“Bavarians? Conservative? Never!” The 1987 European Cup Final
For all Bayern München’s dominance in Germany in the 1980s, they made a pigs-ear out of things in Europe. It was a common sight to see the Barvarian side being disposed of by British clubs throughout the decade. In 1981, Liverpool beat Pál Csernai’s Munich side on away goals in the semi-final. Throughout that decade, they further lost to Alex Fergusons’s Aberdeen side, as well as Tottenham and Everton in various European championships.
However, none of these defeats would come close to the defeat handed to them in 1987 by FC Porto in the now titled Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna. Die Bayern were seen as odds-on favourites and the entire club were assured that victory would assumingly come. Bayern München’s then president, Fritz Scherer, had sanguinely prepared his victory speech in anticipation of a triumphant conquest against the Portuguese side. Recently departed striker Uli Hoeneß, on the eve of the match, proclaimed that this match will spark the “dawning of a new, great era.”
Truthfully, they had good reason to be hopelessly optimistic in their chances of victory. Porto were without their talismanic striker, Fernando Gomes, who had won the European Golden Boot in 1983 and then in 1985. The striker, who went on to go and score 163 goals in 184 games for Porto, was withdrawn with a broken leg. Bayern München were not without casualties too, they had lost defensive stalwart, Klaus Augenthaler as well as striker Roland Wohlfarth, who famously was convicted for taking anorectics in the following decade.
In the first-half, it would have been understandable to see Fritz Scherer pacing the room, mouthing his acceptance speech, practicing his wink and smile as he saw his Bayern side govern the match. Porto started the game in a narrow and deep 4-4-1-1 with Paulo Futre leading the line. I say leading the line, but he habitually dropped deep to get involved with the play, leading to a situation where Porto were often found strikerless. Bayern München found this easy to defend against with their back three / five.
The narrowness of Porto allowed Bayern’s wing-backs to maraud down the flanks. This sanctioned Bayern’s midfield to have equal numbers in midfield as well as width to work with when in possession. Without the ball, Paulo Futre didn’t look to press the defence, allowing Bayern’s central defenders to move into an auxiliary midfield position and control the integral central areas.
One forward against three-centre backs would usually lead to an advantage for the team with the solo striker. As Jonathan Wilson succintly points out, this is usually because of the redundant centre-back. However Porto, who relied on Paulo Futre to create as well as score, didn’t take advantage as they looked to play negatively and keep narrow, with the full-backs looking to stay in their defensive roles. The theoretical advantages of playing one striker against a traditional back three were therefore negated.
Porto’s narrowness played in the hands of the three-man defence as it allowed an easy reading of Porto’s [read: solo Futre run] attacks. The first-half was subsequently dominated by the Bavarian side who controlled possession and were unlucky not to go into the break with more than a one-nil lead. The goal itself came from a Rory Delap-esque hurl into the box, and, with the help of a poor clearance, the twenty-one year old Ludwig Kögl flung himself towards it, scoring a glorious diving header; a bewitching finish from an objectionable set-piece strategy, if only we could say the same about Stoke City nowadays.
Porto came out for the second-half with a change in tactics and personnel. On came ex-Inter striker Juary to partner Paulo Futre, changing the shape into a conventional 4-4-2. This transformation of shape transformed the dynamic of the game and Bayern found themselves on the back-foot throughout the second-half. This was surprising given how a back-three was designed to combat the front-two, but this in fact, was the game changing manoeuvre set out by the Porto manager, Artur Jorge.
Futre and Juary ran the channels giving Porto more width, forcing the Bayern wing-backs into more defensive positions, removing the possibility of them moving into midfield. Because this pinned the wing-backs back, it allowed the Porto midfield and wide midfielders more time and space on the ball. This move had the further implication of isolating Dieter Hoeneß who was never known for his quick feet and agility to play himself out of a defensive smothering, significant reducing Bayern’s attacking capabilities.
Porto played with a higher defensive live too, forcing Bayern, who without a sprightly forward line, into mistakes. With the lumbering Hoeneß isolated and his midfield distant and outnumbered, Celso, Porto’s ball-playing centre back, could make direct forwards to the feet of Futre, who could link play-up. When not linking up the play, he looked to do this.
With this small tactical change, Porto looked more confident and throughout the second-half they looked more courageous. Bayern’s natural conservatism did not help as they looked to play safe throughout the second half by keeping men behind the ball, moving the incentive and momentum on to the Portuguese side. As the second-half wore on Porto’s midfielders, in particular Rabah Madjer looked to break from midfield and support the attacks. The elegant Algerian was the hero of the game, scoring with an audacious back-heel and then two minutes later, creating a winner with some stupefying wing-play that set-up the Brazilian Jaury for the winner.
Bayern’s characteristic conservatism contributed to their downfall in 1987 European Cup Final. Their inability to change things around in a tactical battle that could have easily been won was highlighting. Artur Jorge altered things around in a way that theoretically would have been a bad decision, but, as this game vindicates, it is often about the philosophy embedded within a team that influences whether a match is won or lost.