Thiago in midfield
Bayern had good success with the ball from midfield. Chelsea were not covering Thiago dropping for the ball, leaving him with time and space to play forward passes and control the game. From this platform, Bayern would advance to the final third with quick changes of tempo in their possession, and would be in close distances to recover the ball high if lost.
As Bayern moved through midfield, the fullbacks would move up and look for runs behind Chelsea’s backline, where they would be found with good timing. Thiago’s deeper positioning in the final third could also draw Jorginho closer, opening up space behind for Müller, Lewandowski or Gnabry. Quick play between those three also created problems for Chelsea’s backline.
Bayern’s speed on the wings was a constant and readily apparent threat, and when breaking through Chelsea’s midfield block (or counters) there would be spaces to exploit for Davies, Gnabry and Coman that Chelsea were not able to match. The well-timed movements of Lewandowski and Müller added to the threat of these attacks.
To illustrate: with James pinned back by Gnabry and Mount following Davies, Jorginho was caught between leaving his position and opening up space for Müller behind, or not closing down Thiago. Thiago can control and dominate any game; with time and space on the ball here he could create the chance for Lewandowski with a pass over the top — which required Caballero to make one of a number of first-half saves to keep Bayern from taking the lead.
Bayern pressed Chelsea high with their wingers on the inside to match Chelsea’s backline 3-v-3, while Müller and Thiago covered Jorginho and Kovačić. Bayern’s backline was high but still required the fullbacks to push up and close distances to Chelsea wing-backs (or backwards tracking from their wingers leaving Chelsea wide central defenders).
There were a number of uncharacteristic errors with the ball from Chelsea’s midfielders in and out of pressure during the early stages of the game, and the whole team seemed to suffer with the ball afterwards. The central defenders were delaying and turning backwards, and when the wing-backs received the ball in spaces, they again played backwards rather than looking to move forward with the ball.
Chelsea had another option to go long with Giroud and play over Bayern’s pressure, which provided a platform to play from with some success — but for the most part, they were headers back into midfield rather than more dangerous and direct flick-ons, as Barkley and Mount lacked the mobility to get behind Bayern’s backline.
Kovačić began to grow into the game as the half progressed, carrying the ball through pressure and finding passes behind Bayern’s backline to create opportunities, but otherwise Chelsea had few ways of making progress with the ball from their own half and midfield.
Chelsea pressing high
Where Chelsea had the greatest success was in the moments where they could press high and close down the distances, especially to Thiago dropping back for the ball. With the front three pressing Bayern’s backline, they would force Bayern into playing long balls from the sides or back passes to Neuer (having trouble clearing the ball from deep), which would then provide Chelsea opportunities with the ball to attack from high.
On the very first occasion that Jorginho was able to press Thiago high up inside his own half, Chelsea recovered the ball and immediately Bayern were now playing on the back foot. From high positions, the direct play to Giroud could cause Bayern a lot more harm — if they fouled him, they’d give away free kicks in dangerous positions; if they didn’t, his hold-up play and flick-ons could find runners close to the box — creating the chance for Alonso inside the box.
These were Chelsea’s best moments — pressing aggressively, preventing Thiago from controlling the game by not him giving time and space on the ball, recovering the ball high up, and creating chances to take the lead. However, matching numbers with the back five was difficult to do well consistently, which would often see Chelsea drop back to midfield, unable to close the ball down without opening up.
Chelsea made a good start to the second half, holding their block higher up and leaving the ball for Neuer to play long. They would recover the ball in midfield and give themselves closer distances to close down when the ball was lost. Bayern attempted to find long passes behind Chelsea’s backline on the wings from this pressure when unable to find a spare man (looking to play forward), stretching Chelsea’s backline but covered well by Christensen.
Mount would have the first opportunity of the half to take the lead, but took too much time opening up and allowed Davies to both recover and get at the ball. After another crucial opportunity was missed, Chelsea would pay the price, with Azpilicueta’s slip giving Bayern the chance they needed to take the lead.
London was red again last night, as Bayern showed why their one of the favorites to win the Champion's League. Gnabry scored two, both assisted by Lewandowski: this was the first, a great combination between them. #CHEFCB #ChampionsLeague pic.twitter.com/aju6QeluEn— Last Row (@lastrowview) February 26, 2020
Chelsea continued to press high, but were soon 2-0 down after Lewandowski won the long ball up against Azpilicueta, before Gnabry played a 1-2 off the striker to get behind and score his and Bayern’s second.
Serge Gnabry. That is all. pic.twitter.com/1u57TrbQQF— Peter McKeever (@petermckeever) February 26, 2020
Chelsea switched to a back four later on in the half as they looked to get a goal back, but the threat of Bayern on the wings and in particular from Davies on the left continued and through Davies’ speed and combinations to get behind they would go on to extend their lead to three.
Chelsea made a bad start to the game, struggling with the ball, suffering against Bayern’s pressure, and potentially overawed by the occasion. Thiago, finding space in midfield, was difficult to close down, and through him Bayern would control the game, creating opportunities to take the lead. Chelsea had their best moments in pressing high up and winning the ball to create chances. However, after missing opportunities to take the lead in both halves, Chelsea would suffer from Lewandowski and Gnabry combining twice in quick succession, before Davies began to provide a constant threat carrying the ball down the left, creating the third goal to provide Bayern with a comfortable lead for the second leg.