Bundesliga, June 6 2020
Their latest victory left Bayern Munich requiring only a further six points from their remaining four league fixtures to win their eighth successive Bundesliga title. That they recovered from a goal down to beat Bayer Leverkusen means they have lost only once in their past 21 matches; Lucas Alario's ninth-minute finish was followed by first-half goals from Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry, and another in the second half from Robert Lewandowski that represented the striker's 44th of 2019/20. In the 89th minute Leverkusen substitute Florian Wirtz, aged 17 and 34 days, struck beyond Manuel Neuer to become the Bundesliga's youngest ever goalscorer, but by then Bayern's victory was already beyond doubt. Lewandowski, incidentally, has scored 30 league goals so far in 2019/20; the Bundesliga record remains Gerd Müller's 40.
9 / 7
SHOTS / ON TARGET
15 / 9
564 / 480
Passes / Accurate
612 / 517
13 / 3 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
4 / 3 / 0
Bayer Leverkusen were organised by their manager Peter Bosz into a 3-4-3 formation led by the less familiar front three of Moussa Diaby, Karim Bellarabi and Lucas Alario. They encountered visitors who pressed with a 4-4-2, through Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski forming a front two, and Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry withdrawing into midfield.
That they struggled to play out against that aggressive, energetic high press contributed to them resorting to long balls from deep territory, but Bayern Munich’s defence consistently proved comfortable against those efforts. They therefore also struggled to establish possession within midfield or in the final third; their only successes came on the rare occasions they advanced beyond Bayern’s full-backs during moments of transition, when a low pass was played behind Bayern’s defence and towards their front three. Bayern regardless often adjusted to those efforts by the positioning of central defenders Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba, who sought to intercept those passes.
There were occasions when Sven Bender advanced into midfield and Charles Aránguiz adopted a more attacking position to create a 4-2-3-1, and in the second half that became a permanent change. That change contributed to an increased number of vertical runs into channels they had already targeted during the first half and attempts to create three-on-twos in central areas, and ultimately Leverkusen posing an increased attacking threat.
Bayern’s commanding lead encouraged them to adopt a mid-block to restrict the spaces that existed between the lines, and the combination of that and the athleticism of their defenders continued to frustrate their hosts, who were undermined by the absence of the influential Kai Havertz. Even if Moussa Diaby’s pace helped him to advance beyond Benjamin Pavard, his decision making and execution too often lacked quality.
The visitors complemented their efforts to limit the spaces Leverkusen sought by superbly managing transitions. The instant one started they initiated a ball-oriented press and worked to negate any passes beyond that press; beyond that, Manuel Neuer’s expertise in advancing balls in behind his defenders proved a further strength. Their effectiveness was such that only their desire to adopt deeper positions and to invite Leverkusen to have possession stopped them dominating the ball to the same extent that they did during the first half.
Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 in possession with Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka as the two deep central midfielders and Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman behind Robert Lewandowski in attack. Bayer Leverkusen used a 5-4-1 formation when out of possession, when wing-backs Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri tucked in alongside their three central defenders to form a defensive line of five.
Leverkusen initally attempted to press Bayern in their own half, but Bayern dealt with this with ease, proving comfortable under this pressure, and able to manipulate the angle of play to get possession to their full-backs, Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies. They achieved this by Kimmich withdrawing to between Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba to increase the width of their defence, and to make it very difficult for Leverkusen’s wide forwards to threaten their central defenders while working to also screen passes to the full-backs outside of them.
Müller withdrew into midfield to maintain numerical parity in central areas, and to dissuade Julian Baumgartlinger or Charles Aránguiz from pressing further forwards. This, in turn, drew out Amiri or Bailey from their wing-back positions, which left Coman, Gnabry, Müller and Lewandowski against three central defenders and the remaining wing-back.
Another problem for Leverkusen was that their central defenders' positions were easily manipulated by the movement of Bayern’s attacking quartet, encouraging them to make runs in behind, and with ease. Indeed, Bayern’s best access to the spaces in behind tended to be through longer passes from deep territory. After 20 minutes of Bayern finding ways through, Leverkusen’s defence withdrew further, so Bayern used Alaba or Boateng to drive out from defence with possession and to commit an opposing midfielder before finding the spare teammate.
Bayern also continued to use the vertical rotations that have become such a key part of their attacking play. Deploying their front four on different lines made it easier for Bayern to draw Leverkusen’s defenders out of position; Müller frequently roamed into wide areas and into the half-spaces that existed, and, in contrast to their recent performances, sought to rotate with Gnabry and Coman more than Robert Lewandowski.
As well as being excellent at defensive transitions, Bayern were also menacing in attacking ones. They created good quality chances through early, forward passes upon regains of possession; Goretzka was particularly effective during these moments, and he created Coman’s equalising goal with a quick, direct pass; Kimmich did similarly to put Gnabry in for Bayern’s third. Gnabry and Coman were often those Bayern targeted releasing during transitional moments.
Leverkusen’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 during the second half meant that they were able to press much more effectively, and to even dictate some of Bayern’s play. Lucas Alario pressed the inside shoulder of the central defender in possession, and to force him towards the touchline. Kerem Demirbay targeted the nearest central midfielder, and either Baumgartlinger or Aránguiz occupied the other; the third positioned himself to stop vertical passes being played into the feet of Müller or Lewandowski.
Moussa Diaby and substitute Florian Wirtz sought to challenge Bayern's full-backs, leading to more turnovers, and more clipped passes into the channels from Bayern, which Leverkusen dealt with. The increased quality and organisation in the hosts' pressing, coupled with a drop in Bayern’s intensity, made the second half significantly more manageable for them.
Author: Tony Hodson