Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig faced each other for the first time this season. The two Bundesliga giants have made contrasting starts to the season with RB Leipzig sitting in fourth after 16 games with Bayern Munich third after a disappointing start under new coach Niko Kovač. RB Leipzig had recently drawn Rosenborg in the final UEFA Europa League group stage game that sealed their exit from the competition. They have gone on to thrash Mainz 4-1 in a game which saw Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen score a brace.
The match against Bayern Munich was an early season indication of who will lay claim to third and fourth spot with the victor establishing a five-point lead. Bayern Munich lost a 3-2 lead in the 95th minute against Ajax in the UEFA Champions League group stage, a somewhat irritating result for the German club even if the top spot was all but guaranteed. They went on to demolish Hannover 96 4-0 away from home easing pressure off Kovač. A victory against a fierce rival would go a long way in giving the former Eintracht Frankfurt coach some much-needed momentum and possibly a push for the top two positions. This clash promised to be a thrilling encounter with both teams possessing players of the highest quality but one goal decided the outcome. Let’s take a closer look at the key tactical nuances that stood out.
The home team made no changes to a side that thrashed Hannover 96 4-0. The Munich side may have finally found a winning formula scoring seven goals in their last two games. With Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Franck Ribéry and David Alaba all scoring, Bayern Munich is not solely reliant on goals from Robert Lewandowski.
RB Leipzig made two changes from their demolishing of Mainz. Willi Orban and Marcel Sabitzer were relegated to the bench with Konrad Laimer and Bruma coming in. The Leipzig side played an unorthodox 3-1-4-2 against Mainz but reverted back to a 4-4-2. Emil Forsberg continues to struggle with injury and Leipzig are missing someone of his playmaking ability in midfield. Ralf Rangnick looked to play in his usual style with long balls over the top for Yussuf Poulsen for Timo Werner to pounce on the second ball.
Game of two halves – Leipzig press
The game was littered with misplaced passes and wasteful possession from both sides but it was RB Leipzig who had the slightly better half with their long ball game plan working to stifle and disrupt Bayern Munich’s flow and tempo. Their pressing intensity was high with the two wide men particularly pressing Munich’s full-backs and wingers into playing centrally for Kevin Kampl and Diego Demme to suffocate Thiago Alcântara and Leon Goretzka. Even though Bayern Munich had more possession in the first half, the meaningful statistics belonged to the East German club.
With five shots and two on target against four shots and one on target, Leipzig was the busier of the two teams. They attempted more long balls albeit with a lower win percentage but it doesn’t convey the whole story. We need to analyse their 40 duels won and 15 aerial wins throughout the first half with Leipzig clearly playing to Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner’s strengths. Bayern Munich was dispossessed six times and could only attempt five dribbles winning two throughout the half giving Leipzig the upper hand. Leipzig was careless in possession but managed to see the game out to a 0-0 score line by half-time.
Here, we can see RB Leipzig’s intentions from the outset. With six seconds on the clock, the ball was sent back to Péter Gulácsi who launched a long ball into Yussuf Poulsen who successfully beat Niklas Süle in the air bringing Timo Werner into the fold. The German forward forces Joshua Kimmich out of position which opens up space for Bruma out on the left. Bayern Munich would have seen this coming but didn’t look as prepared as they should have been. The two forwards are so critical to Leipzig’s system that their replacements aren’t as clinical as they are making their presence in the team all more important.
Bayern Munich had RB Leipzig’s pressing movement to deal with too. The East German club had their pressing movements well drilled. Their 4-4-2 setup playing Konrad Laimer in a right-midfield position was used to play a defensive minded midfielder to negate Kingsley Coman and David Alaba from marauding forward.
Here we can see Konrad Laimer pushing up alongside Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen in pressuring Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle. Even after Hummels plays the ball out towards Leon Goretzka, he is immediately surrounded by a number of Leipzig midfielders. As Bayern’s midfield played themselves out of these pressure situations, the Leipzig press is still in full effect. This passage of play finally ends when Konrad Laimer sees the ball out against David Alaba. The Leipzig defence is holding a stable and strong line.
Bayern Munich didn’t have the best of halves but steadily improved and asserted their dominance as the match went on. The second half was a much-improved performance with one player particularly standing out in Thiago Alcântara.
The Spanish-born midfielder was played at the base of midfield alongside Leon Goretzka. The two midfielders worked in tandem to try and bypass the Leipzig press and win second balls off their route one football to Yussuf Poulsen. Thiago was out pressed in the first half coming second to most balls played into midfield and was unable to assert any sort of dominance and stability in midfield.
The second half saw Thiago drop slightly deeper collecting balls from the centre-backs and distributing it into the midfielders and marauding full-backs. The Bavarian club had to be patient in the buildup and play through their defensive third in order to disrupt Leipzig’s shape. Ralf Rangnick’s men were unable to keep up the high-octane press for 90 minutes and fatigue started to play a role.
This passing map shows Thiago (#6) and Leon Goretzka (#18) at the base of midfield passing it between the Bayern defenders. Four of the six most passed links for Bayern Munich included the Spaniard.
Here, we can see multiple instances of Thiago able to dictate play from his defensive midfield position and play the ball out from the back. Thiago receives a ball from Mats Hummels and is in a plethora of space to pick out a pass. He distributes the ball towards David Alaba at left-back opening up a 4v4 opportunity for Bayern Munich.
Even here Thiago has the freedom to play the ball out towards Joshua Kimmich to negate RB Leipzig’s narrow formation and try to open up gaps between the defensive lines.
Catching the pack
Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig played out an entertaining yet sloppy 90 minutes. The tactical battle between Niko Kovač and Ralf Rangnick was intriguing and the match was ultimately decided through a scrappy Franck Ribéry goal in the dying minutes. It only made sense for the winning goal to come from a winger as Bayern looked to exploit RB Leipzig’s natural narrow positioning and shape.
Thiago Alcântara made a difference in the second half with his influence and drive allowing the rest of his team to play freely. His 90% passing accuracy rate relieved the pressure off his team and was a determining factor in Bayern’s victory. Not the most fluent victory from the Bavarian’s but it is momentum they so desperately needed. As for RB Leipzig, this is a major setback against a top-four rival especially in the race to keep pace with the two Borussia teams – Dortmund and Mönchengladbach – but should be able to recover and keep pace with the top three teams in the Bundesliga.
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