Pokal 2018/19 Cup Final Tactical Analysis: RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich
Artwork by @chapulana

Both teams came into the DFB Pokal final having shown good form in the second half of the season. Despite being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League’s Round of 16, Bayern Munich overcame the nine-point deficit to Dortmund to clinch yet another Bundesliga title. RB Leipzig’s form may not have been that impressive, but was definitely good enough to earn a place in the Champions League’s group phase. It was the Bundesliga’s best defence (Leipzig) against its best attack (Bayern), and the game was indeed closer than the scoreline suggests. Bayern don’t care now, as they celebrated their 6th domestic double – a testament to their utter dominance.

Line-ups

Bayern started this match with their usual 4-2-3-1 with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman on the flanks, while in the central, Javi Martinez was chosen to partner Thiago Alcantara instead of the more attack-minded Leon Goretzka.

Ralf Rangnick rested most of his key players at the weekend, so they were fully fit to come back to the starting 11. Leipzig’s initial formation was 4-2-2-2, with youngster Tyler Adams trusted to replace Konrad Laimer, while Timo Werner started probably his last match for the club.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis

RB Leipzig dominated the first 25 minutes of the match

RB Leipzig started the match on the front foot, pushing Bayern to their own half. Their 4-2-2-2 formation demonstrated their intention to compress the centre, forcing Bayern out wide. Often Paulsen and Werner will stay close to the opposite deepest midfielder, while looking to hunt the opposite centre back who Neuer would pass to and still covershadow the midfielder.

The midfield four also move situationally to close down all the central passing options, meaning Neuer often have to make a lobbed pass out wide. Their pressing system was quite flexible, though. Below we saw while Tyler Adams was moving very high to occupy the coming deep Thiago, Poulsen moved back to cover Martinez. This ensured Neuer couldn’t make a pass between the lines, as it would take out 5 Leipzig players and make things very dangerous for them. The position of Leipzig’s players between the opponent’s 2 lines meant they could often take care of at least 2 nearby Bayern players.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
RBL has a very flexible pressing system. Here Adams push high to occupy Thiago. Poulsen track deep to cover Martinez.

Leipzig’s high press made it quite difficult for Bayern to bring the ball out from the back like they wanted to, they often had to make lobbed passes wide or long to the front four, who many times had to come to their own half to get the ball. In the opening stages, they looked rather isolated from the back, so Leipzig had the numerical advantage in aerial duels, which led to them winning a lot of interesting second balls.

RB Leipzig don’t really try to play from the back. Goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi would always launch the ball towards Poulsen. He only won three out of his 13 aerial duels, though. In most cases, Leipzig tried to attack with a lot of small combinations down the flank. They are quite technical players who would overload one side to create a free man who can cross in to (often) Paulsen and/or a midfielder on the other side. Werner and Poulsen were very eager to move the flank to facilitate ball progression. Below is an example of a Leipzig throw-in. We see six Leipzig players in such a tight space and their short combinations led to a Werner cross. Here we only see Poulsen in the box, and right back Klostermann is in near the left half-space.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Six RBL players in such a tight space

The problem for Bayern was that they then had to commit most of their team to defend very narrow. Once they get the ball back, it was very difficult for them to get out of the intense Leipzig press when a small part of the pitch was covered by many RBL players. Bayern players don’t combine in tight spaces as well as Leipzig’s.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Bayern had to defend very narrow

Here are some other pressing patterns from Leipzig:

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
High press system from RBL. Adams ready to coordinate with the CF and AM in one side to create a one-side 3v3, whichever side Neuer short pass to
Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Two CFs stayed rather static to block passes through middle, AM Forsberg comes to press Bayern CB
Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Kimmich low to form 3v2 but RBL press high with Forsberg to Kimmich

Bayern defended zonally in a well-structured 4-4-2 throughout the match. Muller joined Lewandowski to form the first line of defence. Their defence was in general not troubled in open play. Forsberg got their best chance of the match at the beginning of the 2nd half when some impressive dribbling and a perfect through ball from Konate disrupted the whole Bayern’s system and sent him one-on-one with Manuel Neuer. Unfortunately for him, Neuer made an amazing save.

Here we see a similar pattern to Leipzig’s defensive structure: Bayern’s front two stayed close to the deepest midfielder and block passing lanes through the middle.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Bayern’s 4-4-2 in defence

Bayern took back control by scoring the first goal of the match

In the 19th minute, Coman and Gnabry switched flanks, which means Coman was then on the same side with David Alaba. Alaba and Coman had better football chemistry – their combination was a main theme in Bayern’s attack. Alaba made a lot of aggressive runs close to the opposite touchline to cross in. His four key passes was the most on the night. Coman and Alaba’s deep run often created a 2v1 against Klostermann. With Leipzig’s 4-2-2-2, there was not enough defensive cover on the wing. Their midfield four don’t have a lot of defensive qualities between them. In Bayern’s first goal, we saw Coman 1v1 with Klostermann, waiting for Alaba’s sprint. Neither Sabitzer nor Adams followed him. Nevertheless, Lewandowski’s header was just ridiculous.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
No one came anywhere close to stop the 30-meter sprint from Alaba

On the other wing, Gnabry was often given the whole flank to run down, while Kimmich stayed mainly in his half creating a 3v2 in the build up. He also created an interesting pattern for Bayern. Below we can see a typical example of Leipzig’s pressing. Their 4222 diamond greatly prevented Bayern from playing through the middle, but there are no wingers at all. There aren’t side central midfielders either. Either of Bayern’s full-back utilised this by attracting the opposite full-back to chase him and then he or his teammate would pass the ball over top to Bayern’s winger on that side, who then had a lot of space down the wing to exploit and cross in (or a lobbed pass to either Muller or Lewandowski who will then find the free winger). Kimmich’s low position was key to giving Gnabry space down the flanks. He also completed all of his six long balls.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Halstenberg following Kimmich, allowing space for Gnabry on the wing

Due to Leipzig’s high press, space can be found behind the full-backs. Gnabry and Muller often stay between the lines to win the aerial duels or look for space to run into.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Bayern try to take advantage of space between the lines and behind the full-backs as RBL pressed high

Second half changes 

Both teams kept fighting hard throughout the 2nd half. In the 65th and 70th minute, Konrad Laimer and Dayot Upamecano replaced Tyler Adams and Willy Orban. Leipzig changed to a 3-5-2 with Upamecano as a left centre-back, Klostermann as a right centre-back, and Halstenberg and Laimer as wing-backs. There would thus be no numerical advantage for Bayern on the flanks, as the sided centre-backs can help the wing-backs now.

Bayern Leipzig DFB Pokal Tactical Analysis
Leipzig back three

In the 82nd minute, Amadou Haidara came in for Ibrahima Konate. Leipzig thus became a 4-2-2-2 again. These formation changes did not really impact as Bayern’s goals were not the results of those. 

Conclusion

This was a close game for the most part of the match. The scoreline was in part the reflection of two teams’ finishing. Lewandowski made the difference with 2 wonderful goals. After a difficult journey in all competitions, Bayern can now look ahead with yet another domestic treble. Leipzig also showed their prowess, and would definitely look to take the Bundesliga throne from Bayern next season. More fun battles to watch between them.

 

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Nam Dzoan

23-year-old book editor from Vietnam. I watch and read about football whenever free from work. Love teams that start with the letter A, though their styles can be in stark contrast.

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