WHEN WE THINK of Bayern Munich's lethal attack that have scored 28 goals in the Champions League this season, we think of their top goal scorer Gomez and their two flying wingers Ribery and Robben. But with Bayern playing an attacking 4-2-3-1 with inverted wingers who like to cut into the center, it is their fullbacks -- Alaba and Lahm -- who provide the necessary width; their forward runs allow the fancy feet of Ribery and Robben to work magic and their crosses create danger in the opposition box where Gomez lurks. Let's take a look at how Alaba* and Lahm caused trouble to Real Madrid's defense in the semi final games.
* Yes, I know he's suspended but would it hurt to take a look?
Alaba on the Left
|Picture 1.1 Alaba's Cross to Robben|
This is Alaba tearing up Real Madrid's defense at the Bernabeu. When Alaba started dribbling forward on the left, Ribery stayed very central, almost immediately behind center forward Gomez. Meanwhile, Robben made the run into the box from the right. Alaba's cross only needed the slightest of touches to score but Robben somehow managed to put it off target. But we get the feeling that he won't miss this kind chance next time.
|Picture 1.2 Alaba's Positioning on the Left|
This was a nice build-up play by Bayern. As the Badstuber brought the ball out from the back, Alaba positioned himself very high up the pitch and received the long pass behind the Madrid defensive line. Robben and Gomez made a central run toward the goal. Gomez would eventually squander the chance when he hesitated to shot. But the point is that the forward run of Alaba allowed Bayern's front three to stay central and get into the box.
Lahm on the Right
|Picture 2.1 Lahm's Positioning|
Lahm plays pretty much the same role on the right. Here's an example from the first leg. Ribery switched the play to the right where Schweinsteiger (or Bastian because I don't want to spell his name more than once) was and joined Robben and Gomenz in making a central run. Bastian took one touch to control the ball and you can already see Lahm making the forward run down the right. Bastian should have laid the ball into Lahm's run but the midfielder opted to shoot and nothing came of this chance. The key point again is fullback coming forward to give width while the center forward and his "wingers" make central runs into the box.
|Picture 2.2 Lahm's Assist for Gomez Goal|
This is in the same match. Lahm got the chance to cross after beating his marker. Ribery was on the right but he made no attempt to make an overlapping run. Lahm went alone and his cross was put into the net by Gomez to give Bayern a 2-1 lead in the first leg.
What Does this Mean for Chelsea?
(a) Thank goodness, Alaba is suspended!
(b) Whatever formation (4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1) and strategy (pressing or dropping back) di Matteo chooses for the game, Chelsea's wide players MUST track back and help out the defense when Bayern's fullbacks come forward.
(c) Forward running fullbacks also leave space behind them with a welcome sign for counter attacks. Must. Take. Advantage.
Robben and Ribery are no doubt very special players and they will give a very stern test to Chelsea's defense, but their impact on the game will take a hit if they don't get the help from their fullbacks. I'm looking at you Kalou and whoever (Malouda, Torres or Sturridge) that starts on the other flank!
Carefree, wherever you may be...