Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up

The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.

The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

APOEL: 4-1-4-1

The average positions of APOEL's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.

[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]

 Barcelona: 4-3-3

The average positions of Barcelona's players in the first 15 minutes of their 3-1 victory at Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Barcelona have occasionally played with three at the back this season, but as Bayer Leverkusen played with only one central striker in André Schürrle, Pep Guardiola opted for their default 4-3-3 system. Barca used roughly the same formation in the famously one-sided second leg, although Gerard Piqué, Xavi and Pedro Rodríguez all came into the starting line-up and Andrés Iniesta was moved to the left flank.

[Squad numbers: 1. Víctor Valdes; 2. Dani Alves, 5. Carles Puyol, 14. Javier Mascherano, 22. Éric Abidal; 4. Cesc Fàbregas, 16. Sergio Busquets, 8. Andrés Iniesta; 9. Alexis Sánchez, 10, Lionel Messi, 21. Adriano]

Bayern Munich: 4-2-3-1

The average positions of Bayern Munich's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at FC Basel in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Bayern’s clearly defined 4-2-3-1 formation is such a staple fixture that coach Jupp Heynckes is not afraid to move players into unfamiliar positions within it. Thomas Müller has been deployed right across the band of attacking midfielders this season, while Toni Kroos oscillates between a central midfield role and the number 10 position. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and 19-year-old David Alaba have both been used to plug various different holes in the team. Tymoshchuk played at right-back in the 1-1 draw at Hamburg last month, while Alaba has started games at left-back, on the right wing and in central midfield.

[Squad numbers: 1. Manuel Neuer; 13. Rafinha, 17. Jérôme Boateng, 28. Holger Badstuber, 21. Philipp Lahm; 44. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 27. David Alaba; 10. Arjen Robben, 39. Toni Kroos, 7. Franck Ribéry; 33. Mario Gómez]

Benfica: 4-1-3-2

The average positions of Benfica's players in the first 15 minutes of their 3-2 defeat at Zenit Saint Petersburg in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Benfica set themselves up in an enterprising 4-1-3-2 formation at Zenit Saint Petersburg, with a narrow midfield comprised of predominantly attacking players and two strikers in the shape of Rodrigo and Óscar Cardozo. It helped them to register eight shots on target to Zenit’s five and their reward was the two away goals that tipped the balance of the tie in their favour.

[Squad numbers: 1. Artur; 14. Maxi Pereira, 4. Luisão, 24. Ezequiel Garay, 3. Emerson; 21. Nemanja Matić; 20. Nicolás Gaitán, 28. Axel Witsel, 8. Bruno César; 19. Rodrigo, 7. Óscar Cardozo]

Chelsea: 4-2-3-1

The average positions of Chelsea's players in the first 15 minutes of their 3-1 defeat at Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Chelsea were the only team that lined up for the two legs of their last-16 tie with different coaches in the dug-out, but despite several changes in personnel for the second leg, Roberto Di Matteo kept faith with the same 4-2-3-1 formation that his predecessor, André Villas-Boas, had used in the first leg. The key change was that Ramires – one of the holding midfielders in the first leg – was deployed on the left-hand side of the attacking band, presumably to help Ashley Cole cope with the marauding runs of Napoli right-back Christian Maggio.

[Squad numbers: 1. Petr Čech; 2. Branislav Ivanović, 24. Gary Cahill, 4. David Luiz, 17. José Bosingwa; 7. Ramires, 16. Raul Meireles; 23. Daniel Sturridge, 10. Juan Mata, 15. Florent Malouda; 11. Didier Drogba]

Marseille: 4-2-3-1

The average positions of Marseille's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 victory at home to Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Didier Deschamps has tested out various different formations this season, including 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, but it is the 4-2-3-1 system with Mathieu Valbuena in the central playmaking role that has given him the most satisfaction. Brandão led the line in the first leg of their last-16 encounter with Internazionale but Loïc Rémy’s return from injury in Tuesday night’s second leg at San Siro enabled Deschamps to align his first-choice attacking quartet of Morgan Amalfitano, Valbuena, André Ayew and Rémy for the first time since a 3-1 win at Nancy on December 20.

[Squad numbers: 30. Steve Mandanda; 2. César Azpilicueta, 21. Souleymane Diawara, 3. Nicolas N’Koulou, 15. Jérémy Morel; 4. Alou Diarra, 7. Benoît Cheyrou; 18. Morgan Amalfitano, 28. Mathieu Valbuena, 20. André Ayew; 9. Brandão]

Milan: 4-3-1-2

The average positions of Milan's players in the first 15 minutes of their 4-0 victory at home to Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Milan rarely deviate from their 4-3-1-2 system in Serie A and it was no different against Arsenal, although it is worth noting that Clarence Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng have only been named in the same starting line-up three times in the Italian top flight this season. Seedorf went off injured after 12 minutes but Milan’s clinical finishing gave them a 4-0 victory that was ultimately enough for them to squeeze into the last eight despite a major scare in the second leg.

[Squad numbers: 32. Christian Abbiati; 20. Ignazio Abate, 5. Philippe Mexès, 33. Thiago Silva, 77. Luca Antonini; 22. Antonio Nocerino, 4. Mark van Bommel, 10. Clarence Seedorf; 27. Kevin-Prince Boateng; 70. Robinho, 11. Zlatan Ibrahimović]

Real Madrid:
 4-2-3-1

The average positions of Real Madrid's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-1 draw at CSKA Moscow in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

Real Madrid’s basic shape has changed little since José Mourinho arrived at the club in the summer of 2010. He invariably lines his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cristiano Ronaldo pushed well forward on the left-hand side and a slightly more conservative player on the opposite flank. In the first leg of the 5-2 aggregate victory over CSKA Moscow, José Callejón began the game on the right, but Mesut Özil started the game there in the second leg, as he has in recent league matches.

[Squad numbers: 1. Iker Casillas; 17. Álvaro Arbeloa, 3. Pepe, 4. Sergio Ramos, 15. Fábio Coentrão; 6. Sami Khedira, 14. Xabi Alonso; 21. José Callejón, 10. Mesut Özil, 7. Cristiano Ronaldo; 9. Karim Benzema]

Related link: How the 2010-11 Champions League semi-finalists lined up

4 Responses to “Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up”

  • Adam:

    Very few of these teams play with 4 defenders. The avg position of the “fullbacks” is typically in the midfield (Coentrao’s avg position is higher up the pitch than Xabi Alonso’s). Madrid’s formation is closer to 2-4-4 or 2-4-1-3.

  • Good read,
    adam, I think that is becoming the norm for the majority of top teams in Europe. Using their full backs as wingers.

    It makes the game a lot more exciting but it can clog the midfield.

    Looking forward to the 1/4 finals. Hope there are a couple of upsets. Really dont want a Real v Barca final .

  • Adam:

    Yes, I like the new style of ultra-attacking football. Barcelona, Madrid and Bayern Munich are very entertaining.

  • Adam:

    I’d like to see Marseille do well. But given their current run of form (incl defeat against a third division side), the suspension of their captain and goalkeeper Mandanda for the first game, and Munich’s scintillating form, they will be lucky to avoid embarrassment.

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