Bayer 04 Leverkusen – Bayern Munich: Tale Of Two Halves Sees Leverkusen Beat Bayern (3-1)
After dominating the entire first half, Bayern Munich were thoroughly swept by Leverkusen after the interval. A beautiful set piece equalizer by Leon Bailey completely changed the game. As all the decisive moments in the second half went Leverkusen’s way, so did the end result.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
Despite winning their last seven Bundesliga matches, Bayern are still playing catch-up with league leaders Borussia Dortmund. Going into this match, the difference between the two was six points. With both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund playing a difficult away game, this Saturday afternoon had the potential to shake up the Bundesliga title race a bit.
Little over a year ago, the jostle between these two gigantic German clubs was a big concern for Peter Bosz as well, since he was Dortmund’s manager at the time. It is now 2019, however, and Bosz is figuring out how quick he can implement his vision at his new Bundesliga club, Bayer Leverkusen.
Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.
The starting eleven that got Bosz his first win – last week, against Wolfsburg – probably would not have been adjusted, if it was not for an injury to Leverkusen’s right back, Lars Bender. Mitchell Weiser filled in for him, as the other ten players remained unchanged. Wingers Karim Bellarabi and Leon Bailey switched flanks, which meant the more classic set up of a left-footed winger on the left and a right-footed winger on the right.
Changing a winning team was a trend for both managers, as Bayern’s manager Niko Kovač made some adjustments to the eleven household names that had made up his 4-2-3-1 formation in the last couple of weeks. Joshua Kimmich was moved back into midfield to form a double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. with Leon Goretzka, as Rafinha took his spot as right back. James Rodríguez – quite unexpectedly, since it was his first league start since November 3rd – was fielded as the number ten just behind Robert Lewandowski. An injury for Manuel Neuer meant Sven Ulreich was the goalkeeper between the Bavarian posts.
Opening minutes show how both teams create chances
Inside the first three minutes of the game, two tactical situations emerged that would occur time and time again in the match. Both of these ended up with a doubtful refereeing decision that easily could have gone either way.
In the very first minute, Leverkusen set out to press Bayern Munich’s buildup, which they would proceed to do time after time. Mats Hummels gave the ball away to Brandt, who expertly played it into striker Kevin Volland with his first touch. Volland immediately tried to shoot on target. His shot landed on the arm of Hummels, who attempted to block the shot with his feet. Apparently, both the referee and the video assistant referee independently judged that Hummels’ arm was in a natural position when he attempted to block Volland’s shot, which meant that Leverkusen did not get a penalty in the first minute.
Two minutes later, Leverkusen were attacking with nine of their ten outfield players more or less positioned in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. That means Leverkusen’s central defender Jonathan Tah is left isolated with Lewandowski around the halfway line. After gaining possession, Niklas Süle hoofed the ball in the direction of Lewandowski, who outmuscled Tah and would have been through on goal if it had not been for the referee whistling him off for a foul.
Very aggressive Leverkusen play into Bayern’s hands
After a very lively opening phase, the game was given some breathing room after ten minutes or so. Possession was evenly split between both teams in the first half hour, but Bayern had more opportunities and half-chances. Most of those arose from counterattacking situations or moments when Leverkusen failed to press.
Bayern often showed how easily Bosz’ man-oriented pressing can be exploited. When the opponent builds up, Bosz wants his wingers to press the central defenders. As soon as the opposing fullback gets played in, Leverkusen’s fullback is instructed to press him, while Leverkusen go man-for-man at the back. Bayern were clearly looking to play the ball into the channel between Leverkusen’s right back and right central defender, as Coman nominally wins the foot race, against about every defender on the planet. This passing preference also led to the opening goal of the match, which came in the 41th minute.
Situation just before the opening goal by Bayern. Notice how Leverkusen is almost man-for-man deep on opposition territory.
By now, we all know what Leverkusen do after the lose the ball right? They press in numbers. That meant that when Hummels had freed up the ball after a failed counterattack by Leverkusen, Bayern’s attackers were one-versus-one at the back.
Hummels’ beautiful outside-of-the-boot pass gave Coman another chance to demonstrate his exquisite pace, as he totally outran Tah, but the Frenchman could not make his shot count. The ball was kept in by Thomas Müller, who played a very precise lofty pass on the head of Goretzka, who could not miss.
Bayern could have been two up at half-time, as Lewandowski scored, but the video assist referee managed to point out that his knee had been offside for approximately five centimeters. Fine margins, once again.
Generally speaking, in the first half, Leverkusen’s approach in possession was very risky. Deliberately making the match an open affair is fun for the viewer and a good strategy if it yields chances. Leverkusen however had zero shot attempts on target in the entire first half, which begs questions about their hyper-offensive strategy.
Good to know Peter Bosz still fears absolutely nothing pic.twitter.com/zfNM4fI1Ua
— JM (@JMftbl) February 2, 2019
Leverkusen looks like another team after half-time
One of the wonderful aspects of the game of football is that it is a low-scoring sport. That means a team can pretty much dominate a half of football – like Bayern in the first half – and then somehow find themselves trailing in the second half because of two random moments that produce even more random goals. This happened to Bayern in the second half.
In the 51st minute, Bailey curled in a wonderful free-kick from twenty yards out, as Leverkusen’s first shot on target ended up in the back of the net. This kick-started Leverkusen back into the match, as they were able to penetrate Bayern’s penalty area more often. Twelve minutes later a seemingly harmless goal kick by Hrádecký set in motion a true ‘domino effect’ in Bayern’s midfield. Every player tried to step out and press the ball, effectively leaving space in behind for a Leverkusen player. Niklas Süle was the last of four Bayern players to do so and Kevin Volland could finish off a very fine piece of football. Leverkusen were leading after 63 minutes.
After going up, Leverkusen altered their pressing somewhat, but still played one-versus-one at the back at times. Once again, two key refereeing decisions went Leverkusen’s way in this phase. At two different moments, Bayern’s players could have gotten access to a completely overran Leverkusen defense, if it had not been for the whistle. On another day, with another referee, they might have played on, which once again shows how random the outcome of this game was.
Bayern fail to create when they have to
Since the introduction of Julian Baumgartlinger for Havertz – who came off injured just after half-time – Leverkusen were playing in a more 4-2-3-1 style formation, with Baumgartlinger playing as the most defensive midfielder, Aránguiz next to him and Brandt as a more offensive number ten. The difference between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 is nuanced and a lot of clubs in Europe’s top leagues play a sort of hybrid between the two formations, Bayern Munich being one of them.
After going down a goal, Kovač first waited and then brought on Serge Gnabry for Müller, Alphonso Davies for James and Renato Sanches for Rafinha. In what looked like an asymmetric 3-3-4 formation. Bayern’s play was very cross-oriented in this phase, a bit rushed maybe. They did not create anything from it, and ironically, were overran in counterattacking by Leverkusen, much like they had done to their opponents in the first half. In the 88th minute, the game was sealed off by a decent finish from substitute Lucas Alario.
Should Bayern Munich worry? Probably not too much. A top club always wants to control a match, but if the opponent plays as open as Leverkusen and deliberately makes the match an end-to-end affair, the aim is to have the better chances. If you succeed in that, in the long run, you will be off with three points more often than not. Kovač himself said as much in this interview. On the other hand, Leverkusen’s pressing is child’s play compared to Liverpool’s. If Bayern is going to hoof the ball away against Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressing machine, it might turn out to be a very long 180 minutes of Champions League football.
The dice have rolled Bosz’ way two times in a row now. If Lewandowki’s pulled his knee onside just before half-time, the score is 0-2 without Leverkusen even having had a single attempt on target. So Leverkusen were probably a bit lucky today, but they played a very good second half and reaped the rewards from it.
What stands out is that Bayer Leverkusen – which had been one of Bundesliga’s most exciting and characteristic clubs for the better part of this century – now seem back on track to create a team that fits their history.
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