Borussia Dortmund – Bayern Munich: Finishing The Key As Bayern Beat Dortmund To Retain Der Klassiker Crown (2-3)

A game of nearly equal opportunities between two imperfect sides saw the more composed team clinch the victory. Bayern Munich emerged as the winners of Der Klassiker through excellent finishes from Alaba, Lewandowski and Sane, though the loss of Kimmich portends a bleak future for the reigning champions. On the other hand, as it so often happens, this was a game of missed chances for Borussia Dortmund, with otherwise impressive displays from Erling Haaland and Marco Reus flawed only by uncharacteristically wayward finishing.

Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.

As the Bundesliga’s showpiece fixture, Der Klassiker usually has a lot riding on it. The starting line-ups sent in by both teams certainly illustrated the importance of the fixture, though the need to rotate remained an imperative.

Lucien Favre made four changes from the side that beat Arminia Bielefeld, as Erling Haaland, Axel Witsel, Raphaël Guerreiro and Giovanni Reyna returned to the starting line-up. The double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. of Witsel and Delaney protected a backline of Guerreiro, Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji and Thomas Meunier, while Sancho, Reus and Reyna supported Haaland in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 shape. 

Similarly, Bayern Munich made a handful of changes from the side that beat Köln, with David Alaba, Lucas Hernández, Leon Goretzka, Kingsley Coman and Robert Lewandowski all returning to the line-up.

The Dortmund game plan

Though set out in a 4-2-3-1 shape, the home side often sat back in a 4-4-2 medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. Dortmund made their intentions clear in the opening ten minutes, as Favre’s game plan came into focus during the initial exchanges.

Rather than engage Bayern, Dortmund elected to sit back with the aim of isolating Haaland and Reus against Boateng and Alaba respectively. To this end, the two forwards marked the center-backs prompting the pass to the fullbacks, with one member of the double pivot occasionally marking Kimmich as he sought to drop deep and collect the ball. Once the pass was played to the fullback – usually Bouna Sarr on the right – Dortmund would trigger the press, A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. with Reus cutting off access to the center-back, Reyna stepping aggressively on to the right back and Witsel screening the options behind.

The Dortmund double pivot was often ball-oriented, which compressed the space available to the ball carrier, though it left the center open for a Bayern move through the middle. This proved to be a reasonably successful strategy as sloppy play from Sarr often saw him turn over the ball. While Bayern attempted to limit the fallout with their aggressive counterpress, After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. passes in behind for the active Haaland were a constant threat, as the strikers made clever runs from Boateng’s blind side to receive possession. These feints and double movements often deceived the defense and gave Dortmund a dangerous vertical outlet, which caused the visitors plenty of headaches throughout the game.

Though there were no goals in the opening minutes, Dortmund’s early movements alerted Bayern to the danger posed by the home side. With Sarr often struggling in possession, Kimmich and Alaba became the key figures in the Bayern buildup. The technical quality of the duo made it easy for them to control the game, with Dortmund either sitting back in the first phase and turning over the ball whenever they acquired possession. Some good possession play led to a chance for Goretzka, whose effort was saved by Roman Bürki. However, Kimmich’s injury changed the course of the game, as the quality and cohesiveness of Bayern’s possession dropped and allowed Dortmund to get back into the action.

Kimmich’s absence alters Bayern’s game plan

Given his importance to Bayern’s play, losing Kimmich to an injury was a tough blow for the visitors. With a double pivot of Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso somewhat lacking in creativity, it was up to Bayern’s front four to make up for his loss, as well as the absence of an explosive fullback duo to support the attack.

Without Kimmich, the burden of creativity fell to Gnabry and Coman.

To a large extent, it was Gnabry and Coman carrying the burden of creative input, receiving wide or in the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. and combining with the forwards and double pivot to get in behind the Dortmund defense. With Dortmund applying pressure in the middle, Bayern had some space to get their wingers in behind, though they often lacked the usual support from either fullback. With Sarr playing almost as a center-back on the right, Hernández pushed up to join the attack, though as a passing option infield rather than overlapping on the left. When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. Still, this provided sufficient connections for the wingers, who exploited the space behind a flat and rigid Dortmund midfield line. The lack of quick movement from the home side allowed the wingers to influence the game, as they attempted to play in Lewandowski or Müller through sharp cutbacks.

One of the highlights during this phase was an excellent turn and dribble from Coman, who received the ball on the halfway line after the visitors broke a sustained spell of Dortmund possession. An excellent turn inside saw him run into space against a backtracking Dortmund defense, with a quick layoff to Gnabry allowing the latter to feed Lewandowski. Though the striker converted with precision, the goal was chalked off for a marginal offside. Still, it was a startling display of the connectivity of the front four, as Bayern turned defense into attack within the blink of an eye.

Sudden goals shake up the game

While Dortmund sat back in the initial stages, Bayern’s slightly disjointed play after losing Kimmich enabled them to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the box when they were in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. With Sancho and Reus rapidly exchanging positions in a bid to disorient the defense, Dortmund would usually try to stretch the Bayern defense using sharp off ball runs to disrupt the defensive chain.

The Dortmund attacking set-up; the plan relied on using runs without the ball to disorient the defense, with another player exploiting the space while the far side was open for a switch.

This almost came off in a few cases where Haaland had chances from a side angle, though it was from the left that Bayern found a breakthrough. A run beyond the last man from Guerreiro saw him collect a pass from Reyna, which allowed him to find Reus with a superb cutback. 1-0 to the home side, with a perplexed Bayern finding their organisation broken.

However, this wouldn’t be the case for long, as the final moments of the first half saw Bayern produce a freekick routine straight from the training ground. Though Alaba’s emphatic shot took a huge deflection off a Dortmund player, it was enough for Bayern, who restored parity just before half time.

Bayern’s defensive issues see Dortmund in the ascendancy 

It was more of the same to begin the second half, as another excellent run from Haaland ended in a chance as Dortmund sought to regain the lead. The striker’s movement had been phenomenal throughout, as he jostled for position to receive long balls and ran in behind to get on the end of passes in the channels. However, Lewandowski showed the Dortmund forward exactly what he was missing, as the in-form striker got on the end of a Hernández cross for a superb header. Bayern had taken the lead and a familiar script seemed destined to repeat itself.

However, cracks in the defensive organisation allowed Dortmund to get back into the game with both sides exchanging opportunities during this phase. For the home side, promising attacks were built through sustained spells of possession in the final third, with Sancho and Reyna replaced midway in the second half with Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard. The elusiveness provided by the two continued to trouble Bayern, whose defending in their box was uncharacteristically sloppy. Rather than rely on a ball carrier to dribble out of possession, they were content to clear the ball without adequate support available to the forwards, which allowed Dortmund to recycle possession and get back into promising positions.

Despite Dortmund’s quality in possession, the numbers committed to attack meant that they were susceptible to sudden breaks. This was exactly what happened towards the end as Lewandowski led a break through the middle and fed Leroy Sané, who had replaced Coman on the right. The winger cut inside Guerreiro and dispatched a shot past Bürki to give the visitors a two-goal lead. However, Guerreiro made amends by providing a chipped pass to Haaland, whose outstanding control finally resulted in a goal on a frustrating evening.

Reus would then come close to tying the game, shooting over from an excellent position. As the match dragged on towards the end, Lewandowski looked to have scored his second, though it was once again ruled for offside. In any case, Dortmund were unable to muster any offense as Bayern were able to see out the game and secure the victory.


Favre’s plan against Bayern was evident from the start, and it was one that suited his players given the quality of the opposition. It is likely that Haaland would have converted some of the chances that fell to him on another day, which perhaps would have secured the victory. Structurally, the 4-4-2 worked as intended, though it also contributed to sloppiness in possession due to the lack of options available. The game ultimately came down to a matter of which side finished more of their opportunities – in this regard, there was little that Favre could do.

For Hansi Flick, the defense will be of concern given how teams have exploited their high line. It is unlikely that any other team in the Bundesliga has the firepower to test them – however, Europe will not be as forgiving. 

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Manasvin covers the Bundesliga and Champions League for Between The Posts. He can be found on Twitter @RPftbl. [ View all posts ]


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