Football is a simple game. You get the ball, you pass the ball, you score a goal. All else is mere embellishment. – Jimmy Murphy
There are times in life when certain quotes make more sense than anything around you. Usually a sucker for data and statistics, I refused to drawn to it post United’s valiance against Bayern. All kinds of statistics were available to analyze: passes, crosses, tackles, take-ons, heat-maps, action areas etc. I’m sure there are umpteen articles covering those aspects from last night’s epic. What stood out to me though, was the effectiveness of a simple philosophy in nullifying a science-like approach.
Bayern are all about angles. Their passing, the runs their players make off the ball, their movement with it, everything. Well, what do you expect from a Pep Guardiola team? They make subtle changes to their overall geometry when needed, which is precisely the reason for their world dominance over the last 18 months. Unlike what most suggested after the match last night, they’re not lacking a ‘plan B’. If you’ve seen enough Bayern this season, you’d know they tried all sorts of stuff to open up the United defense. Why couldn’t they, you ask? Because the home team had an extremely simple strategy coming into a game with one of the best club sides ever: defend tight, be positive when you have the ball. There wasn’t any ‘run into spaces’ or ‘pass between the lines’ from United. Probably because it was well established even before kick-off that Bayern are going to dominate possession, but it turned out to be effective nonetheless.
You cannot attack and beat a Pep Guardiola team. To get the better of them, you need to stifle their forward line. Ask Jose Mourinho how he did it with Inter at Camp Nou and he’ll tell you with a glint in his eye. Di Matteo did it with Chelsea too. Accept that they’ll dominate, respect it, and you shall be closer to glory. Whenever Jose’s Real Madrid tried to attack Pep’s Barcelona, they were decimated. So he decided to go back to the tried and tested formula, and voila! There are times when all the fancy data-science needs to be chucked out of the window.
David Moyes, who’s rather unfortunately tread towards being tactically inept against big teams this season, finally got it spot on. Not a little, but completely. He made sure we were positive with the ball, which led to us troubling the Bayern back-four a fair bit. Shinji Kagawa for Ryan Giggs was a refreshingly positive substitution, and the same can be said for Chicharito for Welbeck. For us mancs, it was excellent to the senses. Not long ago were we clueless and negative against Chelsea, City and Liverpool. The outstanding support of the United faithful must be a huge morale-booster for Moyes. He looks rejuvenated, lately. He walked out to Stretford End before the kick-off against Villa to acknowledge the crowd, and boy did they respond! Those who planned the banner flying stunt clearly didn’t think it through. Call it sympathy or raw love for Manchester United and everything associated with it, the masses have been extremely vocal in their support towards David Moyes, as shown by this aptly written poem by a United fan. Look at the effect the whole thing has had on the team.
So where do United go from here? The second leg’s in a week and it’ll be safe to assume Bayern will make it a lot to tougher for us than last night. Can we do the unthinkable? Well of course we can. The tie is very much in the balance, although Bayern have the advantage of an away goal. A calm and measured approach can do wonders at the Allianz. There’s no reason to think otherwise. Just keep it simple, Manchester United, and we’ll be fine.
“Toni Kroos had 32322301293109310 passes in the final third.”
“Ok great, the match ended 1-1.”