RasenBallsport Leipzig – Bayern Munich: Stable Defense And Able Pressing Postpone Bayern’s Championship (0-0)

Because of Leipzig’s active press, Bayern Munich struggled in possession and were not capable of creating many scoring opportunities in a match that could have made them Bundesliga champions. Therefore, a tactical battle between Ralf Rangnick and Niko Kovač ended in a goalless draw. Tactical analysis of a high quality Bundesliga game.

Tactical analysis and match report by Max Bergmann.

The only thing at stake for Leipzig in this match was their pride, and testing their abilities against the best side in the country. They will end the season in third place and their growth as a club goes at such a rapid pace one easily forgets this was only their third Bundesliga season. Bayern’s season is far from over, as they needed a win here to celebrate another Bundesliga championship, solidifying their nickname of Rekordmeister in the process.  

Leipzig deployed a 4-4-2 diamond formation. With the fast striking partnership of Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen, Leipzig aimed at threatening the space behind Bayern’s defense. Directly behind the two attackers, Emil Forsberg lined up in the role of number ten.

Niko Kovač’s customary formation has become 4-2-3-1. This time, Leon Goretzka paired up with Thiago Alcántara, forming the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. in midfield. Thomas Müller was supposed to offer passing options in advanced areas and occupy the space between the lines. And the attacking trio with striker Robert Lewandowski and winger Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry were tasked to threaten the goal of the home-side.

Leipzig’s high press disrupts Bayern’s buildup

Leipzig attempted to disrupt Bayern’s buildup quite early. In order to press Bayern’s central defenders, central offensive midfielder Forsberg joined the front two, creating a line of three as the first line of press.

Although this is rather untypical against a side building up with a back four like Bayern, Leipzig had a clear plan. With three players pressing two central defenders, one spare player remained to stop Bayern from playing to Joshua Kimmich. Rangnick clearly identified the right back of Bayern as one of their key players during possession. Therefore, Werner stayed on the left wing and used his cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. to prevent any passes to Kimmich. On the other side, attacker Poulsen pressed center-back Mats Hummels also using his cover shadow to avoid Alaba to receive. This created a 4-3-3 pressing setup out of Leipzig’s 4-4-2 formation.

Leipzig’s press to disrupt Bayern’s buildup and decrease Kimmich’s impact.

The most promising approach to outplay Leipzig’s press was to directly play towards either of the wingers or attacking midfielder Müller, who liked to occupy the spaces next between Leipzig’s midfield three and back line.

As Bayern’s central defenders missed possible passing options to their fullbacks, central midfielders Goretzka and Thiago often had to drop deep during buildup. Although Leipzig’s midfielders could mark the opposition double pivot, in rare moments, Thiago received the ball and turned forward. Then, the Spanish midfielder utilized his vision and played forward passes into advanced areas. But as both Goretzka and Thiago were positioned deep, Bayern’s attacking department often missed support, often resulting in a loss of possession.

Leipzig’s plan up front

To press Leipzig’s central defenders, playmaker Müller moved next to attacker Lewandowski forming a 4-4-2 shape. Leipzig did not seem to be bothered being pressed, and mostly played long balls towards their attacking duo, preferably to tall forward Poulsen. With plenty of players moving forward, Leipzig could situationally create numerical equality in Bayern’s defensive third. If you divide the pitch in three horizontal zones, the defensive third is the area closest to a team’s own goal. Therefore, both advanced midfielders Marcel Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer joined playmaker Forsberg and the striking duo in the attack.

Key to Leipzig’s attacks was the offensive contribution of their fullbacks. Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann supported the attack on the side of the ball, thereby using open space on the wing. In addition to the attacking runs of their advanced midfielders, Leipzig were capable of forcing Bayern’s back four to stay narrow, and as a result, Leipzig were often able to attack down the flanks. Due to Bayern’s horizontally compact shape – and since Leipzig only provided as much width as needed – their fullbacks could even receive the ball within 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 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.  Especially in the middle of the first half, Leipzig could overload Bayern’s penalty area and play inside passes with their fullbacks several times.

Leipzig’s high fullbacks pose a risk in transition moments

When Leipzig attacked, their fullbacks moved high up the line to support the attack in the wide areas. However, this tactics allowed Bayern to initiate quick and dangerous counterattacks after regaining possession. Their wingers Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry used the open channels offered due to the absence of Leipzig’s fullbacks to receive the balls. To prevent this, on occasion, Leipzig’s defensive midfielder Diego Demme dropped into the back line. Nevertheless, this decreased their central presence and enabled Bayern’s midfielders to carry the ball in the center with less pressure.

Despite all the tactical nuances on display, not a lot of goalmouth action actually happened, as the two teams shared six shots between them in the entire first half.

Leipzig’s change to a 4-2-3-1 system

Ralf Rangnick decided to change formations during half-time. In the second half, his side deployed a 4-2-3-1 system with Sabitzer and Poulsen on the wings while Werner acted as the single striker. Sabitzer struggled with his new role. The Austrian dropped into advanced midfield areas to receive the ball, but lost the ball to Bayern’s midfield two times in a row. Building off this, Bayern were then were able to create two chances within five minutes. One of them resulted in a goal scored by Goretzka which was annulated by the VAR though.

The 4-2-3-1 system of Leipzig allowed to play through the center of the pitch at times, making the move by Rangnick a bit unlucky in hindsight. With a numerical equality and well executed off-ball movement, Müller was able to set up Coman, who only hit the woodwork. The closest Bayern had come to scoring.

Bayern’s fruitless crosses

In general, Leipzig use centrally focused systems to prevent the opposition from dominating the centre of the field. That obviously leads to open space on the fanks. However, Bayern were not capable of creating chance from their wing attacks. Leipzig played acted with a very narrow back line. But whenever a wide player of Bayern received the ball, they shifted towards the wing. This has been one of the main criticisms on Kovač’s tenure at Bayern: the offensive play is predictable and too wing-oriented.

Often, Leipzig could press the ball-carrier on the flank and prevent crosses to be put in. But even if Bayern successfully put in crosses, Leipzig did not struggle with defending them. With the support of their midfielders who tracked back, Leipzig won most duels within their penalty area.

Even though their crosses were not very promising, Bayern attempted them over and over again. With overall 15 unsuccessful cross and an additional 18 blocked ones, Bayern expressed their missing creativity within the last third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Meaning this game will go in the books as a high quality Bundesliga match, yet not with a lot of spectacle or creative spark by Bayern.


Guess what? These teams will meet for the German cup final as well. As Leipzig’s position in the league table is all set, this match might have been full of tactical decoys by Rangnick, as he might choose a different strategy altogether in the final.

Decoys or not, Leipzig were superior in parts of the first half. With high attacking fullbacks and an aggressive pressing approach, Rangnick’s side even had opportunities to take the lead. Bayern on the other hand struggled in the first half but improved during the second. By transitioning from defense to attack, Bayern were capable of creating chances but missed the opportunities to celebrate their championship. Dortmund now trail them by two points, as Bayern will have to take a point or more at home against Eintracht Frankfurt to win the league.

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Max Bergmann (21) likes to watch football from every possible angle as an ambitious coach, player, (former) referee and analyst. Holding the UEFA B-Level license, he is coaching youth teams and making video analysis. In order to extend his knowledge about tactics, physiology and psychology in sports, he is studying sports science. Whenever Max is not on the pitch or at the university, he analyses football with a focus on the Bundesliga and the other European top leagues for TotalFootballAnalysis and Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


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