Bayern Munich – Borussia Mönchengladbach: Tuchel Traverses Traditional Tribulations (3-1)
Have Bayern bid farewell to fears of the past? The signals from this showing would suggest that transformation would be too great of a conclusion to claim. But at least the blues from the latest battle with Borussia Mönchengladbach did not produce the blowback they might have suffered.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
The reigning champions rally against a relentless rival in the hunt for the Bundesliga crown. But with minimal margin for more mistakes, the club that has troubled their recent exploits was their next foe.
Since the start of 2020, Borussia Mönchengladbach have won four and drawn two of the ten meetings between these teams. The guests lie near the middle of the table, languishing on just 21 points— their worst tally at this point of a campaign in 13 years. Yet not just performances against the Bavarians have been an impulse of inspiration. Indeed, many stronger showings over the last few months have involved fixtures with the best in the Bundesliga. Would this peculiarity puzzle their opponents?
Bayern Munich still sit in second spot in the standings. Their second league defeat to Werder Bremen at the Allianz Arena had briefly opened the distance to the summit to four points, but while the hosts have breached half of that gap, critique continues to come the way of Thomas Tuchel. Ten months of his tenure have passed without greater assurance of a championship. And an absence of spectacle has heightened demands for substance: a twelfth title in a row is an absolute necessity by the end of May.
Tuchel took out two players from his last selection away at Augsburg. Raphaël Guerreiro, who had moved from midfield to the left and right of the back four, was a substitute. Noussair Mazraoui took his place, and the manager restored Alphonso Davies as the left back. Aleksandar Pavlović and Leon Goretzka joined forces in the middle of the park while Thomas Müller came in for Kingsley Coman.
Gerardo Seoane switched two members from the starting eleven he picked for the 0-0 draw away to Bayer Leverkusen, leaders of the table. Robin Hack, the second striker in a 5-3-2 system, dropped to the bench, while Nathan Ngoumou entered the fray as a left winger. Rocco Reitz, a breakout figure in the squad, returned to feature in the middle of the park next to Florian Neuhaus and Julian Weigl.
Gladbach give more nightmares
The away team arranged a tight 4-1-4-1 block in the reverse fixture to hold out against the Bavarian offense. A reversion to this formation followed from the use of the back five last week. The wingers typically tracked any advances from the two fullbacks, sitting in to support their stability off the ball.
19th minute: defensive sequence from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Weigl fills into the defensive chain while Elvedi pushes out towards Kane. Sané sprints deep with a diagonal run but his teammate feeds a pass short into his prior position that Luca Netz telegraphs and leaves to roll beyond the touchline.
Davies and Musiala only occasionally cracked the defense with their dribbles. Neither could Kane create with deep activity in the left halfspace. The opponents have honed a vertical variant of pressure in which Weigl falls back so a defender, Friedrich, could come out aggressively against the forward. In the absence of Joshua Kimmich, it would also not be a day for chip balls or halfspace crosses in the room ahead of the low lying block. Sané spurned two early excellent openings, crashing the underside of the crossbar within the first five minutes, but a sustained sense of struggle prevailed in this match.
In the meantime, Bayern bolted the back door for breakaways. But the guests gradually grew into the affair. Phases of possession filtered to the right flank, where Franck Honorat, the man with the most assists for the outfit, looked for dangerous deliveries into the area. One of those found the frame of the goal, and another met Ngoumou, whose header should have hit the target but flew wide of the mark.
Mönchengladbach’s mandatory goal arrived in the 35th minute. Manuel Neuer fed a flat pass into the feet of Müller, but Nico Elvedi made the first contact with the ball. The central defender carried forward, Neuhaus was free on his outside, and the lane to Jordan opened. Dier then shifted to fill the space that de Ligt had vacated, and Elvedi, who had continued to advance, struck into the bottom of the net from the edge of the box. Leverkusen led against Darmstadt, driving the desire for a response.
Müller mends the connections
Tuchel’s team had again looked to sprinkle star polish on a basic blueprint of control and stability. Their layout did not involve a clear split between a lone six and two higher midfielders in the center of the field. Pavlović generally was closer to Goretzka. The manager trusted individuals to figure out ideas from the outside to open the door in the final third. Most of what worked was through the right.
More specifically, it was the mastery of Müller and direction to the rest of the attackers. He often rotated out of the clutches of Elvedi, shifting out to the flank while the defenders had to swap over assignments. Since Mazraoui was willing to dribble and move diagonally to the inside lane, pushing Ngoumou into the middle with him, their runs and rotations, along with Sané, pulled apart the block. Neuhaus did not tighten gaps so white and red shirts could combine in the room between the lines.
23rd minute: offensive sequence from Bayern Munich. Elvedi followed Müller into the space between the lines but he drops even wider once de Ligt passes to Mazraoui. Ngoumou engages, Müller is free on the outside and Sané advances diagonally inside. Netz and Elvedi switch too late for the fullback to close down Müller on his first touch, Sané pins Elvedi and Mazraoui underlaps to receive inside.
A dash of youthful endeavor calmed the crowd. Sané strode inside from the right, punching a pass to Müller. At the same time, Pavlović ran ahead of the play, off the back of Neuhaus, to support the veteran as a third man. He hammered an effort over Moritz Nicolas, slotting home the equalizer.
Minds move onto greater goals?
The hosts did not rampage into the start of the second half. Control continued with only a few more shots, and the momentum from the equalizer fizzled. Just past the hour mark, Tuchel threw on Sacha Boey, a debutant, for Mazraoui. He sought no more immediate impact from his options in the dugout, receiving a helping hand from Mönchengladbach’s goalkeeper. Goretzka hooked a high delivery into the penalty area, where Moritz flapped with Müller. Kane read the ball’s trajectory, and as it bounced back off the floor, he steered a header into the net. Did Mönchengladbach have anything in the tank?
Seoane had sent on three players. Hack took the place of Ngoumou on the left, Manu Koné replaced Neuhaus, Scally swapped flanks, and Stefan Lainer filled in on the right. The manager might have had half an eye on their clash in midweek, as the substitutions did not induce a second wind. On the other end, Davies bowed out with an injury but marked himself out with his committed defensive effort.
Dier dredged up one last act of service to take the hosts over the line. Honorat squared up with the defender in transition to claim an equalizer, but he could only enforce a block. Tel relieved pressure on the defense, driving into enemy territory to earn a free kick. Sané sent the subsequent set-piece into the danger zone, and de Ligt powered a header off the crossbar— beyond the reach of Nicolas. The scoreboard read 3-1. A two goal advantage decided the victor of this contest in favor of the Bavarians.
The result reflected the state of the champions’ squad at this point in time. The Bavarians are not at their best under Tuchel and can still stutter without the willpower of their offensive stars. Yet, they can still register a relatively routine win thanks to their control of a contest and the calmness of the individuals at the back. Indeed, Dier and Pavlović are welcome additions to a roster missing many men due to a slew of injuries. How this construct deals with Leverkusen is a different question.
Borussia Mönchengladbach could not consolidate the curse. To pull off a plan like theirs requires precision in a more passive defense. In the end, Seoane saw too many mistakes from his side that were their downfall, deeming the deservedness of the three points for the favorites. Nonetheless, the manager also felt this performance was braver and better than the outing against Leverkusen. It should be a platform from which his men can attack the trip to Saarbrücken in the DFB Pokal quarter-final.
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