Thomas Tuchel and Carlo Ancelotti. Alamy Stock Photo

Madrid weave their unique magic as Tuchel makes mockery of decision to replace him

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid shared the honours in a pulsating first leg.

AND TO THINK we might have had another dose of high-minded tactical duelling between Manchester City and Arsenal instead! 

Maybe the Premier League isn’t All That, or perhaps the Greatest League in the World has become so great on a weekly basis that its two best sides are worn out when the Champions League knockouts come calling. 

Either way, events happily aligned to give us this rattling tie; 90 minutes that played out according to a smooth, satisfying rhythm. 

Real Madrid did an absolute Real Madrid in the first half – outplayed, but winning – while Thomas Tuchel did a Thomas Tuchel in wresting control of the tie back with his half-time reshuffle.

He would have been responsible for finding a victory had Kim Min-Jae not capped a personal nightmare by dragging Rodrygo to the floor to concede the penalty from which Vinicius equalised. 

It was a pulsating night that nonetheless stirred a few questions in the mind. 

Firstly, on the wall of which Dublin pub would Eamon Dunphy’s post-game analysis of Jude Bellingham’s performance be daubed, if he was still on RTÉ? Bellingham was a bystander to a great game tonight, and was withdrawn with 15 minutes to go. Were we still living in the Good Old Days, Dunphy would have delivered Bellingham’s career obituary before the first post-game ad-break. 

Secondly, how do Real Madrid keep on doing this? In an era of grand tactical philosophies, they have dominated the Champions League with little more than the awesome power of their own entitlement. It takes a special kind of club to feel annually destined to win a competition their own president has spend years trying to blow up. Yet they’ve been doing it for years and they repeated the trick tonight. 

From kick-off they were out-fought, out-played, and generally overwhelmed right up until the moment they went 1-0 up. How do they keep doing this?

It would be wrong not to pay heed to Carlo Ancelotti’s in tackling that question. Tonight he sprung a first-surprise by sending Rodrygo to play wide left, which allowed Vinicius to play more centrally. 

Vinicius then created the goal he scored by making the kind of ingenious run that passes as basic knowledge for any corner-forward in Gaelic football, dropping off into midfield to draw out the hapless Kim Min-Jae before swivelling and darting behind him to collect Toni Kroos’ delicious pass. His finish was unerring, which is another facet of Madrid’s that goes unsung: when they have chances, they take them. They are not the kind of club to suffer the earnest waywardness of a Darwin Nunez. 

A third question. Why on earth are Bayern replacing Thomas Tuchel with Ralf Rangnick?

There is a question as to why they want Rangnick at all, of course, given he is primarily a sporting director at a club currently addicted to them. Bayern have appointed two sporting directors in the last year – in Christoph Freund and Max Eberl – while they are viceroys at best to King Uli Hoeness. 

But trading Tuchel for Rangnick is an enormous step down. The justification seems to be that Tuchel is difficult behind the scenes, but then again, most great managers are. Plus, his most notable fallings out have been with Hoeness, Todd Boehly, and most of banter-era PSG. Judge a man by the company he can’t keep. 

Having done so at PSG and at Chelsea, Tuchel again swung an enormous Champions League back the way of his side. This time the trick was to swap Leroy Sane to the right, and Jamal Musiala to the left, giving Bayern more natural width to pull Madrid’s mid-block apart at the seams. 

Sane’s equalising goal was astonishing, driving into the box before blasting a shot that Lunin did not see until it was past him. A few minutes later, Musiala, one of the most delightful dribblers in the game, weaved his way into the box from the opposite wing and was kicked by Lucas Vasquez, earning the penalty from which Harry Kane put Bayern ahead. 

Given English football seems to have evolved beyond traditional full-backs – think of all the centre-backs that would be playing in the City/Arsenal version of this semi-final – Tuchel made hay from playing his full-backs in the traditional means, with Kimmich buying Sane space to cut inside to score the equalising goal by running an overlap. 

madrids-vinicius-junior-celebrates-after-scoring-his-sides-second-goal-by-penalty-during-the-champions-league-semifinal-first-leg-soccer-match-between-fc-bayern-munich-and-real-madrid-in-munich-g Vinicius celebrates his second goal. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It seemed as if Bayern would take a lead to Madrid, until Kim completed his disasterclass with an ostentatiously clumsy foul on Rodrygo. Most managers in Tuchel’s position would silently rue Mathias De Ligt’s injury that meant Kim had to play in the first place. Tuchel, in fairness, is likely to do his rueing in public. 

Vinicius again made no mistake, and we are all counting down the days to the second leg. 

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