Miles Olusina writes a detailed tactical analysis on the Bundesliga game that ended Bayern 4-1 Dortmund.
The biggest game of the Bundesliga season took place in the Allianz Arena with runaway leaders Bayern looking to wrap up their fifth consecutive title against rivals Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker. For Bayern it had been business as usual coming into this game as they built up a commanding 10 point lead over 2nd place RB Leipzig. The same could not be said about Dortmund who despite still being in contention for automatic Champions League qualification, have still been some way of the heights of last season after losing their star player yet again to one of Europe’s giants and bringing in a host of young up and coming talents.
Contrary to what was expected there was virtually only one team in this game, as Bayern took complete control from start to finish, racing into a 2-goal lead with early goals from Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski before finishing off the game in the second half with goals from Arjen Robben and a second Lewandowski goal coming after Raphael Guerreiro’s thunderbolt brought Dortmund back into the game.
Despite Bayern being at their brilliant best, controlling the tempo of the game and finding free players between the lines with ease, Dortmund’s poor showing aided them greatly with their lack of intensity and co-ordination when pressing and their poor vertical compactness being duly exploited by the home side.
Bayern 4-1 Dortmund
Bayern (4-3-3/4-2-3-1): 26. Starke // 21. Lahm, 8. Martinez, 17. Boateng, 27. Alaba // 14. Alonso, 23. Vidal, 6. Thiago // 10. Robben, 7. Ribery, 9. Lewandowski
Dortmund (3-4-2-1): 38. Burki // 28. Ginter, 25. Sokratis, 5. Bartra // 30. Passlack, 27. Castro, 13. Guerreiro, 29. Schmelzer // 7. Dembele, 22. Pulisic // 17. Aubameyang
Substitutions: 72’ Kimmich (Lewandowski), 75’ Douglas Costa (Ribery), 79’ Hummels (Martinez) // 46’ Rode (Castro), 59’ Mor (Dembele), 69’ Merino (Guerreiro)
Goals: 4’ Ribery, 10’ Lewandowski, 49’ Robben, 68’ Lewandowski // 20’ Guerreiro
Poor staggering from Dortmund affects vertical compactness
At this stage in the season, Dortmund still appear to be adapting to the new 3-4-2-1 system introduced by Tuchel recently. Although the change in system has yielded some positive results there still appears to be deficiencies evident with this side, especially considering it has not been used previously by Tuchel’s team.
They struggled out of possession as they seemed incapable of maintaining compactness particularly during phases of pressure as their un-coordinated press was made more ineffective by their lack of compactness. This was an issue predominantly in the flat midfield line of 4 as the players often occupied the same line, allowing Bayern players to receive the ball between waves of pressure fairly easily.
They found particular joy in the 10 space, mainly due to the absence of Dortmund 6 Julian Weigl who brings so much to this Dortmund side out of possession with his intelligent positioning in front of the back 4. Had he been present in this game, space between the lines for the Bayern players would have been greatly reduced. The use of cover shadows by the midfielders pressing the opposition ball carrier would have prevented Bayern players receiving the ball in the 10 space, as we see with Thiago above; however the Dortmund midfielders’ insistence on ball orientation made it far too easy for blind side movements to be made which ultimately had negative effects on the back 3 as individual players were forced to vacate their position to press the ball so as to not allow them space or time.
Bayern wide players key in creating superiority
At the beginning of the season, many were wondering the role that would be played by wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, with both reach the twilight of their careers at age 33 and 34 respectively. Competition in the form of electric Brazilian winger Douglas Costa and precocious French talent Kingsley Coman had many believing that they would be surplus to requirements.
This could not be further from the truth as they have both rediscovered form under Ancelotti and played a pivotal role in the destruction of Dortmund as both laid on a goal each. What was particularly fascinating was the movements they made off the ball and positions they occupied. Typically in their prime, they often hugged the touchline looking to isolate full backs and take advantage of their qualitative superiority to destabilize the opposition back 4. In this game both wingers played a much more central role, occupying the half spaces more so than usual.
Their forays into central areas was necessary considering the overload Dortmund had in midfield as a result of their full backs Passlack and Schmelzer moving into the midfield line to create an overload. Not only did it create numerical equality, it also had the effect of disrupting Dortmund’s midfield shape which already appeared vulnerable as a result of their weak press throughout the game.
When either of them received possession in the half-spaces, pressure came at them from multiple Dortmund players which would cause most players to be dispossessed however with great press resistance, they were able to create space in central areas for teammates and exploit Dortmund’s ball orientation.
His ability to attract pressure from the Dortmund midfield was seen here in the move which led to Lewandowski’s free kick goal in the 10th minute. He starts with the ball in the wide area and combines quickly with Thiago, a move which bamboozles 3 or 4 Dortmund players who have now left their positions within their defensive block to put pressure on Ribery. Had one player from Dortmund’s midfield gone to apply pressure while his teammates covered the space in behind, Ribery would not have had so much space to drive at the defence and attract Marc Bartra who eventually committed the foul.
The movement and positioning of the full backs Alaba and Lahm were also key as they took advantage of the half-space positioning of Dembele and Pulisic who lacked access when the Bayern full backs received possession. Lahm’s movements in the final third were slightly more beneficial in creating overloads out wide, giving Robben the freedom to run directly at the Dortmund back 3 and cut inside on his left foot.
Again the half-space positioning of the Dortmund wide men left the wing backs isolated, allowing Bayern’s wide players to combine much more freely to devastating effect. Dortmund were required to compensate for their diminished presence out wide with rapid ball-oriented shifts which played into Bayern’s hands as it made them vulnerable to switches of play after periods of ball circulation.
With the ball being recycled and Dortmund retreating into a deep block their primary focus becomes the ball. This led to the first goal of the game early on as they fell victim to a rapid switch of play and a blind side movement from Ribery who moved into the centre from his left wing position to slot past Burki.
Dortmund shape aids ball retention and creates overloads
Although for the most part their performance was abject, Dortmund did show some promise when in possession which was surprising considering they were without midfield stalwart Julian Weigl. Their shape was key in allowing them to retain possession amidst Bayern pressure despite at times coming unstuck in the final third.
When the ball was in the build-up phase the full backs Passlack and Schmelzer occupied very advanced positions while the wide centre backs Bartra and Ginter drifted into wider areas forcing the Bayern forwards to cover larger amounts of space.
Dortmund have the ball here in the build up with the ball being played to Marc Bartra on the edge of the box. Initially they had a 3v1 overload, however Bayern were forced to push Vidal onto the same line as Lewandowski to reduce the workload on the Polish striker. Dortmund as a result cannot play out of the back with as much facility but still have Ginter out wide should they choose to recycle the ball to the other side.
In response to the overload Thiago and Alonso (circled) had no choice but to man mark Castro and Guerreiro, halting Dortmund’s central progression. It was in scenarios such as this that they had to rely on the deeper movements of Dembele and Pulisic whose positioning was essential in breaking the Bayern midfield lines as Dortmund circulated the ball in midfield.
Dortmund have the ball in midfield and are showing good connectivity as a result of their compact shape and ideal spatial coverage. This is made possible by Dembele and Pulisic’s positioning as they allow the central players to be connected to the wide players and create the triangle shapes in possession which allow for combinations. Should they receive the ball in these spaces, they have the opportunity to combine with the wing backs while also drawing attention from central players to create space for Guerreiro and Castro in possession.
In addition, when receiving the ball in these spaces behind the midfield line of pressure they cause the Bayern centre backs to vacate their positions, opening up the channels for Aubameyang to exploit. The wing backs’ extremely wide positioning was a key feature also as it opened up the half-spaces and vertical passing lanes for Dembele and Pulisic. The Dortmund ball carrier would play a horizontal pass out wide causing the Bayern wide player to shift and press the ball. The ball would then be played centrally with the half space and a passing lane now open for Dembele or Pulisic.
A resounding win for the men from Bavaria, sending a clear message to the rest of the league and Europe after putting one of Europe’s biggest clubs to the sword with such ease. A 10 point lead with 6 games left of season to play, Bayern will be more than confident of retaining their crown with Leipzig surely unable to catch them now. The mood is sure to be high around the club after such a victory and they will be hoping to take their imperious form into the Champions League quarter finals against Real Madrid.
Contrasting emotions for Dortmund who were showing good form before this game; they will most certainly be rattled after coming off second best to their rivals. What makes this defeat even more disheartening was how much of a stroll it seemed at times for Bayern, highlighting the massive gulf in class between the two sides. That said, Dortmund have a very bright future ahead with a crop of potentially world class youngsters who are more than capable of leading Dortmund to the top of European football in the coming years.
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Miles is a 19 year-old writer and aspiring manager with a fascination for tactics and the psychological side of the game. He is an avid Manchester United supporter and follower of Barcelona
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