Bayer 04 Leverkusen – Eintracht Frankfurt: Leverkusen Demolish Frankfurt Thanks To Midfield Control And Finishing (6-1)

Bayer Leverkusen demonstrated their exciting possession game under coach Peter Bosz in a 6-1 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt. Leverkusen’s numbers tens Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz were able to dominate the game from the halfspaces against Frankfurt’s inadequate pressing, as Leverkusen stormed to an insurmountable lead early on. A change of system did little to help a despondent Frankfurt in the second half, as Leverkusen retained possession with relative ease to see the game out.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Peter Bosz’ Bayer Leverkusen hosted Frankfurt in a game that promised to have big implications on the race for top four in the German Bundesliga. They came into the match on the back of three wins in a row, and Bosz made just one change from last week’s 4-1 win over Augsburg. Lars Bender came into the side at right back, replacing Mitchell Weiser, in what was nominally a 4-3-3 formation, but would shift into a 3-2-4-1 shape in possession.

Alongside the chase for top four, Adi Hütter’s Frankfurt also have their Europa League semi-final against Chelsea to think about, which currently stands at 1-1 on aggregate. Hütter found himself having to rotate in this important game as a result, as demonstrated by star player Luka Jović being left out against Leverkusen and replaced up front by Ante Rebić, as Frankfurt lined up in a 5-4-1 formation.


Leverkusen midfield domination

As mentioned Leverkusen lined up in what was nominally a 4-3-3, at least without the ball. Bosz’ side were rarely seen in this shape though, as they dominated the game with over 80% possession throughout.

When they had the ball, Leverkusen’s structure shifted to a 3-2-4-1 shape. Lars Bender would push high up from his right back position while Kai Havertz drifted inside to the right halfspace. <i class=”fa fa-sort-desc” aria-hidden=”true”></i> <span class=”spoilerexplanation”>If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace.</span>Meanwhile on the other side, Wendell shuffled inside from left back to serve as a left center-back alongside Sven Bender and Jonathan Tah. This also meant that Kevin Volland hugged the left touchline and Julian Brandt occupied the left halfspace as a number ten alongside Havertz.

Leverkusen’s 3-2-4-1 formation against Frankfurt’s defensive 5-4-1 system.

Frankfurt meanwhile started their medium block <i class=”fa fa-sort-desc” aria-hidden=”true”></i> <span class=”spoilerexplanation”>A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half.</span> pressing from a base formation of 5-4-1, but this functionally became closer to a 5-2-3 in many situations as the wide midfielders pushed on, in order to apply pressure to the wide center-backs of Leverkusen.

This then left the two Frankfurt central midfielders with a lot of ground and passing options to try and cover, since the pressing of the three forwards was not at all able to close the passing lanes from Leverkusen’s center-backs to the the quartet of Brandt, Havertz, Julian Baumgartlinger and Charles Aránguiz.

The big problem for Frankfurt especially came from Leverkusen’s numbers tens Havertz and Brandt – most notably Brandt – dropping into deeper and wider positions alongside Frankfurt’s midfield two. Frankfurt’s wing-backs were pinned by Bender and Volland occupying the width for Leverkusen, meaning they could never step inside to provide help.

At the same time, Brandt and Havertz were dropping into areas that were realistically too far away from Frankfurt’s goal for Frankfurt’s wide center-backs to come out and close him down, even though they were – in theory – the ones responsible to defend against Havertz and Brandt, as neither the attackers, the wing-backs and the central midfielders could.

These factors led to a very one sided pattern of play, which lasted for the entire first half and contributed heavily to Leverkusen’s lead. It involved Brandt being able to drift into all these pockets of space on the left for Leverkusen with time on the ball to launch attacks.

At the same token, Leverkusen’s midfield was quite fluid. Although Aránguiz started alongside Baumgartlinger as a midfield double pivot, the Chilean player also made runs forward, into the center or left halfspace vacated by Brandt incidentally drifting wide. Aránguiz’ forward runs in this fashion contributed to two of the goals scored by Leverkusen, as they stormed to a gigantic 6-1 lead by half time, in large part thanks to how their midfield was able to dominate the ball and dismantle Frankfurt’s pressing. Even though Leverkusen were clearly the better side, a 6-1 lead was quite flattering considering the chances they created.

Frankfurt’s small adjustment, weak possession

After being annihilated completely, Frankfurt’s manager Hütter did not wait until half-time to try and change things. Late in the first half he brought on Mijat Gaćinović and Jović in place of Jetro Willems and Evan N’Dicka. These substitutes also saw Frankfurt’s defensive formation change from a 5-4-1 to a 5-2-1-2.

In reality, these changes did very little to resolve Frankfurt’s issues throughout the rest of the game. Even though they did not concede again after the changes, they were still dominated in pretty much every aspect, could rarely get off their own half and created a grand total of 0.08 expected goal <i class=”fa fa-sort-desc” aria-hidden=”true”></i> <span class=”spoilerexplanation”>The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take.</span> in the entire match.

The presence of a number ten slightly helped them to block the passes into Aránguiz and Baumgartlinger in central areas, but it did not help against the movement of Havertz and Brandt in the halfspace and wider areas where there was still plenty of space. That way, Leverkusen still had a way of progressing the ball every time.

It is hard to comment on Frankfurt’s possession game, and therefore Leverkusen’s defensive game, since Frankfurt they had such a low possession share. They very rarely built anything constructively, and mainly attempted direct passes and to play from the resulting second balls. It could be said that this was partly forced by Leverkusen’s high pressing in the brief moments of Frankfurt possession.

Leverkusen Brandt

Leverkusen’s passmap speaks volumes.


This result gives Leverkusen their fourth consecutive win and brings them level on points with Frankfurt. The key for Leverkusen is that Frankfurt have to play away at Bayern Munich on the final day of the season. Bosz and his team will be hoping that results fall in their favour should they win their own remaining two games, but considering their recent form and luck, exactly that might be happening.

We can choose to slander Frankfurt for a total offday here. Fact of the matter is that they are still a new kid on the block, in no way used to a deep run in a European cup while also competing for a Champions League spot in the domestic competition. The upcoming weeks will be crunch time, and there are huge fixtures coming up against Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Even if it all slips from Hütter’s fingers in the end, the Austrian manager has still done a stellar job in his first season at Frankfurt. A game like this might be the logical result of a club still getting used to playing on two fronts in early May.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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