RB Leipzig – Bayern Munich: Normal Service Resumes (3-5)

Offering a chance to take stock ahead of the new campaign, the DFL Supercup posed an age old question. But, at the final whistle, the plot was a familiar one. In a game that grew more hectic as time passed, 22 men chased the ball for 90 minutes, and the favorites lived up to the billing.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Will Bayern Munich give up their spot at the summit? Exit Hansi Flick, enter Julian Nagelsmann, and the tale has not yet changed. In the end, they bagged a tenth Bundesliga in a row in April. However, many doubts shroud the new season. Bowing out of the last eight in Europe to Villarreal, they were bereft of the intensity central to their treble of 2020. For all the ideas Nagelsmann might have, the exit of Robert Lewandowski could indicate the end of the cycle of this iteration of the Bavarian machine.

RB Leipzig intend to be one of the clubs on their coattails. The wild whirlwind of classic Red Bull football spiraled out of control, forcing Jesse Marsch out of the dugout in place of Domenico Tedesco. By May, they had ended up in the top four, reached the last four of the Europa League, and won their first major trophy with a shootout triumph over Union Berlin in the DFB Pokal Final. Hemorrhaging talent is the norm for Leipzig, but continuity from their settled setup should inspire more optimism.

True to his nature, Nagelsmann has trialed multiple structures in the preseason. A 4-2-3-1 shape and a 5-3-2 system have been his two main options. Here, he went for the former. Ahead of Manuel Neuer in the back four were Alphonso Davies, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernández and Benjamin Pavard. Joshua Kimmich sat on the left of the double pivot next to Marcel Sabitzer. Jamal Musiala, Thomas Müller, and Serge Gnabry supported Sadio Mané upfront, the only summer signing to start this clash.

On the other hand, Tedesco has been faithful to the 5-2-3 block he deployed in the second half of last season. They, too, fielded a familiar outfit with the addition of no new faces from last season. So, Xaver Schlager watched from the bench as his compatriot Konrad Laimer joined Kevin Kampl in the middle of the park. Further afield, Dominik Szoboszlai earned a spot to the right of Emil Forsberg and Christopher Nkunku in the front three, whom Lukas Klostermann and Benjamin Henrichs flanked.

Flexible, front foot football

As was the case for Tedesco at Schalke, stability has grounded the improvement of his men at Leipzig. A chain of five at the back with a narrow, compact block is central to his playbook. The details of their defense on the day will then adapt to the opponent. Here, the attackers began in a tight row of three, and an asymmetric 5-3-2 block emerged later due to the deeper position of Szoboszlai. Behind them, both wing-backs would push out from the chain of five to prevent wide progressions.

31st minute: buildup to Mané’s goal. Musiala drifts outward, prompting Müller to slip diagonally out of Laimer’s cover shadow. Orbán is lured out of the chain of five, an up-back-through combination between Müller, Musiala and Gnabry then breaches the penalty area to generate the scoring chance.

Bayern had the lion’s share of the ball, but all eyes were on the dynamics in the final third. Mané began the contest as the striker, but he was not a fixed point in the attack. The movement between him, Gnabry, and Müller gave rise to more flexibility among the front four in occupying the space between the lines. Time and again, Upamecano punched the play forward with vertical passes, while passes round the midfield from the fullbacks also set off calculated runs and layoffs in the halfspaces.

If any fixed point existed, it was Musiala in the left halfspace, where he wriggled seamlessly away from markers. And his spark paved the breakthrough for the Bavarians. He deftly switched feet before sweeping a strike into the net past Péter Gulácsi at the second phase of a corner after 15 minutes. A little beyond the half hour mark, a slide rule pass to Gnabry set up Mané for a simple tap-in. 2-0.

Leaky Leipzig cannot handle the pressure

Bayern kept their throat on Leipzig’s neck. Their opponents often reconfigured at the back when they built up the play from Gulácsi. Willi Orbán moved to the edge of the box next to Kampl, and the rest of the backline fanned out to create a back four. But their sequences fell flat against the guests, who switched between 4-2-2-2 and 4-2-1-3 structures to press high. Unforced errors proved to be costly.

In the 44th minute, Musiala charged down Kampl, whose loss of ball control handed Bayern an invite to a rapid breakaway into the penalty area. The midfielder atoned for his error with a block to steer Sabitzer’s drive from range away from the net, but the respite was only temporary. Musiala cut open Leipzig’s defense from the ensuing corner thanks to a one-two combination with Müller and pinpoint cutback into the path of Pavard, whose strike beat Gulácsi. On the stroke of half time, the home team fell foul of the least ideal outcome. All eyes turned to Tedesco. How would the manager respond?

Tedesco takes a risk

Tedesco held off from using any substitutes till the 52nd minute. André Silva swapped in for Forsberg upfront, and the entry of Dani Olmo in place of Kampl prompted a change in shape. Olmo acted as a number ten, and Henrichs sat at the base of the midfield to generate a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

54th minute: buildup sequence from Bayern. Neuer sprays a pass out to Davies. Sabitzer roams to the ball near side, while Kimmich pins Olmo and Hernández draws Silva higher by dropping off to offer a backward option. The midfielder’s dynamic advantage over Henrichs enables a one-two with Müller.

It was a risky ploy. Laimer and Szoboszlai acted as eights to press the fullbacks, while Olmo stayed near Kimmich. So, as Sabitzer lurked free, if Henrichs jumped to aid the press and Bayern still broke through, solo duels arose at the back. But if they played into a central trap, Leipzig could pounce.

Dueling blow for blow, both outfits profited from this dynamic. In the 58th minute, Henrichs bullied Kimmich off the ball, allowing Szoboszlai to slip a through ball into the path of Nkunku on the left. Hernández blocked Olmo’s effort, but the Frenchman did bag an assist thanks to Marcel Halstenberg heading home from a corner. Alas, roles had reversed not long after the hour mark. Kimmich and Mané brought Sabitzer into the play, finding Coman to break the lines as runners pinned the rest of the back four. Gulácsi parried a shot from Muller, only for Gnabry to firmly ram the rebound home.

Bayern tease with persistent pursuers

Nagelsmann continued to rotate his options. Matthijs de Ligt and Noussair Mazraoui entered the fray to make their competitive debuts for Bayern, while Leroy Sané replaced Gnabry upfront. However, the fresh legs came into a unit lacking the same compactness as before the break. In front of a home crowd, Tedesco’s men were not ready to concede victory in this contest. Their perseverance paid off.

Before those three substitutions, Olmo had drawn contact from Pavard inside the penalty area. The foul gifted a golden chance to Nkunku from twelve yards. His rasping effort brought down the deficit to two goals again, rekindling the hope of a comeback. Laimer’s lung bursting run in the 89th minute validated that faith as he turned Leipzig’s defense to set away Silva, then Szoboszlai on the left. Olmo eventually eluded de Ligt in the box, beating Neuer to put the clash on a knife’s edge at the death.

Nevertheless, no matter how close you run the Bavarians, they find a way to win the race. Pushing for an equalizer from a set-piece, Leipzig left their half of the field free for Sané to attack. He chopped inside and out to dodge Hugo Novoa, then slotted into the net. The triumph and trophy were Bayern’s.


Leipzig will seek to take heart from the second half. Tedesco was content enough to cede most of the play, but such a strategy can ill afford to be so error-prone in execution to function. The manager shall aim to get his men up to speed before starting the league campaign with a trip to Stuttgart next week.

On the other hand, the Bavarian first half display pointed to what they could morph into without their talisman. At the heart of a dynamic offense, Musiala shone and will yearn to be a more pivotal aspect of Nagelsmann’s plans. It is early days, but life without Lewandowski is not all doom and gloom.

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


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