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“Bavarians? Conservative? Never!” The 1987 European Cup Final

February 9, 2011

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 The striker, who went on to go and score 163 goals in 184 games for Porto, was withdrawn with a broken leg.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.

Fernando Gomes: Porto's injured virtuoso man

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.

First-half tactical line-ups.

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.

Futre's lethargy allowed Bayern to make up the numbers in midfield

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.

The second-half brought a different defensive approach - - Porto playing with a higher defensive line

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.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Haslam permalink
    February 9, 2011 12:46 pm

    A fascinating blog.It seems incredible that the highly-rated Germans could not respond positively to what was a very basic tactical switch by Porto. Who was their coach at that time?But as you suggest in conclusion, sometimes it is the players and their natural conservatism that dictates the tactics. But it would be astonishing if no-one in the Bayern camp could see that 5 Bayern defenders against 2 Porto strikers was a recipe for defeat.

  2. Roberticus permalink
    February 9, 2011 1:46 pm

    Tim, thanks for producing a fascinating read.

    Didn’t Futre begin as a winger?

  3. February 9, 2011 2:47 pm

    Great article! Love reading about the fascinating tactics of matches I was unable to watch, always important to see where today’s tactics and formations evolved from. I like the conclusion, I find people sometimes get too caught up in macrotactics (I am guilty of this) and underrate microtactics.

  4. GibMelson permalink
    February 9, 2011 3:44 pm

    Great work, always interesting to read your stuff

  5. hwk permalink
    February 9, 2011 5:47 pm

    “Recently departed striker Uli Hoeneß”?

    I thought Uli retired around 1979 due to massive knee injuries, after he was on loan for one year to Nuernberg. Think you meant his brother Dieter, like you wrote later.
    Uli was already working at the office at Bayern.

    By the way, Dieter Hoeneß is the man who just fired Steve McClaren at Wolfsburg.

    But a great read, as always.

  6. February 10, 2011 12:03 am

    Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing this detailed analysis to a match I wasn’t familiar with.

  7. Bosnian permalink
    February 13, 2011 1:45 am

    Well done! I like your articles, particulary classics…

  8. February 14, 2011 11:24 pm

    I loved Futre as a kid – he was one of those players I don’t think I’d ever actually seen but I decided he must be awesome because people talked about him (like Pancev a bit later).

    Thanks for posting, Tim. A fantastic read (as usual).


  9. March 17, 2011 10:01 am

    brilliant article. still sends a shiver down my spine to watch Frasco and Sousa exchange passes just before Porto’s two goals…


  10. Zero permalink
    March 17, 2011 10:38 am

    As a passionate FC Porto fan, it was a delight for me to read this intelligent analysis about that epic night that I so well remember (although I was only 13).
    I don’t agree with everything though. There’s too much relevance given to the tactical battle. Although Artur Jorge, as a disciple of the great late manager Pedroto, was no slouch in the theoretical field, actually being considered as an aloof, “intellectual” coach, what really turned the match was the halftime speech he improvised in the locker room, appealing to their sense of pride and history.
    This was a match won on motivation – because the sheer quality was there, make no mistake about it. FC Porto then was not so well-known globally, but in those pre-Bosman, pre-millionaire tv contracts days, it was possible to assembly and keep for some seasons a formidable side coming mainly from the youth squad. Madjer and Futre are probably, together with Cubillas and Deco, the best players ever to wear the blue and white jersey; that midfield with André, Quim, Sousa and Jaime Magalhães had no weak spots, and João Pinto was in no respects inferior to what Dani Alves is today. Even without the injured star striker Gomes, FC Porto had, player by player, a stronger side than Bayern. Actually the toughest team to beat that season was Dynamo Kiev in the semis.

  11. Alexander Kariophilis permalink
    May 1, 2011 9:40 pm

    “For all Bayern München’s dominance in Germany in the 1980s, they made a pigs-ear out of things in Europe.”

    Bayern`s 80s started with the so-called “Breitner Revolution” in 1979 and ended with the 1-2 semifinal loss to Red Star Belgrade in 1991. During this period the club reached 8 European semifinals, including 3 consecutive ones from 1980 to 1982 – more than any other team of that era. Even though they failed to win any silverware, Bayern were far from being insignificant in European football of that decade.

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