In recent years, the UEFA Champions League group stage was criticised as being too predictable. However, when Bayern Munich was scheduled to face last year’s finalist, no one could have predicted how this game would turn out to be.
Looking at the final result one might think it was a one-sided game, however, the stats reveal a different story. Although conceding seven goals, for long periods of time Tottenham were dominant, a fact that is also be supported by the number of shots (14, 10 from inside the box, compared to Bayern’s seven and six respectively). Tottenham also had a higher xG rate of 1.81 (Bayern 1.68) and took their shots from a shorter average distance of 17.6 (Bayern 20.0). These stats only emphasise how unusual this game score was.
In this tactical analysis, I’ll try to show how Bayern Munich were able to achieve one of its biggest victories in the UEFA Champions League, with a strong emphasis on Tottenham’s pressing game and how Bayern overcame it.
Tottenham started the game with a 4-3-1-2, a formation they had already deployed this season on a few occasions. In this style of play, the central defenders were Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderwieried who were extremely occupied with Bayern’s front line. Harry Winks played in the 6 position, while Moussa Sissoko and Tanguay Ndombele were on his two sides and slightly forward. The two often drifted wide at the build-up stage in order to allow Serge Aurier and Danny Rose to go high and provide the width for the attack as the full-backs. Up front, Harry Kane often acted as a pivot dropping back to receive the ball and quickly turn it to the flanks. Dele Alli joined the attack from the second line and Heung-min Son as the second forward was the target man for long balls, trying to catch Bayern’s defence off guard in addition to his excellent 1 on 1s and forward runs into the box.
Bayern deployed their 4-2-3-1 through the entire game. In this formation, Niklas Süle and Jérôme Boateng were the central defenders, and Benjamin Pavard plus David Alaba were the full-backs. The two acted in a very different way – while Alaba made many forward runs exploiting the movement of Serge Gnabry to the centre and on the opposite side, Pavard was more retained having the talented Kingsley Coman drifting wide on his side. However, the match pass report shows how crucial Pavard was in the buildup after being the most linked player on the German side with 71 links (Corentin Tolisso was the 2nd most linked player with 55 links). Joshua Kimmich and Tolisso were the playmakers at the back, trying to move the ball from the backline forward. As said, Coman was the right-winger stretching the defence and exploiting his 1 on 1s, while Gnabry who was on the left side made more movement inward. Robert Lewandowski was the sole striker and Philippe Coutinho was right behind him with the role to get into the pockets of spaces created by his teammate’s movement.
Tottenham Struggle with Pressing and Bayern Exploit the space
Right from the start, Tottenham tried to put a high press on Bayern’s defence. The problem was that the press created big gaps between the pressing player and the line of defence behind him that was concerned with Bayern’s front players who kept them pinned back. In the images below we can see a good example of how Sissoko is set to press Pavard and the big space right behind him. Bayern was able to overcome the press with a simple “one-two” using the space created behind Sissoko.
Another way Bayern were able to beat Tottenham’s press was by creating a numerical superiority. Once again, Bayern’s forwards pinned Tottenham’s line of defence back, creating big space between them and the pressing players, which were exploited by Bayern’s extra man.
Tottenham’s plan was to get the ball from the back to the front three players who kept a compact narrow shape and then quickly turn the ball to one of their fast full-backs joining the attack, attempting to stretch Bayern’s defence. When unable to do so, they attempted long balls in behind Bayern’s defenders.
Bayern presented an asymmetric shape on offence with Coman providing width on the right side and Alaba on the left. Bayern were able to stretch Tottenham’s defence allowing Lewandoski, Coutinho, and Gnbary to rotate. Their rotation kept Tottenham’s defence in a constant dilemma on whether to press or hold back – if they did press one of the three, the spaces created were exploited by the other two.
The below passing report shows how each team set up when attacking. Tottenham were trying to get the ball from the flanks inward towards the front players, while Bayern used more passing combinations through the middle.
Tottenham continued the 2nd half with one main change. Spurs tried to reduce the big spaces from the 1st half by committing more players to the press, especially Harry Winks who was positioned in a much higher line. In the images below we can see two examples of the change.
However, once again Bayern found a way to overcome the press by dropping their front players back to create a numerical superiority or by moving the ball to the side, to pass the first line of press and then back to the centre where they found more space again.
Serge Gnabry was unstoppable in this game. The young German kept his good shape demonstrating once again his speed and off-the-ball movement which led to his third and fourth goal in the match. His 4th goal was really enjoyable to watch as he made a long run from deep into the corridor of space that opened in Tottenham’s defence, as soon as Bayern recovered the ball.
In the 1st half, the goal of Bayern’s tactic was to prevent passes to Winks and forcing long balls or balls to the flanks where they attacked the receiving player. In the 2nd half, the press became much more effective being responsible for two of the goals they scored. On both occasions, they forced Tottenham’s defence to make the wrong decision and were able to recover the ball and score quickly.
In this game analysis, we saw how an opponent’s press can be utilised as an advantage. Time after time Bayern were able to find a solution to Tottenham’s pressing style which gave them more room to operate. On the other side, Tottenham were unable to do the same. This game also demonstrated the big difference in quality between both backlines’ abilities with the ball. While Bayern’s defenders were very comfortable, showing a lot of confidence and composure, Tottenham’s back four didn’t show the same quality and made many mistakes which lead to a few of the goals.
This game would either be the wake-up call for Tottenham, which hasn’t found her last season’s pace so far this season, or it will be the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s time at North London. On the other side, this game might have been exactly what Niko Kovač needed to end the constant rumours about his unstable seat at the Allianz Arena.
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