Five key observations from Real Madrid’s win against Bayern Munich

The 1-0 victory for the Spanish giants at the Santiago Bernabeu raises a number of talking points.

Real Madrid produced a strong and intelligent defensive display against Bayern Munich to register a narrow 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Karim Benzema’s strike after 19 minutes proved to be the difference between the two sides in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie in the Spanish capital.

Below are five key observations from the game in Madrid.

1) Philipp Lahm, not Rafinha, should be at right-back

Rafinha may have convinced Pep Guardiola to play him week in week out at right-back in the Bundesliga, but against a team like Real Madrid, Philipp Lahm should have been deployed in that position. The Germany international has excelled in his defensive midfield role this season, but Madrid knew the weak link in Bayern’s defence and exploited it. Playing Lahm at right-back would have not only thrown Carlo Ancelotti’s side off their original gameplan, but it would have also made the defence much more compact and less susceptible to being cut open.

2) Carlo Ancelotti is a tactical genius

True, Madrid played defensive football and has just 28% of the possession, but Ancelotti’s tactics worked perfectly. The Italian knew that Bayern would have the ball more and would press high, so he let them do that. However, instead of ‘parking the bus’, the former AC Milan tactician made sure that his players positioned themselves in such a way that they could intercept the Bayern passes and then launch counter-attacks. That the Madrid players did perfectly, with Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Pepe all reading Bayern’s moves brilliantly and giving the Bavarian giants little space to work with.

3) Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half miss could prove costly

If Madrid go on to lose this tie and get knocked out of the competition at the semi-final stage for the fourth season in a row, then a certain Cristiano Ronaldo will be regretting his miss in the first half. With the score at 1-0, the 29-year-old had the perfect chance on 27 minutes not only to double the lead, but also to help his team take a giant step towards their first Champions League final since 2002. Karim Benzema, whose 19th-minute goal eventually settled the contest in the Spanish capital, drilled in a low cross into the box from the left. All Ronaldo had to do was keep his first-time effort on target; he failed, watching his shot go high and wide.

4) Possession without penetration is nothing

The stats above would have you believe that Bayern were the better team, and that they deserved to win. In fact, the best chances of the match fell to the home side. Ronaldo’s miss (as explained above) and then Angel di Maria’s chance would have put the hosts 3-0 up at half ttime – that would have settled the tie and secured them a place in the final. The only real save Iker Casillas had to make was in the 84th minute when he kept out substitute Mario Gotze’s effort from close range. Until then, Bayern had kept the ball but had failed to do much with it. That they retained possession meant they were in control, but their failure to do anything concrete with it shows that if you don’t have the ability to penetrate, then you won’t score. It was only after the introduction of Thomas Muller and Gotze in the second half that Bayern became more incisive and looked truly dangerous.

5) Madrid’s pace can hurt Bayern

Madrid scored their goal with a brilliant piece of incisive counter-attacking football that was executed perfectly by Benzema. Los Blancos could have scored two more with similar moves and similar pace. Later on in the second half Gareth Bale’s speed troubled the Bayern defence. Ancelotti could use both Ronaldo and Bale from the start in the second leg next week and trouble the Bayern backline with their pace. Direct running at the defenders and also cutting inside would be very dangerous, and with Madrid showing on Wednesday that they can retain discipline and play intelligent defensive football, an early goal at the Allianz Arena could just be enough for the nine-time European champions to remain on the road to Lisbon.

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