Fábio Coentrão is remembered for a lot of things; hilarious gaffes, injuries, and that one time a journalist pronounced his name wrong, but he should be remembered for his quality as a player. Now an ex-Madridista, Coentrão was one of the world’s best left backs in world football from 2012-2014. Nothing symbolized his peak ability at the time more than his epic performances vs. Bayern Munich in the 2014 Champions League semifinals.
Coming up against Pep Guardiola’s impressive possession-based side, Los Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti decided to play on the counter and deployed Real Madrid in a deep block. In order to best suit this scheme, the Italian manager replaced the swashbuckling Marcelo Vieira with Fábio Coentrão, who, while capable going forward, was more disciplined and defensively skilled than his counterpart.
Ancelotti’s decision proved to be an astute one, as Coentrão used his intelligence and timing of the tackle to bully attackers 1v1, block crosses, and prevent Bayern from making headway down the wing.
Coentrão didn’t let up when Pep’s team tried to change things and go more direct. The left back constantly scanned the pitch to keep track of his opponents and used the information he gathered to make timely reactions to stop runs behind the defensive line. Those skills, when combined with his aggressiveness and physicality, allowed him to win several aerial duels despite his diminutive stature.
But none of these contributions quite matched up to his one significant moment on offense. With the game still very much in the balance early in the first leg, Coentrão saw the positions of his teammates on the wing and made an inward run up the pitch. This was followed by a sprint into the left channel as he screamed for the pass. Ronaldo, who was on the ball at the time, dutifully looked up and played a brilliant pass into the path of his Portuguese teammate. The timing of the through ball and the run put Coentrão clean through on the left-hand side of the box, allowing the left back to play a simple pass for Benzema to tap home.