Bundesliga 2020/21: Bayern Munich vs Hertha BSC – tactical analysis
In a game that was the pick of the bunch in the Bundesliga this weekend, Bayern Munich managed to just about fend off Hertha BSC in a thrilling 4-3 game. The visitors refused to give up, managing to claw their way back level on two occasions, and when Jessic Ngakam scored in the 88th minute to make the scoreline 3-3, they would have assumed they’d managed to get a brilliant point away from home. However, Maximilian Mittelsdatdt’s lack of discipline in the final moments of the game gifted Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski a fourth goal, as well as all three points, much to the frustration of Bruno Labbadia. After beating Borussia Dortmund late on in the Super Cup on Wednesday, Bayern will hope this tight win on top of Wednesday’s will help them turn a page after last weekend’s disaster class against Hoffenheim.
After a less than convincing defensive performance against Hoffenheim last weekend, Bayern pushed Alphonso Davies forward into a left wing position, placing Lucas Hernandez behind him in the left-back position. Whilst on the other flank, American Chris Richards got his first start at right-back following a seriously substandard performance from Pavard the week before as well.
Unsurprisingly, Hertha were built to hurt Bayern on the counter-attack. Jhon Córdoba is an excellent target man who also has pace to hurt his opponent on the counter-attack, and he was supported by the trio of Matheus Cunha, Dodi Lukebakia, and Dayovaisio Zeefuik.
Regardless of everything that occurred tactically throughout the game, the big difference between the two sides was a man who is the best centre-forward in the world (and it isn’t even slightly close): Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski scored all four on the day, and frankly should have had five.
His second goal of the game truly highlighted his finishing ability, as he showed the composure to take a touch away from goal when he received a cross from the right flank, bringing himself to the edge of the box. Such was the unorthodoxy of the touch, that it took him far away enough from his marker, giving him space in this position. Where most strikers would have taken a second touch to orientate their body positioning towards goal, Lewandowski struck the ball on his second touch, hitting it on the turn and catching Hertha’s goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow off guard.
It was an incredible finish, and had anyone else scored it, it would have been heralded as such, but due to its scorer, it was seen as just another goal.
Lewandowski is constantly switched on in and around the box, as this goal testifies. It’s a quality seen in the almost equally as impressive Erling Haaland, where you can see them working out the likelihood of a ball ending up in a certain area, and timing their run to hit that exact spot.
Lewandowski’s first goal of the game showed this aspect of his game as well. After a glancing header towards the back post was tipped away by Schwolow, rather than rueing his miss, Lewandowski immediately arched his run, in order to meet the pass back across goal, and dispatch a simple tap-in from two yards out.
How Bayern targeted the full-back and the half-space
Bayern enjoyed 67.3% of possession, a statistic which was not unexpected pre-kick-off, and with such a large amount of possession against a team looking to counter, it can be difficult to break down the low block you will nearly always face.
The opposition will generally look to block the central channel and as we can see by looking at the graphic detailing Bayern’s positional attacks over the course of the game, that whilst they had 15 attacks stem through this area of the pitch, it led to an xG of zero.
Bayern often find themselves having to penetrate teams from the wings, and this game was no different. With Davies being played in a left wing position, and not having to focus as much on his defensive work as a result, Bayern always had this option on that flank. Due to Davies’ electric pace and dribbling ability, there really isn’t a great deal of tactical work that needs to be done to attack teams down this flank. Get Davies in possession, and there’s a good chance he will get behind his full-back. Whilst he wasn’t prolific in this throughout the game, he did it enough whereby Hertha always had to be ready to double up on Davies when he received and not allow him to isolate the full-back. Zeefuik worked well to drop back immediately and provide cover for his right-back.
If we look at Bayern’s pass map below, we can see the bulk of their passes coming between Jerome Boateng, Richards (and later Pavard), and Serge Gnabry.
Given this information, it is unsurprising that Bayern’s best chances came from this side, as they constantly looked to drag Mittelstadt away from the rest of his defence and attack the space behind. In the first half, Mittelstadt remained very close and tucked inside, as Lukebakio dropped all the way back essentially playing as a wing-back in the defensive phase. Nevertheless, Bayern still looked to drag Lukebakio away and hit the space in behind.
Thomas Müller (or Gnabry should Richards have pushed up far down the right-flank) would take up position in the half-space, catching the attention of both Mittelstadt and Lukebakio. He would then move away from goal to receive the pass, and in turn draw Lukebakio out with him, leaving space for either Gnabry or Richards on the right wing to receive in, as we can see in the image below.
Generally, Bayern wanted Richards to push up high, as much to commit an extra player to the attack and allow Bayern to crowd the central area with their forwards and force Hertha’s back line to stay very compact, leaving space on the flanks.
Again, in the example below, we can see that Lukebakio has tucked back, but due to the width and height provided by Richards on the right flank, Gnabry is able to take out Lukebakio with a forward pass, and release Richards. It was from this attack that Richards was able to pick out Lewandowski for Bayern’s second of the game.
Lukebakio wasn’t able to consistently provide the protection Mittelstadt needed, however, and Bayern were able to manipulate the left-back’s positioning with the use of players in the half-space and the overlapping right-back, to constantly create 2 v 1s.
Below, thanks to having two players operating in the half-space, Mittelstadt isn’t able to pick up either, and Joshua Kimmich is able to break Hertha’s midfield line and play directly into the half-space. Immediately the receiver now has two options either side of him as Mittelstadt moves away from his centre-back to press the new ball-carrier.
By overloading on the left-back, Bayern were able to bring Mittelstadt away from his back line and then exploit the space behind him. Below we can see how Mittelstadt is only looking at Müller, who is in the half-space, unaware of Gnabry running in behind. Müller knows he is being used as a decoy, and this creates the opportunity for Kimmich to play Gnabry into the space behind the left-back.
Hertha’s defence was all too easily pulled around the pitch, and any space forfeited by them was immediately pounced upon by the hosts. The likes of Gnabry and Müller are so good at drawing a double team towards them and working as a decoy to release a teammate into space. Below we can see Ganbry making a run from the half-space into the 18-yard-box, taking both Mittelstadt and Lukebakio with him, and in turn creating room for Richards to overlap and receive on the right flank.
Where this is most dangerous, however, is when Lewandowski plays in the half-space, and should the likes of Gnabry or Müller draw players towards them, he will find space behind the defence. Below we can see how Gnabry was able to draw the attention of four Hertha defenders before picking out Goretzka with a cross into the box. Lewandowski started from the half-space outside the area and drifted into the box unmarked to receive a simple knockdown from Goretzka, and he should have made it 1-0 from this opportunity.
How Hertha exploited a shaky Bayern defence
Over the last two league games, Bayern have conceded seven goals. For any side that would be concerning, but it is alarming when you consider that Bayern conceded a total of 32 goals in the entirety of last season’s campaign.
Flick was ruthless with his selection this week, pushing Davies out of defence, but keeping in the side, such is his impact in possession, whilst dropping Pavard.
Boateng was being written off a year ago only to have an outstanding 2019/20 campaign, however, his form has dipped significantly in the first few games of the season this time around.
A glance at the numbers from the first half and it would appear it was the second half where Bayern’s defence began to unravel. With the score at 1-0 at half-time, Bayern had a clean sheet and had restricted Hertha to only taking shots from outside the 18-yard-box. But in truth, this was down to some poor decision-making on Hertha’s players’ behalf.
In possession, Bayern often look to camp their defenders well inside the opposition half and put a stranglehold on teams’ with their possession, as any opposition clearances fall to these defenders and the ball is recycled into Bayern’s playmakers immediately.
This was no different in this game, but it was surprising to see Bayern’s naivety when it came to dealing with Hertha’s plans to counter-attack. The four of Lukebakio, Córdoba, Zeefuik, and Cunha, as mentioned earlier, are so fast and direct, that any situation where they could create an overload, or even numbers such as a 2 v 2, with space to attack, would be ideal.
In the ninth minute, they managed to do exactly this where Córdoba and Lukebakio managed to create a 2 v 1 as the centre-forward knocked the ball down for Lukebakio who accelerated past the Bayern defenders.
Yet rather than sliding Córdoba back in, he opted to take the shot from outside the area, wasting the fast-break opportunity. The image below shows what an incredibly good chance this was so early in the game.
This wasn’t an anomaly either. Minutes later, Córdoba had the opportunity to do what Lukebakio didn’t, and find an open teammate, as he had drawn two Bayern defenders towards him. However, just like his left-winger, he opted for the shot from distance, which amounted to nothing.
There was all-round sloppiness as well, which again went unpunished. Kimmich’s pass across goal when under pressure was cut out by Cunha, but not capitalised upon. With more possession and against a side with quick attackers, there is always going to be the potential for mistakes like the one below, however, for anyone who has seen this Bayern side play regularly, will know how uncharacteristic all of these cumulative errors are, and Bayern were fortunate to get the result.
The chances didn’t just come on the break though. Bayern’s defence allowed Hertha to play far too easily through the central channel. For Hertha’s second goal, Matheus Cunha was able to dribble inside from the left flank, before squeezing a pass to create a one-two with Krzysztof Piątek. Regardless of Cunha’s dribble, Piątek’s ability to sit on the shoulder of his defender in space and play the simple pass behind the Bayern defence should concern Flick and the Bayern coaching staff.
While Bayern will no doubt be pleased to get back to winning ways in the league, this result was far closer than many would have expected, regardless of Hertha’s good summer recruitment and the way Labbadia has them playing. Against a more ruthless attacking side, there is every chance Bayern would have lost this game with the mistakes they made at the back, and how easily they allowed Hertha to play through them at times.
Nevertheless, they pulled through, and it’s important they can get through this rocky early start as unscathed as possible. However, it’s much easier to achieve this goal when you have a truly world-class talent in Lewandowski leading the attack.