Bayern Munich – Borussia Mönchengladbach: Gladbach Torment The Champions Again (1-2)
In a lopsided Bundesliga world, Borussia Mönchengladbach saves all their top performances against the Champions. Bayern Munich was not only fragmented in possession, but their openness down the left side cost them heavily as Adi Hütter’s team created consistent openings.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
Gladbach’s marvellous form against Bayern has the essence of making a deal with the devil himself. Three wins in their last six meetings, which include that incredible 5-0 demolition against their first-team in the DFB Pokal, just simply isn’t the form any team in Germany has against the indestructible powerhouse that is Bayern Munich.
As their form versus the champions has developed, Gladbach has slipped from Champions League contenders to mid-table standard. Replacing Marco Rose with Adi Hütter was a seamlessly excellent transition, but has not translated on the pitch as their defense has significantly weakened. Meanwhile, Bayern have once again strolled into the top spot, nine points ahead of the nearest team.
Julian Nagelsmann’s squad has been heavily hit with COVID-19 infections. However, their first eleven after the winter break was still a strong one. Joshua Kimmich made his first appearance since the start of November, alongside Marcel Sabitzer as fullbacks. The trio of Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski were all still available, supported by Malik Tillman in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
Hütter was faced with cases too, which included a couple of regular starters being unavailable. Gladbach has often switched formations throughout the campaign and opted for a 3-1-4-2 system. Luca Netz came in a left wing-back, whilst Christoph Kramer, Florian Neuhaus and Kouadio Koné were the three players selected in the midfield. Lars Stindl started next to Breel Embolo upfront.
Slowing down the freight train
From the start, Bayern’s buildup was a lot more disjointed than usual and the change of profiles in the fullback positions was a major factor. Sabitzer often moved out of the left and into the center, whilst Kimmich had similar movements but was positioned closer to the touchline. Both men offered flexibility within the 4-2-3-1 system, but passiveness was set from the start.
Bayern was noticeably slow when trying to build from the back and missed the presence of Alphonso Davies down the left to not only offer carries but keep the width as well. That being said, Bayern were easily forced outwards as Gladbach’s blend of a 3-1-4-2/3-4-1-2 pressing made it difficult to connect to their midfielders.
3rd minute: Bayern problems in possession, against Gladbach’s 3-4-1-2 shape. Sabitzer had moved infield, without offering an option, whilst Kimmich remained flat to the center-back’s. Very little presence down the left as a result and Musiala dropped to receive.
Gladbach’s shape was determined by Neuhaus’ position, which could be on the left of Embolo or tucked behind the front two. They didn’t engage in an aggressive press on the center-backs, unless Bayern had moved the ball backwards. Nevertheless, Hütter’s team were effective in squeezing the field, with Netz and Stefan Lainer pressing high up, whilst the central players offered coverage on Bayern’s second line. With more usual profiles in these areas, perhaps Bayern would have been able to play through the varied approaches of the opponent, but the lack of width was costly.
Nevertheless, Bayern still found routes through. This mostly came on the right, where Kimmich could either closely combine with Marc Roca or find a vertical pass into the halfspace, with Gnabry and Müller rotating. Gladbach tweaked their shape between phases and this could create openings inside of the wing-backs, whether that would come from a midfielder being dragged or transitioning into a passive, deeper block.
The hosts still had chances and could rely upon the experienced, world-class duo they had at their disposal upfront. Lewandowski had a fortuitous opening saved from Yann Sommer, whilst a diagonal run from Müller opened the lane to receive from Roca and play into Gnabry in the center. This pattern didn’t come off, but a minute later, Müller played a very similar pass, once Niklas Süle had switched to Gnabry. Lewandowski’s first touch created separation and opened the angle to fire the ball into a Bayern lead.
Hit them where they’re hurt
Bayern had found a lead and continued to have the majority of the ball once they had it. Nonetheless, their passing continued to be slow, offered very little down the left side and relied upon more directness to Gnabry to make forms of progress.
The game was gagging for a Gladbach resurgence and such a fightback would come by targetting the defensive problems opening down Bayern’s left side. Sabitzer’s defensive positioning was a driving factor of this, whether that would come to Gladbach on the transition or his tendency of being too close to Süle when the ball was on the center or far side.
On the ball, Gladbach’s 3-1-4-2 system had little circulation by this point but showcased its benefits in the buildup to the first goal. The vertical options that open up centrally can harm the opposition block. In this phase, both Stindl and Embolo aided the offensive transition by becoming options on the left side.
26th minute: Buildup to Gladbach equalizer. Neuhaus’ high position enabled flexibility amongst the forwards, as well as pinning Sabitzer closer to the center-backs to create space on the outside for Lainer.
Another benefit is the flexibility one of the three central-midfielders can become. In this phase, Neuhaus had set himself high and as Bayern reset in their medium block, he was in the ultimate position between the lines to progress forward. Lainer’s cross created a mess between Embolo and Kimmich before Neuhaus was in the perfect position again to equalize.
Embolo created another attack, down the right, on the transition. This time he had dragged Süle with him and made a one-two with Neuhaus to get behind the left center-back. Even with the attack slowing down, Gladbach was still able to create with Bayern not reset on their left side and Embolo making a blindside run to create a great crossing position.
Minutes later, Gladbach were in the lead having kept the pressure with dead ball situations and scoring from a corner. Netz’s inswinger landed on perhaps the smallest player on the pitch’s head, Stefan Lainer, who aimed his header perfectly towards the far post, despite Sven Ulreich getting the slightest of touches.
Bayern eventually find a stride…
From this point onwards, the game state didn’t change for a long stretch of the match. Bayern was still very disconnected from their defense to attack and remained very passive on the ball, whilst Gladbch’s defensive block kept the hosts quiet but didn’t offer too much more on the offensive transition.
Both Bayern and Gladbach ended the first period with very good chances to add to their tallies. Neuhaus had an excellent chance after Süle came worse off in an aerial duel with Embolo and Neuhaus had bypassed Sabitzer to go one-versus-one with Ulreich, but the shot was saved. Embolo himself would also have a close chance, but the best opportunity fell to Bayern as Lewandowski hit the post from an acute angle, whilst Müller’s shot was cleared off the line by Luca Netz.
Nagelsmann’s team started the second half in a similarly struggling fashion. Tilmann and Jamal Musiala constantly dropped to provide support, with no movements in behind to disrupt the right side of Gladbach, whilst Bayern was still reliant on more directness towards Müller or Gnabry on the opposite flank.
55th minute: Example of how Bayern was able to open Gladbach. Kimmich’s carry was able to pull Koné out of the midfield line, whilst the two wingers kept the last line stretched.
Nonetheless, ten minutes into the second period, Bayern started to create a hot flurry of opportunities. This was sparked by Gladbach’s 3-4-1-2 shape being slightly tilted towards one side and a carry from Kimmich which forced Koné to move out of the midfield line. Tillman fed Musiala, whose one-two with Müller created space but his shot was well saved by Sommer.
Bayern also benefitted from Lewandowski drifting around the left channel and to access better crossing positions. Two of these crosses met Müller in quick succession, but not enough contact on either attempt let Gladbach off, as Kimmich was close to connecting with one and Hütter’s team letting the back post become overloaded quite easily.
This phase of good Bayern attacks was ended by Lewandowski smashing the crossbar after they had found verticals to bypass presses from Gladbach midfielders. The Polish striker made space through a third man run, but his shot on the bouncing ball hit the top of the bar.
… but how quickly it faded
These four opportunities were all created in a space of around six minutes. After this point, Bayern reverted to being very uncreative and uninspired in possession.
As Kimmich’s influence in the buildup had grown, the right-back had a lot more of the ball in central areas but came at a cost as Gladbach moved into the vacant space outside of the center-backs easily. Bayern was still really dysfunctional when trying to pass around the back, which only saw the forwards on the right dropping deeper, whilst Gladbach’s press was still able to squeeze their opponents down the flanks.
Hütter’s team continued to move into good areas on the transition, better-executed counterattacks would have certainly created higher chances of scoring. Nevertheless, the final opportunity would also fall to Gladbach, thanks to excellent movement from Koné down the left and Lars Stindl playing substitute Alassane Pléa through. He was able to slalom past Sabitzer, but Süle’s foot was able to put his shot just round the post.
So is there a blueprint to beating Bayern from this game? Gladbach hasn’t relied upon black magic to get their results against them, but they were fortunate to face the Champions with such passivity from their fullbacks. This had a knock-on effect on their midfielders, whose control was vanquished as Kimmich moved into similar spaces, as well as the forwards who were disconnected and dropped a lot deeper.
That being said, a lot of their pressing phases were very effective at reducing space and well-timed to create turnovers down the flanks. Gladbach’s rest defense had also shut down a lot of attacks, whilst they made use of the openness out wide on the transition. Their season has been underwhelming at this point, but within a compact midtable, a renaissance up the standings is still on the cards.
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