DFB Pokal 2018/19 Tactical Preview: RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich
On Saturday, Bayern Munich will face RB Leipzig in the Olympiastadion of Berlin to play the DFB-Pokal final. Having won the cup already 18 times, the Bavarians will be motivated to add yet another one to their huge trophy collection. Leipzig, however, will play the biggest game of their club’s history, having the chance of winning their first major domestic title. As there will be only this single game, we can expect a great clash between these two teams. This tactical preview will use tactical analysis to explain possible approaches by both coaches.
Road to Berlin
Leipzig, who finished the Bundesliga in third place, had a rather tough path to the final. After a first-round win over Victoria Köln, they eliminated Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg. In the quarterfinal match away at Augsburg they had to go into overtime but, in the end, managed to win that game. Hamburg, who awaited them in the semi-finals, couldn’t stop Leipzig on their way to Berlin though.
Bayern’s road to the final wasn’t all that easy either, even though on paper their opponents weren’t impressive. On the pitch though, Bayern had to work hard. Already in the first and second round, Bayern had some problems with Drochtersen/Assel and Rödinghausen, winning those games 1-0 and 2-1. In the following rounds, a 3-2 win against Hertha Berlin after overtime was followed by a highly spectacular 5-4 win against Heidenheim. Ultimately, the semi-final battle against Bremen was once again quite intense, with Bayern winning 3-2 thanks to a late penalty.
In Bundesliga, these teams faced each other twice this season. Both games weren’t spectacular, but rather intense. The first game in Munich was decided by a late goal from Franck Ribéry. The Frenchman was substituted late into the game and was able to score after an assist by Renato Sanches, securing Bayern’s 1-0 win over their opponent.
In Leipzig two weeks ago on May 11, the game ended in a goalless draw. Leipzig had already secured third place so for them that game had no importance, while Bayern were fighting for the Bundesliga title, which they were able to win in the end.
In both encounters, Bayern played with the exact same formation, which was a 4-2-3-1. Leipzig used a 4-4-2 in both games, but with a different staggering in the more recent game, leading to a 4-3-1-2 like shape. Statistically, both games appear rather similar, with around 60% possession for Bayern, passing success rates at around 80% for Bayern and 70% for Leipzig, and total shots at around ten for both teams. The expected goals for the first game in Munich were 1.81 to 0.72 in favour of Bayern, and 1.72 to 0.61 pro-Bayern again for the second encounter.
With both previous games evolving rather similar, Niko Kovač will most likely stick to his approach. We can, therefore, expect a 4-2-3-1 by Bayern. Probably, there won’t be any surprise concerning how Niko Kovač will fill this system with life, as we can be pretty sure that he will start with the starting XI from the image below. Manuel Neuer started with training once again after recovering from a minor injury, but it would seem dangerous to play with him instead of Sven Ulreich, who does a rather solid job. The status of James Rodríguez still remains unclear. Theoretically, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben may also be an option to start the game with, but Kovač had success in the recent games playing those two legends from the bench. So he probably won’t change that.
It’s not entirely clear how Ralf Rangnick will set up his team though. While we can expect a 4-3-1-2 formation, there is also the possibility of Rangnick trying to trick Bayern and surprise them. Leipzig played a couple of games with a back three/back five recently, which also could be an option. In that case, Dayot Upamecano could play instead of Tyler Adams. This would provide more stability in the last line, but decrease the access in the midfield area.
Key tactical aspect – Bayern’s possession game
It’s likely that we will have a game where Bayern have more possession than their opponent. The question will be whether this possession game will be effective or not. This may be the most central element from a tactical point of view. In the Champions League against Liverpool, we saw how vulnerable Bayern can become when their possession is just unproductive. Leipzig will surely try to increase the pressure with their great press.
Here, we see such an example, where Bayern have the ball in their first build-up line. Bayern try to provide as many options as possible with a lot of players falling back. That’s why Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski are both circled in red. Instead of being present in the final third, both strikers (or half striker in the case of Müller), fall back. Leipzig press with six players and keep the centre tight. We see that both full-backs David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich are open. So the main pattern that occurs is that Bayern move the ball from one full-back to the other using the centre-backs. Due to Leipzig’s aggressive shifting to the wings, they are able to close that space immediately. Without presence up front, a long ball is also not an option for Bayern.
However, there were situations where Bayern would do it much better. Here, Leon Goretzka falls back to provide a passing option in the first line, creating a 3v2 against Leipzig strikers Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen. Now, it makes sense to fill the gap in the centre, as Goretzka is missing in the midfield position next to Thiago. Serge Gnabry occupies the half space perfectly, with David Alaba providing width. As Leipzig had shifted to the wing, it is now easily possible to outplay the high press. If Bayern are able to create a lot of situations like this one, this should increase their chances a lot more.
Since this appears to be the critical point of this game, the tendency that Rangnick will use a 4-3-1-2 is higher. He may surprise us, but having access to the centre and being able to prevent such situations appears to be too important.
Apart from that, Leipzig need to find a way of scoring themselves. In both previous encounters, they weren’t able to score.
Since Leipzig rely on their press, the possession game isn’t that important for them. When the centre-backs have the ball, we see that they try to overload the final third with their two strikers and the midfielders who join the attack. Long balls behind the opponent’s defensive line are something Leipzig use rather often. Occasionally, Bayern would also defend deep to prevent such, but they are also capable of defending high and pressing aggressively. The main aim of this press may not be winning the ball, but rather preventing that the opponent can play a long ball without any pressure. The fact that Niklas Süle is one of the fastest defenders in the Bundesliga helps Bayern of course, as he is able to stop Timo Werner. For Leipzig, it could make sense to try to find Emil Forsberg between the lines in order to be more dangerous. To do that, they need an improved possession game though, with the midfield three providing short passing options to the centre-backs.
Furthermore, it will be important for both teams to be awake in transition. Leipzig rely on situations where they win the ball and can attack rapidly in transition. As their possession game is not prioritised, the importance of this aspect grows. For Bayern, it will be important to defend transition situations and have a safety net if the ball is lost. Throughout the season, Bayern showed some weaknesses concerning this, but they also proved that they can do it better playing against top class teams when the concentration level is higher. Also, this point strongly correlates with the main tactical aspect that was pointed out. If Bayern are able to produce a strong and effective possession game, this should reduce possession losses to a minimum and limit counter-attacks by Leipzig.
This final between Leipzig and Bayern has a lot to offer from a tactical standpoint. It seems rather clear from our tactical analysis how Bayern will approach this game. They will use a 4-2-3-1 formation and try to establish their strong possession game. If they can do that and create good chances, they should be the favourites. Leipzig, on the other hand, will rely on their great pressing and transition game. Ralf Rangnick may surprise Bayern, but it seems as if a 4-3-1-2 formation could be the way to go. Leipzig are the underdog, but they also have a chance of winning this game. However the score might be, this will go down in history as their greatest club game so far. Therefore, the motivation level should be at its peak. Same goes for the Bavarian side, eager to win the domestic double.
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