In our first ‘competitive’ taste of German football this season, it was once again Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup. Both sides were looking to make a statement regarding the Bundesliga, and while both sides certainly made a statement, it was Borussia Dortmund who made the positive one, with an impressive 2-0 victory. Bayern seemed to experience their familiar problems, while Lucien Favre’s flexible approach got the better of Niko Kovac and his team. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at Dortmund’s approach to the game, and also highlight Bayern’s problems, both defensively and offensively.
Dortmund lined up in a 4-4-2, with their priority being to remain compact off the ball and look to hurt Bayern in transition, a plan which worked very effectively. Marco Reus played a particularly important role in transitions from his role as a second striker, something which I will address later in this analysis. Bayern meanwhile lined up in a 4-3-3 and looked to dominate possession and utilise it.
As I’ve mentioned Dortmund’s focus was on compactness out of possession, and their flexible 4-4-2 played a big part in their effective game plan. Bayern struggled massively to receive the ball between Dortmund’s lines mainly thanks to the vertical compactness of the two lines. We see here Robert Lewandowski makes a run to receive the ball, but there is no space between the lines, and so with no other alternative with Goretzka not making a run to receive the ball in a larger space, Bayern are forced back and start another attack.
But in order to be this vertically compact, the team has to be in a deep starting position. So, in phases of play when the team didn’t want to drop deep and concede space to Bayern, space between the defence and midfield opened up. However as we can see below, the centre backs are unable to pick out the players within this space, as they are pressed relentlessly in a 2v2 with Dortmund’s strikers. While pressing the centre backs the strikers also look to cover the central midfield players behind them, who did very little to try and escape the strikers cover shadows.
An integral part of any midfield block is a degree of flexibility. Teams looking to break the block down are likely to position their full-backs high and wide, in order to stretch the midfield. Therefore in quick switches of play, the lateral movement of the wide players is vital in order to ensure the block remains narrow and compact. In this quick switch below, Sancho is forced to quickly recover into a narrow position after the ball is played from a wide area, and thanks to his pace does so successfully. All of these situations identified highlight the quality and organisation of Dortmund’s defensive performance. On the odd occasions Dortmund became disorganised, Bayern got into good positions, but their finishing and decision making in key moments of the game let them down.
Moments of transition ultimately decided the game, with Dortmund taking advantage of Bayern’s poor defensive transitions twice for their two goals.
Defensive transitions, in essence, are about either counter-pressing the opposition to cut out the threat or reducing space and falling back into a compact shape. In the example below, Bayern do neither, with Kingsley Coman leaving a large space for Sancho to receive the ball in, and no tight counter-press from the midfielders in front of Witsel.
We can see this loose counter-press again from Bayern, with two players in close proximity to the ball, but neither blocking the pass to Reus. Thiago also makes the decision to run back to try and keep up with Reus, where a more effective run would be to run diagonally to block the passing lane. This split-second reaction to counter-press rather than retreat is something which needs to be coached often, and Thiago seems to be struggling to grasp his role as a defensive midfielder out of possession. Reus’ ability to drop into these spaces (often behind Thiago) to start transitions was a big part of this game and also hindered Thiago’s offensive play as we will move onto.
Bayern’s offensive movement prevented them from being able to create many clear cut chances through their own build-up. They became over-reliant on crosses into the area, something Dortmund defended well, and also on the role of Thiago, who didn’t have his finest game.
We see below with Lewandowski and the wide player making their runs too early and into spaces where Kimmich cannot pass into, Kimich is forced centrally. Here, Thiago should step up into the space in order to act as an actual pivot for the side. If he does step up, they have two players between the lines and a third man in Goretzka who could also make a run. Thiago instead decided to remain with Reus rather than try to lose him, something I can only think would have been a defensive strategy to try and limit Dortmund’s effectiveness from defensive transitions.
Thiago’s fear of stepping forward to leave Reus was somewhat justified, but only because of Bayern’s poor build-up and transition defence. Dortmund’s second goal was a prime example of this as we can see below, with Thiago playing a pass and stepping forward to receive again. But his initial pass is inaccurate, and so Dortmund get the ball back.
Bayern then try to counter-press, but without Thiago acting as the most defensive midfielder, Dortmund bypass it with a long ball and have acres of space to transition into, which ultimately ends with Sancho scoring. We can see below the Bayern counter-press left behind while Sancho runs at the Bayern defence.
We can see poorer offensive movement in this example below, with Kingsley Coman again forced to dribble down the line rather than pick a pass. No players offer themselves to receive the ball, with Lewandowski unwilling to move closer to Coman to receive. Leon Goretzka also doesn’t help Coman, where he could have come short and either played a 1-2 pass with Coman or spread play and could also have made a run into the space between the lines to receive the ball or to at least create some space for a teammate.
When we compare this to a pretty similar situation in Dortmund’s favour, we can see a clear contrast. Julian Weigl plays the role of Goretzka, but here he offers himself for a wall pass with Sancho. Marco Reus also makes a movement closer to Sancho, which was helped by him being the second striker and so having a freer reign as to where he can move, Alcácer can still be the focal point of the side.
Bayern’s familiar build-up problems came to fruition again, and Dortmund executed their tactics perfectly to pick up their first piece of silverware this season. Niko Kovac lamented “two mistakes” which cost them the game, which is somewhat true however Bayern’s build-up was far from impressive, and the chances Bayern wasted often came from Dortmund’s mistakes rather than from creative play. Bayern shouldn’t be too disheartened particularly after managing 3.07 xG to Dortmund’s 1.09, but there is certainly work to do, and possibly signings to be made in order for Bayern to retain the Bundesliga title.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the July issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.