Werder Bremen – Bayern Munich: Kane Quality Gets Bayern Off To A Winning Start (0-4)
The 2023/24 Bundesliga season began with defending champions Bayern Munich visiting Werder Bremen. A lot of focus was on Harry Kane, the Bundesliga’s most expensive arrival who was making his first start for the record champions here. The English striker quickly showed everyone what he is all about, bagging a goal and assist to help his side start with three points.
Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.
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After a very close shave in their title defense last season, Bayern Munich have endured a fairly tumultuous summer. The departures of Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić on the very day the 2022/23 season ended left quite a power vacuum as far as transfer-related decision-making was concerned, allowing head coach Thomas Tuchel to have a great deal of influence on those matters. They did sign a number of his targets but were also snubbed by some like Kyle Walker and Declan Rice, so their squad was not in perfect shape going into the season. The Super Cup defeat to RB Leipzig did not help in alleviating concerns.
Werder Bremen, on the other hand, have enjoyed a fairly smooth summer. After a solid mid-table finish last season, they have been able to keep most of their key players and have also made a couple of shrewd additions to their midfield, so the mood around the Weserstadion was pretty positive in anticipation of the new season.
Werder Bremen stuck to their 3-5-2 formation, behind which Jiří Pavlenka kept his place in goal. Amos Pieper, Miloš Veljković and Marco Friedl started as the center-backs with Mitchell Weiser and Anthony Jung on either side of them. Summer signing Senne Lynen was joined by Jens Stage and Leonardo Bittencourt in midfield, whilst Niclas Füllkrug and Marvin Ducksch led the attack.
Bayern Munich lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sven Ulreich got a start between the sticks as Manuel Neuer is reportedly unable to kick properly following his skiing accident, leaving Bayern quite thin in the goalkeeping department. Noussair Mazraoui, Dayot Upamecano, Kim Min-jae and Alphonso Davies made up the back four, with Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in midfield ahead of them. Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman started on either wing, whilst Jamal Musiala operated behind fresh arrival Harry Kane in attack.
Werder’s overenthusiastic defense gets punished early on
One of the unique characteristics of the German Bundesliga is that there are very few (if any) teams that sit back and defend deep. Almost everyone seems to employ a high defensive line, as is demonstrated by the fact that the median defensive line height in the league last season was 45.5 meters and the lowest only dropped to 42.51.
This league-wide style of play results in a lot of pressing as well as a lot of chances conceded to runs in behind, which is why there always seem to be discussions around the ‘Bundesliga tax’ when one of the league’s better goalscorers leaves for pastures new. In the case of Kane, we might have to apply that to his assists tally at the end of this season.
Kane’s playmaking qualities after dropping deep are common knowledge at this point, yet he remains just as difficult to stop. He was dangerous enough in the Premier League, but he could easily do better than his best seasonal league assists tally of 14 in Germany. Not only will he have a lot of high defensive lines to unlock, but he will also have rapid runners in behind to supply in the form of Sané and Coman.
The ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker needed less than four minutes to send the German winger through on goal with a lovely first-time pass with his back turned to the goal, helping Bayern to an early lead. That goal was scored on the counterattack, but the Werder defense seemed just as susceptible to being opened up when they set up in their fully player-oriented high block.
10th minute: Werder Bremen’s completely player-oriented high block setup, which often left them three-against-three at the back.
Thankfully for them, they did not defend this high all the time and regularly dropped into a compact medium block which looked a lot more secure. In those situations, their plan seemed to be to lure Bayern in before winning the ball back and springing forward on counterattacks. However, the defending champions seemed to have a plan to prevent themselves from being exposed in this way.
Bayern’s double pivot in midfield
Bayern Munich have mostly lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in Tuchel’s tenure so far, but their shape in possession has generally resembled a 2-3-2-3 structure with one of the deeper midfielders pushing forward whilst the fullbacks tend to stay deeper. Looking at the profiles in their squad, though, this system did not seem to place many of the players in their best roles.
For one, Bayern do not have a pure number six and have had to use Kimmich as the sitter in midfield. The German international is one of the most technically secure players in the world so he can do a very good job in that role, but he would unquestionably be better enabled to showcase the full range of his qualities in a slightly freer role. A couple of other limitations of this system were the fact that Davies’ attacking freedom on the left was severely restricted, as was Musiala’s positional freedom between the lines because he had to share that space with a midfielder.
With all of that in mind, Tuchel’s decision to change the structure in this match makes sense. Instead of the 2-3-2-3 shape, he asked his side to operate in a sort of 2-4-1-3 structure with Goretzka religiously staying alongside Kimmick in midfield through the first two phases. In the final third, either of them had a reasonable amount of freedom to push forward, though the ex-Schalke midfielder was the one exercising it the most. Ahead of them, Musiala excelled in a freer number ten role, whilst Davies made Bayern’s left flank quite dangerous with constant forward runs.
Bayern München passmap— Bundesliga Analytics (@BuLiAnalytics) August 18, 2023
Locations are the average locations when making a complete pass pic.twitter.com/08K7Eek7bA
This altered structure not only seemed to make Bayern’s players more dangerous in attack but it also made the team more defensively secure. The central 2-2 base structure with the center-backs and midfielders made them a lot more resistant to counterattacks, enabling the four attackers to counterpress with support from the ball-side fullback knowing that even if they failed, their team had good numbers at the back. As a result, Bayern were able to limit their opponents to just six shots, of which only half were from inside the box.
Bayern beef up the scoreline late on
Thanks to their aforementioned defensive solidity, Bayern Munich’s one-goal lead seemed quite secure but they would obviously have liked to have some insurance. That feeling would only have increased when Werder Bremen made an attacking change around the hour-mark by bringing on Oliver Burke as the right wing back and looked to commit more bodies forward in attack.
About fifteen minutes later, the record champions got what they wanted. Davies burst forward down the left wing and slipped Kane in, after which the English striker emphatically scored his first Bundesliga goal with a trademark near-post finish after feigning to shoot towards the far corner and sending the keeper the wrong way. The result seemed as good as wrapped up then, but the visitors would go on to double their advantage in the dying stages of the match. Goals from Sané and Mathys Tel delivered a four-goal win for them, creating a large margin of victory that masked what was a close match for long stretches.
Werder Bremen might be right to feel a little hard done by the final score after giving the defending champions a decent run for their money with an aggressive game plan, but that is also what cost them with the early concession. If there is one thing we learnt from them last season, it is the fact that they are not going to change the way they play for anyone, so they should be exciting to watch once again.
For Bayern Munich, this was a much-needed convincing win after the dismal showing in the Super Cup last week. Kane seemed to fit like a glove in his full debut, linking up well with his teammates to play a part in his side’s first two goals. There has been a lot of talk about whether this might finally be the season Bayern’s title-winning streak ends but they certainly have championship-winning firepower up front so all they will need to do is stay defensively solid (which the new in-possession shape helped ensure) and probably sort out the goalkeeping situations to establish themselves as clear favorites quite quickly.
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