In this tactical analysis we visit Der Klassiker. Bayern Munich emerged as deserved winners while Borussia Dortmund showed us why they should not be considered a serious threat for the Bundesliga title anytime soon. A hat-trick from Robert Lewandowski and goal from Leon Goretzka were enough to complete Bayern’s comeback after conceding two goals from Erling Haaland.
The xG of this match reveals accurately how it went. Bayern Munich (3.0) 4 - 2 (0.62) Borussia Dortmund (infogol.net). Dortmund are an excellent counter-attacking side full of talent. However, Bayern rarely gave up possession. Bayern Munich are relentless pressers and excellent in possession. We will see in this analysis what Bayern did to repeatedly breakdown Dortmund. After securing an early lead, Dortmund struggled to handle the pressure Bayern had placed on them, and eventually went into half-time level with two goals from Lewandowski.
Bayern lined-up in a 4-2-3-1, however, the shape of the team was very fluid. We would often see Niklas Süle tuck inside during Bayern’s build-up phase while Alphonso Davies pushed up into the middle and final third. Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich linked play between defense and midfield, but were encouraged to join the attack on the flank they started on. Thomas Müller was given the freedom to move to whichever flank he liked, or remained central. Notable absences include Benjamin Pavard and Corentin Tolisso who miss out through injury.
Dortmund lined-up in a 3-4-2-1. This structure was rarely seen. When the ball was in their final third, Dortmund looked like a 5-4-1. When the ball was in the middle third of the pitch, it resembled a 4-4-2 with Emre Can moving into midfield, with the wing-backs Thomas Meunier and Nico Schulz moving into the backline. The objective for Dortmund was to play on the counter-attack as they expected to be without possession for most of the match. Notable absences are Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna who miss out through injury.
During the build-up phase, Dortmund pushed Hummels and Zagadou out wide to the edge of the penalty area while Can moved up into midfield to act as a central passing option. The full-backs, Schulz and Meunier, were positioning wide in the middle third of the pitch. The objective of this was to draw the Bayern press and then pass the ball to the full-backs who were higher up on the pitch in space. Müller man-marked Can so Hitz can’t play through the middle, Coman has eyes on Hummels, so a short sideways passing option isn’t available. Lewandowski guides the press to the left side of the pitch. Dortmund were comfortable with this because the pressing Bayern players left space for the full-backs to receive long passes from the goalkeeper. See below how much space Schulz is in. Meunier mirrored this on the opposite side.
Dortmund did not press as aggressively as Bayern. They instead chose to press once the game arrived to the middle third of the pitch after shifting into a 4-4-2 with Haaland and Reus leading the line. In possession Bayern form a back three with Süle tucking inside from his starting right full-back position. This lets Davies take up a more advanced position in the space left behind the pressing Dortmund players. Bayern used a double-pivot during this build-up made up of Kimmich and Goretzka. This gives the Bayern defenders two forward passing options in midfield. Depending on which side the game moved to determine which wide Dortmund player pressed. Below we see that as the ball moves to Süle, Hazard begins to press. This was largely ineffective as Bayern were able to regularly target the wide areas.
We mentioned above how Bayern targeted the wide areas. They did this during the Dortmund press, but also when Dortmund chose to move into a low-block. On the ball below is Kimmich. He regularly combined with Coman and Davies as the three of them overloaded the left flank. Müller was given the freedom to move where he wanted, so he could drift onto either flank to overload one side, or move into the space on the other side. This allowed Bayern to attack fluidly. Finding high-quality passing options was never a challenge for Bayern.
We can see the full effect of Bayern’s combination play on the left when they got the ball to Sané on the right. Bayern force Dortmund to commit numbers to one side of the pitch as their defensive structure moves with the game. Bayern then switched the ball to Sané who was regularly seen in space on the right. Sané is a talented dribbler who is comfortable taking on defenders one-on-one. This is how Bayern created their chances.
A constant in this match was both team’s excellent full-backs. Dortmund’s full-backs were important in the build-up play, however, their talent was on display during counter-attacks and transitions. Below we see Meunier on the ball. When Dortmund had possession, they would keep it on one side of the pitch while the opposite side’s full-back bombed forward into the space left behind the pressing Bayern players. Bayern press aggressively, so space in behind is inevitable. Both of Dortmund’s goals came from their full-backs attacking the opposite space in behind. Sané regularly shirks his defensive duties in exchange for this freedom and creativity to attack. Unfortunately, this can lead to him giving the opposition a target to exploit.
Süle was very impressive in this game. He’s known by many as a great center-back, but here he showed us his versatility, physicality and technical ability. We mentioned above that Süle would tuck inside during the build-up phase to ensure an easy transition from his team’s third to the middle third. However, when the game progressed into the final third, Süle could be found attacking the flank with Sané to create two-versus-two scenarios that routinely caused problems for Dortmund. Earlier we discussed how Bayern would overload the left flank with Coman, Davies and Kimmich, with Müller moving as he pleased. Here, Bayern have shown that they can do the same thing on the opposite flank. The difference being the physicality Süle offers. He was incredibly difficult to dispossess.
Bayern Munich were favorites for this match, as they are in every match they play. This is a world-class team that does not like to lose. To comeback from a two goal deficit is not easy, especially against a Dortmund team full of so much talent. It’s hard to say if complacency has set in for this Bayern side, or if they were just unlucky against one of the most clinical players in the world at the moment. Bayern have their weaknesses; pressing so aggressively leaves you vulnerable to counter-attacks for example. However, it doesn’t look like there are teams that can consistently exploit this for now, both domestically and continentally.
The word “capitulation” comes to mind when we talk about Borussia Dortmund. They have given up advantages several times this season, most notably against Borussia Mönchengladbach and now long time rivals Bayern Munich. This team is filled to the brim with talent but also inexperience. Beating Bayern is not easy, but Dortmund have shown us that they know how to exploit the few weaknesses that they have. It’s unlikely that this team will stay together for much longer as the bigger clubs in Europe will begin shopping soon. We may never know what heights this Dortmund side can reach.Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @pythaginboots
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___