DFB Pokal Final 2020: Bayer Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich- tactical analysis
The DFB Pokal Final threw up an interesting fixture this year with Bayer Leverkusen taking on the Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Bayern were coming into the game off the back of another title win, while Leverkusen came into the game fresh from a disappointing final day where their qualification to the Europa League, not the Champions League, was confirmed. Bayern came out 4-2 winners in the last fixture between the sides, and history repeated itself as Bayern secured another 4-2 win, albeit with the game being a vastly different one. Bayern were at their usual controlling best, manipulating Leverkusen’s structure with their movement and positional play, while Leverkusen did try to find weaknesses in Bayern’s game, but ultimately couldn’t do it consistently enough to get a result. This tactical analysis will focus mainly on how Bayern’s press interacted with Leverkusen’s attempted overloads in the build-up, as well as looking at how Bayern’s positional was complemented by their dynamic space occupation.
Both sides went with relatively predictable starting elevens, with both sides using a 4-2-3-1. Bayern Munich lined up with the double pivot of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, with the ever-present Thomas Müller ahead just behind Robert Lewandowski. Leverkusen meanwhile used Julian Baumgartlinger and Charles Aránguiz in central midfield. Both sides started with a base of a 4-2-3-1, but as we’ll discuss throughout this analysis, flexibility is allowed within this formation.
Bayern’s flexible press
The nature of a 4-2-3-1 press means that the pressing side can take up a range of structures throughout a game depending on the location of the ball and movements of the opposition, and Bayern’s pressing is an excellent showcase of this. Throughout a game, they can fluctuate between a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, 4-1-4-1, and 4-4-2, with each slight alteration having a different effect on the opposition’s ability to build.
Bayern pressed high throughout the game, and when the two centre-backs are able to be pressed directly from the front, Bayern will usually adopt an initial 4-4-2 structure. Thomas Müller, who operates behind Robert Lewandowski in possession, will jump up to create a two-man first line, allowing for the centre-backs to be pressed easily. Against a back four then, the wingers can match up against the full-backs, and the central midfielders will look to mark the opposition midfielders. We can see this structure being used here early in the game, with Joshua Kimmich sat slightly deeper to deal with the threat of a dropping forward.
This 4-4-2 structure can temporarily become a 4-3-3 depending on the height of the full-back, and when Bayern do commit higher their back line goes with them to ensure vertical compactness. Alphonso Davies was very keen to move forward to press, which in part was down to Leverkusen’s build-up which we’ll discuss.
We can see this well here again, with Bayern’s line extremely high as always. Kingsley Coman was drawn in to press a centre-back due to some disorganisation, and so the full-back was left free. Due to the flexibility of the system, Alphonso Davies is able to push high to press this full-back while Kimmich is able to just cover in behind. Müller ends up acting as a central midfielder temporarily, Davies acts as a left-winger and Kimmich fills in at left-back in order to coordinate their press more effectively.
We’ll now look at the dynamic between Leverkusen’s build-up and Bayern’s press.
Leverkusen can’t quite utilise their overloads
Since the restart, most sides have identified that the way through Bayern is through the creation of overloads around their central midfielders. Both Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach looked to create overloads on the central midfielders, with the aim of creating a decisional crisis for the player, which ultimately leads to space being conceded for at least one player. Gladbach lined up in their 4-2-3-1 against Bayern and had some success, and so it looked as though Bayer Leverkusen would look to replicate this in their own system.
We can see Gladbach’s method outlined here. Lars Stindl caused Bayern 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. If the ball is worked wide from outside to in, it becomes much easier to access this overload.
Leverkusen did indeed look to create this overload, but in my opinion, didn’t do this consistently enough or with the quality needed to cause Bayern real problems. Here’s a good example of this, with Kai Havertz dropping into a wide area close to the central midfielder in an effort to receive. This creates a 3 v 2 in the central midfield area, with Julian Baumgartlinger staying much deeper to avoid being pressed immediately by either of the Bayern midfielders. Goretzka is occupied by Havertz and Kimmich is occupied by Aránguiz, and so neither player can move out to press Baumgartlinger. Baumgartlinger, therefore, receives the pass but is too slow to progress the ball, ultimately firing an inaccurate pass at an onrushing Kimmich, who collects the ball and helps set up a goal for Bayern.
In this example, Leverkusen have the right idea, but the execution is just slightly off, which is enough for Bayern to cancel out the overload. Again, Baumgartlinger drops deep in an attempt to force a central midfielder to stay or go. Aránguiz is left higher, and Kimmich presses while cutting the lane into the Chilean, while we can see a Leverkusen player (Amiri) is moving from a higher area to a deeper one, moving from the blindside of the central midfielder. The aim is then for Baumgartlinger to play into the dropping Amiri, who then finds the free man Aránguiz. However, we can see in the image that Baumgartlinger is already turned, and Amiri is not yet past his player. Baumgartlinger is under pressure, and so this pass cannot be delayed to wait for Amiri, and so the chance goes. A combination of Bayern’s good pressing and a slightly mistimed movement is what prevents the overload from being utilised here.
As the game went on though, Leverkusen’s repetitions of this overload slowly dwindled, and they began to build in a shape like this. This is a more conventional 4-2-3-1 build-up, but it is very easy for Bayern to press due to the flatness or lack of staggering in the structure. No player drops deeper to draw a press from a central midfielder, and a forward doesn’t drop either to create an overload. Leverkusen began to rely more on longer passes and more direct play to penetrate Bayern.
The shape of this Bayern press here makes it extremely difficult to create and utilise the overload, as Müller here is able to keep one of the Leverkusen double pivots in his cover shadow. This means despite Havertz dropping, Bayern can still maintain a 3 v 3 in midfield, as Goretzka is free to apply pressure to Havertz. The ball is threaded through to Havertz, and Serge Gnabry is able to adapt quickly and tucks in to cover the now available Leverkusen midfielder. Havertz can be pressured from behind by Bayern’s high line, and then as a result Leverkusen’s passing options and space have been restricted.
Here is that previously mentioned overload from the wide area, with the full-back in possession and being pressed by the winger. The pivot comes across to receive, and Goretzka stays to prevent the player from receiving, while Havertz here drops deeper into the space between the lines, and creates an overload and decisional crisis for Goretzka. If he moves higher he concedes space deeper, and vice versa, and so Leverkusen are able to access Havertz, who switches play and creates a dangerous attack for Leverkusen. Because this example is at a wide-angle, both passing lanes can be accessed, which makes this kind of overload is very effective.
One excellent way Leverkusen were able to find some success was through engaging Bayern to press, before then accessing the space between their lines. In this example here, Tapsoba beats Müller with some skill, and dribbles to engage the second line and attract pressure. Leon Goretzka steps out and is engaged by Tapsoba and Aránguiz drops deep again to increase the pressing distance between him and his marker. As a result, both of Bayern’s central midfielders are drawn high, but there is no real pressure on the ball, meaning the players between the lines can be accessed easily.
This can be replicated through the use of a back three, as wide centre-backs will often trigger the second line to engage, and so part of me does question why Leverkusen didn’t utilise a back three, as this is something they have done throughout the season.
In a similar example here, a central pass triggers Bayern’s central midfielders to jump to press. The Leverkusen player receives the ball, and then quickly plays back into his centre-backs.
Again, because that second line has been engaged, Goretzka is left in a higher position and Kimmich is alone. With a missing link in that second line, Bayern’s horizontal compactness suffers and Leverkusen are able to break the press and progress play.
Bayern’s dynamic use of space and positional play
Pretty much every Bayern analysis I have done has included a positional play section, and although this article also does, Bayern seemed to adjust slightly to become even more effective than usual. Bayern seemed much more dynamic in their use of space, with third-man combinations happening often, and players arriving into space rather than awaiting passes, which allowed them to enter areas unmarked. This aspect of Bayern’s play was excellent, but Leverkusen’s defending in the first half was pretty poor. Their strikers were largely redundant in their 4-4-2 structure, and they didn’t seem to have much of a defensive role other than apply some lax pressure on the centre-backs, and this meant that Bayern were always going to find ways of creating overloads.
As we see often from Bayern, their offensive structure was underpinned by a back three for most parts of the game, with Kimmich often dropping in as a centre-back to allow the wide centre-backs to engage the press.
In a similar example to Leverkusen, here Bayern engage a press in order to exploit space in behind. Goretzka here drops deep and receives, triggering a press from the Leverkusen central midfielder. Bayern here use Pavard as an inverted full-back, with the Frenchman inside the half-space while the winger provides the width. Goretzka plays the ball wide.
Because the Leverkusen central midfielder committed to the press, Pavard now has space to run into, and so this pass wide triggers him to move into the space, and he arrives into a higher area to receive. He moves from a deeper area and off the shoulder off his man, meaning he is free in the half-space. Not only is he is allowing himself more time to receive, but because he is arriving onto the ball, his body orientation is improved and he can lay forward immediately.
This dynamic space occupation and third-man concept are what made the first goal also. Leverkusen’s structure again is poor and no pressure is applied on the ball before the second line, and so with no real intent, Bayern are able to engage the second line immediately. Joshua Kimmich is covered and so cannot be accessed, but Müller is available to receive in the half-space. As a result, Müller can receive and because of the body orientation in the half-space, can immediately play to Kimmich who is moving forward. Kimmich arrives onto the ball, plays into Lewandowski immediately, and Lewandowski is fouled. Alaba scores from the free-kick.
Here, Bayern again engage a Leverkusen midfielder, before then playing a penetrative pass through. Rather than have a player await to receive the second pass, Gnabry moves while the pass is travelling to the first player. This means Leverksuen cannot cover this area when he arrives, and so Gnabry is able to pull off at an angle to receive, before then progressing the ball in a way that the player with his back to goal could not.
Here Gnabry is covered by Bailey, and so he makes a simple basketball-like backdoor cutting movement to receive the pass. The pass and movement are timed to perfection, as neither player has to wait for one another, which would allow the opposition a chance to adjust. Pavard here moves higher while Gnabry is positioned deeper.
In this final example, we see Coman is able to pin an opposition player in the half-space, helping to open up a more central passing lane directly into the strikers. Notice how in all of these examples the rotations that occur. Rotations occur around the personnel, but the roles that need to be filled remain the same. The half-space is always occupied, width is always provided, and height is provided. It doesn’t matter who fills each role, just so long as each role is fulfilled.
Bayern Munich are an extremely good side, and it is difficult to see how any team stops them next year in the Bundesliga. They are without doubt one of the top three sides in Europe this season, and will certainly be one of the favourites for the Champions League when it resumes. This cup win topped off an excellent season for Hansi Flick. Leverkusen meanwhile fell short to an impressive side, but their performance was not of their usual standards, with their defensive tactics and structure being sloppy and their offensive work lacking some of its usual precision. All in all, another deserved win for Flick’s Bayern.