Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayern Munich vs Borussia Monchengladbach- tactical analysis
The original German classic of Bayern Munich against Borussia Monchengladbach took place at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, with the two sides in contrasting form and with different aims for the remainder of the season. Bayern Munich, led by Hansi Flick, were looking for another win to strengthen their position at the top of the table, while Borussia Monchengladbach, following a disappointing defeat to Freiburg the week prior, were looking for a positive result that would benefit them in their race for UEFA Champions League qualification. Coming into the game, Marco Rose’s side were only one of two sides to take points from Bayern this season, but Gladbach were unable to repeat the previous result, this time falling to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern. As is always the case with these two sides, it was an interesting tactical display, and despite defeat Gladbach were largely the better side for the first half, before Bayern began to take control. In this tactical analysis, we will look at Gladbach’s use of overloads that allowed them to build past Bayern, as well as how both sides pressing and build-up tactics impacted the game.
Both sides lined up in a 4-2-3-1 but the main news looking at the teamsheet was the absence of some of Bayern’s key players such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Alphonso Davies who was on the bench. Joshua Zirkzee and Mickaël Cuisance replaced the absent Bayern attackers, while Lucas Hernández filled in at left-back. Gladbach’s side was a familiar one, with Marcus Thuram starting up front before picking up an ankle injury early on, which led to Breel Embolo replacing him.
Both sides pressed in fairly similar ways as a result of their formations, but Bayern’s press took its usual shape in the game, fluctuating between a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, and 4-1-4-1. Bayern did not press high immediately and instead at times allowed for Gladbach to have possession until the Bayern presss was triggered. Bayern were able to shift into a 4-4-2 when the Gladbach double pivots were able to be covered, either by the central midfielders of Bayern or the pressing ten. We can see here Cuisance initially covers the ball near pivot, but is able to jump to press while keeping the player in his cover shadow. Joshua Kimmich can also come across to cover the near pivot, with Zirkzee covering Florian Neuhaus on the other side temporarily. Leon Goretzka is pinned slightly deeper by Lars Stindl.
We can see here Bayern’s press is triggered by a pivot playing the ball backwards to a centre back, and so Zirkzee starts the press higher. Cuisance is aware of the pivot behind him, while Goretzka can press the furthest pivot easily if needed. Serge Gnabry can press the full-back, while Joshua Kimmich has the potential to press in front, but Jonas Hoffman comes deep behind him to attempt to use this space.
This meant that if Gladbach kept their normal shape of a 4-2-3-1, Bayern’s press was fairly well equipped, with here the striker initally pressing before also requiring help from the ten. The ten moves to press the centre back, jumping from his marker, and so one of Bayern’s double pivots then has to step up, creating a 4-4-2 structure. So in this scenario here Bayern are comfortable, but as we will come onto, Gladbach didn’t stick to this ineffective 4-2-3-1 shape, and instead used their positioning to create overloads in particular areas.
We can see here Bayern step up into that 4-4-2, with the double pivots stepping up onto Gladbach’s double pivot. Gladbach would occasionally use this tactic in order to draw Bayern up the pitch before playing long, but often they adjusted their shape in order to aid the build-up, with Lars Stindl taking up a vital role that has not been mentioned so far.
Gladbach’s excellent build-up and use of overloads
For around 55 minutes of the game, Gladbach continuously looked to create overloads through Lars Stindl dropping deeper to overload a Bayern central midfielder, with this method of ball progression being one which I’ve discussed multiple times when talking about Bayern. Stindl would drop to create a 2v1 on one of the Bayern central midfielders, which allowed for space for one of the two players to receive the ball. We can see below Neuhaus and Stindl both occupy Kimmich, with Christoph Kramer also moving a little higher. Bayern here are compact and deep enough to prevent this causing problems, as Cuisance drops to allow Goretzka to help Kimmich if needed.
However, when Bayern looked to press, Stindl caused them problems with his positioning, with the German often positioning himself behind one of the central midfielders. This created a decisional problem for the Bayern midfielder, who had a player in front and behind him, making it hard to press either one or maintain an optimal position. Here before Cuisance moves to press the centre back, he points for Kimmich to cover Stindl behind him, while Cuisance will then look to cover the deeper pivot with his cover shadow. Kimmich isn’t sure though and maintains a position halfway between each player. Neuhaus has also dropped into the full-back position, freeing Ramy Bensebaini to move higher.
As a result, Gladbach are left in this shape, with Stindl staying on the same vertical line as Kimmich. Neuhaus dropping deeper allows wide ball progression, and Gladbach therefore play wide and into Stindl, with Kimmich unable to recover to get goal side of Stindl. Gladbach’s forward players commit high here to prevent Bayern pushing too high and limiting Stindl’s space.
We can see a similar idea here, with Kimmich again the player overloaded. Hofmann remains higher and occupies the full-back, while Kimmich and Goretzka are both occupied by central midfielders in front of them. Bayern’s centre backs did not want to press to close down Stindl, as doing so would leave space in behind.
However it was not just Stindl who played an important role, and Florian Neuhaus also had a good game and was vital in enabling Gladbach to build out. Both of Gladbach’s goals (one of which was disallowed) came from Florian Neuhaus dribbling to attract pressure before offloading the ball, and again overloads played a part in this. Here Neuhaus dribbles from his man and engages Goretzka, meaning Stindl is now able to move away from Goretzka. Neuhaus looks for Stindl, but the ball deflects to Embolo, who plays in Jonas Hofmann.
More overloads, pinning and Neuhaus for Gladbach
Gladbach began adjusting their build-up structure too in order to allow Neuhaus to receive without pressure. Neuhaus would drop deep and centrally, maintaining the largest distance possible from both of Bayern’s central midfielders. Maintaining this distance meant Bayern’s central midfielders did not want to commit ver a longer distance to press, but Bayern’s central midfielders were also pinned by Gladbach’s midfielders. We see here Kramer occupies Goretzka while Kimmich is occupied from behind just off-screen by Stindl.
When Neuhaus then receives, Goretzka can’t pressure due to Kramer’s positioning, while Joshua Kimmich is pinned by the overload created around him, with winger Hofmann and ten Stindl coming either side of the midfielder. Kimmich basically becomes stuck in no mans land and can’t cover either player or put pressure on the ball.
Here we see Gladbach drop into a back three, with Kramer dropping to help stretch Bayern something which happened frequently in the game. We see again Neuhaus remains equidistant between Kimmich and Goretzka, and both players still have decisions to make due to players being positioned in front and behind. Neuhaus is able to receive and then play the ball through, with Bensebaini the left-back also allowed to move higher because of the back three.
We can see here the structure Gladbach wanted to create, with Kramer pushing higher once Neuhaus drops, with Kramer looking to occupy a Bayern central midfielder. Kimmich actually follows Kramer slightly, and so Stindl moves from behind him and into the space to receive a diagonal pass. Bayern generally struggled throughout the game to deal with Gladbach’s build-up, and were outplayed for probably the first hour of the game.
Bayern build and adjust
Bayern’s build-up was not its usual self partly due to personnel and also because of Gladbach’s press which was similar to Bayern’s. Gladbach pressed in what usually resembled a 4-2-2-2, fluctuating between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-4 depending on the height of the wingers. The striker would occupy the midfielder before then jumping to press the centre back, with the trigger again seemingly being when the nearest pivot could no longer be accessed. We see here Embolo reads the body positioning of the Bayern full-back and then jumps to press the centre back, passing the Bayern midfielder down to Christoph Kramer.
To evade this press successfully, Bayern would often drop into a back three, with this helping to stretch the first line of the press and allow similar overloads to those of Gladbach to be utilised. Here we see Joshua Kimmich joins the back line creating a 3v2 in Bayern’s favour, and more importantly allows for Bayern’s back line to stretch wider.
This helps them in occupying the second line of Gladbach’s press too, as if the strikers can’t press the wide centre back, the winger tends to have to adjust their positioning to stop ball progression. We can see an example of this here with Leon Goretzka in the back three, where Hofmann is forced slightly narrower to protect the half-space. Bayern also create an overload on Gladbach’s central midfielder this time, with Gnabry threatening in behind while Kimmich comes deeper to receive. This is very similar to what we previously discussed with Neuhaus and Stindl.
Here again we see a good example of the second line of Gladbach becoming engaged, with Hofmann forced to push higher to press Boateng. This enables the wing-back more space, and forces the Gladbach full-back to then press. Full-back on full-back presses tend to force an interaction between a central defender and a winger, which is not always the best match up. Again all of this is underpinned by one of the central midfielders, this time Kimmich, dropping to create a back three.
In this final example of this point, we see a slight rotation, with Pavard now in the half-space. If we look at Hofmann’s body positioning, he clearly looks to protect the outside pass onto the wing, but this time Bayern opt to play inside, with Gladbach’s central midfielders recovering into shape still.
In a nice variation on beating the press, Bayern again adopt a back three with Kimmich dropping as a wide centre back. They trigger the press from Gladbach to form the 4-2-4, and commit Goretzka to a deeper area. Centre forward Lars Stindl jumps too early from Goretzka as he is keen to press the centre back, and as a result Bayern play a penetrative pass that breaks the first line. Bayern are then still well-positioned, and eventually create an overload on the left side with the full-back making a sprint to join the attack.
Bayern’s build-up improved as the game went on, and this back three was benefitted by the arrival of Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies from the bench, who were more effective in utilising this space that can be created on the wings.
Both sides adjust
With Gladbach looking very fatigued at the hour mark, they slowly began to lose control of the game, with Bayern becoming more aggressive while Gladbach became more passive and looked to hang onto a point. Gladbach brought on Oscar Wendt and switched to a back three/five, with the formation now resembling more a 5-2-3/5-4-1, again dependent on the height of the wingers. We can see their structure here below, with the wing-back pressing the Bayern full-back, while the central midfielder and wide centre back could protect the half-space. One of the added benefits of a back three is this increased coverage of the back line, and so if one player steps out, there are still enough players to cover and ensure compactness.
We can see this 5-2-3 shape again here, with Wendt again pushing out to press Benjamin Pavard. Gladbach were largely effective at limiting Bayern’s build-up later in the game, with their flooding of the half-space preventing ball progression often. They did suffer some compactness issues around the half-space in higher areas though, but Bayern’s goal came from a threaded pass from Davies which accidentally made its way to the opposite side of the pitch for a cross and goal.
One aspect of Bayern’s play which seemed to adjust was their behaviour towards Stindl, with them becoming much more aggressive and allowing a central defender to nullify this overload. We can see here Alaba remains tight and follows Stindl, where previously Stindl had been able to receive unopposed. The threat Gladbach posed in behind seemed to no longer concern Bayern, and they gradually got higher and higher as the game went on.
We can see another example here with Boateng remaining tight to Stindl and preventing him from receiving. This helped to halt Gladbach’s build-up, with a lack of overloads meaning Gladbach often resorted to longer passes that they didn’t have the energy to chase.
Gladbach were the better team for the larger part of the game, but in the end their fatigue was punished by a ruthless Bayern side. Gladbach can certainly feel unlucky, with the timing and nature of the first Bayern goal terrible, with Sommer giving the ball away for an open goal when moments prior Embolo had a header on goal following Gladbach creating an overload in the build-up. Choosing to just defend for the final fifteen minutes of the game against Bayern was a risky, although somewhat forced decision and Bayern were able to find a way through for the win. That isn’t to say Bayern don’t deserve credit for adjusting and finding their way back into the game, but as I’ve mentioned in this analysis, Gladbach for 60 minutes of the game will have been delighted and could have been 2-0 up if not for silly mistakes and a marginal offside call.