Frankfurt – Bayern Munich: Franck Ribéry Helps Bayern To An Important Win In The Bundesliga Title Race (0-3)
After surviving Eintracht Frankfurt’s thunderous start, Bayern Munich got a well-deserved win. The high-flying home side initially caused the visitors significant problems with their pressing game, but Bayern managed to overcome this with a mix of tactical adjustments and individual skill.
Tactical analysis and match report by Rowdy Nossent.
Eintracht Frankfurt can look back on a great first half of the season. They won all six Europa League group stage games, and occupy the fifth position in the Bundesliga table. In the midweek round Frankfurt got a point in an away game against Mainz 05. Earlier this season, Frankfurt were unable to hold off Bayern in the German Super cup final, which culminated in a 5-0 loss. This last game before the winter break obviously was their chance to get revenge.
Bayern had a difficult start to the season resulting in a classic FC Hollywood ‘Krise’. Manager Niko Kovač – before the summer break manager of Frankfurt – seemed to have dealt with the problems now, as Bayern managed to collect twelve points from their last four Bundesliga games, including a 1-0 win in the difficult midweek clash against RB Leipzig. Nonetheless, Bayern still find themselves in a second position on the table. In order to keep track of league leaders Borussia Dortmund they were in absolute need of a win. Some pressure for the Rekordmeister.
Formations and lineups
Frankfurt manager Adi Hütter had decided to make one change from their midweek game against Mainz. With Jonathan de Guzman dropping to the bench, it was fellow countryman Jetro Willems who once again played in his new role as a central midfielder. Hütter also changed his formation, as Frankfurt went from a 3-4-1-2 formation against Mainz, to a 3-5-2 formation with a single pivot Teams vary in the number of midfielders they place in defensive positions during buildup. In systems like a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, usually a single midfielder plays closer to the defense, for protection, but also for buildup play in the center of the pitch. The player is called the ‘single pivot’, to contrast with the ‘double pivot’ in systems like a 4-2-3-1. against Bayern.
Just like his opponent, Niko Kovač also did not stick with the same names and formation as used in the previous game. The Croatian initially made a total of three changes to Bayern’s lineup, but was forced into a fourth. Central defender Mats Hummels pulled a muscle in the warm-up and was replaced by Jérôme Boateng. The three other changes were Javi Martínez for Leon Goretzka, Franck Ribéry for Kingsley Coman and Rafinha for the injured Serge Gnabry. This last change saw Joshua Kimmich move up to central midfield and Thomas Müller to the right inside forward position.
Formation-wise Bayern switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 with a single pivot in the person of Javi Martínez.
Bayern’s passmap shows they played a 4-3-3 formation, with important passing roles for Thiago and Kimmich.
Exciting start with opportunities on both ends
The match immediately sprung to life with some intense play, mostly due to Frankfurt’s positive intentions. Both teams got a decent amount of early opportunities. An important factor in this lively opening phase was Frankfurt’s high press, which caused significant problems to Bayern’s buildup play.
When in position, the home team attacked with fast and direct passing, searching for the on-fire striking duo Sébastien Haller – Luka Jović. They did this mostly through their wingbacks – Filip Kostic on the left and Manuel Da Costa on the right – who aggressively pushed forward and put in crosses and ensured fast transitions after winning the ball.
After just seven minutes Manuel Neuer had to make a crucial save. Da Costa found himself in a promising position to score, but he failed to get the ball past Neuer. Just a minute later it was a successful high pressing situation that yielded another chance for Frankfurt. They managed to win the ball on Bayern’s half, but eventually Nicklas Süle denied Haller from scoring. The storm was not over yet for Bayern, as Luka Jović just put the ball wide after a counterattack solely provided by the Jović – Haller partnership.
After Frankfurt failed to hit the net in the opening phase, Bayern seemed to get some grip on the game. This phase started with a free kick of David Alaba, that was put to corner by goalie Kevin Trapp. This corner almost got Bayern the lead, but it was Trapp who made a brilliant double save in reaction to headers of Javi Martínez and Thomas Müller.
Pressing tactics result in an intense first half
The tactics used by both teams when not in possession made it an intense game that was fun to watch. It was full of duels, transitions and fast counterattacks.
Bayern’s difficulties with playing out of the back, were a testimony to Frankfurt’s well-executed pressing scheme, as well as to the dreadful condition of the pitch.
Jović and Haller would step up to the central defenders of Bayern, with Haller somewhat higher in order to cut off the passing lane to Boateng. When the ball was played to Süle, Jović would press him and Filip Kostic would press Rafinha, forcing Bayern to play forward. This plan paid off on more than one occasion in the sense of winning the ball and keeping Bayern out of their beloved positional play.
When Frankfurt was in possession of the ball, Bayern would also press them high up the pitch. They did this in diamond form, inherent to the 4-2-3-1 formation when out of possession. Lewandowski on top, Kimmich or Thiago Alcantara marking pivot Gelson Fernandes at the bottom and the flanks occupied by Müller and Ribéry. The latter two positioned themselves between the outer center-backs and the full backs. Bayern’s press regularly forced the home team to even try a passing buildup play – probably with the quality of the pitch in mind– and they hoofed it up field in most cases.
Frankfurt tried to force Bayern to play over their right side before initiating the press.
In the transition from attacking to defending Frankfurt often used a quite an aggressive counterpressing 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. system, that can be either a strength or a weakness. Against a quality side as Bayern, this aggression often left Frankfurt vulnerable at the back.
Bayern’s first goal was created by playing out of a Frankfurt counterpress situation. After the home team lost the ball around the box, Bayern succeeded to beat the counterpress with quick ball movement. Alaba recognized the space left in behind of the defense and tried to send a pass to Müller, who had a bit of luck with N’Dicka failing to clear the danger. Müller passed it to Lewandowski who got hold of some eyes in the back of his head, finding Ribéry with a no-look cross to make it 0-1. A few minutes before the break Bayern failed to extend their lead as Thomas Müller hit the bar with a close-range header.
Bayern often forced Frankfurt to play the long ball by forming a diamond up front.
Tactical shifts in a physical second half
The start of the second half brought some tactical tweaks on both sides. Wingback Kostic stayed higher up the pitch, meaning that Frankfurt now often played with a back three mainly supported by right wing back Da Costa. Only when Frankfurt defended on their own half, Kostic would occupy his position as a wingback. A few minutes before the break Frankfurt had lost Gacinovic, who was replaced by renowned set piece taker Jonathan De Guzman.
One of his set pieces brought the biggest Frankfurt chance in the second half. After a quality corner kick from De Guzman it was Da Costa who performed a curious act, seemingly trying to score a goal with his backheel – a big opportunity wasted for Frankfurt.
Bayern played a more conservative game in the second half, trying to control the game and protect their lead. They often retreated in a 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. forming a 4-4-1-1 formation. When they had the chance they still pressed Frankfurt, but the focus in general had shifted to a lower type of pressing.
Frankfurt’s passmap shows a mix of patient passing at the back, and long passes from goalkeeper Trapp.
Bayern controls the game
In the second half, Bayern showed more composure in possession, resulting in more control and more tidiness in passing. On the other hand, Bayern took less risks in the buildup. Whereas they insisted on building up through short passes in the first half, they often chose to simply play a long pass in the second half.
Also noticeable was a focus on overloading the left side. When Ribéry positioned himself near the touchline, Alaba often made supporting underlap runs. This also worked vice-versa. This patterns showed in the second goal. Ribery dribbled inside, with Alaba steaming up on the outside, which allowed the Frenchman to finish off a high quality combination with Kimmich.
The fact that it became 0-3 a few minutes before the final whistle was due to a massive amount of luck. As mishit Rafinha cross ended up in the net for the knockout blow to Frankfurt.
Bayern picked up some crucial points in the title race. In contrast with the final 0-3 scoreline, this was nothing like a walk in the park for Bayern. There is no doubt Frankfurt will feel hard done when they look back at the opening stage of the game, as they should have got more out of that phase. Later on, Bayern got more control, but the home team’s physicality, still made this a tough game, although not expressed in the end result. As often before, the individual skill of Bayern’s players eventually made a crucial difference.
With that last sentence in mind: some special attention for Franck Ribéry, who is often criticized in this season. With Frankfurt in search of a goal in the second half, there was obviously more space to exploit for Bayern. Ribéry was clearly growing in the match, as the spaces got bigger. The Frenchman is not quite the explosive dribbler from years ago, but against Frankfurt he put in a class performance with some glimpses of his past. Besides his two goals, the Frenchman showed some clever movement and with the ball glued to his feet, the winger reminded the spectators how talented he still is.
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