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The German Bundesliga is fast gaining recognition as one of the best leagues in the world, and this game was a perfect advert for the league. With Borussia Dortmund slipping up at Gladbach earlier in the day, both these teams had the chance to scale the summit. The champions only needed a point to go top, but Leverkusen needed all three. The electric atmosphere at the Bay Arena only added to the spice, with both sets of fans contributing with a lot of singing from the stands.
Leverkusen started in their customary 4-3-3 formation, set up to hit Bayern on the counter. In attack, Heung Min Son was left on the bench, and former Bayern starlet Emre Can made his first start for his new club. Toprak and Spahic were the centre backs, with Donati and Boenisch on their right and left respectively. Bender, Rolfes and Reinartz were the midfielders, and the strikers, aside from Can, were Sam and Kieβling.
Bayern Munich also began in their usual shapes, the 3-3-1-3 in attack, and the 4-2-3-1 in defence. Again, Muller started as the striker, with Ribery and Shaqiri on the flanks. Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Lahm were in midfield. At the back, Rafinha, Dante, Boateng and Alaba started, with Neuer in goal.
Leverkusen Attacking Through Full Backs
Leverkusen average about 46% possession in their games. They’re a side that strikes mainly on the counter. Bayern are also a team that gets their full backs forward, and these players have to transition quickly, because the likes of Ribery also aren’t expected to come very deep when tracking back. Therefore, it made perfect sense for Hyppia to make his full backs the main source of attack. The two full backs sprinted forward at every opportunity, and also played a good role in creating chances. The rationale was to attack using wide positions. The goal came from the confusion created after a cross.
In midweek, against Manchester City, we saw some ferocious pressing from Bayern Munich. They pressured City into a lot of errors, and basically kept the ball. However, there was a slight change of tactics against Leverkusen. The home side is one that thrives on the counter, and pressing them early would play into their hands. Therefore Bayern allowed to play their first ball out, but had men back to win it back. As a result, Leverkusen hardly managed to get the ball forward very often, or launch effective counter attacks.
As you can see in the graph above, most of the Bayern tackles were executed in a certain region of the field. This was when someone like Kieβling or Sam was tackled, as they tried to move with the ball and get forward. The fact that Leverkusen only managed 5 attempts says all you need to know about the Bayern defensive tactic.
Thomas Muller has made his name playing just behind the main striker for the last few years, but Guardiola has tried him out in Mandzukic’s position in the last few games. Muller is a player who manipulates space very well, and makes very intelligent runs on and off the ball, to create space for his team-mates. Personally too, he does well to find himself in space. This is why Pep has tried him out in the forward zone. Today, his role was to make the runs and create the space that suited the Bayern attacking mode, namely cut-backs. He made a number of selfless dashes towards the near post to attract the defenders, and create space for the onrushing players behind him. The weakness is, that unlike someone like Mandzukic, Muller isn’t as good in the air. With Mandzukic in the side, Bayern have a lot of variety, and an air of unpredictability.
Bayern Wide Play
Leverkusen are a team that line up their three midfielders very narrow, and even the three forwards are quite narrow. This leaves a lot of room on the wings, as it’s almost always only the one defender who is protecting it. Guardiola decided to use this as the avenue for Bayern’s attacking play today. A large number of passes were played out wide from the centre of the field by the likes of Kroos and Schweinsteiger, who then moved forward into the box to provide bodies. The full backs moved forward into the central midfield to keep the ball in the opponents half in case they manage to clear the cross. The wide players, like Shaqiri and Ribery attempted to dribble into the area, get to the by-line and cut back. Muller made a dart towards the near post, with the opposite winger standing near the far post. The central midfielder on the crossing side generally stood in the wide area behind the crosser to provide a passing option other than the full back, turned central midfielder, while the other central midfielder ran into the space behind Muller to meet the cut back. Kroos scored his goal in this way. This is generally a very efficient strategy, as Rafael Benitez pointed out recently, and worked quite well for Bayern.
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They should have scored a lot more goals, but were let down by their finishing. All in all, they attempted a massive 40 crosses during the game. Bayern were able to create an effective overload in the wide areas, and this worked very well for them, as they kept Leverkusen inside their own area for large periods.
Leverkusen’s Defensive Reaction
As a result of being overpowered in the wide areas, Hyppia’s team suffered in the first half. In response, the manager instructed his midfielders to get back and help out the full backs. This would allow the centre backs to stick to their positions, and hopefully stem the flow of crosses into the box. However, this did take away a lot of the attacking potency Lverkusen had, and they struggled to put moves together in the second half, because the midfielders were too deep. It led to the team staying a lot deeper, and hanging in their own half. This is illustrated in the heat map provided above.
If one is to look at the numbers, Bayern Munich had 78% possession and 27 shots. They should have won this game easily. their tactics too, kept Leverkusen caged in. The Bavarians however, can only blame themselves. A conversion rate of 3% highlights the weakness today. Leverkusen were well organised, but frankly, they were blown away by the Bayern passing machine. The home side should consider themselves very lucky to be getting out of this game with a point.
Over to you! That was our analysis of the game, was there anything particular that you (tactically) noticed? Let us know by dropping a comment below.