Bayer Leverkusen hosted Bayern Munich in a top of the table clash in the Bundesliga this week. Before this meeting, Leverkusen were unbeaten in 12 games in the Bundesliga, winning eight and drawing four. They have become the team to beat, putting in some very impressive performances coming into this match.
In their previous five games in all competitions, Leverkusen have scored 18 goals and only conceded three. They play a high pressing, attacking style of football, and look to attack with numbers to overwhelm their opponents. In this analysis, we will take a look at how they attack, and how their build up play allows them to transition from their third to their opponents third so quickly.
Bayern Munich won this game, moving them to first place in the Bundesliga. The match finished with an xG of 0.26 - 1.39, which might show that Leverkusen offered very little going forward. While the quality of chances created were poor, Leverkusen created chances nonetheless and brought the attack to a very strong Bayern defense. An xG of 1.39 for Bayern Munich is fair, considering that they their two goals came from two Jonathan Tah errors, while also looking threatening on the counter.
Leverkusen deployed a 4-3-3 which saw Julian Baumgartlinger sit very deep, just above the defensive line, while Nadiem Amiri and Florian Wirtz often joined the forward attacking line, sharing a sort of free roaming “#10” role. Both Amiri and Wirtz would make late runs in behind the Bayern Munich defensive lines, mostly through the middle, to chase longball passes made over the defensive line, or, to pull a Bayern man-marker out of position.
Bayern deployed a 4-2-3-1 and struggled to keep possession once they got the ball. Corentin Tolisso and David Alaba started as the team’s underwhelming double-pivot, with their inexperience in these deeper roles showing. At times, the Bayen backline shifted to a back three, with Alphonso Davies more advanced, while Lucas Hernández, Jérôme Boateng and Niklas Süle moved into more central positions. This proved to be ineffective against the Leverkusen press, as we will see.
In order to attack well, you must be able to move the ball well. Leverkusen are very comfortable on the ball and welcome their opponents to press them, as they look to attack the space left behind them. Below is our first example of Leverkusen welcoming the Bayern press. Edmond Tapsoba is on the ball. He is being closed down, but still has time and space to pick an appropriate pass. Tapsoba, and most of the Leverkusen defenders look to Baumgartlinger as he drops deep to receive the ball and move it forward. The red space is where we can find Baumgartlinger always moving around or into. He completed 51 passes, 29 of them going into the opposition half. Baumgartlinger is key to the Leverkusen build up and attack.
Goalkeeper Lukás Hrádecky played a key role in ensuring Leverkusen held the ball well as seen below. He acts as the base of the passing diamond Leverkusen routinely made, with Baumgartlinger at the top of it. Hrádecky will always have three passing options in Tah, Tapsoba and Baumgartlinger to beat Bayern’s three main pressers: Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. This creates a four versus three scenario that Bayern routinely lost, and allowed Leverkusen to transition well. Even with Müller marking Baumgartlinger above, Hrádecky still has options.
Over time, Bayern would commit more numbers forward to help the press, however, this was no problem for Hrádecky or Leverkusen. Below, we see the same diamond shape, except Baumgartlinger is not at the top of it. Amiri drops deeper in this example as play moves to his side of the pitch, the left. If the play were on the right, we would see Wirtz drop deeper to help the build up. Müller presses Hrádecky, Coman presses Topsoba and Lewandowski shields Baumgartlinger, but no one is covering the retreating Amiri, ensuring Leverkusen retains possession.
In contrast we see below, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is on the ball, passing to his defender Hernández. Before the pass even reaches him, Schick moves to press Neuer, preventing Hernández from playing a return pass to him. Wirtz stops man-marking Alaba, instead shielding him while beginning to press Hernández, removing another passing option from Hernández. Diaby eyes defender Süle while keeping close to Tolisso, the player Schick was marking before pressing Neuer. With no passing options, Hernández must play a clearing pass to remove the danger, instead of a pass that allows his team to progress with the ball.
Süle is on the ball below. He has no forward passing options for two reasons. One, Diaby, Schick and Wirtz are all infront of him, actively pressing him while shielding the central space behind them. Two, Alaba and Tolisso are very far away from their starting positions, meaning that the space between midfield and defense is too great. There is no player to bring the ball from defense to attack.
Below we see Süle on the ball, being pressed by Diaby. Schick presses Boateng while left full-back Daley Sinkgraven presses Coman. Bayern were overwhelmed in midfield, so they had winger Serge Gnabry play more centrally, while Davies pushed up into that left-wing position. This helps get numbers into midfield, but the gap between defense and midfield is too great, especially when we see how quick Leverkusen are to put players in that space. Wirtz and right full-back Aleksandar Dragovic push into the midfield space, smothering Bayern.
One of the most entertaining parts of watching any Leverkusen match is their willingness to attack. They easily commit five players forward during any given attack, with Amiri and Wirtz given the freedom to attack any space they choose, while Leon Bailey, Shick and Diaby play centrally and overload the defense.
Our first example below shows Dragovic on the ball. Bailey, Wirtz and Shick focus their attack on the right side of the pitch, overwhelming Davies, Hernández and Boateng, while Diaby is on the opposite side of the pitch, providing width. This gives Dragovic the option of passing long and wide, or passing straight forwards knowing his teammates can outrun the Bayern defenders. Leverkusen are often spoiled for attacking options.
Below we analyze another attacking tactic used by Leverkusen. Schick always remains central, he is often the focal point of the Leverkusen attack. When Leverkusen are able to attack through the middle, Diaby and Bailey remain very wide, pulling their full-back markers apart, stretching the defensive line. This allows Amiri and Wirtz to make fast runs down the middle into the space made by the wingers. We see this in effect. Süle looks to chase the incoming pass to Diaby from Schick, while Wirtz and Amiri already begin sprinting through the middle.
To beat the Leverkusen press, Bayern had to resort to long over the top passes to wide players. Below, we see Coman dropping deep into what is normally a right full-back position to act as a wide passing option. Diaby looks to press Süle while also keeping close to Boateng. Schick presses Neuer, Baumgartlinger presses Alaba, while Wirtz isn’t too far from Hernández. Tolisso is positioned behind Baumgartlinger, which isn’t an ideal position for a player meant to help his team retain possession, not kick it long.
As the game went on, Bayern had to adapt to Leverkusen’s attacking threat. They relieved their pressure on Baumgartlinger and instead moved substitutes Joshua Kimich and Jamal Musiala into the backline. This was done to help cope with the overwhelming runs made from midfield. Below, we see the Bayern shape. Notably, Wirtz sits between the Bayern defensive and midfield lines to help with moving the ball forward.
Bayern Munich as expected of champions both reigning and elect, did not play their best yet still managed to win. They relied on counter-attacking tactics and did not press as effectively as we have seen in the past. They are a side filled to the brim with exciting players who are both physically and technically gifted. They adapted their tactics to a very strong Leverkusen side and it worked.
Leverkusen will be disappointed in themselves. They play attractive football and love to attack, yet it was two individual errors that cost them the game. Going forward, Leverkusen will continue to impress domestically and in the Europa League. One loss in the Bundesliga won’t cost them the season, especially if they continue to play like they have.