DFL Super Cup 2020/21: Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund- tactical analysis
In a condensed season in German football with games coming thick and fast, the DFL managed to squeeze in the Super Cup final into a packed schedule, albeit on a Wednesday night between game weeks. Helpfully, to provide some normality to the game, it was contested between familiar foes in Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and after a disappointing weekend of results for both sides in the Bundesliga, this game gave an opportunity to get back on track with some silverware. The clashes between the two sides in recent games have been remarkably close affairs, and this game was no different, with Bayern Munich able to claim a 3-2 win after Borussia Dortmund had staged a comeback. This tactical analysis will examine how Bayern Munich were able to claim this victory through adapting and learning from previous encounters, as well as how Dortmund were able to challenge Bayern are stage a comeback.
With this Super Cup being a midweek fixture, both sides were forced to rotate in some degree, with Bayern’s team containing the most changes in both formation and personnel. As I will detail within this analysis, rather than playing their usual 4-2-3-1, Bayern went with a 4-3-3 with Javi Martínez as a holding midfielder while Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich played ahead of him. Borussia Dortmund meanwhile used their usual 3-4-3 shape, with the half-space occupying duo of Julian Brandt and Marco Reus sitting behind Erling Braut Haaland.
Bayern’s 4-3-3 pressing
The most logical starting point for this analysis is looking at why Bayern opted to scrap their favoured and massively successful 4-2-3-1 pressing structure in favour of a 4-3-3, and the answer to this actually lies in Bayern’s previous game against Dortmund. As I’ve mentioned extensively in previous Bayern analyses, the main ‘weakness’ of their 4-2-3-1 press is the ability to overload their two central midfielders. In their most recent game last season, Dortmund utilised this tactic often, and Julian Brandt would often drop onto one of the Bayern midfielders to attempt to create a 3v2 in the midfield, or a 2v1 on a specific central midfielder. Here we see below Dortmund have dropped to form that midfield three, with Kimmich closest to Brandt. Kimmich can’t jump to press the deepest midfielder Dahoud, or he leaves a large lane open for Brandt Likewise, if Kimmich stays with Brandt, Dahoud’s space is increased and he can play under little pressure. Therefore it makes Dortmund difficult to press due to Bayern’s midfielders having these decisional crises and instead makes Bayern rely on adjustments and reactions to certain situations. We can see another example here of an overload, where a 2v1 is created on Joshua Kimmich, with one player moving towards the ball while another moves further away. Whichever decision Kimmich makes, he will always benefit one of the Dortmund players, and so it is difficult situation to be put in. Dortmund had good success in this game regarding building through this press, and Hansi Flick likely wanted to fix this.
So to prevent one of the Dortmund forwards dropping deeper and creating overloads, Bayern needed to create a 3v3 instead in the middle. They could have done this by having defenders be more man-oriented to the dropping Dortmund attackers in a back five, or by creating a midfield three that obviously can’t be overloaded by one dropping Dortmund forward. What ensued was a mix between both these systems, with the role of Javi Martínez vitally important.
We can see below the advantage of the 4-3-3 for Bayern when dealing with the Dortmund build-up below. We can see Martínez acts as the deepest of the three midfielders where his occupied by the right central midfielder of Dortmund, while Kimmich can cover Brandt and Tolisso can cover Delaney.
We can see in this example here Dortmund again manipulate the Bayern central midfielders using their spacing, which creates a lane for Julian Brandt to receive. Ordinarily if Bayern were to be pressing in a 4-4-2 as they do at times, Brandt would be free to receive in this deep area away from the centre backs, but within a 4-3-3, that third midfielder Martínez is able to come across (albeit slowly) and press Brandt to prevent progression.
As always within the Dortmund side, Julian Brandt operated in a fluid role which involved him trying to create overloads wherever possible, and so it was often Brandt who engaged that 3v3. We can see another example of Bayern’s three-man midfield being successful here, as Tolisso initially follows Brandt and covers him. Martinez and Kimmich can press the two Dortmund central midfielders, meaning if Müller tucks back in here on the wing, Dortmund have no numerical overloads which allow them to progress the ball.
Martinez was often slow across larger pressing distances or while pressing in higher areas, but nevertheless, he was effective enough in limiting Dortmund’s ball progression. Here we see Dortmund progress the ball past their two central midfielders, and momentarily create a 3v2 advantage, before Martinez presses in and is able to force Dortmund backwards again.
In some situations, Martinez wasn’t needed to push higher, and he could instead shield the back four and cover any higher players. We see here Bayern have a 2v2 in central midfield and so are stable.
This stability was key throughout the game and ended up being more so for their go-ahead third goal late on. Müller here joins the midfield and occupies a central midfielder, while Joshua Kimmich prepares to press Delaney. Kimmich allows him to receive and times his pressing run brilliantly to dispossess the midfielder, and he is able to thread the ball through to Lewandowski before getting the ball back for a goal. From a disorganised structure where the left side is open, Bayern are able to maintain that central stability to win the ball and score.
Because of that lack of pace, I mentioned regarding Martinez’s pressing runs, Bayern seemed to come up with a solution by having centre backs become much more man orientated at times. We can see an example here where Julian Brandt drops deep with the wing-back in possession. Rather than Martinez starting deep and reacting to that run of Brandt, Niklas Süle instead follows Brandt high. Dortmund opt to play long.
Because of this run from Süle, Martinez would tuck in as a centre back and provide cover to this man oriented player, and so, in theory, they should have been able to remain stable. In reality though, Martinez’s pace seemed more of an issue the further back he played, and in this example here Dortmund are able to switch the ball and gain a very good chance for a goal with a shot from Meunier.
Furthermore, a moment of confusion here between Martinez and Lucas Hernandez means that both players push out to apply pressure on the ball, and as a result space is conceded in the defence and in behind for Haaland to run onto. Manuel Neuer makes an excellent save to prevent Dortmund taking the lead.
This midfield overload existed both in and out of possession for Bayern, and it had an impact on their ability to build through Dortmund’s pressing structure. For Dortmund then, their roles were almost reversed compared to last match, with Dortmund now looking at solutions to nullifying a midfield overload while Bayern looked to utilise it.
We can see an example of Dortmund’s general pressing structure below, with the roles and responsibilities included. The inside forwards of Dortmund were tasked with pressing the Byern centre backs, while Haaland did his best to protect the central area and remain fairly passive. The Bayern full-backs were then pressed by the Dortmund wing-backs, while the two central midfielders of Dortmund looked to manage an overload against three Bayern midfielders. We can see an example here where Dortmund manage the overload well, with Haaland’s cover shadow nullifying Martinez. The two central midfielders then have to remain compact and anticipate passes as best as they can.
Dortmund’s pressing was not the most intense at 15.81 PPDA, but it was successful when triggered, with this trigger often being passes to the wings. We can see an example here of a basic wing situation in which the wing-back presses the full-back while we have a 1v1 in central midfield near the ball.
Dortmund were successful in luring and trapping Bayern at times as they do here, where they initially allow the right centre back to receive before applying pressure and covering all nearby passing options and lanes.
We can see a nice example here where Dortmund guide the ball towards the centre as they have created numerical equality in the central midfield area. Dortmund can press this pass well and it offers an opportunity for a high quality turnover.
Bayern’s midfield overload in possession and Dortmund’s solution
Bayern were able to utilise their overload in possession adequately in the game, although they will perhaps be disappointed at the frequency of the overloads. We can see an example of an overload created here, where the two Dortmund central midfielders are occupied by Bayern midfielders, only for a far sided midfielder to be available to receive.
We can see another example here where Bayern are able to just create a simple 3v2 against Dortmund’s central midfielders, and so they are able to progress play quickly.
In a more general example of their positional play within the game, with this edited 4-3-3, the role of occupying the half-space often fell to one of the central midfielders (i.e Kimmich here). In theory, then, this put Bayern back into more of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the presence of a sitting midfielder did allow for more freedom for the half-space occupier. Particularly early on in the game, Müller would often make wide runs or decoy runs in order to access the central midfielder in the half-space, with runs such as this one below into width being used as well as allowing the ball to go through to him to a midfielder.
In a more common of an overload example below, we saw often how Bayern were able to use depth particularly in the first half in order to progress the ball. Javi Martinez would often sit much deeper in possession and act as a pivot, and pinning movements and decoy runs from players elsewhere allowed space to be created. We can example below where the ball far central midfielder is occupied by a player, meanwhile, the ball near central midfielder is occupied by a run from the winger behind him. This run drags Delaney away from Martinez, and so Bayern have time and space to progress.
These pinning actions were also used in diamonds often similar to how Dortmund recently used them, with the pinning actions of midfielders allowing a central lane to open up. As time went on, Thomas Müller’s role in the game became more his familiar one, and so he would often drop into central spaces or the half-space to receive. Here he acts as the ten in the diamond, and the two ‘eights’ pin the midfielders either side and open the central lane.
In this example again of that diamond shape, we see Martinez drops just in front of the back line and plays a vertical pass into Müller. Again, the positioning and spacing of the two ‘eights’ allow for the Dortmund midfielders to be pinned and for the central lane to be open, however here we see Dortmund’s solution. Often when dealing with overloads, Dortmund would be very aggressive with their centre backs, with Manuel Akanji being particularly man-oriented and following players looking to create overloads.
We can see an example here where in a deep area for Bayern, they would usually be able to create an overload on Dahoud using the two highlighted players. Again it is Müller who drops to create the overload here, but Akanji follows and remains tight to nullify this overload and eventually win possession back high for Dortmund.
The best example of this can be seen below, with this pressing scene leading directly to a goal. We can see Bayern have the opportunity to overload the left-sided Dortmund central midfielder, with a passing lane in front and behind him available. The midfielder initially has a Bayern player ready to receive in front and also has a player dropping behind him from high. This player, therefore, has to balance between both passing lanes with the hopes of intercepting and the hopes of also gaining an optimal position to press the ball, wherever the destination.
The ball is played in behind the pressing midfielder, but Akanji again has followed his marker all the way into this area. As a result, the overload is nullified and Akanji is able to win the ball cleanly and release it for a Dortmund goal. The presence of Akanji here benefits the decision making of the overloaded player, and so Dortmund can become more stable in this area. As a matter of fact, both Dortmund goals came from Akanji pressing high up and recovering possession.
A lovely Bayern solution
Bayern did start to try and find ways of breaking this man orientation from Akanji, and one excellent scene occurred at the start of the first half which gave a good solution. We can see this play below, where Joshua Kimmich starts in the half-space and deliberately occupies Manuel Akanji. Kimmich starts higher and moves deeper to feint receiving the ball short in the half-space. Bayern work the ball from central to wide with a high ball.
This deeper decoy movement towards the ball from Joshua Kimmich drags Akanji well away from his back line and also empties the half-space more or less, and so Thomas Müller occupies this space and looks to receive in it. This is an excellent example of the overloading principle seen in Bayern’s positional play, as one player (usually Müller ) is tasked with acting as a +1 in the half-space. This also is an excellent example of complementary movements in the half-space, something I have talked about a lot recently.
Again this matchup produced a fairly even game where either side could have eventually gone on to win it, but in the end, Bayern were probably value for their win. Their game plan and tweak in tactics by Hansi Flick allowed them to be stable defensively, and it also underpinned their positional play in terms of rest defence and counter-pressing. Bayern’s formation changed, but the principles within it stayed the same. Dortmund had good moments in the game and pressed well in spells, but they struggled to build through Bayern effectively and had fewer solutions in possession compared to Bayern, and this for me, as well as Bayern’s pressing system, allowed for Bayern to win the game.