Bayern Munich were the visitors as they took on Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga this week. After the 5-0 drubbing of Schalke 04 last week, Bayern strode into the Opel Arena full of confidence. Meanwhile, Mainz limped in, having lost to Borussia Mönchengladbach last week by the score of 3-1, despite having scored the game’s opening goal. The first thirty minutes of the match were all Bayern, with the reigning Bundesliga champions putting three past Mainz.
This tactical analysis looks to understand how Bayern Munich used their tactics to defeat Mainz. It will also provide some analysis of what Mainz manager Achim Beierlorzer employed in order to attempt to find success against the Bavarians.
Hansi Flick opted to start the match with a 4-2-3-1 for the visitors, with Manuel Neuer in goal. In front of Neuer, Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard worked as left and right backs respectively, with David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng operating as the centre back pairing, with Alaba on the left side and Boateng on the right. The two defensive midfielders in front of the backline were Joshua Kimmich and Thiago. In front of the two pivot players was Ivan Perisic, who primarily played down the left flank, Leon Goretzka, who was the centre attacking midfielder, and Thomas Müller, who marauded down the right side. Robert Lewandowski, who has 22 goals on the season, was the lone striker.
Achim Beierlorzer had Mainz come out with the same 4-2-3-1 formation, with four changes from the team that played against Borussia Mönchengladbach last week in the same formation. Robin Zentner started the game in goal, with Daniel Brosinski, Moussa Niakhaté, Jeremiah St. Juste, and Ridle Baku starting across the backline. Baku and Brosinski were the right and left-back, respectively, and St. Juste and Niakhaté operated as the centre backs. In front of them, Pierre Kunde Malong and Leandro Barreiro Martins worked as two defensive midfielders. Robin Quaison, Jean-Paul Boëtius, and Levin Öztunali were in charge of getting forward and supporting Jean-Philippe Mateta, who was the lone striker for Mainz on the day.
Mainz’s defensive struggles
Similar to their match last week, Mainz began the match looking to soak up a lot of pressure from Bayern Munich, hoping to discourage them with a strong defensive performance. When Bayern built out of the back, whether from a goal kick or winning possession, Mainz would send players forward who would provide a small amount of pressure on the ball carrier.
In this image, Mainz are in their 4-2-3-1. The problem is the spacing between their lines of defence. Seven of Bayern’s players that are off the ball are able to find themselves in space because Mainz is not compact enough. The three Bayern players in the middle are the most dangerous because if they are able to turn, (the amount of space suggests that they could) they’ll be able to attack Mainz’s defensive line quickly. If Bayern were able to string together three to four passes and progress into the opposition’s half, Mainz would drop off and find their defensive structure, which was a 4-4-2.
While this defensive shape can be effective, Mainz are entirely too spread out in this image. This leads to plenty of passing lanes that Bayern can exploit, should they get the right personnel in the proper spots. The right side of Mainz’s defence needs to shift more towards the ball-side, as that is where the scoring threat is. While Bayern do have players on the opposite side of the pitch, Mainz doesn’t need to be too concerned with them, because any pass that is played from one side of the pitch to the other can usually be defended rather easily, assuming that the defence is willing to run. Mainz, who had an incredibly high work rate the entire match, needed to work a little bit smarter to be more effective defensively.
Mainz’s switch to a press
At the half, Mainz switched to a press which helped force more long balls to be played by Bayern. This resulted in more aerial duels, which naturally allowed Mainz to see more of the possession. While this increase of possession definitely allowed Mainz to see more of the ball, they were unable to actually do anything with it. Their expected goals (xG) in the first half was actually at .33, while in the second half, despite seeing more of the ball for some spells, they only had .14 xG.
There are two important pieces of the image to consider. First, Mainz used their cover shadows (essentially positioning their bodies properly to eliminate passing options for the man on the ball) to eliminate passes out wide or into the midfield. This gives Bayern’s centre backs two options: play the ball long to Lewandowski and hope he can settle the ball down and combine with his teammates or to play into their holding midfielders, who are the men with the red mark underneath them in the photo.
This is the same image as above, but for the sake of clarity, the pressing trap Mainz has set is now highlighted. Teams normally look to use their defensive midfielders to build out of the back, so the pass into Thiago or Kimmich is enticing for Boateng, Neuer, or Alaba. However, Mainz has each of those players surrounded by a total of four players, so any attempt to turn and play out of the back will almost immediately be nullified. Mainz is actually inviting Bayern to play into these players, because if they can collapse on Thiago or Kimmich, they’ll win the ball back directly in front of Bayern’s goal. While these pressing traps were effectively built on occasion, Mainz didn’t force Bayern to play through them enough, and as a result, couldn’t find their way back into the match.
Bayern’s width creates space
One of the keys to Bayern’s success in this match was their ability to widen the pitch. Their outside players, particularly Alphonso Davies and Ivan Perisic on the left but also Benjamin Pavard and to some extent, Thomas Müller, looked to spread Mainz out and create more space in the centre of the pitch.
Here, Lucas Pavard, at the bottom of the image, and Ivan Perisic, at the top of the image, spread the width of the field. This forces Baku and Brosinski, who were the outside backs, to position themselves wider than they would like, because they have to make sure that they’re marking these two. This means that the centre backs, Moussa Niakhaté and Jeremiah St. Juste, must also shift over a metre or two in order to stay connected with the rest of their defensive line. This creates vast amounts of space that Bayern looked to exploit.
This is the image right before Bayern scored their second goal in the first 13 minutes of the match. Brosinski, the Mainz left-back at the bottom of the image, is forced to stay farther out on the left hand side because Benjamin Pavard, who isn’t pictured, is positioned out wide on the right side of the pitch. Because Brosinski is out wide, Niakhaté, the centre back, is not able to provide the appropriate amount of pressure on Thomas Müller, who is in possession. Müller is able to play a through pass down the left side, and eventually the ball gets crossed back into the centre of the penalty area, where he buries the chance to put Bayern up 2-0.
Bayern’s final goal was also a result of their ability to spread Mainz across the pitch. Quaison, number seven on Mainz, is late to fill the midfield line with his presence because he is concerned with Pavard. Because he is late, his teammate is not able to shift over to the right when Thiago receives this ball. The amount of space, highlighted in yellow, was so large that Thiago was able to dribble through it, and then used a bit of individual skill to beat his last two defenders, firing the ball into the side-netting. While it may appear merely as a piece of individual skill, Thiago was able to take advantage of that space because of the width provided by Pavard and the defender that it attracted.
Bayern’s ‘overload to isolate’ principle
One part of Bayern’s game that allowed them to be so successful in the early part of the match was their ability to make Mainz shift a lot when defending the ball. This is a perfect example of using possession as a tool against your opponent. Off a throw-in, Bayern shifts over to the left side of the pitch, possessing in the opponents’ half, pulling Mainz with them.
As Mainz shifts over, the ball gets played to Thiago, who is playing as the pivot, and he quickly plays a long pass to Benjamin Pavard, the right-back, who is streaking down the right flank. What happens next is important. Mainz must shift over quickly to provide support and keep their shape. This is where mistakes can occur, and one does here. As Mainz shift over, Robert Lewandowski finds space between the centre backs. Pavard crosses the ball quickly after his first touch, before Mainz can organize, and Lewandowski finishes the cross for his 22nd goal of the Bundesliga season.
Here, Bayern overload the right side of the pitch, looking to draw in defenders. They create this diamond with Thiago in the centre of it. This attracts seven of the Mainz defenders, leaving both Alphonso Davies and Ivan Perisic on the left. Because Bayern is able to find this shape, they’re able to attract defenders and maintain possession of the ball, effectively getting Mainz to vacate the space that they actually want to attack, which is on the left side in this instance.
In fact, as soon as Perisic and Davies realize Mainz has shifted over, they both put their hands up, calling for the ball to be switched quickly. In this instance, the ball got played across the backline too slowly, and Mainz were able to shift over and prevent their exposed flank from being exploited. However, Bayern looked to do this consistently, which forced Mainz to run and concentrate extensively over a large part of the match. This overloading, paired with the width of Bayern’s attack that was previously mentioned, caused Mainz a lot of problems when defending.
Bayern Munich’s sixth consecutive win in the Bundesliga sees them go to the top of the table, as RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach shared the points in their matchup this week. RB Leipzig follow in second place on 41 points, with Borussia Dortmund in third and Borussia Mönchengladbach in 4th, both on 39 points. Bayern will look to continue the successful implementation of their tactics as they take on RB Leipzig next week in a Bundesliga clash of the top two teams. Mainz find themselves on 18 points after 20 matches, still one point above a relegation play-off match. They’ll look to rebound against Hertha BSC, a team only three points above them in the Bundesliga table.