Bayer Leverkusen – Bayern Munich: First Half Explosion Blows Leverkusen Away (1-5)

A topspiel with a heavy favorite ended with a more lopsided scoreline than predicted as Bayern Munich pummeled Gerardo Seoane’s Bayer Leverkusen at home. The hosts fielded a lineup that was far too open and made too many mental mistakes, which simply cannot be allowed against an offense as potent as that of Julian Nagelsmann’s Bavarians.

Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.

Championship narratives in the Bundesliga can be hard to construct given the strength of Bayern Munich and the weaknesses of the other contenders. Borussia Dortmund is defensively suspect; RB Leipzig is in the midst of a transition and Borussia Mönchengladbach is threatening to re-enter mediocrity after a brief uptick in form under Marco Rose. Meanwhile, Bayern marches on unopposed, threatening to capture a record-breaking tenth consecutive Bundesliga title.

While the Bavarians will likely be the ones to win it all, Oliver Glasner’s plucky (and fortunate) Eintracht Frankfurt have shown that it needn’t be smooth sailing for Nagelsmann’s team. That kind of result is precisely what Gerardo Seoane attempted to achieve when the BayArena saw Leverkusen host Bayern Munich. Built on clear principles of play and fueled by the youth of its personnel, Leverkusen have been entertaining to watch and enormously fortunate to be in the position they’re in. This is a side that is not yet battle tested at the highest level, though the lineup certainly offered intrigue going into this game.

Talismanic goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký was protected by the defensive line of Mitchel Bakker, Jonathan Tah, Odilon Kossonou and Jeremie Frimpong. With Exequiel Palacios injured, Kerem Demirbay has been the one partnering Charles Aránguiz in the double pivot. Patrik Schick leads the line for this team, supported by the explosive offensive trio of Moussa Diaby, Karim Bellarabi and the effervescent Florian Wirtz.

On the other hand, Bayern’s lineup was entirely predictable. Julian Nagelsmann picked Niklas Süle in place of Benjamin Pavard, with the German joining the usual crew of Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernández and Alphonso Davies in defense. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka made up the double pivot, with Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry picked as the wingers. Thomas Müller was deployed as the attacking midfielder, supporting the lethal Robert Lewandowski up front.

Chaotic opening establishes Bayern domination

The opening ten minutes were a bit chaotic as both sides tried to claim possession and calm their nerves. Leverkusen’s lineup was a surprise, as they went with an offensive minded double pivot of Amiri and Demirbay. In a way, it was brave since Leverkusen’s attacking quartet could count on good service from deeper zones. However, there was also the possibility of the pivot being unable to put in the necessary defensive work, which is ultimately what transpired.

While the opening period was scrappy, it made Bayern’s plan off the ball quite clear as they looked to press Leverkusen from the start. On goal kicks, Bayern used something of a 4-1-3-2 shape, with Müller and Lewandowski pressing the center-backs and Goretzka pushing into the attacking midfield position. Given Bayern’s high line, Davies immediately covered Diaby, while Süle moved to cover Paulinho. The Leverkusen double pivot was pressured by the midfield line, which forced a lot of back passes from Demirbay. The wingers cut off the fullbacks’ options and isolated them if they received the pass, which led to Leverkusen going long to Schick and Wirtz.

Bayern also showed their 4-4-2 pressing shape, with the wingers dropping alongside the double pivot and moving to press the fullbacks where the pass was made to them. Again, the idea was to prevent Leverkusen from playing the ball inside, and Bayern were successful in that respect. This resulted in a scrappy opening period, but Bayern had already taken the lead through a clever flick by Lewandowski.

Dynamic rotations, optimal results

When Bayern were in possession, their buildup game utilized the typical dynamic movement that we associate with the Bavarians. They used a 3-1 structure with Kimmich ahead of the defensive line, with Davies in an advanced position on the left and Süle tucking in as the center-back. Most importantly, Bayern ensured that three players were always present behind the Leverkusen double pivot, with Sané, Goretzka and Müller usually occupying the space in front of the defense.

The set-up that Bayern used to dominate Leverkusen in the first half.

With Leverkusen pushing up 5-6 players to press, there were several instances when Gnabry dropped to receive in space and progress the play. If Leverkusen left back Bakker followed him, he could lay off the ball to one of the central players and continue his run inside, since Müller would dart outside behind Bakker to fix the hosts’ defensive line. If Bayern were deeper and Leverkusen had more numbers, Gnabry and Sané remained wide with Goretzka and Müller dropping to support Kimmich. Bayern’s rapid ball circulation ensured that the free man was accessed quickly enough to enable him to progress the play, with Leverkusen either overcommitting players or getting outrun during these sequences.

With their usual instinctive play, dynamic positional occupation (with emphasis on the central occupation) and pace, Bayern raced out to a five-goal lead before halftime.

They were superior to Leverkusen in buildup and in front of goal, but the clear difference was in the defensive organization where the hosts either overcommitted or made mental errors allowing Bayern to get free. There were sequences where Leverkusen players either lost concentration during their pressing or simply failed to cover players like Kimmich and Müller, which naturally led to bad outcomes. Something had to be done by Seoane to stop the bleeding, and changes followed in the second half.

Damage prevention for Leverkusen

At 5-0 down, the hosts wanted only to stop more carnage, while the visitors were looking to run out the clock and load manage their players. With Davies already out due to an injury, Nagelsmann was looking for his side to maintain a decent tempo and convert any opportunities that might fall their way. Seoane opted for a bigger change, setting his side up in a 5-2-3 shape after replacing Paulinho with defender Edmond Tapsoba at the break.

Leverkusen’s changed shape, which allowed them to keep possession better.

In the new shape, Leverkusen had numbers behind the ball and support for the ball carriers. This allowed them to keep the ball for longer than they had in the first half, though Bayern’s high line meant that Goretzka could join the pressure to even up the numbers in midfield. Still, with the Bavarians having dropped their intensity, they concentrated on preventing forward progression and containing Leverkusen in their own half. They were successful in their efforts, since the defense was alert enough to close down any passes that found their way to the trio up front. However, there were instances where Leverkusen’s play between the lines allowed them to break through, and this was the source of their only goal as Wirtz fed Schick for the consolation strike.

The benefits of the new shape were also off the ball, where Wirtz played in the attacking midfield role behind a front two of Diaby and Schick. The focus was on covering the double pivot regardless of where Goretzka and Kimmich went, with the wingbacks keeping a close watch on the wingers. Without Davies, the back three for Bayern – with Süle as an elbow back – played within themselves and looked for any dropping movements from Müller and Sané.

At this point, the game was well and truly done, since Leverkusen had no hope of recovering from their horror show. On their part, Bayern did not add to their tally, though they continued to break into the Leverkusen box at opportune moments.


After the debacle against Frankfurt, Bayern were always going to respond with a big performance. The first half was a superb show of organization and fluency, as Bayern ripped the soft Leverkusen defense to shreds. The kind of chance conversation issues that cropped up against Frankfurt predictably disappeared, resulting the shellacking we witnessed. This is one of the three best teams in the world at the moment, with only Liverpool and Manchester City offering serious competition.

This was a chastening but predictable defeat for Leverkusen, who needed a more conservative plan against the champions. Their attackers were muscled off the ball and defenders were dragged around, but this is valuable experience for a team that is still young. Wirtz continued to show his quality, with a smart assist for Schick after receiving in a tight spot.

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Manasvin covers the Bundesliga and Champions League for Between The Posts. He can be found on Twitter @RPftbl. [ View all posts ]


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