Champions League takeaways: Madrid benefits from wasteful Bayern

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski reacts after failing to score during the semifinal first leg soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. (Matthias Schrader/AP)

Real Madrid recovered from a 1-0 deficit to defeat Bayern Munich 2-1 at the Allianz Arena in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.

Marco Asensio and Marcelo cancelled out Joshua Kimmich’s opening goal to secure a vital away win for Madrid heading back to the Santiago Bernabeu next Tuesday.

Here are five thoughts from the game.

Zidane corrects mistake

If Marcelo didn’t score, the first half would’ve been classified as a disaster for Real Madrid.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deployed his side in a fluid 4-3-3 with Isco drifting inside to the left, along with Lucas Vazquez up front with Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the side lacked structure. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were stretched far apart from Casemiro, which allowed Bayern Munich plenty of space to exploit in the central areas. To make matters worse, the visitors were held to just four shots in the opening 45 minutes.

Zidane then realized the error of his ways. He took off Isco and replaced him with Marco Asensio. Madrid was back in a structured 4-3-3 and 12 minutes later, Asensio scored the decisive goal.

It’s still difficult to get a proper read on Zidane’s abilities as a coach. But the best managers acknowledge their errors and correct them. The fact he has Madrid on the brink of a third straight Champions League final speaks to his qualities as a tactician and a motivator.

Bayern let opportunities slip

This was a carbon copy of last year’s first leg of the quarterfinal between these two sides. Bayern led 1-0 at halftime, generated plenty of quality chances, couldn’t add to its lead, and lost 2-1 to Madrid. That exact same scenario occurred 12 months later.

Bayern produced 17 shots to Madrid’s seven. Expected goals – an advanced metric that assesses the chance of a shot becoming a goal – shows that the Bavarians thoroughly out-chanced their Spanish counterparts.

A few quality saves from Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and wasteful finishing hurt Bayern. There was also a slight drop in intensity and pace towards the end of the game, which Los Blancos were likely thankful to see.

In last year’s quarterfinals, Bayern forced extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu before it was controversially eliminated. The same scenario could repeat itself, but the Germans have to bury their opportunities next Tuesday.

Asensio to the rescue

If Real Madrid is in need of firepower off the bench, then Marco Asensio is the man for the job.

Asensio’s winning goal was his 11th of the season, setting a career high for the 22-year-old. He’s been pretty clutch in the Champions League as well.

Madrid was in desperate need of a scoring threat like Asensio because Lucas Vazquez, who didn’t muster a single attempt in the game, was ineffective up front with Ronaldo. Isco, as wonderful as he is on the ball, is obviously not a scoring threat, which is why Asensio or Karim Benzema should’ve started. Having an extra runner into the box meant the Bayern centre-backs in Niklas Sule and Mats Hummels couldn’t solely focus on Ronaldo anymore.

Perhaps Zidane will go with one of Asensio or Benzema in the second leg from the outset.

Rodriguez, Thiago put on clinic

Even in defeat, James Rodriguez and Thiago Alcantara were incredible to watch. Perhaps the lack of a true No. 10 hurt Bayern in this game, but both players were creating a number of opportunities.

Thiago didn’t start but when Arjen Robben picked up an injury, he was thrown into the game after just eight minutes. Once the Spanish international did settle into the match, he was impeccable.

Rodriguez was playing deeper in midfield, as he’s often done throughout his debut campaign with Bayern, and was very effective in that role. The Colombian produced almost as many key passes (4) than Madrid’s entire team (5), per WhoScored.com.

It’s rare to see a midfield duo match up, and at times outclass, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Both Thiago and Rodriguez will need to replicate this again for the second leg if Bayern wants to overturn this deficit.

Injury bug plagues Bayern

Entering this match, Bayern was already missing Arturo Vidal, who is out the rest of the season with a knee injury. David Alaba was dealing with a knock to his thigh and couldn’t play, so Rafinha replaced him in the starting lineup. To literally add insult to injury, Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng had to exit the game in the first half.

Vidal adds a box-to-box presence and intensity to the midfield, Alaba is one of the world’s top left-backs, Boateng is an elite centre-back and Robben is still as threatening as he was in his prime. Losing all four in a matter of weeks is cruel.

Given Robben’s and Boateng’s lengthy injury history, they might miss the second leg next Tuesday in Madrid. If that’s the case, Bayern’s objective will be significantly tougher.

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