Bayern Munich – Bayer Leverkusen: Musiala Magic Leaves Leverkusen In The Dust (4-0)
Following the final international break before the World Cup, the Bundesliga was back with a bang. The Friday night fixture pitted defending champions Bayern Munich against Bayer Leverkusen, who finished on the podium last season. Both sides had endured difficult starts to the new season and were a fair way away from where they would have ideally liked to be, so the three points were all that mattered to them in this fixture. Bayern ended up coming away with them after a comfortable victory.
Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.
Bayern Munich entered their post-Lewandowski era this season as the club’s top-scorer goalscorer in the 21st century departed for Barcelona in the summer. Losing him was, of course, a big blow to the team, but one positive was that Julian Nagelsmann was freed to implement his more fluid style of play with a squad that lacked a pure number nine of the highest calibre. Things got off to the perfect start as Bayern scored five or more goals in three of their first four competitive fixtures this season, including against RB Leipzig in the Supercup and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga opener. They have been stuttering of late, though, dropping points in their last four league fixtures prior to this one, which is their worst run of domestic form in about two decades.
Bayer Leverkusen’s problems are much bigger as their start to the season was historically bad. Their tally of zero points after three games was the worst in their entire top-flight history, going as far back as 1978, when they won promotion. The club stuck with manager Gerardo Seoane and the results have slowly started to turn as Leverkusen only lost one of their next four league games, but two of those were drawn, so they were in the precarious position of being just above the relegation zone on goal difference going into this fixture.
Trying to assign a defined shape to Bayern’s fluid front-four is a fool’s errand, but we can safely say that they lined up with a back four comprised of Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano, Matthijs de Ligt and Alphonso Davies ahead of Manuel Neuer in goal. Joshua Kimmich partnered Marcel Sabitzer in midfield, whilst Leroy Sané, Thomas Müller, Jamal Musiala and Sadio Mané were selected in the attack.
Bayer Leverkusen also used a back-four and two defensive midfielders, all in front of goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký. Odilon Kossounou, Jonathan Tah, Edmond Tapsoba and Mitchel Bakker were in the back line, whilst Robert Andrich and Kerem Demirbay were in midfield. Up ahead, Jeremie Frimpong and Moussa Diaby were on the flanks, whilst Chelsea loanee Callum Hudson-Odoi operated behind striker Patrick Schick.
Musiala makes an early impact
Looking at the lineups, it appeared that Sané would be on the right wing and Musiala on the left for Bayern, with Müller behind Mané down the middle. As it turned out, the Senegalese international was shifted out to the left, with Müller nominally leading the line and allowing Musiala to operate behind him.
Of course, as aforementioned, there was a lot of fluidity and positional rotations among Bayern’s forwards in possession. One frequent theme seen in the first half was Musiala drifting out to the right wing, and within three minutes, he was able to make a decisive impact on the scoreline from that region of the pitch.
3rd minute: Musiala drifts out to the right. He shows for a first-time pass from Kimmich and invites Bakker forward, before brilliantly letting the ball roll past him and turning to chase it before it reaches the touchline. With the Dutch defender left for dead, Musiala has the wing all to himself, and he makes good use of the space to set up the opener for Sané.
After superbly setting up the opener, Musiala went on to score the second not long after the quarter-hour mark as he exchanged passes with Müller before firing a finish in at the near post. Just like that, Bayern stormed to a two-goal lead within the first twenty minutes of the match.
Leverkusen contribute to their own downfall
If there is one thing Bundesliga sides have learnt over the last decade, it is that they should not give away anything to Bayern Munich easily, because they are guaranteed to be severely punished in such a case. Some may interpret this as a reason to adopt a more conservative defensive approach, but as Leverkusen showed last night, that is not always the right way.
As is evident from the above image in the buildup to the opening goal, Leverkusen sat quite deep out of possession and only really concerned themselves with defending when the ball got to their half of the pitch. This meant that Bayern were allowed to have sustained possession, which they gladly did.
Ceding possession to Bayern is not always the worst thing in the world, as Augsburg demonstrated a couple of weeks ago, but it does require a very well-drilled and compact defense. Unfortunately, Leverkusen quite clearly lacked that, as Bayern’s fluid front four pulled them apart in all sorts of ways, not least for the opener.
Additionally, the visitors did not make life any easier for themselves with some very silly errors at the back. Hrádecký would have been frustrated with his goalkeeper for the second goal, but the third came as a result of an even more glaring error when Leverkusen lost the ball in their defensive third, which can only mean one thing.
NO STOPPING BAYERN 🔥— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 30, 2022
Musiala sets up Mané for their third goal of the first half! pic.twitter.com/lCNLcvNUsG
Leverkusen’s half-time switch fails to change the state of play
Having gone into the break with a three-goal deficit, Seoane quite clearly needed to change something. He decided to make a couple of substitutions, one of which was a straight swap at left back, whilst the other saw Frimpong replaced with Charles Aránguiz, meaning Leverkusen now had a three-man midfield.
Crucially, though, the Swiss head coach failed to address the main issue – Leverkusen’s passive defensive approach. Therefore, even though they switched to a 4-3-3 shape out of possession, the same problems persisted for them in the second half.
50th minute: Leverkusen switch to a 4-3-3 defensive shape for the second half, but their passive defensive approach remains unchanged. Case in point: Kimmich receives the ball from Upamecano facing his own goal, but has time to turn and then is allowed to walk past the first line of the visitors’ defense.
The only major difference after half-time, therefore, was that Bayern were no longer looking to score with great intent, so they no longer attempted to carve their way through Leverkusen’s defense at every possible opportunity and instead were happy to circulate possession for longer periods of time.
Nonetheless, the away side were kind enough to gift the defending champions with a fourth goal late on after a disastrous slip from Hrádecký whilst playing out from the back, which Müller gladly pounced upon. That was enough to seal the win for Bayern Munich on the back of an utterly dominant display.
After four consecutive league matches without a win, such a big result might seem like a corner turned for Bayern, but truthfully, the level of their performance has not really changed. In fact, according to our match odds based on simulating all shots, Bayern were less likely to win this game (at a mere 59%) than any of the three matches they drew prior to the loss to Augsburg. Clearly, the only major difference between this game and the last few results is that Bayern took their chances on this occasion.
Leverkusen, on the other hand, certainly did not take their chances, and honestly did not create lot either. They did pose a threat from set-pieces but looked really flat in open play, so their poor results should absolutely be cause for concern. This hefty defeat has already dropped them down to the relegation playoff spot, and they could well be in the direct drop zone by the end of the weekend.
We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.