The 2014-15 season has been one of contrast for the two sides that were in action on Saturday night at the Signal Iduna Park. While the home side have been languishing near the bottom and the middle of the table for long periods of the season, the visitors, Bayern Munich, have been threatening to run away with the title throughout the season. The difference in their respective positions on the table didn’t really matter in the super charged atmosphere that greeted both sides. The noise level at the stadium was deafening, with the home fans looking to get behind their side.
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayern Munich
Dortmund: 1. Weidenfeller // 25. Sokratis – 4. Subotic – 15. Hummels – 29. Schmelzer // 6. Bender – 8. Gundogan // 16. Blasczcykowski – 11. Reus – 23. Kampl // 17. Aubameyang.
Bayern: 1. Neuer // 5. Benatia – 17. Boateng – 4. Dante // 3. Alonso – 13. Rafinha – 21. Lahm – 31. Schweinsteiger – 18. Bernat // 25. Muller – 9. Lewandowski.
Both teams pressing high
As is to be expected in the contest between both these teams, the pressing from both sides was very high up the pitch, and brutal, with respect to the purpose with which it was employed. Both teams, especially Dortmund in the opening stages, were looking to win the ball very high up the pitch.
Dortmund did a pretty good job with the pressing, as they managed to pin Bayern back into their own half for quite a while at the start of the game. Der Rothen struggled to maintain ball possession, and found it especially difficult to work the ball up the pitch to their attacking players. Dortmund were able to press the Bayern wing backs well with their own full backs, as well as players like Kampl and Kuba. Thus, Bayern had few prospects of retaining the ball higher up the pitch, with their width being taken away.
Eventually though, this pressure from Dortmund ceased, and Bayern were able to get a foothold, and boss possession in the first half. Along with the drop in intensity of Dortmund’s pressing, Bayern were able to split the center backs across the width of the pitch, and as a consequence, push their full backs higher up the field. The additional bodies in midfield allowed Bayern more passing options, and they took full advantage to record 59% possession in the first half.
The pressing from both sides also meant that it became very difficult for either side to build meaningful attacks. While Bayern did manage to get behind the Dortmund defence later on in the half, the early period of this half was littered with fouls, niggly play, and a lack of any real build up from either side. No clear cut chances were created at either end, and the match suffered as a spectacle.
Dortmund trying to attack the channels
One problem that a lot of people have with the 3 at the back formation is that opposition teams can exploit the wide areas behind the wing backs. Experts often fear that the trio can be dragged across to one side, leaving space on the other side, and playing the ball into wide channels in general can leave a hole in the middle of the defence because of one of the 3 defenders being dragged away.
Dortmund tried to do just that yesterday. Kevin Kampl wandered into the space between Benatia and Rafinha, and received the ball in that position on multiple occasions. Unfortunately for him, and Dortmund, he was caught offside at times, and thus couldn’t really exploit the space. Later on in the game, Bayern pinned him back after some good work by Rafinha and Lahm on that side, making him quite redundant.
Another interesting battle in the wide areas was the way Bayern shut down Dortmund’s left. Marcel Schmelzer, one of the best left backs in Germany was reduced to a mere spectator, and Kampl too, was rendered pretty ineffective. Bayern ensured supermacy on that side with Lahm also getting involved in the battle there. Guardiola managed to keep them pinned back because of the counter attacking movement of Philipp Lahm. Every time Schmelzer got forward, Lahm ran in behind him on the break. This forced Schmelzer to be much more cautious, and he really couldn’t get deep in the opposition half. To worsen matters, Kampl couldn’t really stretch Benatia and draw him very wide, because he was cutting in most of the time onto his right foot.
Bayern were quite happy to let Dortmund have the ball on the right though. The man who had a lot of it (most touches for Dortmund) was Sokratis. With all due respect to the Greece international, he isn’t really the most effective man going forward, and so Bayern were quite happy to let him take up play-making duties as such.
Winning the battle with 2 strikers
A few weeks ago, Juventus managed to overturn Dortmund twice over two legs by playing quick counter attacking football with 2 forwards to face off with the 2 Dortmund center backs. This caused the Germans a lot of problems, because they don’t really play with a specialist defensive midfielder, and with them throwing both their full backs forward, it often leaves just the center backs.
Guardiola tried the same thing, but unlike Juventus, he was able to win the midfield battle too, making it very tough for Dortmund to get into the game, especially in the second part of the first half. As the pressure on Bayern eased, their defenders split across the width of the pitch, and pushed the wing backs further forward. This kept the Dortmund full backs, who were already quite keen on getting forward, quite occupied. With the full backs engaged higher up the pitch, the central midfielders were running in behind the full backs, and were followed by the Dortmund central midfielders. This is where the extra man in the middle became crucial, and the third man, as such, found himself free to play passes. Either way, the Dortmund midfield was eliminated, and the game was to be decided by a 2 v 2 battle between Lewandowski and Muller of Bayern, and the Dortmund center backs. The two defenders were very risk averse, and elected to stay rather than chase out more often than not, leaving Lewandowski and Muller with a lot of space to turn, and play. They managed to play one-twos on a number of occasions, and even the goal came after some nice interplay between the two. On other occasions, the spare man in midfield, mostly Schweinsteiger or Alonso, was able to play passes without any trouble in behind the Dortmund defence. Too often, there was no one closing down Bayern players on the edge of the Dortmund penalty area.
In retrospect, the crucial role was played by the two Bayern central midfielders. The combination of Schweinsteiger and Lahm started a game together for the first time yesterday since the World Cup finals, and their class was on show, as they allowed Bayern to control the game. No surprise also, that the two players that Guardiola subbed off first were his two central midfielders.
Where do they go from here?
For the away team, this was a great result in terms of the rivalry. In terms of the title, it doesn’t really make much of a difference for Bayern, because they have a 10 point lead, with just 7 games to go, and they’ve pretty much got the title in the bag. Aside from the result itself, the return to action of players like Lahm and Thiago Alcantara is very encouraging for supporters of the champions as they go into a crucial month.
Dortmund will find this tough to take. They were doing very well, and are still within striking distance of the European places, but a good run of wins will need to be put together. A more serious concern for Klopp and the supporters will be the repetitive tactics employed. Teams seem to have got the hang of how to take on Der BVB, with both Juventus and Bayern thoroughly deserving their wins at the Signal Iduna Park, once a fortress.
Written by Vishal Patel