Football Bloody Hell. It is only fitting that the match which gave rise to such emotions is being analysed first in here. That night in the Nou Camp, Barcelona, the whole world witnessed a footballing miracle as the Red Devils rose from the dead to win the Champions League final in the dying minutes. The Bavarians had their hands on the cup and let it go in the very last minute of the game as Manchester United repeated their favourite party trick which had been their theme pretty much the whole season.

Line ups

Made using TacticalPad

Manchester United (4-4-2) | Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

1.Schmeichel – 2.Neville, 5.Johnsen, 6.Stam, 3.Irwin – 11.Giggs, 7.Beckham, 8.Nicky Butt, 15.Blomqvist – 19.Yorke, 9.Andy Cole

Bayern Munich (5-2-3) | Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld

1.Oliver Kahn – 2.Babbel, 25.Linke, 10.Matthaus, 4.Kuffour, 18.Tarnat – 11.Effenberg, 16.Jens Jeremies – 14.Basler, 19.Jancker, 21.Zickler

Both teams came into the game with the possibility of winning the treble in the event of winning the final. The respective league champions had injury and suspension problems of their own as Bixente Lizarazu missed the match for Bayern with Michael Tarnat replacing him at left wing back. Manchester United were considerable weakened with both Roy Keane (injury) and Paul Scholes (suspension) missing the final. Both the players were key components of the United midfield and it was a big blow for the team from Manchester.

Hence it was David Beckham who would slot into the central midfield position alongside Nicky Butt acting as his foil. Ryan Giggs played on the right flank while Jesper Blomqvist took his position on the other side. The other positions were quite normal for United. Bayern Munich were playing a back three/five with Lothar Mathhaus sweeping behind Thomas Linke and Samuel Kuffour. Babbel and Tarnat were the wing backs while Stefan Effenberg and Jeremies formed the midfield two for Munich. Carsten Jancker was the striker with Alex Zickler and Mario Basler on either side of him.

Bayern’s structure proves too stable for United:

As mentioned, Matthaus played as a sweeper in behind Kuffour and Linke. Kuffour in particular was extremely tight to his direct opponent (Yorke) while Linke looked after Andy Cole. Matthaus was effective sweeping behind these two man markers. However the more intriguing part of the system from Bayern in defensive phases was the way Jens Jeremies stuck to David Beckham.

Identifying Beckham as the chief dictator in the United set up, Ottmar Hitzfeld instructed Jeremies to stick to Beckham and look to not give him time on the ball to control the game. Beckham was already in an unfamiliar position and this close attention given to him meant that he started the game off very slowly and took much time to get into his groove. Effenberg being the engine he was, made sure that he put in a shift to cover the ground and stayed in line with Jermeies in order to cover up for any gaps in midfield.

Beckham is covered and man marked by Jeremies.

Beckham was often positioned a bit higher than Butt when United attacked and this resulted in a staggered positioning from Bayern too. Also, there was much energy shown from Bayern, especially in the first twenty minutes of the game where they actively pressed the United midfield when they were in possession. There were quite a few adaptations to the way Bayern played in accordance with the way United had set up. The main feature was that Beckham was not a natural at central midfield and was always caught up field whenever there was a turnover in possession. This meant that Nicky Butt had too much space to cover and with Effenberg quickly advancing forward, United were over run in the midfield quite a few times initially.

Also, United were not particularly compact in their shape. This meant that there was space behind Butt to exploit for the inside drifting Basler and Zickler. The problem caused by the inside movements was that there was no coverage for these players as both Neville and especially Irwin were not showing intent in following their direct opponents into those spaces. Though Blomqvist and Giggs show very appreciable work rates, they had to deal with the positioning of the Bayern wing backs. Hence they could not track back deep and help out their full backs.

The inside runs made by Basler and Zickler to exploit the space in behind Butt

Made using TacticalPad

Another way Bayern could exploit the nature of the United set up was the way Stam was man marking Jancker. Jancker was the focal point of all the long balls from the back and would drop a bit deep to receive the ball. Also with all the other players dropping down, Jancker would be the only viable option up front and on the receiving end of such passes. With the staggered midfield and the man marking nature of Stam following Jancker deep into midfield, United were exposed at times with gaps appearing in both lines of defense. This was to be the case in the first goal scored by Bayern. The foul on Jancker was as a result of this man marking nature of Stam as the through ball from Zickler meant that the defense was caught wanting. Basler did the rest from the free kick.

United’s response and tweaks (from both Bayern and United) as the half moves on:

With United missing the influence of Roy Keane, hero from the semi-final in Turin and the ever influential Paul Scholes, Beckham had the onus upon him to make it happen for United. With Jeremies making sure this could not happen, at least for the initial stages of the game, United struggled to get a grip on the game. As the half progressed however, Giggs started to get involved in the playmaking as he kept drifting inside to get onto his strong foot. This was not necessarily a game changer as Bayern still held their structure.

To get around the man marking in certain zones, Beckham moved to the ball near sides during build up but was still subjected to constant scrutiny by Jeremies. As the half progressed it became increasingly apparent that neither team was reliant on building up from the back. Jancker and Yorke were used as target men. Beckham moved further up field and started to get more involved. It is also to be noticed that both Blomqvist and Giggs did not enjoy particularly much spaces down the flanks. Beckham hence had to use his long passes to get over the defense.

As Beckham started to get involved much more, Lothar Mathhaus took it upon himself to clear any budding danger by stepping out of defense into the midfield. He was very zone oriented in his focus to cover space and was intent on cutting out the passing lanes. Sometimes, this led to the back four being staggered with one of the wing backs being ball oriented in relation to the rest of the backline. Matthaus’ coverage of zones meant that Yorke and Cole did not receive many passes as the lanes to them were cut out.

This in turn led to the steeper and longer passes from midfield over the lines of defense from Butt and Beckham in particular. Mathhaus’ interceptions also meant that the ball was won in the central area and the counter could be dangerous if implemented properly. The decision making at times was not optimal from Bayern while Irwin and Stam were particularly good in their tackling on the night. The United defense could manage to keep a stranglehold on the Bayern forwards and were more or less comfortable in averting real danger.

Also, the nature of the United forwards meant that they could not exploit the tight spaces. Both Yorke and Cole are excellent goal scorers and work well in tandem. However neither is exactly the typical modern day striker and lacks the necessary ball control and technique to manoeuvre out of those tight spaces. So it led to situations wherein the passes that did reach the forwards in between the lines were not really of any use as they did lead to turnovers eventually.

Change of shape after half time for United:

The second half saw measures being taken by United to restore parity. Beckham was given a totally free role in central midfield and was given the opportunity to start play from the base of midfield. In order to get free of the marking from Jeremies, Sir Alex Ferguson instructed Beckham to drop several times deeper than where he had played in the first half. This gave him the freedom to dictate play and the tempo.

However this also meant that there was not much central occupancy in the middle third and the pressure from Bayern was sufficient to stop Manchester United from building a head of steam. A lack of progress in the first quarter forced Ferguson to change the shape of his team. Teddy Sheringham was brought in for Blomqvist and Giggs moved to his favoured left side. Becham moved to the outer right while Sheringham played in behind the two forwards.

These changes brought proactive changes from Bayern. Firstly the heavy man marking on Beckham was stopped with Jeremies and Effenberg looking to hold their zones in midfield.  Matthaus was more of a sweeper after these changes as there were a lot of balls over the top midfield into the final third from United. Sheringham looked to exploit the spaces in behind the full backs. This space was generated by the positioning of Beckham and Giggs in the half spaces as they looked to engage the opposing full backs.

Once this was done the two strikers would look to bind their man markers and the space on the outer third would be open for long balls to be thrown into. Butt was also free of close attention and could play the long balls. In cases where this was not possible, Beckham would move into the base in the initial phase of build-up and play the passes. He could also pull the strings from the right half space as this formation change gave United the control of the half spaces during build-up.

United set up after Sheringham’s introduction.

Made using TacticalPad

A common pattern of play was Beckham dropping deep and bringing out the ball. In this scenario, Yorke would move onto the right wing with Sheringham occupying the central position along with Cole. This lateral shift led to the same lateral coverage by Bayern which meant that Irwin had space to run into from the deep. Beckham’s long passes were sometimes off mark due to the nature of the pass and its difficulty. But when they did work, the ball into the final third from the wings did not meet the desired targets as Kuffour and Linke were able to fend them off. Bayern however still enjoyed clear cut chances as they were able to pick United apart on the counter.

A lack of connectivity in central midfield and defense meant that diagonal runs into the spaces were effective. With a midfield runner making forward runs (Effenberg), Bayern could easily outnumber United in counters.

Bayern made their own substitutions as Matthaus had run his tank and was replaced by Thorsten Fink. The change pitted in the form of a direct duel between Sheringham and Fink as the three United forwards were marked off by the three Bayern defenders. However Fink does not possess the same level of tactical intelligence as that of Matthaus and made the wrong decisions in closing down at times.

Football, Bloody Hell!

The injury time in the second half was three minutes as United were still a goal down and looked in all directions for some sort of inspiration. It came in the form of substitute Teddy Sheringham who steered in a mishit shot from Ryan Giggs inside the penalty box. The shot came from a corner that was swung in by David Beckham. With the game finally in balance in terms of the score line, Bayern still had not recovered from the shock of conceding late and gave away another corner.

This time around, Sheringham met the cross at the front post himself and flicked it on at the back post where another substitute, Ole Gunnar Solksajer, waited to smash the ball into the roof from close range. The baby faced assassin as he is known by the United fans had won his team the Champions League with virtually the last kick of the game as Manchester United won one of the most dramatic, if not the most finals of all time.

The result would come as a shock to the Bayern Munich players as they had been in the lead for almost the entirety of the game. They were in control for most parts and did not look like conceding. They had the better opportunities throughout the game and could have put the game to bed if they had not squandered a few chances. Manchester United were not completely bossed around and looked to hold their ground too. Their perseverance paid off and it was two substitutes who won them the game that would go on to be remembered down the years.

Raghunandhanan Narasimhan

Co-founder and Chief Editor here at FBH. Manchester United fan with an obsession for tactics. Cannot resist admiring quality playmakers and holding midfielders.
Raghunandhanan Narasimhan