomas Müller and the way he drags Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa away from the space Robben scores from.
Robben was able to breeze past Cole on a number of other occasions. It’s for this reason Guardiola has put such a tactical emphasis on his side utilising the wings. He has set his team up to ensure the opposition’s full back is constantly overloaded. When this is combined with on-ball ability as incredible as Robben’s… chaos.