Bayern Munich – Bayer Leverkusen: Points Are Shared In The Weekend Topspiel (1-1)
It might have taken an own goal for Bayer Leverkusen to restore parity, but the visitors were far from toothless in their encounter against the champions. Despite missing striker Patrik Schick, Florian Wirtz & co. found a way through, even managing to rack up a higher expected goal count than their Bavarian hosts.
Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.
Despite facing a crunch weekday tie against Red Bull Salzburg, Julian Nagelsmann named a strong side with several players who will likely start against the Austrians. Interestingly, he moved away from the 3-4-3 shape used against Salzburg, lining his side up in a 4-2-3-1 structure. Nagelsmann cited the absence of defensive anchor Lucas Hernández as the reason for the switch, as well as Leverkusen’s well-known strength on the counterattack. Nagelsmann made three changes to suit the new formation, with Jamal Musiala, Omar Richards and Dayot Upamecano coming into the side in place of Corentin Tolisso, Hernández and Leroy Sané.
Since beating Dortmund in a breathless 5-2 encounter, Leverkusen suffered a blow with Schick getting ruled out due to a calf injury. This prompted Gerardo Seoane to shift to a 5-2-3 shape, with Edmond Tapsoba joining the defensive line and Florian Wirtz moving to the striker position alongside Moussa Diaby and Amine Adli.
Despite changes, Bayern stick to the plan
In deeper passages of play, Bayern built with a back four with a diamond ahead of the center-backs. This seemed like a smarter way to use youngster Jamal Musiala, who is at his best when he can turn and dribble past opposing players.
Musiala at CM wasn't something I liked, but this is a better way of organising #FCBayern.— RP⚽ (@RPftbl) March 6, 2022
Diamond in midfield with Gnabry pulling Tapsoba with him:
1. Lewy attacking the RCB/CCB channel
2. With Frimpong drawn inside, Richards can play outside on the left#FCBB04 pic.twitter.com/0StZvjwLbX
In this structure, Thomas Müller could rotate with Musiala which gave the youngster room to make a play, while Joshua Kimmich (and to some extent, Upamecano) handled the burden of creating from deep. At the same time, Serge Gnabry played the ‘Leroy Sané role’, sticking to the left halfspace and occasionally moving outside in place of Richards.
However, more often it was the usual back three configuration when the ball was near the halfway line, with Bayern pulling Leverkusen to one side by packing the right side of the pitch.
Bayern’s shape in full flow. Richards is isolated on the left to attack the underload that results from Bayern packing one side of the pitch.
With Lewandowski and one of the wingers always playing on the shoulder of the defender, they were able to put together spells of possession, with the added benefit of blunting Leverkusen’s transition play since the visitors had to be vertically compact. Richards would then play the Alphonso Davies role of taking on Jeremie Frimpong in one-versus-one scenarios after the switch had been played, as other Bayern players made supporting movements when the ball moved out to the left.
With Schick out of the picture, Seoane’s 5-2-3 shape was intended to be defensively solid and offensively fluid. They mostly pressed out of a medium block, following the template of guiding play to one side. An interesting element was that Charles Aránguiz often moved up to form a quartet and cover Kimmich, and Tapsoba had license to step out of the defensive line in case a Bayern player was in a position to turn freely. In these scenarios, the wingbacks stay attached to the defensive line, with Kerem Demirbay acting as the holding midfielder. However, in deeper buildup sequences, the wingbacks moved up to press Bayern, disrupting the sequence just enough to speed up Bayern’s possession play.
Leverkusen’s primary mode of attack
With Schick absent, Seoane lost one of Leverkusen’s primary methods of buildup: launch the ball to your very tall striker and let him bring the rest of the team into the picture. With this route now unavailable, he played Wirtz through the middle with Adli and Diaby with flanking the youngster.
From buildup, Leverkusen looked to take advantage of the numbers in the first line. However, the Bayern fullbacks were alert and pushed up high to pressure the wingbacks, with Richards in particular doing a good job against Frimpong. At the same time, the wingers began from narrower positions, with Thomas Müller and one member of the doble pivot taking care of Demirbay and Aránguiz. Given the pressure exerted by Bayern, the buildup structure was not fruitful, with Hrádecký resorting to long passes to get Leverkusen moving.
On the other end, Leverkusen had a couple of opportunities on the break, which arrived after Bayern’s thirty-minute spell of dominance ended. As attacks began breaking down, Leverkusen sprinted forward, with Wirtz acting as an immediate reference point who pulled into either halfspace after returning the pass to the initial carrier.
Leverkusen’s counterattack as it is about to begin.
Similar to Salzburg, Seoane recognized that rest defense was a weakness for the champions, particularly against Upamecano who came into the game looking short of confidence. This kind of targeted approach – which combined Wirtz’s elusiveness with Diaby and Adli’s speed – made for a few nervy movements for Ulreich, especially towards the end of the first half. Despite this, it was an own goal by Müller that evened the scoreline, with both sides ending the half with a share of the spoils.
Familiar issues resurface for Bavaria
The opening of the second half did not indicate any major changes, with both sides retaining the same concepts and personnel. Initially, Bayern looked likely to break through, as Gnabry’s position wide on the left created opportunities through slick interplay. However, the execution in the final third fell off a cliff when compared to the first half, as Bayern stuck too many players on one side of the pitch. Due to this, it was largely a matter of solid and proactive defending for Leverkusen on the side of the ball, with their forwards ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. This led to an encounter that was perched on a precipice but still evenly contested, since Leverkusen were more productive with the ball despite having less of it. This showed itself in the way Leverkusen racked up the expected goals count post the 60-minute mark, despite being (predictably) outshot by the hosts.
Bayern seem to be in a slump of sorts, which can be traced to their helter-skelter style of play and inability to finish off chances. While the talent level of the squad means that only a few bounces need to go their way, it is also true that they seem vulnerable due to their issues in defense. This sets up the possibility of a midweek upset in the Champions League, despite Bayern’s (correct) status as the overwhelming favorites. The silver lining is that the issues do not seem to escape Nagelsmann’s attention – with this being the case, Bavaria can be expected to right the ship in the near future.
Leverkusen continue an absurdly impressive campaign, rebuilding themselves just a couple of seasons after the end of the Kai Havertz era. It will be interesting to see how far they go in Europe without their talismanic striker leading the way for his young teammates.
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