Bundesliga 2019/20: Bayer Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich – tactical preview
Bayern Munich, the defending Bundesliga champions, travel to take on Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena in Leverkusen in one of the more tactically-intriguing matches this weekend in the Bundesliga. Bayern sit at the top of the table with a seven point lead over their closest rivals, Borussia Dortmund. While most expect Bayern to finish the season top of the Bundesliga, Leverkusen’s form in the second half of the season suggests that they are up for the task of slowing the Bavarian club down. When the clubs last met, Leverkusen defeated Bayern in the Allianz Arena by a score of 2-1. A couple important notes on that last matchup: Hansi Flick had only been at Bayern for about three and a half weeks at that point, and Kai Havertz was on the bench but did not play as he was recovering from a muscular injury.
This tactical analysis examines the potential tactics both Hansi Flick and Peter Bosz may use in their Bundesliga match. While Bayern Munich are certainly in some of the best form of their season, the analysis will show that Leverkusen can create opportunities for themselves as they look to secure a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Bayern’s balanced attack
Bayern Munich will continue to bring their balanced attack for the match on Saturday, making sure that they exploit all of their attacking opportunities. The first thing Bayern does in order to create those opportunities is they establish width on the pitch while also getting men in between the lines.
Against Düsseldorf, Bayern did this quite effectively, allowing them to create advantages all over the pitch. In the image above, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman are the men providing the width as Lucas Hernandez is in possession. Hernandez’s dribbling and Joshua Kimmich’s positional coverage had also allowed Alphonso Davies, who was operating in the half-space, to push forward. The combination of width and men in between lines will provide quite a challenge for Leverkusen, as Bayern is a team that sends a large amount of crosses into the penalty area, as they have both wingers and both full-backs consistently moving up the pitch to deliver them.
The width of Bayern’s attack forces defences to spread out more, which Bayern look to take advantage of by overloading the half-space. This width creates more room for those men in between the lines to receive a ball and progress it, causing lots of headaches for opponents.
An example of this overload can be seen in their match against Düsseldorf, but was also covered in detail in the tactical analysis of their match against Borussia Dortmund. Against Düsseldorf, Bayern continued to overload the half-space even when backing Düsseldorf into their own penalty area. As shown above, Bayern had created a numerical advantage in this space, allowing them to play into it at will. What also makes this so challenging is Bayern’s ability to rotate men in and out of the half-space. This drags defenders out of position and creates space for Bayern’s players to exploit. These sustained attacks can become incredibly overwhelming, and they often contribute to Bayern’s large scorelines by the end of the match.
While Bayern create room to operate in the half-space by positioning players on the touchlines, they also consistently shift their point of attack once they attract the attention of their opponent. This will be troublesome for Leverkusen because even if they can remain compact defensive, both horizontally and vertically, they also must maintain focus when Bayern goes to play long passes across multiple channels of play.
Against Hoffenheim, one of the best examples of this is shown above. Alaba attracted attention by dribbling from the centre of the pitch into the right half-space. As he did, the Hoffenheim defence shifted accordingly, following the large number of Bayern attackers who followed suit. Thomas Müller’s run towards the centre of the pitch drags his defender with him, opening up loads of room for Serge Gnabry to receive the ball. While Hoffenheim’s left-back was able to shift over and cover Gnabry, the problems come from the other Hoffenheim defenders, who were not able to pick up the rest of Bayern’s attackers, ultimately resulting in Bayern’s third goal of the afternoon after Gnabry crossed the ball in.
How Leverkusen could look to defend
Bayern are able to get into such a wonderful position where they can manipulate their opponents because of their exceptional build-up. While Bayern don’t do anything particularly noteworthy in their build-up, they are consistent in doing so successfully. This primarily comes from their willingness to always create a numerical superiority against any opponents who dare to apply a press that high up the pitch. Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often, but if teams do press, Bayern will (if necessary) make sure both of their pivot players are assisting with the build-up, and they’ll also drop their attacking midfielder if necessary. If you’re wondering why Leverkusen would press Bayern, the answer would be to look to disrupt their rhythm and avoid allowing them to establish their positional superiority. While Leverkusen are unlikely to press high up the pitch consistently, examining a successful example can be helpful.
When defending Bayern’s build-up, Hoffenheim was able to win possession a few times with their press, but the steps they took would definitely be considered a risk by most teams. First of all, they’ve committed six men to the press, meaning their back four are somewhat isolated and disconnected to the rest of the squad. This is the largest part of the risk involved, because if Bayern can play through, they can run at the back four with relative ease. What makes this press effective is that Hoffenheim have multiple players marking two of Bayern’s attackers. Their striker was able to mark Alaba with his cover shadow as he pressured Neuer and the right-winger was able to mark Davies and Müller with his cover shadow. This forced Neuer into a long pass that ultimately resulted in Bayern losing possession in a dangerous part of the pitch. If Leverkusen look to press, they’ll need to be brave, and they’ll need to be committed.
What Leverkusen will most likely do is allow Bayern to come forward without pressuring the Bavarians until they reach midfield. This will allow them to remain more compact and will hopefully force Bayern’s hand a bit more.
The team who did this most successfully against Bayern was RB Leipzig, who earned a 0-0 draw against Bayern in Munich back in February. Leipzig were successful in using an initial 5-2-3 defensive structure that would become a 5-4-1 defensive structure once Bayern had progressed past midfield. The last time Bayern and Leverkusen played, Leverkusen mostly set up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1. While they did secure the victory, Bayern’s attack has become more balanced, developed, and consistent. The two rows of four will be easily manipulated by Bayern’s willingness to get men between lines of pressure, causing decisional chaos amongst defenders. If Leverkusen look to line up this way again, it could be a long afternoon for them. Let’s look at how Leverkusen should adapt.
In the image above, Leipzig’s structure is incredibly compact, almost looking like a 5-1-4 with Konrad Laimer stepping in between his forwards to prevent passes into the centre of the pitch. While not in the image, Leipzig’s backline is quite high, which does invite aerial passes over the top of the defence. Daley Sinkgraven and Nadiem Amiri, who both started as wing-backs in Leverkusen’s last match, need to be aware of this and ready to defend those passes properly. While Bayern will inevitably get higher up the pitch, Leverkusen need to remain compact while also communicating effectively when Bayern quickly switch the point of attack, making sure they have each Bayern attacker accounted for as they shift over.
Leverkusen’s best chance at scoring
There are three different ways Leverkusen can look to score against Bayern, and the first comes from their defensive set-up that was just discussed. If they can force Bayern to try and play longer aerial passes that they can react to, Leverkusen will want to win it quickly and get up the field.
As Leipzig did here, Leverkusen can look to exploit Bayern’s willingness to commit men forward, especially their outside-backs. Above, Sabitzer latched onto a loose ball that was created by forcing an aerial pass from Kimmich. As soon as he was in possession, Christopher Nkunku began his run in behind. While Davies does have the speed to catch up to almost anyone in the Bundesliga, body positioning becomes important. Whoever is on the wing, whether it be Diaby or Bailey or someone else, they need to look to step into the path of Bayern’s outside-backs to prevent them from making a tackle.
While Leverkusen do like to maintain and enjoy their possession, their willingness to cede possession against Bayern previously suggests that they are likely to do the same again on Saturday. Off of goal kicks and other dead-ball scenarios, Leverkusen would do well to draw Bayern higher up the pitch in order to create space for themselves, similar to what Düsseldorf did against the Bavarians.
Here, Bayern, as they have consistently done under Hansi Flick, use their main-oriented press in order to force the ball long. Half of Bayern’s outfield players are around Düsseldorf’s penalty area. This allowed Düsseldorf to create a numerical overload in the centre circle. Düsseldorf’s keeper played an aerial pass to that space, and it was 3v2 overload in Düsseldorf’s favour. This allowed them to gain control of the ball quickly and attack Bayern’s backline. While unable to convert, Düsseldorf had multiple chances created from this plan. Leverkusen would likely look to attack Bayern’s centre-back that is David Alaba. This could be Javi Martinez, Jérôme Boateng, or Lucas Hernandez, all of whom are slower than Alaba. Against Düsseldorf, Alaba primarily played as the right centre-back, which allowed Davies to provide some cover for the slightly slower Hernandez.
Finally, Leverkusen, when in possession, could look to use Havertz in the right half-space to create chances. This will likely help attract the attention of both Alaba and Davies, while also allowing for Leverkusen to take advantage of whoever the right centre-back is. If Leverkusen can play balls into Havertz and have enough space to generate diagonal passes in behind, they’ll greatly increase their chances of scoring. Leverkusen would also do well to use Havertz as a distraction, having him attract the attention of the Bayern defenders in the half-space while completing a classic ‘up-back-through’ passing progression. If Leverkusen can get the ‘through’ pass to target the slower centre-back, they can create chances for themselves going forward.
Both Bayern and Leverkusen are in need of points, albeit for different reasons. Their matchup stands to be one of the most exciting matches at the weekend, especially with the rumours surrounding a potential transfer to Bayern by Kai Havertz. Leverkusen are likely to cede a lot of possession, but if they can take advantage of their opportunities like they did last time, this match should be an entertaining display of Bayern’s attacking prowess and Leverkusen’s defensive discipline and counter-attacking precision.
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