Bayern Munich – Bayer Leverkusen: Clinical Leverkusen Absorb Numerous Hits And Counters For The Win (1-2)
An unfortunate Bayern Munich side failed to convert an impressive amount of chances, falling to Leverkusen’s clinical finishing and incisive counterattacking. Bayern’s directness formed their main source of creation, yet at the same time it formed the base for their defeat.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Few leagues get as close and competitive as the Bundesliga does. Ever since Pep Guardiola departed Munich, the German top flight has seen genuine contenders arise season after season. First RB Leipzig and then Borussia Dortmund put up strong tests for Bayern Munich, exposing Bayern’s decline from their past dominance.
This season, Kovač’s sacking exposed the transitioning period Bayern Munich are going through, raising their contenders’ hopes when it comes to finally putting their hands on the title. Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig seized the opportunity and currently hold the first place, three points ahead of Bayern.
Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen may have expected to carry on their extraordinary streak since Bosz took over last season, but they have gone through ups and downs, preventing them from taking advantage of the current stalemate that have slowed down the pace of the Bundesliga’s elite teams. Before the clash with Bayern, Leverkusen sat in tenth place with the possibility to jump to seventh, only five points behind the league leaders.
Peter Bosz had to replace an unfit Kai Havertz for one of his side’s biggest matches so far, ahead of their encounter with Juventus that could define their Champions League season. In came Nadiem Amiri, in a triple supporting cast to Kevin Volland that included lightning pace on the flanks, in Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby.
Hans-Dieter Flick made quite the changes compared to Bayern’s 6-0 win to FK Crvena Zvezda, starting Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Ivan Perišić and Serge Gnabry for Thiago, Corentin Tolisso, Philippe Coutinho and Kingsley Coman.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
If there is one aspect that defines Bundesliga teams, it is their lack of fear to carry out their identity even on opposition ground. Bayer Leverkusen did not fail to continue the trend. When Bayern built the play in their 4-3-3 shape, the visitors pressed high in man-oriented fashion. Volland pressed one center-back, while the wingers stayed narrow to be able to access both the free center-back and fullback. Behind them, Amiri marked holding midfielder Kimmich and the 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’. followed Bayern’s central midfielders deep. When the winger stepped out on the center-back, the fullback came in support to press Alphonso Davies or Benjamin Pavard.
Just like their opponents, Bayern also pressed aggressively and as a result the start of game was characterized by rapid series of turnovers. Lewandowski pressed the center-back on the ball and the closest winger stepped out on the fullback, with the ball far wide man shifting onto the unmarked center-back. In that case, if the ball reached the ball-far fullback, it would be the center-midfielder to step out wide. Müller and Goretzka marked the double pivot, while Joshua Kimmich oversaw the space between the lines and followed Amiri if the attacking midfielder chose to move towards the ball.
Bayern’s pressing on Leverkusen’s buildup.
When the hosts got the hang of the opposition’s game plan, they started finding ways to bypass the press by using wall passes A one-touch pass that quickly sends the ball back to sender. In the meantime the sender has quickly moved into free space, and he momentarily escapes pressure. and subsequently finding the third man. Since Leverkusen’s structure shifted quite aggressively to the ball-side, Bayern’s midfielders could manipulate the double pivot by moving wide and opening spaces in the middle. Then, Robert Lewandowski could find space to drop in and initiate the breakthrough.
Lack of control holds Bayern back
After Bayern’s first breakthrough, when Serge Gnabry hit the post after an unpressured David Alaba directly launched him into space, Leverkusen had their chance to attack Bayern in their defensive holes. Moussa Diaby recovered the ball near the touchline and found Kevin Volland in the center, who, after having attracted Javi Martínez out of position, assisted Leon Bailey in space behind the Spanish defender for the opening goal.
In the lead, and thus in a comfort zone, the visitors’ pressing soon died down, allowing the opposition center-backs time on the ball in exchange for an – at least theoretically – improved central cover. Only when Flick’s team passed the ball backwards, Bosz’s men stepped out high on their men.
It was exactly in the above scenario that Neuer passed the ball straight to Moussa Diaby, who, however, was not able to capitalize and ended up making a tame effort on goal that the German goalkeeper easily collected. As expected, on the opposite side of the field Bayern kept their intensity high, and given the score line, Leverkusen did not feel the need for a calm buildup. Instead, they simply kicked the ball the furthest away possible, in an entirely antithetical way to the manager’s beliefs.
The home side, therefore, had the chance to keep attacking, which saw them exploit the passiveness of the front line on multiple occasions when the defenders lobbed the ball onto Gnabry’s stride behind Leverkusen’s defense. In the space of two minutes, Bayern’s attackers missed two one-on-one duels against the goalkeeper – one of which was deemed offside.
Directness and counterattacks
After the early opening goal, Bayer only engaged in quick counters, gifting Bayern one possession spell after another. Moreover, due to the visitors’ lack of pressure on the ball, despite a high defensive line, all Flick’s men needed to progress the play was launch it into depth. While the verticality Bayern chose to adopt ensured quality chance creation, it inhibited the control they held on the game by feeding the opponents numerous counterattacking opportunities. Nonetheless, Bayern were consistently getting Gnabry in good shooting positions with alarming ease. Unfortunately for them, the young winger did not have his shooting boots on the night.
Eventually, after numerous attempts and evident struggles from the central defenders, in the 33rd minute Jonathan Tah missed a header, freeing Müller for the equalizer.
Forward one minute later, and Bayer Leverkusen were already in the lead again when Bailey laid off a clearance to Volland first time, who completed the one-two for the Jamaican winger to run towards goal unopposed and complete his brace. The two goals scored by Leverkusen perfectly captured the home side’s lack of control, constantly in threat of being caught on the counter due to a poor rest defense.
On another note, the defensive flaws each side presented gave life to a very open half, with chances at both ends at lightning speed; a half that should have without a doubt ended in Bayern’s favor, prevented only by poor finishing from Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski, and two last-ditch blocks from Leverkusen defenders when the goal was completely open.
Still no light at the end of the tunnel for Bayern
Neither manager made any substitutions at the start of the second half, so it came as no surprise to see Leverkusen counterattack with Moussa Diaby and almost go close to a two-goal lead when Neuer was forced to save a close-range shot from Volland. The lack of involvement from Bayern’s central midfielders in defense often isolated the back four and Kimmich against Leverkusen’s speedy runners.
Having to chase the game, Bayern started looking for halfspace 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 the 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. access more frequently, given the struggles the opposition double pivot manifested in covering the entire width of the field. In doing so, Kimmich dropped between the two center-backs, creating numerical superiority against the opposition’s front two as the wingers moved deeper. Moreover, they occupied a wider portion of the field, which allowed them to make vertical passes to the roaming Lewandowski or wingers in the halfspace in a more immediate manner.
In the sixtieth minute, Bailey dropped to the ground, requiring a substitution in a moment during which Bayern Munich had gained some systematicness in their chance creation. In came Karim Bellarabi, and just two minutes later, Wendell left the pitch as well for Daley Sinkgraven. The winger positioned himself on the left flank, with Diaby moving to the right, from where the former PSG man had a one-on-one chance with the goalkeeper he could not slot in the back of the net.
Flick’s last grasp
In need of further involvement in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. from players other than Gnabry and Lewandowski, Flick brought on Coutinho and Coman – who occupied the number ten spot and left wing – for Müller and Perišić. Despite their attempts, though, as Leverkusen dropped deeper and deeper in their 4-4-2 shape, Bayern started finding less space for their breakthroughs while still being vulnerable to their opponent’s counters. Even so, the home side had the chance to equalize when Goretzka hit the post on a corner, summarizing the hosts’ unfortunate night.
Flick’s last attempt saw Thiago come on for Javi Martínez in the 81st minute, which consequently shifted Pavard to center-back, Kimmich to right back and the Spaniard in midfield. Bayern now had their most offensive formation on the field, which almost paid off when Coutinho was launched into space by Goretzka. However, in his way stood Tah, who cynically committed a last-man foul, blocking a chance on goal and conceding a free-kick on the edge of the box that cost the defender a red card. Bosz’s side still held the lead though, so in a 5-3-1 / 4-4-1 shape they carried on defending until the relief of the final whistle.
It is hard to fathom how Bayern did not score more than one goal. The number of clear chances they created would have probably ended in a steamrolling on another day. Yet, this was the perfect example of the variables that can influence a football match. All one team needs is a clinical day in front of goal to win, despite their actual underlying performance, and that is exactly what happened in Munich.
Despite conceding many chances and attacking exclusively on the counter, Leverkusen found support in Bayern’s very own defensive flaws, giving Bosz’s team a win that puts Leverkusen back on the map, but will have not satisfied the manager in the slightest of ways. A crossbar hit and a miss from close range by Gnabry, exemplified the small margins that separated Bayern from a deserved, and still not rewarding, draw.
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