Lucas Höler opened the scoring for the hosts just three minutes in with a fine header. Their lead was short-lived however as Robert Lewandowski put Bayern level 19 minutes later. In the end, the game contained 39 shots with just 13 on target as both sides were led to rue missed chances.
The following match analysis will discuss how Freiburg managed to, temporarily, stifle Bayern’s title bid.
Home side Freiburg made two changes from their last outing. Alexander Schwolow started in goal behind a back four of Pascal Stenzel, Keven Schlotterbeck, Dominique Heintz and Christian Günter – who got an assist on the day. Mike Frantz and Vincenzo Grifo started in the wide spaces of a midfield four. Nicolas Höfler and Amir Abrashi started as central midfielders behind a front two of Janik Haberer and the goalscorer Lucas Höler.
Bayern, meanwhile, made three changes from their last game. Sven Ulreich replaced Manuel Neuer in goal. Joshua Kimmich and Jerome Boating played alongside Matts Hummels (in for Süle) and Rafinha (in for Alaba). Thiago Alcântara and Leon Goretzka started as a holding midfield two. Thomas Müller, James Rodriguez and Kingsley Coman started as an attacking three behind lone striker Lewandowski.
Long-term Freiburg manager Christian Streich has largely rotated between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 this season. It has had fairly good results so far. After finishing the 2017/18 season just three points off of the relegation play-off spot, they are now sitting comfortably in 12th place and look set for another season of safety in the Bundesliga. In this game, they effectively counter-pressed the reigning champions Bayern and restricted their ball-playing abilities from the back. Boateng and Hummels both had shaky afternoons as Freiburg’s second striker Haberer made six tackles and three interceptions.
The image below shows the Freiburg front two cleverly creating a two-on-one scenario with Jerome Boating who is forced to play the ball backwards. Small pressing incidences such as this helped to disrupt Bayern’s flow as the visitors never really got going as they did in their thrashings of Wolfsburg and Mainz in recent weeks.
There was also a heavy emphasis on zonal marking from the home team. You see it working to good effect in the images below as Freiburg press high to peg Bayern’s midfield back. The central midfielders, left winger and right-back make a narrow square that prevented Bayern from progressing play.
A way of highlighting just how effective Freiburg’s tactics were is looking at Thiago Alcântara’s pass map from this game compared to Bayern’s 6-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg last month. Against Wolfsburg (orange dots) you could tell he was playing with more freedom and his positional play was more fluid and it worked to Bayern’s advantage as the Spaniard registered four key passes and assisted the third goal. Against Freiburg, however, (blue dots) his passing is mainly restricted to sideways and backwards passes. The furthest up the pitch Bayern’s midfield lynchpin got was when taking a set piece in the first half.
As a team, Bayern played almost 100 more passes against Freiburg than Wolfsburg but without the influence of Thiago, the vast majority of those passes were ineffective. For this, Christian Streich and his team must take all the credit.
Freiburg’s deep block
What was perhaps most fascinating about Freiburg’s defensive performance was the tactical versatility they showed. They managed to play with a mixture of counter-pressing and a deep block, using the solid banks of four that are a hallmark of Streich’s 4-4-2 system. The picture below shows virtually every man behind the ball with just ten minutes gone and whilst this is a far cry from the gegenpressing inspired approach taken at times in the first half it was still effective, even if Coman caused the defence some problems on the left wing.
Though Freiburg sat back when Bayern were attacking with speed they were still aggressive and managed to prohibit the visitors from posing too much of a threat. The image below shows this as Lewandowski is allowed no time to get his shot away. In the end, the hosts conceded a pretty remarkable 28 shots but eight were from outside of the box, twelve were off target and nine were from set pieces. Just a quarter of Bayern’s shots forced any kind of action from keeper Schwolow.
The 1-1 scoreline is a testament to Freiburg’s defensive solidity and tactical nous. They played with the confidence and versatility you’d expect from a top four side, not one sitting in lower mid-table having shipped 43 goals so far this season.
Bayern’s attacking movement
Having praised Freiburg for a couple of paragraphs it is worth mentioning that Bayern did have some good moments in the game. Most of these came via James Rodriguez who despite being listed in the starting XI as a No.10 sat deeper than usual. This applied both in midfield possession and going forward. The Colombian, who made four tackles and completed four dribbles in the game, often sat back to support Goretzka in a deeper midfield two whilst Thiago sat between the centre-backs. This shape may sound quite backwards-thinking and though it is true that Bayern weren’t there usual free-flowing selves in this game the tactics did allow James to shine once more.
Rodriguez was a magnetic presence on the ball and completed seven key passes. The image below demonstrates his new role as finds space in the midfield and offers a wider option to the centre-backs.
Despite Rodriguez’s fantastic performance, most of Bayern’s joy going forward came from the wide areas. Joshua Kimmich was instrumental to this. Whilst the German right-back was caught out defensively on a few occasions he took three shots and made an impact from the wing with his delivery. His starting position from goal kicks or when playing it out from the back was akin to a winger. This allowed Müller (who has history as a centre forward) to cut inside and offer Lewandowski support. To accommodate for this Bayern’s backline had to change as Thiago sat between Boateng and Hummels (with the former moving to the right-hand side of defence) and Rafinha stayed more reserved at left-back than usual.
The heat maps and touch maps of Kimmich as well as his shot numbers indicate someone whose natural gifts lie further up the field than his right-back position. He has had stints in central midfield for both club and country in recent years with Benjamin Pavard arriving in the summer it could be time for the 24-year-old to realise his full potential in a new role.
Overall, a valiant Freiburg grabbed a deserved point here against the reigning champions as Bayern looked lethargic and too wasteful with their many, many chances. Bayern have now lost their lead atop of the Bundesliga once again and cannot afford to have any more off days like this one.
Freiburg, meanwhile, will look to continue this fine form against Mainz away on Friday.
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