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Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Soccer.ru

Mario Gotze’s second half goal led to an impressive Bayern Munich victory, which sees the champions move seven points clear of Borussia Dortmund.

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Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger were unavailable, so Mario Mandzukic led the line with Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben on the flanks. Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos played ahead of Phillip Lahm, and Rafinha filled in at right back in Pep Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1.

Jurgen Klopp was forced to play a makeshift defence, as all four members of his preferred backline were unavailable. Kevin Grosskreutz and Erik Durm played as fullbacks, while Sokratis and Manuel Friedrich formed a centre back partnership.

Although Klopp was forced to make several changes at the back, Dortmund were very much in the match, but the Champions League finalist’s were unable to cope with Guardiola’s second half substitutions.

Dortmund shape

Dortmund came into the match four points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, so dropping points at home wasn’t on their agenda – a loss wouldn’t only benefit Bayern, as it would ensure Bayer Leverkusen second place at the end of the weekend.

Considering Bayern were expected to focus on ball retention, the onus was on Dortmund to nullify their opponents. As expected, Klopp’s men maintained a high line, dropping into two banks of four, to minimize space between the lines. Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski sat deeper than usual to prevent David Alaba and Rafinha from pushing forward.

This left Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Robert Lewandowski up top to press the Bayern centre backs. Ultimately, it was 3v2 at the back, as Lahm dropped into a pocket of space when Dante and Jerome Boateng split, so Bayern always had a passing option available. Drum could afford to track Muller’s movement from the wing – with Reus protecting him – and Robben had glimpses of chances on the left flank, but was often seen buzzing around in Dortmund’s third, searching for gaps of space.

Dortmund’s shape was superb – they disrupted Bayern’s passing, limited their threat in the final third, and clearly created the better chances in the first half.

Bayern approach/Martinez false 10?

The main surprise in the opening minutes of the match was the positioning of Javi Martinez. The Spaniard, renowned for his brute strength and ability to break up play, was fielded as an attacking midfielder – therefore he was a ‘false 10’. When Dortmund attempted to play out of the back, Martinez closed down Sven Bender or Nuri Sahin, and with Muller and Mandzukic pressing the centre backs, Roman Weidenfeller was forced to lob the ball away.

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Martinez pegged Bender and Sahin into deeper positions, thus limiting their impact on the match from an attacking perspective. While Bayern’s superiority in possession was evident, Martinez’s role as an attacking midfielder contributed to their low passing numbers.

However, the Spaniard’s role affected Bayern’s ability to play through midfield. With Lahm dropping deeper to provide an outlet for his centrebacks, Kroos was the only outlet available in midfield. Kroos drifted around midfield – mostly the left side of the pitch – looking for spaces to receive the ball, but Dortmund’s pressure forced the German to play conservative passes.

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Guardiola’s men struggled to play forward balls, due to Dortmund’s shape, and whenever they did get forward, Martinez’s inability to play passes in tight areas were displayed.

But Guardiola wasn’t alarmed with his side’s difficulty breaking through midfield. Another element in Guardiola’s decision to play Martinez in an advanced role was their direct approach. The aim was for Muller and Martinez to attack balls that were knocked down by Mandzukic, but Dortmund comfortably dealt with Bayern’s long balls.

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Muller and Mandzukic were peripheral figures in the first half, as they failed to trouble, or stretch Dortmund’s backline. Yet, they were both involved in Bayern’s best chances of the half –  Mandzukic’s acrobatic overhead kick from Muller’s cross, and Robben latching onto a Dante long ball, which he squared to Mandzukic, only for the Croatian to mishit his shot.

Martinez’s inclusion in an advanced role limited Bender and Sahin’s impact on the match – however, it had the same effect on Bayern’s possession-based and direct approach.

Dortmund break

A recurring theme in the last few meetings between these sides has been Dortmund’s inability to convert their chances. Once again, Klopp’s men created several chances on the break, but they lacked that extra bit of quality to beat an impressive Manuel Neuer.

But there were a few key feats in Dortmund’s breaks that shouldn’t be ignored. Alaba’s positioning, along with no defensive protection from Robben, left the right flank free for Blaszczykowski and Grosskreutz to penetrate. Majority of the chances Dortmund created resulted in the final ball being played behind Alaba.

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Also, Lewandowski displayed both sides of his all-around attacking game – the Polish striker can play as a conventional no.9 and a no.10. Lewandowski’s movement got him into great positions to play his teammates clear, and although he squandered a great chance at the start of the match, his physical presence and aerial ability gave the Bayern defenders a few problems.

  • 2nd min: Bender played a pass to Lewandowski, who dropped deep and laid the ball off for Blaszczykowski. The Polish wide man cut in and played a great ball to Lewandowski at the edge of the six-yard box, but he turned and fired his shot over the net.
  • 23rd min: Reus intercepts Boateng’s forward pass and Mkhitaryan picks up the ball and drives forward. The Armenian midfielder played a pass to Lewandowski and he slides the ball to Blaszczykowski, who cut in but his shot was blocked.
  • 25th min: Durm’s pressure forces Muller to concede possession, as he can’t control Boateng’s pass, and the Dortmund defender back heels the ball to Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan drives forward and picks out Blaszczykowski, who plays a forward pass to an overlapping Grosskreutz, but he takes a first touch and Alaba’s recovery run allowed him nick the ball out for a corner.
  • 28th min: Lewandowski flicked on Weidenfeller’s goal kick and Boateng slipped, allowing Reus clear on goal, but he fired his shot directly at Neuer.
  • 50th min: Bender leads the attack and plays a pass to Blaszczykowski on the right flank. The Polish midfielder cut the ball back to Bender and he chipped the ball into the box, and Lewandowski – who ran ahead of Rafinha – nodded the ball wide of the net.
  • 69th min: Rafinha wildly conceded possession to Grosskreutz, who drove forward and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, who then found Lewandowski between the lines and the Polish striker played an exceptional through ball to Grosskreutz. The Dortmund right back dinked a ball to an unmarked Mkhitaryan, and he controlled the ball on his chest, then took another touch with his feet – giving Neuer time to settle – and fired a shot at the near post, but Neuer made a great save.
  • 72nd min: Grosskreutz’s ball over the top finds Lewandowski, who nudged Martinez aside, and back heeled the ball to Reus, and the German attacker’s shot – that deflected off of Dante – forced Neuer to make a key save.

Dortmund created six clear-cut opportunities on the break to take the lead, but they were unable to beat Neuer. They broke up Bayern’s play, attacked space in wide areas, and pounced on individual errors, but their lack of quality in front of goal made the difference.

Guardiola makes changes

The turning point in the match occurred when Guardiola turned to his bench and introduced Mario Gotze for Mandzukic, and Thiago Alcantara for Boateng – which pushed Martinez to centreback.

The change gave Bayern an additional ball-playing midfielder, along with fluidity and mobility in their attack.

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Gotze was dropping deeper to help Bayern retain possession, and pull defenders out of position, and he also made runs behind the Dortmund backline. Bayern began to dictate the midfield, and slowly triangles were beginning to form.

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Coincidentally, it was Gotze who gave Bayern the lead 10 minutes after his arrival. The goal displayed the difference in how Guardiola’s men utilized possession – there were nifty intricate passes from the right to the centre of the pitch, after Thiago dispossessed Sahin, and it led to Lahm playing a killer pass to an unmarked Muller on the right, and his cross found Gotze unmarked in the box, and he directed the ball past Weidenfeller.

Guardiola introduced Daniel van Buyten for Rafinha, which pushed Lahm to right back and Martinez in the single pivot, but the Spaniard’s decision to introduce Gotze and Thiago was a key factor in Bayern’s second half improvement.

Klopp reacts?

Unlike Guardiola, Klopp doesn’t possess an abundance of resources on the bench, but he decided to replace Blaszczykowski and Mkhitaryan with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jonas Hofmann.

Apart from fatigue, the decision to introduce Aubameyang was down to the impact he had in the Super Cup a few months backs, when he dominated Bayern’s backline with his pace. However, Guardiola’s substitutions and Dortmund’s intent on going forward, left Klopp’s men vulnerable – Bayern were now keen to sustain possession, and there was space available for Robben and Muller to attack.

2-0/3-0

Bayern put the match out of sight in the final five minutes, but the matter in which the goals were constructed, highlighted the significance of Guardiola’s changes.

  • 85th min: Dante dispossessed Reus near the corner of his 18-yard box and played a pass to Kroos, and he quickly directed the ball to Gotze. Gotze then found Thiago, and the Spaniard played a magnificent cross field pass to Robben, which led to a 3v1 break, and Robben confidently chipped Weidenfeller.

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  • 87th min: Alaba, Kroos and Thiago form another passing triangle, and Thiago plays a ball to Martinez who attacked space in midfield and found Robben to his right. Robben runs at Drum before playing in an advancing Lahm at right back, and he delivered a ball across the box for Muller to tap in.

Like the opening goal, Thiago and Gotze were key figures in the build up, and Guardiola’s in-game tinkering – moving Lahm to right back and Martinez as a holder – contributed to the final goal. Once again Bayern showcased their tactical flexibility.

Conclusion

This match showcased a few elements that we’ve seen in previous encounters – Dortmund’s reactive approach nullified Bayern, but they were unable to convert their chances on the break, whereas Bayern were clinical in front of goal.

“Everything is decided in midfield. If you want to win the game, you need to control the midfield,” Guardiola said.

Nonetheless, Guardiola’s second half changes gave his side the advantage, thus leading to their dominance for the remainder of the match. 

“I’ve seen Bayern a lot. Tonight, they played as many high balls as in the last three years combined,” Klopp said.

“First, they got at us with long balls, then they bring on the 1.70m boys, not a bad idea,” he added. 

Guardiola’s pragmatic approach displayed his side’s flexibility and why many classify the Spaniard as unpredictable, – but it also showcased that his side isn’t ready to express themselves under his philosophy. While Bayern continue to grow under Guardiola, Klopp’s tactics are beginning to take their toll on his slender squad, which could diminish their domestic and European challenge.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Can Joachim Low, False-nines and Mesut Ozil lead Germany to international glory?

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  Courtesy of Steindy

It was a night that was all too familiar to German supporters. Germany stumbled when it mattered most – once again it was Joachim Low that guided a dejected group of talented footballers down the tunnel and into the dressing room, to explain why they wouldn’t be participating in the finals.

Surprisingly, Low’s head didn’t drop when Stephane Lannoy blew the final whistle at the National Stadium. The German manager stood on the touchline emotionless, in his crumpled white dress shirt, blankly staring at the pitch, potentially questioning where he went wrong. His men were second best on the night. An experienced Italian side outdid Low’s men, thus continuing their inability to defeat the Azzuri in a competitive match.

While one nation rejoiced, the other had to watch 23 of their finest players solemnly stand – or sit – in disbelief, as they knew another golden opportunity passed them by.

Frankly, many tipped the Germans to come out of their shell and avenge their recent two tournament defeats to Spain, along with their semi-final exit on home soil against Italy in 2006. But it didn’t happen. Yet, despite their catastrophic exit in Warsaw, Low assured that his side – the youngest team in the tournament – was flustered, but would grow from this experience.

“I’m not going to question everything we’ve done. The team has great quality. It will continue to develop and learn,” Low stated. “Even though there’s disappointment today, we played a wonderful tournament and I am sure we will be able to cope with this defeat,” he added.

However, Low was correct. His men produced top-class performances in their last two tournaments, prior to the semi-finals, giving many false hopes that they’d gasp in glory. The German manager, hailed for evolving this splendid group of young talent, witnessed his men cruise through tournaments, yet buckle when they encountered elite opposition. What’s more shocking is the manner in which they’ve conceded matches.

In 2010, Low’s side focused on defensive solidity, quick transitions and pace on the counter-attack. They often dropped into two banks of four, and exploded into attack when they won the ball, which undeniably handed the likes of Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil world recognition. Germany was devastating on the counter, handing England and Argentina a footballing lesson en route to the semi-finals.

But, their energetic threat on the counter was simply nullified when they came across a Spanish side that possessed a midfield at their peak of their careers. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Khedira were unable to cope with Spain’s midfield, as Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque instructed his men to overload central areas, ultimately making it 4v2 in midfield – with Andres Iniesta drifting infield. With Thomas Muller suspended, and Sergio Busquets admirably tracking Ozil’s movement, the Germans were simply outclassed.

Subsequently, Low’s men headed into Poland and Ukraine a different machine – one that consisted of more depth, which should’ve provided Low the tactical flexibility he didn’t possess in South Africa.

The German’s transformed into a side that focused on ball retention, and were keen on dictating possession. Likewise, they found ways to carve open the likes of Portugal and Greece, who preferred to sit deeper than most. However, once again, they came across an elite side that focused on superiority in midfield, and Low’s men were on the losing end of another major semi-final.

Cesare Prandelli fielded a midfield diamond to dictate the match and nullify Schweinsteiger and Khedira, thus leading to a dominant first half performance from the Italians. Meanwhile, Low’s men – mainly Ozil and Toni Kroos – didn’t seem to comprehend their tactical duties. Ozil often drifted into Kroos’ space, whereas Kroos wasn’t sure when he should press Andrea Pirlo.

While many can criticize Low’s team selection, along with his initial game plan, defeat at the same stage, in the same manner – with a better squad – is unacceptable.

While Low was busy evolving Germany, did he evolve as a manager?

Low was quick to brush off the scrutiny he received after Germany’s loss in a press conference ahead of a friendly against Argentina.

“We wanted to go to the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and begin forming a team that could then win Euro 2012, so the loss in the semifinal against Italy was particularly painful,” Low said.

“We now have the task of working on the errors we made at Euro 2012, and find solutions to those errors over the next two years. We went on this path a few years ago, and we have a long-term plan to which we will stick,” he added.

The apparent solution has been to implement a false-nine system – one that has reaped success for Barcelona, and most notably, their competitive rivals Spain. With Miroslav Klose aging, and Mario Gomez branded as a one-dimensional striker that disjoints their fluidity, testing out a system that would be beneficial to Germany’s attack was logical. And it’s evident that Low is short on strikers, as he’s recently called up Max Kruse as a potential option upfront – while Stefan Kiessling has ruled out a national team return.

Although, Spain has enjoyed success playing without a striker, they’ve often struggled to grind out results. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas possesses a direct threat from midfield, which explains why Spain can succeed in this system. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Low’s false nine can succeed if he displays authority in his team selection opposed to picking favourites.

As of late, Ozil has operated as the false-nine, but Germany hasn’t looked any better going forward. Their passing tempo is too slow, forcing them to spread the ball out wide – and they possess minimal aerial threats. Meanwhile, runners aren’t getting forward, legitimate goal-scoring opportunities are decreasing and they lack bodies in the box.

Temporarily, it’s difficult to assess Mario Gotze’s ability to play in this role, albeit shining against inferior opposition such as the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan. More so, it’s strange to witness Low continuously search for an answer upfront, when he possesses one in his squad.

Thomas Muller produced a magnificent performance at the Ethiad Stadium earlier this month, in a convincing Bayern Munich away victory – where most assumed he was a false nine, yet he was far from it. Muller worked hard to close down City defenders, and his ability to win aerial duels gave Bayern Munich a different outlet going forward. The self-proclaimed space investigator ran the channels superbly, linking play with his teammates, as he nonchalantly roamed around the final third.

Indeed, Muller and Gotze can provide an alternative – or possibly a permanent – role upfront for Die Mannschaft, but this leaves Ozil out of a spot. Now, it would be easy to hand him a spot as Germany’s central playmaker – as Low has done throughout his tenure – but Germany can do without their sleek, bug-eyed creator in the ‘big’ games?

In both semi-finals exits, Ozil had minimal influence on the final result. It was somewhat reminiscent of Champions League ties against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, during Real Madrid’s downfall.

Coincidentally, both Kroos and Gotze were the opposing playmakers in Madrid’s Champions League exits, and the duo showcased their ability to provide a balance of defence – by dropping deep to create a midfield three – and attack in their play.

The Arsenal playmaker conducts his business in the final third, but the modern game now relies on playmakers to produce on both ends – Spain and Italy’s creators were tactically disciplined enough to fulfill these duties, thus resulting in a numerical advantage in central areas.

Over the past 12 months, Kroos has developed into a legitimate world-class player, and he merits a start in a central playmaker role in matches against elite sides – even at the expense of Ozil. Kroos’ tactical awareness to find space in midfield to receive the ball, and drop deeper to prevent overloads is vital in the modern game. The 23-year-old midfielder has completed 95% of his averaged 90.5 passes in his last four competitive appearances for Germany.  Also, Kroos completes 3 key passes per game, as he plays incisive balls in the final third to complement his ability to sustain possession.

Promptly, this isn’t to say Ozil isn’t a key cog in Germany’s attack, but Low needs to have the pluck to tactically align his side according to his opponent’s strengths. The managers that have defeated him in these fixtures – Prandelli and Del Bosque – utilize their squads to the fullest, and it’s a craft that Low has yet to master.

Likewise, the fabricated belief that a false-nine system is required for the Germans to succeed is farfetched. While it does display a sign of evolution, Low has catered more to the bigger names, opposed to starting the astute personnel.

As the Germans continue to struggle defensively, the issue that has been the focal talking point of the German national team can be altered easily. Muller is a logical option upfront, whereas Kroos’ brilliance can no longer be ignored – but will Low rise to the occasion, or once again watch his side underachieve on the world’s biggest stage?

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

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Bayern Munich claimed their fifth Champions League title courtesy of an Arjen Robben winner in the 88th minute.

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There were no real surprises in either starting line up as both sides stuck with their traditional 4-2-3-1. Mario Mandzukic led the line, while Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben played behind the Croatian striker. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger played in midfield, while Jerome Boateng was selected over Daniel van Buyten to start at centre back.

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Jurgen Klopp selected his best side possible – Marco Reus, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz played behind Robert Lewandowski. Ilkay Gündoğan and Sven Bender formed a midfield two, and Mario Gotze was forced to watch the game in the stands as he failed to recover from an injury.

Ultimately, it was a game of two halves – Dortmund’s pressing nullified Bayern in the first, but as they tired Bayern imposed their authority on the match.

Pressing

As Juventus did for a short period of time when they met Bayern in the quarter-final stage, Dortmund pressed Bayern high up the pitch. Lewandowski and Reus prevented Boateng and Dante from pushing forward, while Großkreutz and Błaszczykowski had the same effect on Bayern’s fullbacks. Bayern struggled to play from the back, so Schweinsteiger dropped in between the two Bayern centre backs to provide them with a passing option. This created 3v2 situations, but Schweinsteiger had no passing options available – Dortmund’s fullbacks stayed tight to Bayern’s wingers, Martinez was picked up and Muller didn’t drop into midfield.

Toni Kroos has dominated this fixture this season, as the German playmaker had the tactical awareness to drop into the midfield to give Schweinsteiger and the Bayern centre backs an extra passing option. Muller on the other hand was looking to receive the ball in between the lines – Bayern struggled to get on the ball into Dortmund’s half, as they failed to play forward passes.

Bayern dropped into two banks of four when Dortmund aimed to play from the back. Muller and Mandzukic closed down Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels preventing them from coming forward to play key passes. Gündoğan had little to no impact on the match – Heynckes’ men did an excellent job in shutting down the Dortmund maestro, as he failed to play positive forward passes. Martinez and Schweinsteiger took turns closing him down in midfield, while Mandzukic pressed the German midfield when he dropped deeper.

Dortmund counter

Dortmund’s pressing was beneficial from both an offensive and defensive standpoint – they prevented Bayern from gaining a rhythm, and it allowed them to win the ball higher up the pitch in order to work quick transitions. Reus was the focal point of their attack, and he caused Bayern’s back line a few problems when he had the ball.

Considering Gündoğan was marked out of the match, Reus provided the link between midfield and attack. The German attacker dropped deep into the midfield to pick up the ball, and he ran at the Bayern defence. Reus combined well with Lewandowski, but rarely did you see him connect with the Dortmund wingers.

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Gotze and Reus have developed a strong partnership this season, that sees them play quick intricate passes amongst one another – we didn’t see much of that against Bayern.

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Although Dortmund was thriving with their quick transitions, they failed to take any of the chances they created. Dortmund had six shots in the opening 25 minutes before Bayern recorded their first shot, but Klopp’s men failed to beat Manuel Neuer when they had control of the match.

Robben’s chances

One can argue that it was meant to be for Arjen Robben. The Dutch winger made appearances off the bench for majority of the season, but was thrown into the starting lineup when Toni Kroos limped off the field against Juventus in the quarter-finals. Since then Robben has produced some fantastic displays, reminding many that on his day he’s one of the best wingers in football.

In the past Robben hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities handed to him in monumental matches, and it looked like this familiar theme would continue based on his first half outing. All three chances occurred in the final 15 minutes of the half, when Bayern gained control of the match.

Roman Weidenfeller made a good save to deny Robben on his initial chance, as the Bayern winger ran behind Marcel Schmelzer, who was tucked in due to Dortmund’s narrow shape. Muller’s pass found Robben, but he was unable to beat the Dortmund goalkeeper.

Robben and Muller combined well on the right for his second chance – Robben passed the ball to Muller, he then drifted centrally and ran behind Subotic. Muller played a delightful ball to the Bayern winger, but he was unable to create a chance or beat Weidenfeller.

Dante’s hopeful long ball created Robben’s final chance as Hummels failed to deal with the ball in the air. Robben pounced on Hummels’ error, but the Dutch winger’s shot bounced off Weidenfeller’s face.

Robben was Bayern’s danger man going forward, looking to exploit the space behind Dortmund’s back line, but the Dutch winger’s finishing let him down severely.

Bayern/Schweinsteiger grow into the match

There were two key changes in the second half – Robben and Muller swapped positions, while Dortmund’s energetic pressing eventually faded.

Dortmund was unable to sustain there pressing for the entirety of the match, while Bayern worked harder as a unit to close down Dortmund. Klopp’s men tired, and this allowed Schweinsteiger to take over the match. He began to play positive passes around the pitch, and Bayern began to demonstrate their superiority in midfield.

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Schweinsteiger controlling the tempo of the match was a problem Dortmund faced, but surprisingly it was far from their major concern. Klopp’s men slowly stopped pressing, but they still kept a high-line. So now, not only was there more space for Schweinsteiger to dictate, but there was also heaps of space for Muller and Robben to attack.

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Bayern created more chances in the second half, which ultimately led to goals.

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Robben moves centrally

I must highlight that Robben also completed his defensive duties exceptionally well, as did Ribery – throughout the tournament both men have prevented overloads and kept opposing fullbacks from having an impact on matches.

The half-time change allowed Robben to have a larger influence on the match going forward. The Dutch winger who was already drifting centrally throughout the first half, began to make diagonal runs behind the Dortmund defence or into the channels.

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Bayern’s goal started with Mandzukic chesting the ball to Robben. The Dutch striker played a pass to Ribery, made a run behind Subotic and Bender, and received a pass from the French winger, which allowed him to square the ball to Mandzukic. Robben’s second chance in the first half was similar – the only difference was Robben combined with Muller and he completed the pass to Mandzukic.

Robben nearly gave Bayern the lead, as Muller’s powerful run allowed him to latch onto a loose ball and round Weidenfeller, but Subotic cleared his pass that was squared for Robben.

The Dutch winger became provider, as he played a lovely through ball for Muller in a deeper position, but the German attacker was unable to get his shot off. Robben was Bayern’s key man going forward, and it was fitting that he got the winner with minutes to go.

Ribery held up David Alaba’s simple longball from a free kick, and back heeled it to Robben, who made a surging run from midfield – Robben skipped past challenges from Subotic and Hummels and slid the ball past Weidenfeller. Dortmund didn’t comfortably deal with Dante’s long ball in the first half, and Weidenfeller made a fortunate save to deny Robben – this time Robben kept his composure and haunted Dortmund for making the same mistake.

Conclusion

The third time was a charm for Bayern, as Heynckes’ men avenge their heartbreaking loss against Chelsea last season. Ironically they win the title in London, after losing 12 months ago to a London side at home.

Throughout this tournament, they’ve adapted to their opponents style of play, displaying their tactical flexibility and ability to cope without Kroos. Like he did at Madrid, Heynckes leaves Bayern a European champion – he’s created a side that was undoubtedly the best in Europe this season, and they’ll only get stronger under Guardiola’s wing.

Bayern improved in the second half as Dortmund tired – but Klopp’s men failing to take their chances, stem away from their high line, as well as coping with Robben was the difference maker on the night. For the second time this season in a cup competition, the Dutch winger haunts Dortmund with a moment of brilliance keeping the Bavarians on course for an historic double.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Ilkay Gundogan: Borussia Dortmund’s Unsung Hero

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Courtesy: Michael Kranewitter

Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich has set up the first all-German Champions League final. The newly crowned Bundesliga champions enter the match as heavy favourites, but it would be irrational to count out Dortmund. The two sides have met 10 times over the past three seasons – the pattern of these matches have been similar, Bayern dominates possession, while Dortmund rely on quick transitions on the counter-attack.

Bayern has won two of the four meetings this season, while both league encounters ended in draws. Heynckes’ summer signings in Dante, Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martinez have seen Bayern evolve tactically, allowing them to nullify the strengths Dortmund executed against the Bavarians in the past. As a unit their pressing is exceptional – Martinez has improved Bayern’s superiority in midfield, as they now possess strength and superb ball retention – at the back Dante has been a massive improvement, as Bayern was susceptible to counter-attacks in the past. Dortmund has yet to defeat Jupp Heynckes’ men this season and without Mario Gotze available they face a daunting task.

Like several young footballers, 22-year-old Ilkay Gündoğan has many dreams. Playing abroad, preferably in England or Spain, along with his inclusion into the German first team ahead of the World Cup is what the German international is working towards in the near future. Gündoğan has seen one dream come true as he’ll feature in the Champions League finals at Wembley – he also received the opponent he desired. “I hope to lock horns with Bayern Munich in the final,” Gündoğan said ahead of their quarter-final tie against Malaga.

Marco Reus, Gotze and prolific striker Robert Lewandowski have all shared the spotlight in Dortmund’s fantastic European run – yet Gündoğan has been their unsung hero. The German midfielder has developed into one of world footballs top midfielders since his €4.5m move from Nurnberg in the 2011/2012 season – as he replaced the Bundesliga player of the year Nuri Sahin. Prior to his arrival, Klopp shared his insights on Gündoğan.

“He has a fantastic attitude and is very clever and keen to learn,” Klopp said.

“Ilkay has an excellent passing game and is overall a very high quality player who fits perfectly into our system.”

Despite not having an impressive start to life at Dortmund, Gündoğan found his feet midway through the season as Dortmund won a domestic double – the German also became a regular in Klopp’s starting lineup.

Without Gotze, Dortmund’s attack is limited, but they still possess a few match winners. Lewandowski is the ruthless poacher that can drop deep to link play – Reus is the flashy dribbler that can skip past defenders, but Gündoğan is different.

He is a nifty midfielder that often drops into deep positions – he possesses great vision, which allows him to play inventive forward passes, and he holds no fear to surge into advance positions and dribble past defenders. In the Champions League this season, the German international has averaged 49 passes per match, with an 87% accuracy rate – completing an average of five long balls. Quietly, he’s been Dortmund’s key man in the Champions League this season.

With Klopp’s men keen on playing from the back, Gündoğan’s ability to drop deep and create plays is vital.

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The German midfielder is the link between the midfield and the front four – against Shakhtar Donetsk, Dortmund were allowed to play from the back, while Gündoğan pressed Fernandinho and Tomas Hubschmann whenever they attempted to receive the ball from deep.

This also occurred in the semi-finals against Real Madrid, as Luka Modric failed to press the German and he imposed his authority on the match.

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Gündoğan also displayed his tactical discipline, as his defensive work in midfield disrupted Madrid’s attack.

Malaga provided a sterner test, as they kept a compact shape and allowed Dortmund to have possession. Gündoğan received more of the ball, and was the key man in the tie – albeit being seconds away from a quarter-final exit.

In the first leg, he was Dortmund’s best player, as he was allowed time to play incisive balls across the pitch – Gündoğan received the ball 68 times, and frankly poor finishing from Gotze and Lewandowski was the solitary reason why the match ended in a draw.

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Gündoğan was excellent in the second leg as well, but Malaga’s pressing decreased his influence on the match. Most of his passes were sideways, and he struggled to receive the ball from deep positions – unlike the first leg Gündoğan was unable to produce penetrating runs or passes.

Gündoğan has flourished on European nights, producing scintillating performances that caught the eyes of many. Unfortunately for Dortmund fans, he’s been unable to replicate his extraordinary performances against Bayern Munich this season.

Unlike their two title-winning seasons, Dortmund has failed to cause Bayern many problems. Klopp’s men have failed to expose this well-equipped Bayern side on the counter attack, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez have dominated the midfield.

In both competitive meetings this season, Klopp has reacted to Bayern’s system, playing in a cautious 4-3-3 opposed to their natural 4-2-3-1. A recurring theme in these fixtures has been Kroos finding space to receive the ball in key areas – mainly behind Gündoğan and Bender who sat deep in the midfield. In the first encounter, Gündoğan failed to impress, as Bayern’s pressing nullified his offensive threat.

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Defensively, he was better, making key tackles and vital interceptions on the left flank, which may have been enough to earn a draw.

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Although Klopp hasn’t defeated Bayern this season, he may have found his solution in Dortmund’s DFB-Pokal loss against the Bavarians. Despite Bayern’s dominance for majority of the match, Gündoğan became an influential figure in the second half as he dropped in between his centre-backs to build plays. This was effective as it gave Dortmund an initial outlet that they lacked in the first half, and it provided Gündoğan with several passing options that enabled Dortmund to break past Bayern’s press – Dortmund was the better side in the second half due to Gündoğan’s tactical awareness, and considering it was the last competitive match between the two sides, it may be an approach Klopp takes in the final.

In an interview with UEFA.com, Klopp was full of praise of the German international,

“We got him [in summer 2011] and he has turned into a real strategist. It is extraordinary. Not many players can do that,” Klopp said.

“Many players can play in a small space, play fast and do a lot of great things, but to have such vision, such a passing game, such an eye for the situation, is extraordinary and makes him an extraordinary player.”

Kroos’ dominance has been the theme in both competitive matches this season – with the German playmaker out indefinitely, and Gündoğan’s success in the second half of the Pokal match, Klopp’s men will fancy their chances.

Bayern’s pressing as a unit, tactical flexibility and their ability to keep a compact shape has been one of their main strengths this season. There’s no question that Heynckes’ will instruct his midfield to limit Gündoğan’s time on the ball – when no pressure is applied Gündoğan controls the game with ease, but he becomes highly ineffective when players attempt to close him down.

Gündoğan faces two challenges when Dortmund meets Bayern for the fifth time this season. His battle with Schweinsteiger could be the difference maker – finding pockets of space to receive the ball, along with imposing his authority on the match is vital, but preventing Schweinsteiger from dictating the tempo of the match is also necessary.

Nevertheless, the key man is Gündoğan, and he will need to be at his best if he intends on driving Dortmund to European glory for the first time in 16 years.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2013 in FIFA

 

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Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Match in a sentence

A fantastic team performance, along with goals from Felipe Santana, Mario Gotze and Jakub Błaszczykowski, saw Borussia Dortmund cruise past Shakhtar Donetsk into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 15 years.

Analysis

  • Jurgen Klopp’s men opted to play in a 4-2-3-1 with Robert Lewandowski leading the line. Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Jakub Blaszczykowski played behind Lewandowski, while Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender were the two holders. Felipe Santana formed a centre back pair with Neven Subotic as Mats Hummels was unable to recover from the flu.
  • Mircea Lucescu’s men also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Luiz Adriano leading the line and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Taison and Alex Teixeira behind him. Fernandinho and Tomas Hubschman protected the backline and Oleksandr Kucher returned from suspension.
  • The match started in nearly an identical manner to the 1st leg fixture at the Donbass Arena. Without the presence of Mat Hummels, Dortmund lacked a centre back with a wide range of passing. The Ukrainian side decided to ignore Bayern’s successful pressing job against Dortmund last week, in which the Munich side pressed the defenders and forced them to concede possession. Lucescu’s men allowed Subotic and Felipe Santana to play balls to their fullbacks and to the attacking three. Lucescu’s side pressed the midfield two of Gundogan and Bender, and despite it being effective, the tactical awareness of both men allowed them to overcome Donetsk’s pressing.
  • Gundogan and Bender were the star men of the half, but they were forced to drop deeper to receive possession (like Gundogan did in the second half against Bayern) and they dictated the tempo of the match. With no Donetsk players willing to pick up the midfielders, they were able to start most of Dortmund’s build up play and were pivotal to their dominance in possession.
  • As they did in the first leg, Klopp’s front four pressed the Shakhtar defenders. This would explain Dortmund’s superiority in possession, and it also led to their dominance throughout the game, mainly in the first half. Fernandinho was unable to get on the ball, and Shakhtar struggled to attack as a unit going forward.
  • Dortmund took the lead 30 minutes in courtesy of a fantastic Felipe Santana header. Santana rose above Yaroslay Rakitskiy and nodded the ball into the top corner.
  • The German side struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, and that was down to Lucescu’s approach to the game. He wanted his side to sit deep and defend as a unit. They sat in a 4-4-1-1 with Taison in a more advanced position on the left, and to no surprise he was their main outlet for counter attacks. Every time Donetsk won possession, they sprayed the ball out to Taison, but the young Brazilian was unable to have any influence on the match. Considering the space Lukasz Piszczek left available, Lucescu’s approach was wise, but Dortmund got back in numbers and defended well.
  • Seven minutes after Santana’s opener, Gotze doubled Dortmund’s lead. Lewandowski whipped in a menacing ball, and Gotze guided the ball past Andriy Pyatov.
  • In the second half, Douglas Costa was introduced into the game in place of Taison, and he made a significant impact. Costa also had two chances in the opening three minutes of the second half, but was unable to convert. It’s clear that with Costa on the field, Shakhtar was balanced as a unit. Costa tucked in to make up a midfield three, and his presence allowed Darijo Srna to bomb forward like he did in the first leg.
  • Jakub Błaszczykowski put the tie out of reach after Pyatov spilled Gundogan’s shot. Błaszczykowski picked up the rebound and slotted his shot past Roman Weidenfeller.
  • With Shakhtar needing three goals in 30 minutes to progress, Dortmund approached the game with caution. They sat in a 4-5-1, allowing Donetsk to push more men forward, but leaving them vulnerable on the break. Luiz Adriano was a peripheral figure on the night, but when Shakhtar were presented chances, Weidenfeller made several saves to deny the Ukrainian side a goal.
  • Dortmund is the first of the three German sides to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite being 17 points behind Bayern Munich in their domestic league, Klopp’s men have saved their best performances for European nights. The growth of this team has been a joy for football neutrals to watch over the past few months, and with Klopp’s guidance, the German side will go into the draw as legitimate contenders to feature at Wembley in May.

Three Stars

1.    Ilkay Gundogan

2.    Mario Gotze

3.    Roman Weidenfeller

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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