Real could have hit German side for more as Guardiola's pursuit of aesthetic perfection backfires
REPORTING FROM THE UK
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
REAL MADRID 1
(Karim Benzema 19)
BAYERN MUNICH 0
Real Madrid will take a narrow lead into the second leg of this Champions League semi-final but, after an engaging tussle with Bayern Munich, they will know that it could have been more.
Having been forced onto the back foot in their own stadium for 19 minutes, Real took the lead and could have added a couple more with a devastating volley of counter-attacks.
Cristiano Ronaldo alone will know how he managed to miss the goal from such close range midway through the first half.
Wide open and just 12 metres from goal, he smashed the ball over Manuel Neuer's goal and Real's chance to floor the European champions had gone.
A wasted header and a spurned chance from Isco compounded the error.
They may yet live to regret their profligacy.
Bayern had started the game in irrepressible form, piling the pressure on Real in front of their own fans, an almost unheard of act of impudence.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti could only watch nervously from the sidelines as the red wave poured forward again and again, Bayern's moves held together with streams of intricate passes.
Pep Guardiola has won over most of his doubters this season, taking the best team in Europe and attempting to make them even better, landing the Bundelsiga title in record time, taking the team to a domestic final and the last four of Europe.
But there will always be those who question Guardiola's pursuit of aesthetic perfection, especially when it comes at the cost of their stability.
The former Barcelona boss' decision to field Rafinha at right back, allowing Philipp Lahm to orchestrate the centre of midfield, looked like a gamble too far for Bayern.
It was Rafinha who was caught out of position when a Bayern attack collapsed and Real broke down the left flank.
Ronaldo played a glorious ball into space for Fabio Coentrao, the Portuguese fullback cut the ball across the six-yard box and Karim Benzema finished from close range.
It was their first attack of the half.
Bayern looked shell-shocked.
It was not the only time that Rafinha was caught out of possession and with the masterful Javi Martinez on the bench, one wondered if it might not have been better to leave Lahm in his natural position.
"On the counter-attack, Real Madrid are unstoppable," said Guardiola.
"They have great athletes and if you allow them to run, they will take advantage."
Guardiola had hoped that Real would be stripped of two of those athletes but, while a bout of flu left Gareth Bale on the bench, Ronaldo shook off a hamstring injury to give an impressive performance.
More impressive still were Ancelotti's tactics.
The Italian used a flat back four and guarded it with the hardworking Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric, with Isco and Angel di Maria providing cover for the fullbacks.
It looked, for the most part, like an old fashioned 4-4-2 but with explosive pace down the flanks.
Bayern were lured in, lost among the white shirts and then punished on the break.
Substitute Mario Goetze could have equalised late on when his close-range shot was somehow saved by Iker Casillas, but it was one of the few occasions that the Spanish goalkeeper was troubled.
Talk of Bayern's demise is wildly inaccurate.
Just one goal down with a home leg to come, they remain very much in contention.
But there are times when Guardiola might allow himself to compromise his ideals for a short-term gain.
It is admirable indeed to journey to the Bernabeu and attempt to dictate terms from the first whistle, but a more cautious approach might have paid dividends.
As it was, Bayern were fortunate to escape with just a single-goal deficit.
The tie, nonetheless, is still very much on.
BY THE NUMBERS
The only time Bayern lost the first leg of a Champions League knock-out tie 1-0, against Basel in the 2011/12 Round of 16, they recovered to win 7-0 at home — a record in the knock-out stages.
On the two times that Real Madrid won the first leg of a Champions League knock-out tie 1-0, they were eliminated — losing the return leg 2-0 to Juventus in the 1995/96 quarter-finals and the 2004/05 Round of 16.
Bayern had 80 per cent of the possession in the first half and 63 per cent in the second. Bayern also won 15 corners to Real’s three and the Bavarian side made 705 passes to 276 by the Spanish giants.
Pep defends his tactics
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle claimed that Pep Guardiola has taken Bayern Munich backwards since succeeding treble-winning coach Jupp Heynckes last year.
But the Spaniard defended Bayern's possession football in the wake of their Champions League defeat by Real Madrid yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Bayern had 72 per cent of the ball at the Bernabeu - and 80 per cent in the first half - but will start the second leg 1-0 behind after a Karim Benzema goal won the first leg for a Real side content to hit on the break.
Guardiola claimed that a more proactive attacking approach would have played right into the hands of Real's team of "athletes".
He said: "Since I was a player, Real Madrid have basically been a counter-attacking team.
"Of course, if they'd wanted the ball, it would have been an end-to-end game.
"Sometimes in football you hear that we should play more 'vertical', but I think in that situation Madrid are unstoppable.
"They are the best counter-attacking team in the world, they have legs, they are athletes. They are football players, but mainly athletes."
The Bayern boss also claimed it was a good performance from his side, saying: "I am proud of my team. They fought well against a tough opponent, one of the best in the world. We had a good game and I hope we will improve further next week.
"I did not want to have the typical German game of back and forth. I wanted a lot of possession and we managed that in parts. But we did not finish our chances well."
But that opinion was not shared by Bayern legend and honorary president Franz Beckenbauer, who told Sky television in Germany: "Possession doesn't mean anything when your opponents create the better chances. We are lucky they only scored one."
Beckenbaur fears that Bayern will become like Guardiola's Barcelona team who, in his opinion, are not easy on the eye.
"Probably one day we will end up playing like Barcelona and you can't keep looking desperate. Nobody will want to watch us because when they will be on the goal-line, the players will pass the ball backwards," said Beckenbaur.
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti admitted that he didn't like having to relinquish control of the ball for large spells.
However, just as in Real's Copa del Rey victory over Barcelona last week, the Italian believed his side had played to their strengths.
"I don't like to give up the ball. It is clear that you cannot control the ball for the whole game, but especially against Barca and Bayern it is very difficult to control it.
"Football, though, is not just about possession, but defending, counter-attacks and many other things. What we had tonight was the sacrifice of the players, but I don't like not having the ball because you have less chances to score."
- Wire Services.