Bundesliga 2019/20: Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich- tactical analysis
The pick of the midweek games this week in the Bundesliga was the biggest game in German football, with top of the table Bayern Munich taking on second-place Borussia Dortmund. Both sides had picked up where they left off before the break, with both teams picking up two wins from two with convincing performances. It was a game that could potentially seriously damage Borussia Dortmund’s title hopes and one that also had the potential to put a dent in Bayern’s lead. In the end, Bayern edged a tight affair with a 1-0 win, with both sides displaying their usual qualities in build-up play, and Bayern eventually showing their extra bit of quality and in my opinion, tactical astuteness. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Bayern were able to use their positional play and pressing to win the game, and how Dortmund looked to exploit Bayern’s pressing and create chances of their own.
Both sides lined up as expected pretty much, with Borussia Dortmund sticking to their 3-4-3 which became a 5-4-1 out of possession, while Bayern Munich went with their familiar 4-2-3-1, with Thomas Müller in a freer role as usual. This shape adjusted slightly when pressing, which I will discuss in the analysis.
Bayern had a PPDA of 10.44 in the game and pressed particularly well in the first half, where they were able to adjust and cope with Dortmund’s build-up well with an aggressive pressing scheme. We can see the ideal pressing situation for Bayern below. With Bayern in a 4-2-3-1, at times they could transition into a 4-4-2, with Thomas Müller jumping forward to act as a striker and press the centre back closest to him. The nearest winger could then press Dortmund’s wing-back, while the central midfielders would look to press Dortmund’s midfielders intensely should they receive the ball. The ball near central midfielder could look to keep the inside forward behind him in his cover shadow, and this is something I’ll discuss throughout the analysis.
We can see here a player comes across to press the wide centre back, while the winger looks to protect the half-space and prepare to press the wing-back. The central midfielders can mark their counterparts, with Brandt not dropping deep enough to cause Kimmich a problem just yet.
Here we see some of the fluidity of Bayern’s press, with them initially in a 4-1-4-1 as we can see below. Kimmich is sat deepest keeping an eye on Julian Brandt, while Müller has dropped into the midfield line. With Müller covering the ball near central midfielder, Leon Goretzka is able to jump to press Dortmund’s wide centre back, restoring that 4-4-2 formation when Kimmich steps higher also. We’ll get back to this flexibility shortly.
Dortmund attempt to build through the press
The key method Dortmund attempted to use to build was the overloading of the central midfielders, through that use of Julian Brandt or others dropping deeper. At times then, this central overload would lead to Dortmund forming a 3-5-2 formation, with this kind of double pivot midfield three forming. We can see some flexibility in Dortmund’s build-up here, with Dahoud at the highest point of the triangle, while the left pivot is Raphaël Guerreiro. Julian Brandt here occupies the wing-back position.
The obvious question you are hopefully asking is “how does this help beat the press?”. The answer is simply the same as with any overload, in that it creates a decisional problem or dilemma for the opposition. Here we see below Dortmund have dropped to form that midfield three, with Kimmich closest to Brandt. Kimmich can’t jump to press Dahoud, or leaves a large lane open for Brandt, and can’t affect Brandt too much if he gets tight, with Brandt able to flick it round the corner into a now open lane. Therefore it makes Dortmund difficult to press and instead makes Bayern rely on adjustments and reactions to certain situations.
We can see another example of this triangle being formed here. Mo Dahoud has possession and is pressed from behind by central midfielder Leon Goretzka, so Dahoud plays it down the line to the wing-back. Joshua Kimmich then has the same decisional problem, with two players to press/cover.
Here in a creative method of progressing the ball, Brandt rotates positions with Thomas Delaney quickly, with Brandt moving high to deep, while Delaney goes deep to high. This rotation allows some separation from the central midfield marker, and also allows the overload to be created and exploited well in this case.
With Brandt receiving and playing into the wing-back, who then plays into Delaney who is between the lines, Dortmund are able to lure the wing-back and central midfielder in to press. Delaney as a result of the overload can receive and then play into the space left by the wing-back.
Kimmich’s role and Bayern’s adjustments
The key battle in this aspect of the game was Joshua Kimmich and the player behind him, as Kimmich had to manage this threat while performing his role of pressing the central midfielder in front, which as the scoreline suggests, he did fairly well. We can see an example of a common situation for Kimmich here, where Brandt is in the half-space behind him and Dahoud is in front. Before he can press the central midfielder, Kimmich scans to check the positioning of Brandt.
In the same phase of play, once he has finished pressing the central midfielder and forced the ball backwards, Kimmich immediately scans for the positioning of Brandt, which enables him to slightly adjust his already good positioning to cut the passing lane. Some intelligent movement from Brandt to move when Kimmich was pressing or quicker ball movement by the centre back may have allowed Dortmund to progress here, but overall it is good pressing from Bayern.
As a result of this Kimmich vs Brandt duel, if Brandt sat higher he could occasionally pin Kimmich with him, creating that 4-1-4-1 press we saw earlier. We can see here the positive effect this can have for Dortmund, here they use the goalkeeper to break the press, with Kimmich clearly sat deeper looking to protect the space behind him. As a result, Bayern’s press has a player missing, and this Kimmich shapes hole in the press allows for Dortmund to easily progress.
As mentioned Bayern generally reacted well to Dortmund’s build-up, and here we can see such an example. Here again, the midfield three is formed with Brandt dropping deeper. In any overload, players have to almost weigh up the best situation, and at the same time have to try and cancel this overload somehow. In 2v1 defending, the defender won’t commit until they can and will look to occupy both players for as long as possible, and in this example, Goretzka is able to use his cover shadow to cover Brandt, while also pressing his central midfielder in front. Kimmich can remain tight to his central midfielder, and Alphonso Davies is also in close proximity.
We can see another good adjustment here, with Kimmich pressing his central midfielder and covering the lane directly forward along with Goretzka. The half-space lane is slightly open, so Kinglsey Coman tucks in slightly, but also prepares to press the wing-back, which he is able to do very quickly thanks to his pace. As a result, Bayern win the ball in a high area.
Bayern’s half-space centred build-up
If you have watched Hansi Flick’s Bayern this season it will come as no surprise that they looked to use the half-space to progress play. The Bavarians overloaded the half-space on multiple occasions, which was in part helped by their structure before this.
We can see here Kimmich acts as a half-space accessor, lying deeper and forming a back three, allowing the full-back to push higher to provide width. Bayern then have four players in and around the half-space, and have multiple passing angles and players to play to, with those players also technically excellent in tight areas.
We can see in this example below both Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski drop extremely deep facing their own goal in the half-space. Kimmich has dropped to form a back three, and the occupation of the half-space pins Dortmund’s 5-4-1 into a narrower shape, with Brandt prevented from staying wide by Lewandowski. The body positioning and the height of the players on the pitch is important.
The ball is subsequently played wide and the lane is just about open into the half-space, and a laser pass from Pavard reaches Müller, who is now facing the opposition goal and in a higher area, with Lewandowski just behind. This example shows the diagonality benefits the half-space has, with Müller now able to receive and immediately play a forward path into Lewandowski, who runs onto the ball and gets into the box easily. Bayern then have Serge Gnabry in the area but they cannot find him. This is a movement Bayern have used already this season on several occasions.
We can see another example of intelligent movement in the half-space below, where Coman moves forward with a decoy run to create space for Müller deeper, which is a movement I will be talking about in my next magazine piece and it’s relation to a drive and kick movement in basketball. As a result of this movement and because of the area of the pitch he is in, Müller can then progress play easily with players around him.
We can see here in a very similar idea without the decoy runner, that same ‘drive and kick out’ movement, where Coman initially moves forward, which makes the winger Brandt drop naturally to cover the space behind. Coman can then look to exploit the deeper area, and then has two diagonal passing options immediately.
We can see in one final example here, Goretzka leaves off the shoulder of his marker to complete a third man play and access the half-space, with again two players occupying the back line and further options available.
Bayern’s counter-press allows some control
A key aspect in Bayern’s ability to try to control the game was their counter-pressing, with Dortmund’s threat on the counter pretty obvious. If we go back to a previous example of the half-space being used, we can see how effective Bayern’s counter-pressing was in high areas for the most part. We can see this previously explained example below with Lewandowski receiving the ball from his strike partner with another third man run. Now we must consider the starting positions of each player in this attack, with Bayern eventually losing possession. This rest defence is vital in order to counter-press effectively. We see currently if they lost the ball it is not too great, with Kimmich as part of the back three harming the shape somewhat.
However, Bayern were usually very quick and disciplined to recover into their counter-pressing structure and were extremely aggressive, here forming a cage around the ball and immediately constricting the space around the ball while jumping to press their marker.
We can see this snapping action happening here where Bayern immediately counter-press both the ball and surrounding markers, with Pavard here jumping to press the wing-back while Kimmich jumps to Brandt.
We can see in this example here, at the exact moment Bayern lose their ball they have a secure rest defence that allows them to counter-press to prevent forward passes. This was occasionally caught out by poor turnovers in difficult areas to counter-press, but generally, I thought Bayern controlled the game well through their counter-pressing.
In one final example of this, we can see again that snapping movement by Bayern to immediately jump to mark the nearest player, in what was a fairly man orientated counter-press. Müller and Goretzka push higher to the nearest player, while Kimmich also jumps to press his nearest central midfielder.
Dortmund look for an equaliser
Dortmund’s attempt to look for an equaliser led to them looking to frequently switch the ball, which they were able to do partly due to the previously mentioned midfield overload. To switch the ball, you first need access to a player who can switch, and then secondly space on the opposite flank to switch into, and as a result of the midfield overload creating a spare player in midfield, Dortmund were able to take advantage of switches at times, only for their final third quality to let them down. We can see an example of this below where Dortmund take advantage of the spare player, with Kimmich unable to get across having previously pressed a central midfielder on the other side.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the key space for Dortmund was the space behind the central midfielders, and they struggled to exploit this, and when they did it was usually at the expense of height in their team. We can see this said space below, with a simple pass sideways and then through would allow them to exploit.
Here Dortmund combine really well in the half-space and play behind the pressing central midfielder, however, they rely on Haaland to drop back to do this, and as a result, Dortmund lose all the height in their team and struggle to attack against Bayern’s extremely high line.
In this final example, we see them access the space well again, but they are isolated in the half-space. Contrast this structure to the images of Bayern, who at times committed four players into this space. As a result, when they did reach these areas Dortmund struggled to combine and create chances.
Overall, it was an excellent game tactically and both sides performed relatively well, with Bayern probably just about edging it due to their superior controlling of the game. Hansi Flick now looks set to deliver another title to Bayern thanks to his superb tactics and possession-based style of football, in which an aggressive press and positional play have brought him success, as they did in this game.