Early Doors

Tactics Bored: Fellaini steals show by outwitting Bayern

Early Doors

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The Champions League is where the best tactics happen. Happens. Happen. Happen(s). Indeed, if you examine the Champions League song and translate it from the French into English, you will find it runs thus:

These are the best tactics
They are the very best tactics
The main tactics
The tactics
The best tactics
The great tactics
The tactics
A large tactical gathering
A great tactical event
The main tactics
They are the best tactics
They are the best tactics
These are the champions’ tactics

So you can see that we are spoiled every year by UEFA’s commitment to providing a global audience with the most nuanced, sophisticated and intellectually exacting tactics on the planet.

That’s why last night was a match for the ages, between two behemoths of phootball philosophy. Pep Guardiola, who conceived of and executed tiki-taka, and David Moyes, who conceived of and executed a game plan that saw Manchester United cross over 80 times in a single match. There were a couple of interesting developments that happened. Happeneds. Happened. Happened(s).

BAYERN WIN 70-30

First up, it has to be said that Bayern deserve credit for their overwhelming victory in the match last night. They took an early 80-20 lead in the opening stages, but despite Manchester United scoring first, and coming back into the game with some effective breaks, Bayern Munich sealed the game with a 70-30 victory.

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In the return leg, Bayern will be looking to double, if not improve by a greater factor, the measure of their advantage to ensure progress to the next round. That will be despite the suspensions of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger from the second leg, both of whom were instrumental in passing the ball around the pitch for about 65 of the 90 minutes, as Bayern scored the same amount of goals as Manchester United. Not that that's what really counts.

TACTICAL TOOL DEVELOPMENT

We are all, in a sense, tactical tools, but sometimes you need outside help. Last night was the first time that an irony-o-meter was used by UEFA’s observation committee. These things aren’t usually announced, but I have the inside line and the top sources where these matters are concerned. It’s still in the beta phase, which means kinks will be ironed out as they are identified in testing.

Now, as Schweinsteiger hurtled around the pitch demanding Antonio Valencia was booked for a nothing tackle in the first half, and then demanding Antonio Valencia was booked for contesting a 50-50 ball in the penalty box, the irony-o-meter was running at a flat 0/10, but suddenly sparked into action, hitting a zesty 6/10 when Ol’ Schweini saw red for his second yellow card. He received this, of course, for a late and stupid challenge on Wayne Rooney, who had just lost possession with two heavy touches.

All was functioning well and as intended, until Pep Guardiola made a diving gesture with his hand, to imply Rooney had made a meal of the contact. The irony-o-meter immediately identified this video in its hard drive:

The meter dinged to 10/10, but the video kept playing and the meter remembered Arjen Robben’s dive against Arsenal and this video:

Then it registered a measure of hypocrisy and assumed moral superiority that eventually meant the meter ended up looking like this:

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The problem then, is that the meter works too well, and for games including Pep Guardiola, Bayern and Barcelona, the irony will have to be measured by hand, by boffins, until the sensitivity of the meter is decreased.

THE FALSE DRIBBLE - TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT

In the past, the motto has been ‘the ball moves faster than the man’ as an endorsement of a counter-attack, or even a series of short passes, in that it will outstrip a run forward for speed. It’s the same for long balls, too. Even a well aimed 50-yard pass, or just an aimless hoof forward, will often find its man in space, or at least get the ball and the attacking player to the goal in the shortest amount of time.

Last night, Marouane Fellaini identified that Bayern Munich, with their speedy short passing, had correctly identified that United were counter attacking with some truly vertical play. Fellaini - presumably in cahoots with tactical mastermind David Moyes - took Bayern by surprise by running fully 50-yards with the ball, and straight out of play. Check the diagram below:

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You can see that the classic and predictable option would have been for Fellaini to have attempted a pass to another man on his side, but of course the German team would have expected that all along.

Fellaini had perfected the element of surprise by attempting poor pass after poor pass in the first and much and the second half. Bayern wouldn’t close him down, because they could expect him to inevitably return them the ball.

By gaining some surprise territory, Moyes and Fellaini stole an interesting tactic from rugby, and secured a 1-1 result for the away leg. Will we be so lucky to discover anything so new and fascinating in the next meeting? We can only pray to Bobby Harrms, and hope.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn

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