Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich- tactical analysis
The pick of the games in this week’s Bundesliga took place at the BayArena on Saturday as league leaders Bayern Munich took on Bayer Leverkusen, with the visitors looking to maintain their title push while Leverkusen looked to maintain their push for UEFA Champions League qualification, with the teams around them such as RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach both dropping points. With both sides usually adopting similar styles of play, it was an interesting stylistic match up on paper, with it appearing as though Bayern would look to control the game with their possession while Leverkusen would look to use their threat in transition. In reality, the game wasn’t much different, with Bayern dominating the game for large periods despite Leverkusen taking an early lead, and Leverkusen failed to control Bayern once they got into their usual flowing attacking rhythm. In this tactical analysis, I will look at the tactics Bayern used to take control of the game and begin to pick apart Leverkusen gradually over the game, while also covering both sides pressing structures and Leverkusen’s troublesome defensive line.
Bayern Munich lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1, with Thomas Müller operating in that freer role just behind Robert Lewandowski, while Bayern’s double pivot consisted of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, with Thiago still seemingly struggling for full fitness. The biggest team news, however, was Kai Havertz’s absence from the Bayer Leverkusen side, with a muscle injury ruling him out of the game. Leverkusen started with a wealth of attacking options, with Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri starting as wing-backs, while the familiar back three of Sven Bender, Edmond Tapsoba and Aleksandr Dragović all started. Leverkusen started in a 3-4-3 but at half time switched to a 4-2-3-1, for reasons I will discuss within my analysis.
Leverkusen’s successful early pressing
Leverkusen’s initial pressing in the 3-4-3 was largely effective, with Leverkusen using traps at times as well as good positioning in order to disrupt Bayern and prevent them from having long possession phases. Their pressing scheme looked like this structure seen below, with the front three pressing the back line. The striker would ideally press the central defender on the ball, while the ball near winger would either drop to cover both the half-space lane and the full-back, or would engage slightly higher to cut the passing lane to the full-back. The central midfielders were marked by Leverkusen’s central midfielders in a 2v2, while the back line stayed high and tight to their players, with the wing-backs available to jump to press the Bayern full-back when needed.
We can see an example of this pressing structure here, with the central midfielders marked while the front three occupies Bayern’s back line. Here Karim Bellarabi jumps to press David Alaba, with this pass into Alaba seemingly a common trigger for Leverkusen, perhaps with the aim of keeping the ball away from this left side and Alphonso Davies. Alaba’s body positioning also allows Bellarabi to press safely.
Here Leverkusen adapt their structure slightly as a result of a central overload by Bayern. The striker still looks to press the central defender, but here Bellarabi looks to keep Alphonso Davies in his cover shadow and prevent a pass into a wide area again. The adjustment made by Leverkusen here is the presence of Aleksandr Dragović, with the central defender here jumping into the midfield line to occupy the ball near central player, creating a 3v3 in the midfield and allowing a safer structure. Notice Robert Lewandowski then looks to get in behind, but Leverkusen are both vertically compact and have pressure on the ball, with that second point something Leverkusen forgot at times in the game.
I mentioned a pressing trigger or trap that Leverkusen used around David Alaba, and we can see them utilise this here in a deeper area, where they use deliberate, coordinated jumps in an attempt to win the ball. By jumps I mean moving from their previous player onto a new one. Here we see Neuer plays the ball to Alaba, and Bellarabie immediately commits forward, leaving Alphonso Davies behind him.
Bellarabi jumps and Bayern progress to Alphonso Davies, but Leverkusen’s other players have jumped too, with Nadiem Amiri stepping up onto Davies, and the central midfielder Charles Aránguiz helping to cover the player in the half-space while still being in a position to press Joshua Kimmich should he receive. Aránguiz can also cover Amiri should Davies look to cut inside or go down the wing. Kimmich is pressed from behind by the retreating striker, while Amiri’s man Serge Gnabry is passed onto Dragović, who has also pushed higher. As a result, with a series of jumps Leverkusen can create a 4v3 and prevent Bayern progressing the ball, with Amiri blocking a pass from Davies.
In this example, Bellarabi appears to deliberately leave the passing lane open for Neuer to play into Davies, which triggers the same pressing trap. Amiri again jumps up to press Davies, while surrounding players can collapse on the central areas and prevent play through here, while Bellarabi also applies a back press.
After controlling the opening part of the game, Leverkusen were dispossessed in a poor area and weren’t organised, which allowed Bayern an easy equaliser. From then, Bayern’s pressing and build-up play allowed them to gradually grow into the game and create chances. As he often does, Joshua Kimmich began to drop deeper in order to get away from his central midfielder marker, who cannot follow too deep otherwise they risk leaving a large space in behind. Here we see Kimmich drop between the two pressing players and plays a ball out to the wing.
This creates a situation like this below. The central midfielder won’t fully engage Kimmich, but is naturally pulled higher as Kimmich goes deeper. With Kimmich under little pressure, he is able to play the ball into a wide area to Alphonso Davies, which triggers a press from the Leverkusen wing-back. Bayern then look to take advantage of the space left behind this central midfielder, with the winger moving into this area. As well as this, Kimmich being allowed to drop without pressure is an obvious benefit when coming up against presses.
Kimmich’s pass is ultimately a little short, but we can see Bayern look to get into this space still following the pass from the wing-back, with the central midfielder now sprinting to recover this space. Although they don’t access this area, Bayern have the individual quality to just run ahead of the opposition and win a corner through a blocked cross.
We can see this happen again here with Kimmich free to receive in space, with Aránguiz unable to press with Byaern’s forwards effectively pinning him in place. Aránguiz simply looks at his teammates and shrugs, not knowing what he can do to help them. As well as this, Kimmich and Goretzka would also drop into the back line to form a back three, helping to stretch Leverkusen’s first line of the press.
In higher areas, although getting less periods of sustained possession, Bayern were able to show their usual self at times, with the half-space being used often in order to progress play, with the excellent Thomas Müller occupying this area often. We can see an example of Bayern accessing the half-space and progressing well, with a simple pass and move sequence between Müller and Serge Gnabry. Gnabry plays into Müller and continues his run into the space left by his presser. Müller has both the quality technically and the physicality to hold the ball briefly from Tapsoba, and then plays the ball back in.
Again, we see the effect the central midfielders have on the access Bayern have to the half-space, as without Goretzka in this position just bheind Gnabry, the Leverkusen central midfielder can comfortably close the half-space and force play backwards.
Here Bayern overload the half-space with both Lewandowski and Müller, with Müller again making himself available to receive a pass, before then having the quality to pick out a pass for Kingsley Coman. Müller’s stature also helps him to hold the ball up, and he is also very good at receiving the ball in tight areas, and uses his body well to feint defenders into committing on the wrong side.
Bayern’s second goal was a typical Bayern goal, with their width allowing them to access the half-space, where they are then able to overload it thanks to some intelligent movement. Again it is Müller who really creates this goal, after Pavard plays the ball into the half-space. Müller initially is facing his own goal but when the pass is played sprints to support this area. If you compare his body orientation to his markers, we see why he is able to easily get into the space before his marker. He is then able to receive and play the ball to Goretzka, who made sure Müller registered his then 19th assist of the season.
Leverkusen’s defensive line
A key talking point in the game was Leverkusen’s defensive line and its poor showing throughout the game. With Leverkusen looking to remain vertically compact to hinder Bayern’s offensive play, having a line which is at the correct height is important, but perhaps more importantly is the skills required when playing in a line like this.
We see an example of Leverkusen’s line here clearly not playing Lewandowski offside, and Alaba is not under very intense pressure. Thankfully for Leverkusen he misses this opportunity to play Lewandowski in behind, but they didn’t miss this opportunity at other occasions.
Here Leon Bailey commits one of the cardinal sins of a full-back, where he fails to track an inside movement on the blind side of his centre back. Bailey’s positioning could afford to be slightly narrower, but he simply has to match the run and get goal side of Lewandowski making the run, which he is unable to do.
Here we see an embarrassing error from the right wing-back, which ruins what is otherwise a fairly good line from Leverkusen. Dragović’s positioning and body shape here are particuallry good, as he stands side on allowing him to prepare to match the attackers run in front of him, however his sideways position does not contribute to the depth of the offside line. Amiri however just plays everyone onside and doesn’t seem to have any coordination with the rest of the back line, perhaps as a result of Amiri and Bailey not being used to finding themselves in such situations.
This final example is a very good example of how not to position your body when defending in a higher line. Notice the difference in the positioning of Bailey here compared to Dragovic in the previous example. The most ineffective way to turn and sprint back towards your own goal is to move backwards first as Bailey does, and as soon as you are stepping back like this you are basically wasting precious time to build up some pace. Relay runners don’t stand flat, grab the baton, turn, and then run. Gnabry is therefore able to get a run on Bailey, who is also a little too wide from his centre back.
Leverkusen change system to try and overload Bayern’s pressing structure
At half-time, Leverkusen changed to a 4-2-3-1 with the introduction of Kerem Demirbay in an attempt to take advantage of an area Borussia Dortmund looked to exploit recently. Before we look at this though, let’s briefly look at Bayern’s pressing structure. Bayern’s press played a major role in their ability to control the game, with their usual 4-2-3-1 press being used, with the formation molding into a 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 and 4-1-4-1 at different periods throughout the game. We can see here it takes the form of a 4-1-4-1, with Müller here able to perform what is usually the role of the central midfielder, by marking the Leverkusen central midfielder. Usually, we would see Müller join the attacking line with Lewandowski and press, with the central midfielders marking while the wingers looked to cut passes into wide areas.
The key method which can be used to build passed Bayern is to take advantage of their usually two-man midfield of Kimmich and Goretzka, who at times can be overloaded in the centre. From wide areas, decisional problems can be created with the half-space player and central midfielders, with a temporary 3v2 or 2v1 able to be created on the central midfielders of Bayern.
We can see an example here of how Leverkusen used this occasionally in the first half, with Diaby dropping and being occupied by Goretzka, while Kimmich pushes across onto Baumgartlinger. Aránguiz slowly makes his way across, and he is the player who creates the overload that allows ball progression
As a result, when the ball is played into Baumgartlinger from the wide area, Goretzka is occupied with Diaby, and Kimmich is occupied with Baumgartlinger and Aránguiz . Therefore, the Chilean is able to progress the ball into a wide area despite pressure from behind slowly arriving, and Leverkusen win a corner after a cross.
In the first half though, Leverkusen were not able to do this consistently, with Leverkusen not controlling possession for long enough thanks to Bayern’s pressing, and also not dropping players frequently to create the overload, which is perhaps a lot to do with the absence of Kai Havertz.
The introduction of Demirbay and the 4-2-3-1 helped, with this formation just a variation on a 4-3-3, and so these overloads became more frequent. We can see here, Goretzka has jumped to press the goalkeeper having pressed his man, but Kimmich is then left in a 2v1 with two Leverkusen central midfielders (one of which is Demirbay).
In this example we see Kimmich overloaded again here, with Goretzka tight to his player. It’s a typical Bayern press in a 4-4-2 structure with Kimmich slightly deeper. He is pinned slightly deeper by the positioning of Demirbay, who pulls off at an angle to receive. Kimmich however again has a decisional problem, and opts to ever so slightly jump forward, which triggers a drilled pass into Demirbay (off screen), who miscontrols. Due to Kimmich managing this overload well, he can tackle Demirbay.
When overloads are created it is all about managing risks, and occupying both options as well as possible before a decision is forced, and Kimmich and Bayern do this very well.
Here they neutralise that overload well after a slight rotation, with Müller now becoming a part of the central midfield. The central midfielder stay with their players, while Müller remains aware of the player behind him and uses his cover shadow well to prevent a pass.
The best example of this comes in Bayern’s final goal, where Serge Gnabry does excellently to manage an overload created on him. We can see here pressure is applied intensely on the ball carrier, while Gnabry does a good job of staying between his two players, not really allowing a comfortable pass for either player. Gnabry stays between and intercepts the ball after a poor pass, which is forced by that pressure in front.
This management of the overload then allows Bayern to win the ball, and they are immediately in an excellent position having won the ball high, where they then play the ball out to Müller who crosses to find Lewandowski, giving Muller another deserved assist and his 20th of the season.
It was another impressive game by Bayern, but Peter Bosz’s tactics were largely effective, with stupid mistakes for the first and third goals costing Leverkusen in the game. Bayern continue to showcase themselves as one of the top teams in Europe, and people are now starting to ask the question of how do you beat them, which is a question I will be looking to answer in an article soon. Next up in the Bundesliga Bayern play against a side who do know how to beat them however, with Gladbach one of only two teams to defeat Hansi Flick’s side this season. That certainly promises to be an interesting tactical battle.