Entering the second leg of their Champions League semifinal tie, Real Madrid nursed a 1-0 aggregate lead from their opening encounter against Bayern Munich. While supporters packed the Allianz Arena in anticipation of a historic European night, set pieces we’re the Bavarian’s side undoing as Madrid cruised to a 4-0 win, advancing comfortably into the Champions League Final on a 5-0 aggregate score line.
If ever there was a critique of Munich manager Pep Guardiola, it would be his teams’ play on set piece defending. While his former Barcelona squads evolved around the intricate passing and movement of smaller players such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, Guardiola was always able to side-step questions surrounding his teams’ glaring defensive weakness due to the personnel that he fielded. After all, his team was small and they would always struggle in the aerial contests that ensued from dead-ball situations.
This is no longer a valid excuse now that he’s in Germany. This Bayern Munich team should be able to compete with anyone in the physicality department. A quick look at today’s lineup in the middle of the park shows 6-foot-2 Dante and 6-foot-4 Jerome Boateng in the heart of their defense with 6-foot center-midfielders in Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of them. Mario Mandzukic, at 6-foot-2, and Thomas Muller, at 6-foot-1, led the Munich attack. This is not a small squad by any means.
There is no reason, with this type of physical presence in their starting 11, that Guardiola’s Munich should resort to the often-faulty tactic of zonal marking on dead-ball situations. After Madrid jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the opening 20 minutes, both on dead-ball situations that resulted in two uncontested headers for Sergio Ramos, the zonal marking tactic essentially sealed Madrid’s passage into the Lisbon final. Surely one of the aforementioned players could have done better in a man marking capacity on the 6-foot Ramos.
As if highlighting the Munich inefficiencies in the air wasn’t enough, Cristiano Ronaldo added an extra dose of salt to the gaping Munich wound in the 90th minute when he cheekily slid his free kick under the four-man Munich wall, who all jumped as they anticipated a looping effort, for his second goal of the night.
Madrid walked into the home of the defending European Champions and embarrassed them. Many questioned if any team would be able to prevent this Munich side from retaining their European crown. Not to take anything away from Madrid’s semifinal victory, but few would have predicted that Munich themselves would factor so largely in their exit.
Madrid rightfully deserve their nod into the final.