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Immediate Reaction: Bayern Munich 1 - 2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid turn on the engines in the second half and come away with a massive first-leg victory

After a very tumultuous first half where Real Madrid conceded a goal from a Vidal header, and then a penalty (which Bayern missed); the team turned it around in the second half in a really impressive way. Here are some notes from today’s triumph. Still to come: Match review, player ratings, and post-game podcast.

It is hard to understand just how bipolar this team can be. At half-time, during my traditional live Facebook video, the world was on fire. People who expected a 2014-esque counter-attacking performance were naive, because this team lacks a binding agent (Di Maria), and if that success were to be replicated, the midfield needed a bigger presence to relieve Bale and Modric to help the transition. All of this was clear in the first half, where the front-three — through no fault of their own — looked isolated. While defensively Real Madrid looked compact — of particular note, the coverage on the flanks was excellent, and the team doubled or tripled-up on the wings when needed — the counter-attacks just weren’t working efficiently.

For one, Bayern are very good in transition defensively, and Real Madrid had trouble finding outlets when possession was retained. Bayern were excellent at denying passing lanes.

On the other end, they attacked in waves, throwing everything at Real Madrid that they could. Their goal eventually came from a pretty unlikely source — a corner where Vidal completely out-hustled Nacho to meet the header. Generally, Nacho deserves all the praise he can get for how he’s risen to big occassions all season; but he could have done a much better job to put a body on Vidal. Even if he couldn’t prevent the header, he could have at least pressured him into a more uncomfortable leap.

Bayern capped their first-half dominance by ‘earning’ a non-penalty. But, Vidal skied it, and, well — BALL DON’T LIE.

The half-time video was all about the need to pack the midfield to help relieve Bale in particular — provide him with outlets and allow him to gun forward more freely in transition. There were also notes on Casemiro, who was a liability offensively. Often times Real Madrid tried to build from the back and completely looked off the wide-open Brazilian anchor; and other times Casemiro gave the ball away.

Zidane’s options at half-time were clear: 1) Keep the system the way it is, trust the XI, and hope to nick a goal the way Benzema almost did in the first half with a header off the bar, or a cut-in / cut-back from Ronaldo to Bale from the left which was on a few times; or 2) Change something and hope for a momentum shift.

He opted for the former, and it worked. What changed? It’s hard to say, but the performance in the second half was much more akin to the 2014 massacre. Bale improved on the counter-attack and found his feet up until he was taken off for Asensio (who was excellent in providing some composure from deep while slinging in an assist for Ronaldo’s second goal), and Real Madrid’s overall flow looked much better. Casemiro, who was noted as a liability offensively in the first half, put together a complete dagger of a pass to Carvajal that broke Bayern on the counter-attack, which Ronaldo capitalized on Dani’s cross.

Casemiro, it should be noted, improved greatly in the second half, and snuffed out many of Bayern’s counters. He had nine tackles and one interception.

Ronaldo though, was on another level tonight. Remember when Ryan from ‘Bavarian Football Works’ asked me if age has caught up to Ronaldo, and I said ‘not to sleep on him’ because he’s looked incredible in 2017? Well, case. In. Point. Beyond his brace tonight, his work rate without the ball was extraordinary. He helped retain possession deep a few times in this game before launching counters on his own (I’ll break this down in my next column), and he’s the one who drew Javi Martinez’s second yellow of the game — his side-step on a counter-attack bamboozled the Spanish center-back and coaxed him into a foul.

The only regret in this game might stem from the ‘failure’ of not capitalizing on a third goal. Zidane’s men had plenty of chances to finish this tie altogether, and Ramos’ offside goal off a 90th minute set-piece (incredible, really, that I’m almost desensitized to these moments), would have been a perfect ending. Alas, a 1-2 away victory (which, as a reminder, I had predicted in the pregame, because, #TrueBeliever) is an incredibly good position to be in heading into the second leg.

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