CSKA Moscow 0 – Bayern Munich 1: Bayern fail to impress, CSKA defend well.

Thanks to Bayern Munich’s constant breakdown in the attacking third and a resilient defensive display by the Russian champions, CSKA Moscow avoided a big defeat.

CSKA manager, Leonid Slutsky, approached the game in a defensive manner by fielding 5-4-1 formation, with the Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa being the lone attacker. Pep Guardiola adopted 3-3-3-1 formation. Bayern Munich changed the formation as the game progressed.

Starting formations – CSKA Moscow vs Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich change formation 

Bayern Munich changed to 2-3-5 while attacking.
Bayern Munich changed to 2-3-5 while attacking.

Guardiola used many formations during yesterday’s game. Munich started with 3-3-3-1 with a back line consisting of David Alaba, Dante and Mehdi Benatia. Juan Bernat, Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm played in front of the defensive trio. They were followed by Mario Goetze, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben. Polish striker, Robert Lewandowski played upfront.

When attacking, Bayern changed to 2-3-5 with only Benatia and Dante as the defenders. Guardiola might have changed to this formation by noticing CSKA’s decision to field 5 defenders. Guardiola’s main intentions were to keep the 5 defenders engaged and push the defensive line of CSKA deep, which in turn reduced their chances of attacking on the break.

While CSKA were building the attack, Bayern were switching to a formation having 5 defenders – Bernat, Alaba, Dante, Benatia and Lahm formed the defensive line. Bayern were easily switching the formation depending on the situation. This way, they were able to break open CSKA’s defence (but could not convert those chances) and were recouping to form a sturdy defence while CSKA players were slowly building up the attack.

M-W and W-W

M-W (2-3-3-2)
M-W (2-3-3-2).

Sergei Ignashevitch, playing at the centre of CSKA’s defence, marked Lewandowski. Mario Fernandes (RB) was marking Bernat and Georgy Schennikov (LB) was marking Robben. There were two extra defenders (the Berezoutski twins) to track the runs of Goetze and Muller.

So to break open such a rigid defensive setup, Bayern needed some of its forwards to drop deep and operate between the lines. When Lewandowski, Bernat, and Robben dropped, the front 5 changed to 2-3 (which looked like M) and the whole setup looked like M-W (2-3-3-2).

To create randomness and be unpredictable in order to deceive CSKA’s defenders, Goetze and Muller dropped into the space in front of the defence and the other three (Lewa, Bernat and Robben) tried to make runs through the channels. This made the formation look like W-W(2-3-2-3).

Bayern were altenating between M and W upfront just to confuse CSKA Moscow. (A piece will be published about W and M within a few days)

The wingers

Bayerns’ wingers, Robben and Bernat played really wide. Robben drifted inside to trouble CSKA’s central defenders and also to escape from his marker, Schennikov. Bernat was seen hugging the side line and he provided the crosses hoping to find Lewandowski on the receiving end.

The purpose of asking the wingers to remain wide was to stretch CSKA’s defence and create space between the defenders. Bayern forwards were trying to run into the channels.

 Alaba and Lahm

As I said before, when in control Bayern were playing a 2-3-5 system. Alaba and Lahm moved into the space between the wingers and inside forwards and controlled the midfield region. As Bayern’s forwards were putting pressure on CSKA’s defenders, the backup provided by Lahm and Alaba proved to be very crucial. They also provided passing potions for Alonso, who was being targeted by Musa. All in all, they helped Bayern Munich in dictating the game.

The regions marked in blue in the second picture show the space where Lahm and Alaba moved into.

Lahm's positioning - Squawka
Lahm’s positioning – Squawka
Alaba's positioning -Squawka
Alaba’s positioning -Squawka

Lahm and Alaba played in CSKA’s half for most part of the game. Also provided cover for the wingers by covering the wide areas near the half-line.

CSKA’s approach

Slutsky’s intentions were clear from the start itself. To defend as deep as possible. The 5 man defensive system which was followed by a 4-man midfield shield did well in stopping the German side from extending the lead. Bayern created a lot of chances but due to one or the other reason, fialed to find the back of the net.

CSKA Moscow's defence
CSKA Moscow’s defence

But that was not a “Park the bus” kind of setup by CSKA. Unlike Chelsea, CSKA Moscow had a few goal scoring chances. But bad decisions in the final third let the Russian club down. CSKA’s plan was to act on the breaks. But they did not completely rely on counter attacks. Some decent attacking build up was also seen.

Instead of Musa, Slutsky could have started with Seydou Doumbia. Or at least he should have played Doumbia instead of Natcho. Doumbia’s physical presence was really missed by CSKA last night. Musa’s pace and Doumbia’s commanding presence could have changed the course of the game.


A risk was taken by Guardiola by alternating between unusual formations. Defensive problems of Bayern were exposed by Real Madrid last season. Even though Bayern controlled the possession, CSKA were able to pose some threats to  the Bavarians. Finger can pointed at Guardiola’s system – wing backs tucking inside, midfield being compromised, and using only two defenders. Some serious thinking needs to be done when facing tougher opponents.

CSKA can be happy with that performance. Their defending as well as attacks were impressive.


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