Werder Bremen came to Munich to take on the defending Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich. After a quick goal saw them take a 1-0, Florian Kohfeldt’s men fell to Hansi Flick’s team by a final score of 6-1. Bayern Munich find themselves in 5th place, while Werder Bremen are just above the relegation zone in 15th place.
This tactical analysis will look to better understand the tactics that both Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich used in their matchup, as well as providing analysis of what worked well and what needed to improve.
Bayern lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Manuel Neuer in goal. Their defence consisted of David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng as their centre backs, with Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard as the left and right backs, respectively. Joshua Kimmich and Thiago Alcántara acted as the holding mids, with Philippe Coutinho, Leon Goretzka, and Serge Gnabry in front of them. Robert Lewandowski played as the lone striker for Hansi Flick’s team.
Werder Bremen came out in the defensive 5-3-2, with Jiri Pavlenka in goal, and Michael Lang, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Milos Veljkovic, Christian Groß, and Ludwig Augustinsson in defence. The three-man midfield was made of Maximilian Eggestein, Nuri Sahin, and Davy Klaassen, with Yuya Osako and Milot Rashica playing as forwards.
Bremen’s Defensive Game Plan
Werder Bremen came into the game signaling their intent to defend for their lives and try to hit Bayern on the counter-attack. They set up in an incredibly defensive formation and seemed prepared to conceded the majority of possession to Bayern. They only had the ball 29% of the time, which means Bayern was in possession the other 71%.
For the majority of the game, Werder Bremen used this 5-3-2 to attempt to push Bayern into the wide areas of the pitch. This setup allows them to have defensive superiority, particularly in the middle of the field, where they essentially were able to defend with 6 players. Bayern recognized that Werder were overloading the centre of the field, and they initially tried to play around them.
When Bayern were playing out of the back, Bremen would press in order to provide some pressure, in hopes of a mistake. They committed men forward to try and capitalize on anything, like the occasional risky Manuel Neuer pass, but if Bayern was able to demonstrate control, they dropped off of the press and found their 5-3-2 shape in their own half of the field.
For the majority of the first half, Werder Bremen’s plan worked. Bayern continued to play the ball out wide, and while they produced opportunities, they weren’t any that actually posed a serious threat. For the majority of the first half, this worked incredibly well. As they held their shape (as seen above), Bayern try to force a ball into the center of the field.
Alaba zips a pass into Goretzka’s feet, where he plays a one-touch flick into space with no Munich players nearby. The ball rolls to Davy Klaassen, who plays a quick first-time ball into the feet of Milot Rashica, whose first touch goes around Jérôme Boateng. While Boateng’s initial recovery prevents an attack, Rashica is able to cross onto his right foot and find enough space to blast a shot past Manuel Neuer.
This wasn’t the first time Werder Bremen hit Bayern on the counter. Earlier in the match, Bayern took a corner that was defended well. The ball fell to a Bremen defender at the top of his own box, who quickly played Rashica into space. Milot Rashica traveled the entire half of the field unopposed until Boateng was able to catch up. Boateng forced Rashica to try and cut back to his left foot, and as he did, the forward slipped on the turf and tumbled to the ground. Bayern were lucky to find themselves only down by one goal as the first half came to a close.
Bayern’s press initiating play
What ultimately made Bayern so successful was their ability to force Bremen to play long balls out of the back. Bayern would either press or counter-press in order to force these turnovers, which is what made them control so much of the match.
Bayern’s first goal is a result of Serge Gnabry’s willingness to press. Bayern possessed the ball in Bremen’s defensive third, and they lost possession. As Pavard is turning to yell at the assistant referee about a potential foul, Gnabry runs past the first defender and forces the pass to go long. Boateng wins the header, and Lewandowski quickly finds Joshua Kimmich, who plays a ball into space over the defence, right onto the foot of the very man who began the play, Serge Gnabry. Gnabry slots the ball across the box to a waiting Coutinho, who finishes cooly to bring Bayern level.
Bayern also looked to force Werder to play long from goal kicks or when in possession in their own defensive third.
Here, Bayern have every Bremen defender marked with their press, with the exception of Ludwig Augustinsson, Bremen’s left-back. Pavard is positioned equally between Augustinsson and Rashica. This allows for him to recover and help Boateng if the ball gets played over the top. It also is essentially a pressing trap for Augustinsson, who would most likely receive a lofted ball from his goalkeeper, allowing Pavard to close him down quickly and turn the ball over.
Bremen did well to recognize this, and consistently played the ball long. This led to even more possession by Bayern Munich because despite Bremen winning 60% of the aerial duels, Bayern were quick to find themselves back in possession because of their counter-pressing, even in their own half. This made the game more difficult for Bremen, as they spent more time in their half defending, only to have the ball quickly won back by Bayern, and then brought back into their own half.
Attacking left side
Bayern’s most dangerous side proved to be the left flank of the field.
As seen above, the left hand side proved to be incredibly lethal for them, with them earning 3.27 xG (expected goals) from attacks starting on that side. This absolutely dwarfs the centre and right hand side in terms of efficiency.
What’s interest to look at the pass map is the location of the majority of Bayern’s players. The majority of their average positions finds themselves in the centre and the right side of the pitch. This forces the defence to shift towards the right in order to make sure they’re not getting outnumbered by Bayern. As they shift, they create more space for the left hand side, which Bayern used to exploit for the remainder of their goals (all five of them).
While Coutinho shifted to the centre of the pitch due to a substitution, Davies and Perisic continued to cause problems for Bremen for the rest of the match. Part of the problem for Bremen was they were forced to play defenders out of position. After Coutinho’s first goal, Bremen was forced to send on Marco Friedl for the injured Theodor Gebre Selassie.
Friedel is primarily left-footed, so he forced Christian Groß to shift to play as the right centre back. Bayern attacked Christian Groß immediately, earning another goal before halftime with a ball chipped over the top as Lewandowski ran past Groß, who incorrectly committed to pressure the ball carrier.
Coutinho’s second goal also stemmed from a run off of the right shoulder of Christian Groß.
After a clearance, David Alaba finds the ball at his feet with both space and time, which is always a problem for defenders. He focuses his attention to the right side of the pitch, despite the majority of his teammates being on the left hand side. In this moment, Bremen seem to turn off their focus.
Alaba quickly cuts to his left foot, and Coutinho reads it perfectly. Bremen’s right back, Lang, is forced to hold his position because of the presence of Perisic. Coutinho runs into the space between the two defenders, and finds himself in a lot of space.
The entire defence of Werder Bremen was still stepping forward as Coutinho runs in behind. He is able to settle the ball with his first touch, and then promptly chips the goalkeeper.
Bayern Munich continued to score, with Coutinho ultimately finding a third goal from his favourite spot in the park to shoot. He finished with a hat trick and an assist, earning himself a well-deserved man of the match by almost all accounts. Bayern Munich look to continue their success with games against SC Freiburg and Wolfsburg before their midseason break.
Bremen look to rebound against 14th place Mainz before playing FC Koln, who currently sit in 17th out of a possible 18th. Werder Bremen have the opportunity to pick up six points and end the first half of their season on a high note before the break.
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