Master met Apprentice last night in MetLife Stadium, New Jersey. Carlo Ancelotti, winning manager of the 2014 UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid, managed his Bayern Munich side against his old club now led by Zinedine Zidane, winning manager of the 2016 UEFA Champions League.
Zidane was on the bench in 2014 too, as one of Ancelotti’s assistant coaches. It’s unclear what he did then, other than be passionate and look really good in a suit.
Last night, Apprentice got the better of Master. No one is quite sure how, it was a perplexing performance from both sides, with the ebb and flow of the game contrasting with the actual result. But as always, it was a game that left us with some impressions; five to be exact!
Madrid’s defence is still resilient
When Real Madrid won the 2016 Champions League it was mostly on the back of their defence. Ah hell it was entirely on the back of their defence. They hunkered down against Manchester City (a side they were better than) and Atlético Madrid (a side they had more talent than) and blocked them out.
That was proper backs-to-the-wall, deep-lying defence, kind of stuff. And it worked. Well today we saw it again as Madrid, facing a more harmonious Bayern side, simply shut-up shop. Maybe. It’s hard to tell where Los Blancos’ hyper defensive attitude begins and Bayern’s dominance of the match ends.
But either way, the Madrid defence – with Ramos back from his summer break – stood tall against everything the Bavarians could throw at it, something that bodes very well for Madrid’s prosperity this season as it will always give them a way to be stable.
Bayern’s midfield trio have excellent chemistry
Part of why Madrid’s defence had to be so vigilant is that Bayern absolutely dominated the match. In a display of pressing and possession worthy of Pep Guardiola; Xabi Alonso, Thiago and Arturo Vidal absolutely owned the middle of the pitch.
Sure, Thiago tried to force just one too many passes, but in general the Spanish-speaking trio ran the show.
They pressed Madrid superbly when out of possession, never letting Los Blancos build any sort of momentum with the ball. Then when they had it, they moved it around between them superbly, even pulling in Juan Bernat and Philipp Lahm off the flanks to help them own everything in there.
Marcelo is still awesome
There were no wondergoals today, or even an assist, but Marcelo was still awesome. And with the hour mark approaching, Marcelo did what Marcelo so often does: something extraordinary.
He pushed forward into the Bayern box – because of course he did – and with the defenders converging on him, flicked the ball with the outside of his boot off to the side.
As though he had thrown it with his hands, the ball scooped out from the encroaching circle of Bayern defenders to an unmarked Alvaro Morata who opened up his body and, inexplicably, screwed the ball wide of the target.
It was one of the few genuine chances Madrid created and was nearly entirely down to the individual brilliance of Marcelo.
Bayern probably need to sign a forward
While Bayern’s midfield ran the show, they never really managed to truly threaten the Madrid goal. Certainly not enough to cause concern, and part of that is because they had Julian Green up-front.
His hat-trick against Inter was nice but in truth only served to illustrate how far the Milanese giant have fallen since their heydey just half a decade ago.
Green lacked anything resembling enough quality to trouble Varane and Ramos, which made Bayern too easy to handle. This is a problem for the Bavarians because he is their primary back-up striker.
Sure they have Robert Lewandowski to start and he’s great, and even Thomas Müller can play there albeit it is not his best position – but beyond that: nothing.
Today was an excellent example of what can happen to Bayern Munich if their main forward is absent: they become blunt, a soft target too easy to shove to one side. Signing a proper forward to be the backup for Lewandowski makes a huge amount of sense.
Real Madrid are still not great, but are still lucky
There’s no nice way to say it: Real Madrid were not good yesterday. As much as they slapped Chelsea from pillar to post at the weekend (wow how bad must the Blues be?) they are a long way off being an elite side. But this is nothing new, after all they weren’t anywhere near Europe’s four elite club sides last season but who walked away with the Champions League at season’s end? Real Madrid.
Thus far in his career Zidane hasn’t proven himself to be a great manager. He’s passable, a sort of tall, dark and handsome Harry Redknapp – but beyond inspiring passion there doesn’t seem to be a lot of tactical work going on.
Under his guidance, Madrid play a fairly straightforward 4-3-3. It’s a template taken from the 2013-14 season, when Zidane studied under Ancelotti, but with the major quirk of Ángel Di Maria’s hybrid role obviously removed – the club’s pursuit of David Alaba shows Zidane wants to put it back in.
But anyway, inspiring passion is important: without it teams can genuinely flounder. They can struggle to translate their tactical ideas onto the pitch – Madrid often had this issue under Rafa Benitez. So passion is important, but useful though it is, it’s not going to help your side become elite.
As mentioned earlier, that’s not a problem for Real Madrid. They weren’t elite last season and it didn’t stop them. Whatever Zidane’s qualities as a coach, one of them is very definitely “lucky” – things just seem to roll for him.
Last night was a primary example. A game in which his team is utterly dominated and clearly second best ends with a full-back charging forward and, with their weak-foot, unleashing a thunderbolt of a strike from 30 yards out into the back of the net to seal an undeserved win.
When things are rolling your way, life is good.