Ronaldo evolves to silence the Allianz once more
The first leg of the premier tie of the 2016/17 Champions league quarterfinals between Bayern and holders Real Madrid was played on the 12th of April and didn’t disappoint as Real came from behind to claim a stunning 2–1 victory in Germany.
The biggest story in the buildup to this game was that Lewandowski, Bayern’s leading marksman with 38 goals this season failed to recover from a shoulder injury he sustained in Der Klassiker.
As a result of this, Carlo Ancelotti elected to go with Thomas Muller as the number 9 in the 4–3–3 formation he has been utilising for most of the season. Aside from Manuel Neuer returning in goal, the Bayern team which thrashed Dortmund 4–1 remained unchanged.
Zidane meanwhile selected his usual big game lineup, the only exception being nacho filling in at centre-back for the injured Pepe and Raphaël Varane.
Bayern started the game brightly, thoroughly dominating possession in the first six minutes and created a few chances particularly down the right wing. However, Bayern’s blitz faded away as the first half went on and the two teams began exchanging blows as the clock ticked on.
Luka Modric was playing in a very advanced role, often higher up the field than Bale as Real looked to hit the Bavarians on the counterattack.
Bayern, the possession and pass masters of this season’s Champions League played as they always do, with patient build-up and penetrative passing.
The best chance of the first half however came from Real Madrid, a Karim Benzema header in the 18th minute following a cross by Toni Kroos was tipped onto the post by Manuel Neuer.
The first goal of the game came 7 minutes later, courtesy of Arturo Vidal who scored a bullet header from a Thiago corner after losing his marker at the far post.
Real though, were unperturbed by the goal and continued to defend Bayern’s relentless attacks down their flanks.
Dani Carvajal in particular was outstanding at right-back, minimising Ribéry’s impact on the game and neutralising Alaba’s overlaps which took significant sting out of Bayern’s attack.
Just before the end of the first half the referee awarded Bayern a penalty for a wrongly called handball on Carvajal. Arturo Vidal stepped up to take but blazed his shot over the bar, poetic justice as the referee blew his whistle for halftime.
90 seconds after the restart, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been uninvolved so far, scored the equaliser for Madrid.
Casemiro’s through ball following a quick free found Carvajal on the overlap, who squared a driven ball into the box which Ronaldo finished with a side-footed volley into the bottom corner of Neuer’s net.
Real began to gain a greater grip on the game after Modric began orchestrate real’s attacks from deep, switching from his advanced role in the first half.
This inevitably led to more chances for the merengues as Alonso, Vidal, and Thiago could no longer monopolise midfield proceedings as they did in the first half.
Zidane however, paradoxically instructed Real to sit much deeper in the second half, Casemiro joined their backline during defensive phases to form a 5 man defence. Additionally, Bale, as well as Ronaldo, dropped back to assist the fullbacks in defending and pressing.
This adjustment paid dividends as Real created more chances on the counter during the remainder of the game.
Gareth Bale was replaced by Marco Asensio for precautionary reasons in the 58th minute, a minute later, Javi Martinez was sent off following two yellow cards for two fouls on Ronaldo in a span of just 3 minutes.
The pendulum swung in Real’s favour as they began to make the man advantage tell.
Both Benzema and Ronaldo had amazing chances saved by Neuer in the 73rd and 75th minute. The Bayern keeper, who made 10 saves during the game, was unable to keep out Ronaldo’s stabbed finish from a low looping cross by Asensio.
With 13 minutes remaining Real had managed to turn the game around thanks to their perennial talisman who before this game had endured his longest ever Champions League goal drought of 6 matches.
Bayern brought on Kingsley Coman for Thomas Muller who had been dreadfully anonymous throughout the game in an attempt to find an equaliser.
Only Arjen Robben was creating any real danger for the bavarians and Real focused all their marking on him.
It was Real though, who closed out the game much stronger, as Marcelo nearly made in 3–1 in the 80th minute from a Ronaldo square.
12 shots on target for Madrid compared to 3 for Bayern showed that they were far more effective at chance creation during the match, the scoreline at the final whistle duly reflected the game.
Alot of the talk surrounding the Bernabeu this season has been about Zidane’s attempt to transition Ronaldo from a winger to a true number 9 to capitalise on his strengths as he ages.
This match was a real vindication of his evolution as both his goals came via one-touch finishes in the 18 yard box, a poacher’s delight.