Bayern Munich welcomed the Juventus to the Allianz Arena in what was a real clash of the titans - both teams hold commanding leads in their domestic leagues and have both impressed in Europe this season. Before the game it was near impossible to call, yet not even half a minute in to the fixture Bayern went ahead through Alaba and looked the better of the two teams, eventually adding another goal through Muller. Here’s what we learned following the result:
We were probably watching the eventual winners of the Champions League
For those who follow the Bundesliga, this result and performance doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Bayern Munich have been in scintillating form this season, losing only one game and conceding a meagre 13 goals in the process. Having swept aside Hamburg 9-2 on Saturday, they came into the game with the confidence, vigour and enthusiasm expected of a team of their calibre, which proved telling given their early lead. A key feature of the victory was Bayern’s commitment to pressing Juventus. Andrea Pirlo’s capability to orchestrate a game of football is up there with the best in the world, yet Jupp Heynckes’ decision to harry the opposition rushed Pirlo into giving the ball away far more than he usually would, whilst also restricting Juventus’ ability to play from the back. Bayern Munich’s mixture of beautiful football and their willingness to work hard and do the dirty work means that this year may finally be theirs, following a series of near misses.
Conte’s selection and tactics were wrong
Antonio Conte is undoubtedly a brilliant manager; you don’t go a full season unbeaten without some degree of competency and tactical nous. However, last night he just didn’t get it right. The 3-5-2 employed last night has worked wonderfully well in Serie A this season, with the triumvirate of Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo making mincemeat of most teams they play against. Before this game however, there was talk of Juventus perhaps employing a 3-5-1-1, and in hindsight it probably would have been a better choice. It would have added more muscle into Juve’s midfield - an area where they looked overwhelmed at times last night - and would have offered a way to help the midfield get forward and support attacking moves. Similarly, the decision to play partner Matri and Quagliarella was puzzling. This partnership has not been a regular one for Juventus this season and perhaps starting both or either of Vucinic and Giovinco would have been more of a threat to Bayern.
Mandzukic proved exactly what Juventus are missing
For me, Mario Mandzukic was the man of the match, with a performance that was somewhat a throwback to a forgotten era, a “vintage” centre-forward display. Leading the line on his own, he was instrumental in his sides pressing game, closing down the centre-halves before they got a chance to move the ball to Pirlo and cause any real damage to Bayern. But what he also was - and what Juve missed - was a focal point for attacks. He received the ball in front of the defence on several occasions before bringing the supporting cast from the wings and the midfield into play. Both Matri and Quagliarella failed to do any of this; they hardly received the ball or played in front of Bayern’s defense and, when they did, they often gifted possession away. Had Llorente moved in January rather than at the end of the season, then perhaps the result would have been different, but the harsh reality is that Juve’s forwards just weren’t up to the task.
Perhaps it’s not all over...
After conceding the first goal, Juventus had a spell where they kept the ball moving and played, and had similar spells in the second half where they sat deep and defended well. When Juventus welcome Bayern to the Juventus Arena, the hostile atmosphere that will welcome the visitors will undoubtedly work in Juventus’ favour. At home in the league, Juventus have only lost twice in two seasons, conceding only 8 goals at home this campaign. Bayern Munich’s two goal cushion may lead to complacency and, like we saw with Arsenal, they aren’t infallible in Europe. If Juventus can implement their usual control and unsettle Bayern early, then we could be in for a hell of a game.