1. FC Köln – Bayern Munich: Pressure Molds Diamonds (1-2)

Destiny was not in the hands of the reigning champions. But Bayern Munich could only aspire to cling to their Bundesliga crown if they first gained three points to take care of their business. On a day when both the title chasers exhibited the frailties that have led to this race, a moment of magic would keep the trophy tied to familiar hands to spoil the script of a fairytale ending.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Disaster impends for the Bavarian boardroom. Julian Nagelsmann lost his job at the end of March, still bidding for three trophies. The executives charged Thomas Tuchel to lead Bayern forward, but developments in the short term have indicated not all problems lie at the feet of the man in the dugout. Freiburg and Manchester City knocked his outfit out of the cups in April, and the Bundesliga is no longer in their hands. Just one more opportunity remains to shift the dynamics of the race to the top.

FC Köln might drive the final nail in the coffin. They have not matched the standards of last season, in which Steffen Baumgart steered his squad from the relegation playoffs to the Europa Conference League. However, thirteen points from their previous six league fixtures have dragged the side away from the drop zone to the comfort of the middle of the table. A fifth victory out of seven outings could return the home team to the top half of the standings, representing the ideal signoff to their supporters.

Tuchel picked eight of the eleven players that took to the field at kickoff in the Allianz Arena last weekend. João Cancelo dropped to the bench, so fellow fullback Noussair Mazraoui swapped flanks. Benjamin Pavard moved out to the right of the back four, and Dayot Upamecano joined Matthijs de Ligt in central defense. Ryan Gravenberch came in for Leon Goretzka, and Leroy Sané replaced Jamal Musiala in the offense. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was only fit enough to earn a place on the bench.

An injury enforced one alteration from Baumgart. Stefan Tigges had hurt his shoulder and was out of action to recover from an operation. The manager chose Davie Selke to stand in for him as the central forward. A pair of departures surrounded the prelude to this encounter. Jonas Hector, loyal club captain, hoped to bow out in his final appearance on a high note before retirement. Ellyes Skhiri, whose contract would run out in the summer, likewise aspired to leave Köln in a positive manner.

Traumtor on the transition

Köln set out at the start of the season in the same diamond system that Baumgart implemented at the outset of his reign. Over time, the manager has turned back to a 4-4-2 formation. The hosts were aggressive in their approach, arranging themselves high up the pitch. At the start of the duel, the wingers pressed from outside, and the front two dropped to block the passing lanes into the midfield.

The fullbacks often pushed into the midfield out of the chain to close down Pavard or Mazraoui while the wingers supported from their higher positions. In the case of a turnover, the forwards raided free room to the outside of the central defenders, sticking to their intense, heavy running style. The home team disturbed their opponents with this strategy, but the first blood went the way of the favorites.

2nd minute: transitional sequence from Köln. Kimmich tries to feed the ball forward into the feet of Gnabry. Eric Martel intercepts the pass. Mazraoui motioned to provide an option in the blindside of Dejan Ljubičić, so the winger has even more space to target on the break. De Ligt immediately shifts wide to track the recipient of Martel’s pass, while other Köln’s forwards flood forward into the box.

Upamecano ran into a pressing trap, and his loose touch handed over possession to Florian Kainz. Linton Maina’s closed body shape cut off a dangerous halfspace switch to Ljubičić, and the guests could fall back in time to manage the threat. A devastating transition proceeded down the other end of the pitch. Sané dribbled to his left to connect to Coman, and the winger whipped a strike past Marvin Schwäbe. The game was still goalless at the Westfalenstadion: the advantage was now with Bayern.

Rigor and restraint

Once Skhiri had broken forward, too much space opened in front of the rearguard to defend ably. Köln similarly showed a willingness to send many bodies ahead of the ball in spells of organized possession. The fullbacks advanced on the flanks, central defenders fanned out broadly, and Skhiri routinely sat between the pair. On the other hand, the guests demonstrated much more restraint.

Tuchel has shied away from the risks of the days under Nagelsmann. Yet, even given this strategic shift, it was still quite a timid performance. The players kept the ball among themselves at the back, tying the fullbacks deeper. Neither Kimmich nor Gravenberch bombed forward into advanced areas, and Bayern blatantly held back, creating only three more shots before half time. Müller and Gnabry floated around at the top of the pitch with the help of the individualism of the two wingers with their ball at their feet. Nevertheless, their flashes of quality nearly decided the match by the halfway mark.

20th minute: offensive sequence from Bayern. Mazraoui advances in the blindside of Ljubičić and his teammates continue the charge. Pavard and the two sitting midfielders remain in reserved positions. Gnabry’s deep run and Müller’s restraint in the center are the only complements to Coman’s dribble.

Schwäbe hit the ball from a goal kick to Mainz on the left flank. Sané and Pavard doubled up on their opposite man and snatched back the possession. Gnabry and Sané connected in transition, sending the winger deep behind Köln’s defense. He coolly dispatched a shot into the net, doubling the lead for the away team. Unfortunately, the turnover involved the ball hitting his arm: VAR chalked off the goal.

Musiala’s moment in time

Sané steered a headed effort over the bar near the hour mark, but Bayern’s control of the ball and the game worsened as time elapsed. So, Tuchel pulled off Müller and brought on Cancelo. The substitute operated on the left of the rearguard, and Mazraoui switched to the right, where he could drop back further outside Pavard to give extra defensive cover. Köln were not the most efficient in the final third, but the inaccuracies and sloppiness from the reigning champions turned out to be costly.

Conservatism and Bayern have not mixed well recently.

A short corner routine between Maina and Denis Huseinbašić made further inroads into the Bavarian defense. The substitute had crept up to the edge of the penalty area and tried to hit a delivery into the box. Gnabry jumped to block the cross, but the ball hit his hand. At first, a free kick was the price for this infringement, but VAR increased the drama in the narrative. The referee pointed to the penalty spot. Ljubičić stepped forward from twelve yards and drove his strike to the right of Yann Sommer.

A sense of urgency gripped Tuchel from the sideline. A second double substitution followed in the 85th minute. He swapped Goretzka for Musiala and Mazraoui for Mathys Tel. Within minutes, Tel released Sané on the break from the right flank to crack open Köln’s rearguard. The winger escaped retreating white and red shirts to face up Schwäbe, but the goalkeeper saved from point blank range.

The visitors reset and re-engaged. Gnabry drove inside from the other side of the pitch against a lower, set defense. Musiala insisted he got the ball and assumed the role of savior. With his balletic grace, he slalomed away from Martel to give himself time to unleash and fired a last minute winner into the bottom of the net. Emotions gushed out from those of a Bavarian persuasion: most of relief.


At their death, Bayern Munich won their eleventh league title in a row. By far, it is the most dramatic of the set. And the axe has already fallen behind the scenes: authorities have sacked Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić. The club has suffered a decline in their standards over the last decade, and only through Dortmund’s catastrophic collapse has it not cost the position at the top of the pile in Germany. Expect Tuchel and his seniors to learn from this scare and reinforce their hegemony in the summer.

Defeat for Köln was a bitter ending for the club and many of the neutrals that saw events unfold in Germany. In the end, they dropped to eleventh place, but the side can still reflect on another stable year under the supervision of Baumgart. The manager knows the exits of Hector and Skhiri present two holes in the squad that the board must work to fill, but his seniors can trust in the work of a man with a solid system that has evolved in time to bring safety to the standing of the club in the league.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.

"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP