Ahead of this match, Bayern Munich had just won 2-1 against VfL Bochum in the DFB Cup. In general, even though the results of the last weeks weren’t that disappointing, the performances on the pitch were not on the level at which you expect from Bayern. In light of this, they were in a little crisis and wanted to come out of it with a win in this game against Frankfurt.
On the other side, Adi Hütter’s team had 14 points after the first nine Bundesliga games and beat St. Pauli to advance in the DFB Cup. Eintracht Frankfurt then managed to surprisingly beat Bayern 5-1 and since the tactics and the momentum changed several times throughout the game, this tactical analysis will look at each period of the game. This loss ultimately cost Niko Kovač his job at Bayern as just one day after the loss, his contract got mutually terminated.
Hütter lined his team up in their typical 3-5-2 formation with Frederik Rønnow between the sticks and a back three that consisted of Martin Hinteregger, Evan N’Dicka and captain David Abraham. Gelson Fernandes was the deepest midfielder of the three men in the centre, while Djibril Sow and Sebastian Rode supported the Swiss international in the central midfield. The wide areas were as usual occupied by Filip Kostić and Danny da Costa. The two strikers upfront were Gonçalo Paciência and Bas Dost.
Kovač chose once more the 4-2-3-1 formation, but he made some changes to the squad that played in Bochum. In that DFB Cup game, Joshua Kimmich was the right-back and the central defence was made of Jérôme Boateng and Benjamin Pavard. However, this time Kimmich played in the defensive midfield next to Thiago Alcântara. Due to that, Pavard was needed as a right-back and so David Alaba played as a centre-back since Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernández were both injured.
The goalkeeper was once more Manuel Neuer and the young Canadian Alphonso Davies was the left-back to complete the back four. Serge Gnabry was the left-winger and surprisingly Philippe Coutinho and Thomas Müller were both part of the starting eleven. Robert Lewandowski who had scored until then in all nine Bundesliga games this season at least once was the striker.
Opening minutes and the turning point
Right from the beginning on, Bayern Munich tried to have the upper hand in this match and dominated the game. In the opening 15 minutes, the Bavarians had 76.69% possession and were able to play on average 4.74 passes per possession. To do so, Thiago or Kimmich mostly dropped deeper to position between the two centre-backs. The two full-backs pushed a bit higher and then the other defensive midfielder and Coutinho were the two players in the centre. Due to that, Bayern dominated the game but had had a hard time to progress the ball further up the pitch and were just one time able to get really dangerous as Gnabry wasted a good chance.
However, due to the deep positioning of Thiago, Frankfurt had in almost every situation numerical superiority in the central midfield. Besides, the three central midfielders of Frankfurt were once more very disciplined and tried to position very narrowly to one another. Due to that, passes through the centre were rarely possible for Bayern and in light of this, Kovač’s team had problems to progress the ball further up the pitch.
Frankfurt varied between two defensive tactics. They either positioned a bit deeper and tried to avoid passes through the centre with the aid of the three central midfielders Rode, Sow and Fernandes as we can see above. However, they also showed during the opening phase of this match that they had planned to put pressure on Bayern high up the pitch to force them to mistakes. In these situations, Sow joined the two strikers up front and the according wing-back pushed forward to position himself close to Bayern’s full-back. This can be seen in the image below as Kimmich is positioned deep near the two centre-backs. Dost and Sow put pressure on Alaba and Kimmich, Da Cost runs forward to mark Davies, Paciência waits for the ball into the centre and Rode makes a forward run to be near Thiago. Considering this, they effectively executed man-orientated pressing.
On the other side, they also sometimes sat back deeper in a 5-3-2 formation with the two wing-backs positioned at about the same height as the three centre-backs to create a back five. As already explained above in this analysis, the three central midfielders were positioned very narrow and they lured out the Bavarians what created space for them to hit them on the break.
These tactics paid off exactly as intended in the eighth minute as Coutinho lost the ball at the edge of the penalty box of Frankfurt. Then Hintereeger played a simple forward pass to Dost and with that pass took both Bayern defensive midfielders as well as the two full-backs out of the game. Dost played with his first touch a great pass to the free room on the left side where Paciência picked up the ball and went into the one-on-one versus Boateng. The German centre-back fouled his opponent slightly at the outside of the penalty box and considering this, the referee had to show him the red card. Even though Frankfurt didn’t convert this free-kick into a goal, this foul was the turning point of this game as we will see in the next paragraph.
Frankfurt dominate the following minutes
From this moment on, Bayern switched to a 4-4-1 formation. Pavard joined Alaba in the central defence while Kimmich was the right-back. Coutinho was positioned beside Thiago as the second central midfielder. Between the 16th minute and the end of the match, Bayern still had more possession (57.63%) than their opponents but weren’t able to get into dangerous areas. In these 74 minutes, Kovač’s men just had four shots while just two were on goal. On the other side, Frankfurt shot 10 times at Neuer.
After the red card, Frankfurt had an extremely strong period until about the 35th minute. They dominated the game while Bayern mainly sat deeper back in their 4-4-1 formation as you can see in the shot below.
Hinteregger, the central part of the back three, organised with Fernandes the build-up. In some situations, they were even supported by Rode who came a bit deeper. At least one of the two strikers positioned a bit deeper between the two banks of four of Bayern. This had the reason to have one more player in the central midfield to win the second ball. Because of this, they often played a long pass to the higher-positioned striker and the central midfielders and the second striker tried to win the second ball. The wing-backs positioned wide to stretch the opposition and provide passing options to the wide areas.
Besides, the two centre-backs Abraham and N’Dicka were positioned very high in some situations during the build-up. This can be seen in the image below as well as in the shot above. When these two positioned themselves higher, Fernandes and Rode or Sow positioned deeper as soon as they progressed the ball further up the pitch to have enough players in the back to defend counterattacks.
In the 25th and the 33rd minute, Frankfurt scored to make it 1-0 and 2-0 respectively. Their third goal of the match shortly after the break was a result of a similar pattern as we have seen it ahead of the 1-0. In both situations, Dost dropped deeper out of Bayern’s defensive block to get on the ball and played the ball out wide to Da Costa who then crossed the ball in the centre. In general, Hütter’s crossed often as always – during the whole game, they delivered 18 crosses. The 1-0, 3-1 as well as the 4-1, which was scored by Hinteregger after a corner, were all results of a cross. In the shots below, we can see the above-described movement of Dost who then played the ball to Da Costa who delivered a good cross. This pattern also was the same before the 3-1.
Rode and Sow also man-marked Coutinho and Thiago in the central midfield while Fernandes positioned himself deeper to occupy the central space in front of the back three and back five respectively. This meant that Bayern’s central midfielders had a very hard game and no time to breathe. In the shot below we can see how Sow marked Thiago and Rode followed Coutinho while Fernandes was positioned deeper to create a sort of a 3-1-4-2 formation.
Bayern’s only good 10 minutes
After the 2-0 in the 34th minute, we saw the only ten minutes in the game in which you had the feeling that Bayern would have a realistic chance to get a draw. As we already saw in this analysis, Bayern had a numerical disadvantage in the central midfield and so they were just barely able to get forward. Additionally, Coutinho once more had a poor performance, and the second central midfielder Thiago also wasn’t on his usual level. For example, the Spaniard had a pass success rate of 88% which for him is the worst value in this Bundesliga season so far.
In this period, Müller, Gnabry and Lewandowski often moved into the central areas to support the two central midfielders and provide them vertical or diagonal passing options.
However, when these three offensive players positioned deeper and more centrally respectively, they had a lack of players in dangerous areas further up the pitch. Considering this, it’s logical that the 2-1 was scored after an incredible feat of individual action by Lewandowski. Davies was able to run down the left wing with the ball at his feet and then found Lewandowski in the centre. The Pole dribbled past three players of Frankfurt and then scored in the one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper. Notice in the shot below how big Bayern’s numerical disadvantage is ahead of the goal. It is just Lewandowski, Gnabry, Müller, Davies, and Coutinho who are in the final third while Frankfurt have all players in their defensive third except Da Costa and the two strikers.
In this period between the 2-0 and the half time whistle, Bayern also scored another goal which was disallowed due to offside. However, the pass ahead of this goal was typical for Bayern in this match. They tried several times to play a diagonal through pass behind the last line of Frankfurt: either through the gap between N’Dicka and the wing-back Kostić, or through the space between the two centre-backs Hinteregger and N’Dicka. The situation ahead of the offside goal of Kimmich can be seen in the image below. It was just shortly before Lewandowski scored their goal.
It’s also worth mentioning that Frankfurt didn’t play that intense after their second goal and therefore Bayern had more space and time. However, in these 10 minutes, the Bavarians showed that they can hurt Hütter’s team even with 10 men.
The second half
As the second half began, we saw a similar game as it had been during the majority of the first half. Bayern had more of the ball but weren’t able to progress the ball due to the numerical disadvantage in the centre, and the high and aggressive pressing by Frankfurt. It seemed as Frankfurt wanted to make it 3-1 as fast as possible in the second half which is why they played once more with full intensity. Their man-orientated pressing can be seen in the example below. Da Costa pressed in at the left-back Davies who played a pass to Neur. However, Da Costa continued his run and put pressure on Bayern’s keeper. The two strikers marked the centre-backs while Kostić sprinted towards Kimmich and Sow marked Coutinho.
In the 57th minute, Kovač brought on Kingsley Coman for Coutinho, Müller took over the Brazilian’s position in the central midfield and Coman played on the wing. In the image below, we can see how hard it was for Müller and Thiago to get through the midfield since Frankfurt created a numerical advantage and were positioned very narrowly to one another. Due to that, Bayern had no space to get through the centre and were extremely harmless in the second half. Additionally, after the third and fourth goals of Frankfurt, no player in Bayern’s squad believed that they would be able to get a point so they played without that much contribution in the second half.
Whenever the Bavarians got dangerous in the second half, it was because of the pattern which was earlier described: the through pass behind Frankfurt’s last line of defence through a gap on the left side of Frankfurt’s defence. They used it again in the situation which is shown below. However, when Gnabry wanted to lay the ball off for Lewandowski, Abraham intercepted the pass.
After Hinteregger’s header to make it 4-1, after the 61st minute Bayern gave up and in the 85th minute, Paciência scored the 5th goal when Kovač’s players were already with their heads in the locker room.
It’s questionable how the game would have turned out had Boateng not received the red card so early in the game. However, the red card was especially a result of the weak defending of the counterattack which is typical for Bayern. Besides, Frankfurt played well and used crosses and their numerical advantage in the centre to win this match.
Before the game, Kovač already was being criticised, but after their highest loss in the Bundesliga for 10 years, the German press addressed heavy criticism on the Croatian coach. However, it was still a bit surprising that he would leave the club just one day after the loss. It will be interesting to see who will take over the current German champions. The assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick will meanwhile be the interim manager until they find a new head coach.
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