Hertha Berlin – Bayern Munich: Rampant Rekordmeister Deliver A Hammer Blow (1-4)
From time to time, elite outfits have those days when they remind you why they are a cut above the rest. Bayern Munich’s trip to the German capital turned out to be one of those days, putting Hertha Berlin to the sword in all aspects to reopen a six point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
This campaign is the latest in a string of mediocre runouts for Hertha Berlin. The clout of the capital has done little to prop up the team to the upper echelon of the table. Neither has the appointment of a new leader in the dugout changed their fortunes. Pál Dardái’s departure in November gave way to the arrival of Tayfun Korkut, but a revival is yet to take place. Languishing in thirteenth place ahead of kickoff, four points clear of the playoff spot, they yearned for a minor miracle to trump the odds.
The three points were all the more key for Bayern Munich in light of Borussia Dortmund’s form. A 3-2 win over TSG Hoffenheim cut the deficit at the top of the table down to a mere three points. This result ensured that the Bavarians were on their toes— hardly as if they required the free motivation. Chasing their tenth league title in a row, Julian Nagelsmann’s men have been relentless in front of goal. So, according to the form book, they looked to dispatch this run-of-the-mill fodder.
Off the back of a 3-2 defeat at the hands of derby rivals Union Berlin in the last 16 of the DFB Pokal, Korkut adopted a policy of damage limitation. The manager switched from a 4-1-4-1 shape to a 5-3-2 block. Santiago Ascacibar dropped to the bench, allowing Myziane Maolida to start in the front two. Among the three defenders that he rotated into the starting eleven was stalwart Peter Pekarík.
A premature exit from the cup handed Nagelsmann the unique chance to rest his men for a week. Fresh off the 4-0 rout of FC Köln, he went for a new approach. Marcel Sabitzer did not feature in the lineup that welcomed Lucas Hernández back from a spell in isolation with COVID-19. However, the manager still only picked three defenders, casting doubt over Joshua Kimmich’s role. Further afield, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sané both earned starting spots in a highly offensive outfit on paper.
Multiple pathways to one key alignment
Throwing Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller, and Robert Lewandowski into the mix, Nagelsmann picked five attackers from the off. Camping themselves in Hertha’s half of the pitch, the Bavarians used a 3-1-5-1 offensive structure. However, it emerged a bit differently from how we have seen it in the past.
5th minute: offensive combination from a Bayern throw-in. A one-two combination between Comin and Hernández draws out Hertha’s midfield to generate space for Sané. Tolisso advances onto the last line, creating a halfspace overload letting his teammate turn, before laying the ball into the path of Coman. Note the narrow positioning of the ball far forwards, facilitating quick combination play.
An asymmetric back four tilting to the left has often been the basis of their 3-1 structure. It has often generated access problems for opposing wingers with the deeper, inverted positioning of the right back. In light of Kimmich filling in on the right of the backline in the new year, a wild but intriguing option would have been for him to tuck inward from the flank, letting Corentin Tolisso roam higher. The rest of the defenders could form the 3-man platform behind a pair of broad, advanced wide men. However, Nagelsmann abandoned the back four, returning Kimmich to his rightful role in midfield.
A double pivot of Tolisso and him established itself in a 3-2-4-1 system, but the usual features of a Nagelsmann attack soon gave rise to the 3-1-5-1 arrangement. Akin to Leon Goretzka, Tolisso would move relatively quickly into the space between and behind the second line of Hertha’s block, forcing the hosts to adapt to their heavy central focus. An asymmetry also came into fruition at the back, but it tended over to the left, freeing Hernández to dribble the ball from a wider spot than Benjamin Pavard.
Typical patterns of play under Nagelsmann quickly came to light. The breadth and depth of the wing-backs teed up diagonal runs into the center behind the last line of defense if there was little to no pressure on the ball carrier from deep. Indeed, in the absence of Alphonso Davies to offer a fullback option on each side of the pitch, combinations from the flanks were comparatively rarer than usual. Instead, the two wide men held a dominant pinning role. In conjunction with Tolisso moving in the blindside of Vladimír Darida, ample room opened in the halfspaces for Sané and Müller to operate.
2nd minute: buildup to Tolisso’s disallowed goal. Tolisso pins Darida, while Kimmich provides an inward option for Hernández, drawing Suat Serdar towards the ball. Hertha completely lose ball far access, allowing Müller to prepare a cross from the halfspace into the box, finding the midfielder.
It only took two minutes for the Bavarians to release the first warning signal, chalking up an offside goal from Tolisso. Indeed, once they outplayed the three in midfield, Nagelsmann’s men tore apart Hertha’s access to the play. Between the pair of width holders and Robert Lewandowski, they could occupy the chain of five for long enough that Tolisso, Sané, or Müller could pick up the ball. The retreat of the backline let Bayern quickly forge momentum, peppering shots on goal from the off.
Korkut’s resistance futile
In under a quarter of an hour, Korkut unfurled the white flag. Maolida dropped back to the right of the midfield, forming a 5-4-1 formation. Bayern promptly adapted. As the first line of defense was now narrower, Niklas Süle gained more room to step into midfield. The three progressive center-backs worked aptly with Kimmich, setting the tone for a performance whose due reward would soon come.
Indeed, the visitors finally broke the deadlock in the 25th minute. Coman’s arcuate delivery met the head of Tolisso, whose stooping header beat Alexander Schwolow. And on the stroke of half time, a comeback became virtually impossible. Kimmich’s delivery from a set-piece to Müller saw the Bavarians break an unkempt rearguard, doubling their lead at half time. The signs were ominous.
Julian Nagelsmann: "In the end, the goal we conceded bothered me more than the chances we missed. Hertha only had one big chance, otherwise we defended everything well. The goal was absolutely avoidable."— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) January 23, 2022
A deserved scoreline
The second half was not quite as hegemonic as the first. However, the superiority of Bayern’s system prevailed. In more common spells that they encountered off the ball, both the wing-backs operated aggressively, seldom dropping to support the chain of three at the back. This dominance reiterated in transition, where the high occupancy of central lanes handed the attackers short pathways to the ball in the counterpressing phase. A 30:5 shot count in favor of the visitors painted an accurate picture.
Still two goals to the good in the 75th minute, Bayern Munich were all but assured of all three points. Nonetheless, hunting the 101-goal haul of Flick’s treble winners, a scoreline befitting their dominance was in order. The attackers eventually obliged. Schwolow sold short Linus Gechter with a lateral pass along the face of the six-yard box, prompting Sané to intercept the play and slot home into the net.
Gnabry nearly lobbed the goalkeeper to bag a fourth goal, only for Gechter to clear his shot off the line. Fortunately, shortly after, Kimmich set him off on the break to etch his name on the score board. Dayot Upamecano’s erroneous pass to Manuel Neuer let Jurgen Ekklenklamp reduce the arrears, totting up the scoreline to 1-4 at the final whistle, but it hardly blemished Bayern’s dominance.
A limp performance from Hertha Berlin ought to have left no route back into the game long before the final flurry of the Bavarians in the second half. Their 5-3-2 block could not mask underlying faults. This crushing defeat extends the club’s winless streak in the new year to three games: a run indicative of a dreary state of affairs. As the chasing pack at the basement of the standings creep closer to their meek points haul, fears of demotion will only subside if Korkut’s men make a drastic improvement.
As bad as Hertha Berlin were in this contest, Bayern Munich’s showing was stellar. Above all, their work in the first half illuminated the chasm between the two outfits: a seismic gap in player quality became all the more pronounced due to the astute execution of Nagelsmann’s ideas. Sané’s impressive evolution under his tutelage might be the most glaring example of this development; Kimmich and Süle, among others, also speak to the intriguing philosophy of their manager. But, above all, the Bavarian machine rolls on, priming itself for its next victim, RB Leipzig, at the start of February.
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