RasenBallsport Leipzig – Bayern Munich: True Chess Match Results In Draw (1-1)

This was one of the most fascinating tactical battles you will see all season. With some clever adaptations along the way from both coaches, it was a relentless back-and-forth chess match that could have resulted in a much higher score line on just about any other day. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M

Following a blistering start to the season that saw them hold the Bundesliga’s top spot through the international break, Leipzig’s challenge for the crown was in full swing. The numbers in our prediction table also firmly back this up.

However, with a long, long way still to go, the hosts claiming a result against the reigning champions, here, would certainly be a huge boost for them, simultaneously sending a message to both Dortmund and Munich.

In Nagelsmann’s predictably unpredictable ways, he moved away from their more typical 4-2-2-2 setup, which beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1 away from home, to a 3-5-2 system that saw Kevin Kampl make way for Nordi Mukiele.

Niko Kovač made a few changes from Bayern’s 6-1 whitewash of Mainz. Mostly sticking to a 4-2-3-1 ensemble, David Alaba, Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perišić were left out of the starting eleven, with Jérôme Boateng returning to the side, seeing Lucas Hernández fill Alaba’s position. In attack, Thomas Müller was favored over the Brazilian, and Serge Gnabry came back in for the Croatian on the left.

Frantic beginning brings to the fore a host of strategic setups

The opening period of the match was finely poised by the way both teams set themselves out to play. 

Leipzig meticulously set themselves out to direct Bayern’s play to one side, and subsequently shut it down. That side was Bayern’s right, which was where the visitors seemed happiest to play into, most likely due to Alaba’s replacement being not-quite-as-adept on the ball. 

In their shape, Leipzig maintained a very narrow center-forward pairing and back-five, however, they allowed their midfield three to stretch themselves out for certain triggers. So, whilst the two up top held zonal positions that were both enough to prevent passes into the sitting midfielder, Joshua Kimmich, and into dropping midfielders, such as Müller through the lines, Leipzig could ensure that Bayern had to go the long way around to get to where they wanted to be.

Bayern often used Benjamin Pavard as a focalized third center-back. When this happened, Emil Forsberg (left of the midfield trio) was the one tasked with pressing him – not Timo Werner, nor the wing-back, Marcel Halstenberg. In using him specifically, the strikers could maintain the kind of blockade that would not only force Bayern to go back and around to recycle the ball, but would also offer instant counterattacking options beyond Pavard.

The options for Pavard in this wide area were incredibly limited, since Forsberg’s aggressive press increased the size of 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 block off Müller’s movements short to the near-sided halfspace. 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. There was also the fact that the Leipzig defenders intensely followed their opposite numbers, with Willi Orban pushing onto Müller. And, given the extended time it took to make it to the flank, Konrad Laimer could comfortably get across in support away from the center.

Leipzig’s wide left setup to stifle Bayern’s right side.

The mechanisms for defending Bayern’s fewer left-sided attacks were very similar, with Marcel Sabitzer being the nominated player to step out, from midfield, with Lukas Klostermann, the right-wing-back, staying very narrow against the nearest forward so not to allow the defense to be drastically stretched. 

What came of this impressively compact setup was a lot of turnovers and, subsequently, a good number of opportunities to string together some counterattacks. But in the first half, Leipzig were not so successful at these kind of transitions, surprisingly. The home side were guilty of having a shape that left them too flat and without any real staggering. What would have been more effective was if Werner had more frequently played off the space being pinned open by Yussuf Poulsen on the ball-side. Unfortunately for the hosts, their unsustainability on counterattacks led to Bayern’s opening goal. 

In just the second minute, some excellent pressing forced a turnover to see Mukiele and Poulsen carry the ball to the far, right side. Although they lost the ball, the aggression the defenders showed to get in support of the 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. helped reclaim the ball. Unfortunately, it was another case of sloppy timing and execution of passes as Sabitzer’s intercepted pass led to Müller getting the better of Klostermann to feed it into the wide open channel, which was vacated by Orban and Mukiele in support of the high pressing moments. The Pole made no mistake and punished Leipzig. A great example of how nowadays at the elite level of football, you must not only counterattack, but also counter the counterattack. 

Besides a weak counterattacking game, Leipzig’s deeper buildup passages were not great, either. Outside of one clever move very early on, that was in part down to the way Kingsley Coman overstepped his press onto Orban instead of holding his position to block access into Halstenberg. Once he did, though, Bayern found it easy to frustrate Leipzig. They ended up playing short into midfield, which was easily closed down, as were their attempts to play into the feet of Poulsen, unsupported by Werner.

If their structure would not have been so flat, they would have been able to, and more willing, to field higher and longer passes into the attack. 

Then the issue for Leipzig eventually was an increasingly level of mental fatigue. They had allowed for Bayern to dominate for so long that even after a short period of time, the intensity was wearing thin and needless gaps were beginning to open, especially inside past the strikers. 

This almost resulted in a second for Bayern just past the half hour mark, when Werner impatiently stepped out too early, leaving Kimmich open, who then found the right flank much quicker. With Laimer and Orban unable to apply the right pressure to Müller, he returned a quick give-and-go with Coman to see the Frenchman charge down the flank and cut it back for Gnabry but he could not get it out from under his feet in that split second.

Leipzig balance it up

It took until stoppage time of the first half to do so, but Leipzig finally got the goal that they probably just about deserved. This time, instead of playing hopelessly short as part of their buildup play, Leipzig went for the second ball approach, and it worked masterfully. 

Right center-back Mukiele clipped it into space between the lines, only for numerous players to pounce on the outstretched leg of Thiago. On the attack they went, moving it wide to the left for Werner, who looked to find Sabitzer’s run into the middle, however, his dummy to see it roll all the way across for Poulsen resulted in the Dane getting his body across to win a foul inside the box against a late challenge from Lucas. Forsberg stepped up and converted to end the half level.

A big change from Nagelsmann

With the attacking looking very bare and uninspiring, something needed to happen. So, Nagelsmann reverted to the team’s familiar 4-2-2-2 setup, and it worked to a tee. Initially, it seemed to have the greatest impact on long balls. Whereas in the first half many of the balls – not that there were too many – were ineffective, they now had the instant support dotted around the ball to play off these and launch instant attacks. 

Just a few minutes into the second half, they did just this, with Laimer clipping it gently forwards from the edge of his box into Poulsen, who was directly deep of Werner, and had Forsberg and Sabitzer bordering him closely. He subsequently played off of Sabitzer to receive it with his feet and set it across. With three runners bursting ahead, he chose to play in Halstenberg’s far-sided run into the box, but Pavard recovered well to get a solid block on his shot.

The instance above shown in the phase of the long ball being clipped towards Poulsen.

Bayern almost expose weaknesses

With such close ball support and so much high wide play, Leizpig found it difficult with even more of a ball-sided presence helping keep to a solid and overloading When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. structure from Bayern. Despite now controlling the game against a fairly limp 4-4-2 shape, what came of their dominance was very little. There were plenty of okay deliveries but plenty of basic clearances too. Outside of an agonisingly-close header from Niklas Süle from a free kick as the last touch of the match, there was not much to shout about for the last twenty-five minutes.

The last big chance of the match came with the last touch of the game. From a freekick towards the end of the ninety-second minute, Kimmich curled it to the far, right post, where Niklas Süle nodded it back across for Gulásci to get the lightest of brushes on the ball to knock it onto the far-post and out. Meaning this tactical battle did not get a winner, in the end.


Though the first half probably belonged to Bayern, Leipzig mostly owned the second half, so a clawed back result for the latter was probably deserved. A point at home to the reigning champions is good going for Nagelsmann, and the invention he has shown in these opening four games is seriously impressive, but that has come with its trade-offs, like here, with the way in which Bayern were able to initially and eventually exploit it at will.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. 

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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