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