Bayern Munich – Borussia Dortmund: Dortmund’s Der Klassiker Dagger Downs Bayern (0-2)

When these teams met last year at the same time, Bayern Munich capitalized on Borussia Dortmund’s mistakes to secure a crucial win. Now, the tables have turned. Bayern struggles in 2024 continued, as they failed to pose a consistent threat in the attacking third, while Dortmund were extremely efficient to end their ten-year winless drought at the Allianz Arena.

Tactical analysis and match report by Rahul Madhavan.

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The Der Klassiker at this stage of the season is usually marked with excitement, largely because these two sides have consistently fought for the title of the German champions. Yet, there is a very different feeling this time around, despite both of these sides having plenty to play for with just eight games to go.

That is down to Bayer Leverkusen surprisingly running away with the league, as there is a thirteen-point gap between them and Bayern, while Dortmund lie a further ten points below their Bavarian counterparts. 

For Bayern, after a challenging February, the news of Thomas Tuchel departing in the summer has somewhat alleviated the burden. They have scored sixteen goals in their last three games, while winning four of their last five matches, indicating their state of readiness for the final stretch of the campaign, despite the Bundesliga being slightly out of their reach at this point.

With Manuel Neuer’s injury, Sven Ulreich played in goal, while the back four comprised Joshua Kimmich, Matthijs de Ligt, Eric Dier, and Alphonso Davies. Konrad Laimer and Leon Goretzka operated as the double pivot in midfield, with Leroy Sané, Thomas Müller, and Jamal Musiala playing further forward. Although there were concerns regarding Harry Kane’s fitness, the Bundesliga’s top scorer was included in the starting lineup after recovering from an injury.

On the flip side, Dortmund, following a less than stellar February akin to their rivals, have quietly turned around their form in the last month. Four wins in their last four games, including victories against PSV and Eintracht Frankfurt, have ignited momentum. They now find themselves in an intense race to secure automatic Champions League qualification spots alongside RB Leipzig and VfB Stuttgart.

Edin Terzić made a few changes from their victory over Frankfurt, but second choice keeper Alexander Meyer kept his place. In defense, Julian Ryerson replaced Marius Wolf and joined Mats Hummels, Nico Schlotterbeck, and Ian Maatsen. Felix Nmecha featured in midfield alongside Emre Can and Julian Brandt, while Jadon Sancho also returned to the starting lineup, partnering Niclas Füllkrug and Karim Adeyemi upfront.

The initial set-up

Tuchel’s recent adjustment has revitalized Bayern from their struggles, which involved deploying Goretzka in deeper areas, typically occupying a wide center-back role. Bayern adopted a 3-1 shape in the first line, with Laimer serving as the lone pivot ahead, while the full-backs acted as the primary width-holders to enable the likes Musiala and Sané to operate as interiors. Essentially, this setup created an overload in the midfield area, while also leveraging Musiala and Sané’s strengths in finding spaces and receiving the ball between the lines.

Dortmund were content to maintain a medium-block, yet they remained proactive in applying pressure on the ball carrier when necessary. They responded to Bayern’s tactical setup by adopting a highly compact and narrow shape without the ball.

Dortmund’s midfield line, in particular, were keen on preventing Bayern’s first line from having time on the ball. When the wide center-backs (de Ligt or Goretzka) received possession in deeper areas, Brandt and Nmecha were tasked with pressing them to minimize their time in possession. As a result, Can shifted laterally across the field to cover the central areas (occupied by Musiala and Sané). Nmecha, who made his first start since November, played a pivotal role, as he was quick to cover ground, which was necessary in playing a hybrid role.

This approach enabled Dortmund to block the passing lanes centrally while effectively matching Bayern’s numbers in the wide areas. Furthermore, the wingers were able to provide support to the full-backs in one-on-one situations by positioning themselves a little wider instead of being confined to central areas.

Minute 5: Dortmund’s shape out of possession. Brandt applies pressure on de Ligt, and Bayern recycle the ball by involving Laimer. Subsequently, when Goretzka receives the ball, Nmecha presses him, prompting Can to shift across to mark Musiala, and Adeyemi to adjust his position to cover Sané. When Goretzka eventually passes to Davies, Dortmund effectively double up, with Sancho dropping deeper to provide additional defensive support.

Initially, the hosts recycled possession, passing sideways in the defensive third before consistently picking out Kimmich on the far side, as Adeyemi was positioned quite narrowly. However, Bayern’s attempts to play around Dortmund’s press paid little dividends, as they were content to sit back and had two quality duel winners in the box in Schlotterbeck and Hummels.

After the first quarter of the game, Bayern identified the opportunity to exploit Can’s constant lateral movement in protecting the spaces. They began by recycling possession, and when Dortmund’s midfielders (Brandt or Nmecha) pressed higher up the pitch, they found passes between the lines. Bayern’s midfielders, particularly on the right side where Sané and Müller operated, started wider, making it more challenging for Can to cover. Consequently, upon receiving the ball on the half-turn, Bayern enjoyed a three-versus-two advantage on the flanks and looked to either utilize Kimmich on the outside or carry the ball themselves into the final third.

Minute 21: Bayern’s offensive sequence. Brandt initiated the press once de Ligt carried the ball into space. In this scenario, Müller positioned himself wider, making it challenging for Can to move across and mark him. Kimmich then drew Adeyemi towards him, creating a corridor for de Ligt to thread a pass to the German. With Sané pinning Maatsen, Müller had the time and space to carry the ball into the final third.

When Adeyemi blocked the passing lane centrally, Kimmich would push higher up the pitch, offering de Ligt the option of picking out the right-back, who combined centrally. Regardless, Bayern exploited Can’s movements and had an overload on the right side. In fact, they created their best open play chance from this method in the first half when de Ligt found Kimmich, who played a quick give-and-go with Müller in midfield, which pulled Schlotterbeck out of position. Eventually, Kimmich’s cross located an unmarked Kane, who directed his header wide.

Dortmund pick their moments

Bayern employed a predominantly man-oriented approach. Initially, Kane and Müller made a pendulum-like movement to mark the lone pivot, Can, while also pressuring the center-back in possession. However, Schlotterbeck began moving wider, increasing distances for the two forwards to cover, and as a result, eventually had the space to carry the ball. Bayern adjusted by pushing Sané higher up the pitch to mark Schlotterbeck, while Kimmich positioned himself between the full-back and the winger, ready to adjust based on the ball’s position.

Dortmund also utilized a familiar structure seen against Frankfurt as well. Maatsen inverted, while Can dropped between the two center-backs, and Nmecha played in the pivot, forming a 3-2 structure. This setup created a five-versus-four advantage in the first line and forced Sané to narrow his positioning to block the passing lane to Maatsen, consequently allowing Schlotterbeck the time and space to advance. As Dortmund progressed into the second phase, Ryerson’s high and wide positioning served as their outlet, as Musiala was extremely narrow to protect the half-spaces, where Brandt typically operated. Essentially, like Bayern, Dortmund found themselves in a two-versus-one situation on the right side.

However, the visitors were content to allow Bayern to dominate possession, while relying on their ability to exploit opportunities on the break. One such instance happened in the 10th minute, which they capitalized on. Müller received the ball between the lines but opted to seek out a central runner, resulting in a loss of possession. With both full-backs now advanced up the pitch, Dortmund seized the opportunity, utilizing Adeyemi’s pace as he was played through by Brandt before beating Ulreich in goal.

Additionally, Dortmund consistently dismantled Bayern’s defensive shape, exploiting their apparent disorganization. This was partly due to the wingers’ failure to track back, leaving the double pivot of Laimer and Goretzka to cover a considerable amount of ground laterally, thus creating space for players like Brandt and Nmecha to exploit.

Minute 51: Bayern’s struggles out of possession. Nmecha received possession under pressure from Goretzka and Müller, but ineffective pressing from Bayern allowed him to find Can. Brandt moved away from Dier to receive possession, and once the ball reached Sancho, Ryerson promptly sensed an opportunity to advance forward. Dortmund established an overload on the right side, as Musiala failed to track the full-back, and utilized a third-man combination to find Ryerson, who then set up Nmecha.

What Dortmund did differently this time was, once reaching the final third, they showed remarkable patience and picked their opportunities to execute the final pass. It consistently forced Bayern to retreat, thereby reducing their chances of a successful breakaway. Once the visitors lost possession, they seamlessly transitioned into a medium-block, effectively forcing Bayern sideways and backwards. Furthermore, with Maatsen typically tucking inside and refraining from committing forward, Dortmund also had a solid rest defense structure, a facet that Bayern lacked.

Tuchel’s changes fail to make impact

Dortmund had a problem of limiting central spaces as they focused on pressing Bayern’s situational wide center-backs. However, following the goal, Edin Terzić reorganized his side into a 4-5-1 structure. Brandt and Nmecha, who previously pressed higher up the pitch, dropped deeper to block the central access. This adjustment led to Bayern predominantly operating in Dortmund’s half in the second half, yet clear-cut chances remained limited as Dortmund effectively halted their opponents’ progression.

After an uninspiring hour, Tuchel made changes by introducing the pace of Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, while Mathys Tel replaced Müller. This altered Bayern’s approach slightly, essentially fielding a front six. Notably, there were positional rotations between the wingers and the full-backs, as both Gnabry and Coman had the potential to pose a threat in one-on-one situations.

As Dortmund retreated deeper, an opportunity to pin them back and capitalize on their reactive approach emerged. However, Bayern, who had rushed their decision-making in the first half, showed too much patience in the second period, continually attempting to play around Dortmund. This approach, however, resulted in minimal chance creation. Essentially, they struggled to strike a balance between the two, allowing Dortmund to exploit the situation fully, with seven minutes of regulation time remaining.

Once again, Bayern’s midfield line was breached relatively easily, allowing Dortmund to advance to the left side. With Coman failing to track back, Dortmund had a three-versus-two situation on the flank. Eventually, Adeyemi, who drifted inside, lured away Dier, creating space for substitute Sébastien Haller to receive the ball unmarked inside the box. Haller then set up the overlapping Ryerson, who was not tracked by Gnabry, securing all three points with a clinical finish. Although Harry Kane pulled a goal back, a VAR check ruled it out for offside, adding to Bayern’s misery.


Joshua Kimmich expressed strong criticism of Bayern’s performance in his post-match interview, highlighting a lack of urgency and determination in a crucial match. Tuchel echoed these sentiments, suggesting that Bayern could have exploited Dortmund’s reliance on a single pivot in Emre Can, who was consistently tasked with covering a large amount of ground. However, Bayern’s precision was lacking, as they tended to be too slow in the build-up phase, while rushing decisions in the final third. Either way, this defeat arguably confirms the end of their decade-long dominance in Germany.

On the flip side, Dortmund delivered a notably mature performance. Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck were at their very best, while Terzić’s overall setup also proved effective in restricting Bayern’s opportunities. This victory propelled them to fourth place in the standings, and they will aim to maintain this momentum with massive games on the horizon next month.

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