The so called ’Der Klassiker’ kicked off Easter Eve after a week of hefty franchising from the different Bundesliga accounts on social media whilst fans of both sides kept on trying to downplay the importance of this over-marketed and over-hyped game between the two biggest German clubs in the last decade. While most Germans would agree that this in no way should be called a classic, it is often a very interesting outing between two often attacking ans brilliant sides. The games between these two are often fast-paced and intriguing and tend to guarantee goals, even though a few of the last meetings between the two have finished either goalless or with a 1-0 win to either side.
The tactics of these games tend to decide seasons and this game was no different. Bayern started with a 4-1-2-3 that has become a monument for Jupp Heycnkes time at Bayern. His system guarantees stability in all parts of the pitch, but rarely excites out of the ordinary. Bayern tend to win games through their stability and their star status with their undoubted individual brilliance helping them in this cause. This game was, once again, no different. In this system, Bayern have two advanced midfielders in front of Javi Martinez in defensive midfield. James Martinez drops down to collect ball at times, but Javi has the ability to place balls himself. While Heynckes fielded a 4-1-2-3, die Schwartzgelben’s Peter Stöger fielded a 4-3-3 with no clear defensive midfielder, but with three midfielders with similar workrates and qualities. Dahoud, Götze and Castro are all capable midfielders, especially in possession of the ball and tend to do well under pressure, which was most definitely going to be very important in this outing.
(Formations, directions. Note: Borussia’s high-line and Bayern’s deep line of defence. The square depicts the main weakness of Borussia’s set-up)
I won’t overanalyze this game, mainly because there’s no real need for it. It was a quite straightforward collapse from Borussia Dortmund and this was down to a number of things. I aim to explain these as I go on. I also aim to explain why Bayern’s rather defensive set-up worked wonders against Borussia and why Borussia found it so very difficult to even cope with from the off.
In general, this game reminded me of Germany’s 7-1 triumph in Belo Horizonte in 2014 when they pressed and demolished the Brazilian team with flamboyance, great movement and some astute, but not at all irksome pressing. While pressing has since become a platitude in German football, Germany’s showing against Brazil was perhaps German pressing at the height of its ability. Nowadays, it rarely works too well in Bundesliga. This can be explained by the shere fact that all German teams press and all German clubs try to win back the ball as high up the pitch as possible, thus creating a pressing stalemate. But this edition of Der Klassiker, this cold Easter Evening in Munich, Bayern showed German teams that pressing might just not be done and dusted just yet. They gave Peter Stöger, a coach seldom known for Gegenpressing, a lecture in how to close down your opponents. Borussia just couldn’t cope.
The pressing ws in fact key for Bayern in this game. They started off quite deep, trying to defend as close to their own goal as possible. This was of course a well-planned move by Jupp Heynckes. His team quickly won the ball back and exploited the flanks and the great Borussian gap in defensive midfield, creating chance after chance, even goal after goal. Peter Stöger’s team kept on attacking. They played with that famed high back-line that made Real Madrid live, love and laugh in the Group Stages of the Champions League. It seems like Peter Stöger made the same mistake as Bosz. This was arguably Stöger’s biggest mistake. The high back-line provided acres of space for Bayern’s three prolific front runners, Lewandowski, Robben and Ribery, and they ran riot in the first half.
Having seen the back-line, Bayern quickly started to defend deep with Javi Martinez dropping down as a libero between Hummels and Boateng. This defensive stability mixed with some astute and fantastic pressing from James and Müller made the centre of the pitch into a wasp’s nest and it was dangerous to try to penetrate. Borussia got stuck in the middle, were pressed into absolute oblivion, lost the ball and Bayern’s very capable ball-playing defenders Hummels and Boateng then switched play and often found James or Müller in acres of space behind enemy lines. From this advanced position finding runners was easier done than said and this often resulted in either a goal or a clear cut chance.
This was all made possible by Stöger’s decision to not field a defensive midfielder to fill in the gap between the lines. Instead of playing a fully fit Julian Weigl, Peter Stöger opted for Dahoud and Castro, two midfielders who definitely possess defensive attributes, but that are most effective in a more free attacking role. The same goes for Götze, albeit he might be even less defensive than his two kinsmen. Perhaps Stöger believed that fielding two hard-working midfielders would be better than Weigl. It is hard to understand the basics of his reasoning.
Bayern’s key in defence was both Javi Martinez and the pressing, but it was a different story when in possession of the ball. James and Müller often found themselves with the ball at their feet, often in acres of spece between Borussia’s lines. In order to carve out chances, the two experienced wingers created space for themselves and their teammates. This was done through a classic move.
Both Ribery and Robben are famous for their cutting-in-to-shoot antics. But versus Borussia, both tended to drift wide. Piszcek and Schmelzer followed them, thus creating space between the defenders for another runner. This also created space for themselves as they could use their speed to latch on to throughballs behind the defensive line. This can be seen on Bayern’s fifth goal, when Weigl (who had just replaced Gonzalo Castro), lost the ball to Ribery. Ribery then passed it to James and went around Piszczek in order to create space. He got the space and the ball and 5-0 was due.
Bayern Munich defended well and countered with brutal efficiency. When they received the ball in the opposing half, they outnumbered Borussia. Lewandowski, Robben and Ribery teamed up with Müller and James, with the latter two operating in the half-spaces. Ribery and Robben drifting wide created space for these two capable playmakers as they completed the quintuple in attack for Bayern. This attacking formation where the wing backs pushed up to provide support functioned really well and had probably been the key in attack, hadn’t the game gone the way it went with a Borussian collapse early on.
Analyzing this game is rather easy. It was a difference in class between the two right from the off and when the game finished a few things were certain. First of all, Peter stöger will not remain Borussia coach next term. Instead, most assume that Borussia will look towards either Julian Nagelsmann or Niko Kovac. Hannes Wolf could be a contender for the role as well, considering he knows the ins and outs of the club. Secondly, Bayern are the best team in Bundesliga by a land mile. But this does not mean that the rest of the teams are horrible. Quite the opposite actually, Bayern are just too damn good so the often underrated quality of the other 17 is overlooked. And last but not least, this game proves that Javi Martinez is one of the best and most underrated anchor men in world football. His performance was, just like his season has been, absolutely sublime.