DFB Pokal Semi-Final Bayern München 0 – 1 Schalke 04: How Schalke beat Bayern – A Tactical breakdown


This was a repeat of last year’s semi final, now remembered most for Robben brilliant individual run and winning goal.  Bayern came into the match after a dispiriting loss at home to title favorites Dortmund while Schalke and their coach Magath remain under severe pressure to turn out better performances and turn their disappointing season around.

Bayern have not lost a home game in the Cup in over 20 years and it has been some 10 years since they lost back-to-back home matches so they were firm favorites going in.  So when the final whistle blew it came as quite a shock that Schalke would be the team going to Berlin to play Duisburg in the final instead of Bayern.  Bayern are now out of two competitions with only the Champions League to play for while Schalke have a good chance of lifting the domestic Cup and progressing to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.  Both teams’ fortunes seem to have been turned around in just one match.

So how did Felix Magath manage to beat Bayern a second time this season and what did the home side do wrong?  This article takes a look at 3 decisive factors that turned the game in favor of Schalke and 3 factors that worked against Bayern.

More important than anything else, Schalke was victorious in midfield.

What Schalke did right

4-3-2-1 –  This was the formation that Magath lined up with.  The “Christmas tree”, famously used by Carlos Ancelotti in his time with Milan, has not been the formation of choice for Magath this season but was key in Schalke’s win against Bayern.  In particular, the midfield trio of Kluge, Matip and Annan ensured that Schalke had a numerical advantage in midfield that effectively closed down all channels of operation.  In nature, the Christmas tree is a narrow yet fluid formation.  Because the fullbacks provide the bulk of the width, the midfield is free to focus on defensive duties and Annan and Matip did well to get wide when necessary to check Robben and Ribery.  The midfield trio also acted as a barrier between Bayern’s midfield and attack and essentially cut off one from the other.  It was suspected that Magath was going to take a similar approach that Dortmund did in their win over Bayern and to an extent he did but it was executed differently.

Organization & Movement – This was a vintage Magath performance.  Renowned for his organizational skills, Magath structured his side in a way that would check and neutralize Bayern’s strong points.  Namely, this meant crowding out Bayern’s midfield and preventing the ball from getting to Ribery and Robben.  Positional discipline was key here and all of Schalke’s players executed the gameplan perfectly, hustling for 90 minutes and remaining strong despite Bayern’s increased pressure in the second half.  Instead of pressing Bayern relentlessly like Dortmund, Magath frustrated Bayern into submission.  Schalke’s players never stopped running and where everywhere.  Farfan tracked back to help Uchida while Raul seemed to play three different positions and was as deep as central midfield on occasions.  All throughout, Magath’s men stuck to their roles and put in one of their best team performances of the season.

Defensive discipline – With more and more sides emphasizing attack, Magath is one of the few stalwarts in the league that still builds his sides on a strong defensive platform.   Despite being in 10th place in the league, Schalke still have the league’s 2nd best defense behind Dortmund and have only conceded 5 goals in their last 10 matches.  Neuer has firmly established himself as one of the best keepers in Europe while players like Uchida and Hoewedes have gotten better as the season progressed.  Magath has tried to use the same backline in every match to build consistency and stability while Van Gaal has used 13 different variations in the back.  Magath and Van Gaal have contradicting philosophies when it comes to defending.  For one it is a fundamental building block to success and for the other it is “easy”.   Today the man who emphasizes defending came out on top.  Schalke’s backline cut out everything Bayern threw at them and the likes of Robben, Mueller and Ribery were handled surprisingly well.  Schalke kept their shape at the back and never let Bayern’s attackers stifle them.  On the other hand, Bayern failed to defend on set pieces yet again and looked vulnerable whenever Farfan sprinted down the right flank. Bayern’s attacking philosophy is noble but an effective attacking team requires a compatible and reliable defense and Bayern are very much lacking in that department.

What Bayern did wrong

Passivity – Whereas Dortmund outran and outworked Bayern there was little excuse for the complacency shown by most players against Schalke.  It may have been fatigue after a tiring performance against Dortmund and a trip to Milan but there was nothing to indicate that Bayern could not have taken the game to Schalke.  Instead, players like Schweinsteiger and Mueller uncharacteristically gave the ball away too often and much of their game seemed to consist of receiving the ball and passing it off for others to take initiative.  When Lahm and Pranjic ran up the pitch all Bayern players seemed to hover and concentrate around the box waiting for a cross instead of overlapping, offering link ups or supporting them.  There was a general sense of rigidity pervading the squad.

Outnumbered in midfield – As noted earlier, Schweinsteiger and Gustavo were up against Kluge, Matip and Annan in front of them and a never tiring Raul behind them.  They were crowded out and effectively stranded on an island in the ocean.   The pressure led to numerous giveaways and a general lack of fluidity that Bayern have demonstrated so often this season.  This was exacerbated by Ribery and Robben’s lack of defensive work.  It really was a case of the wingers providing too much width.  The two wingers were stationed out wide almost as stationary objects rather than effective mobile attackers.  It made it easy for Schalke to double up on them and Ribery was often triple teamed by Uchida, Farfan and Matip while Robben had an aggressive Kluge to contend with.

Lack of Plan B – Simply put, Bayern’s gameplan was too rigid and at times too desperate.  As evidence by the performance in Dortmund over the weekend, when Bayern are out of their comfort zone and not in control they tend to panic and look out of ideas.  Their retention and passing game relies heavily on a certain state of mind, a relative calm and level headedness.  When that balance is disrupted players panic and the game plan is stifled.   It took Bayern a good 45 minutes to up the tempo and pressure and that often materialized in the form of trying to play the ball out wide to Ribery and Robben in the hopes of some individual inspiration.  The team has come to rely quite heavily on the two wingers for moments of inspiration and when they are neutralized Bayern find it difficult to adjust mid-game.

The real sign of desperation came with the substitution of Van Buyten.  The plan was for the Belgian to use his height to pose an aerial threat in the box but Bayern rarely got a cross on target in the end and the tactic impeded Bayern’s overall style of play to begin with.  In a sense, they were digging themselves a deeper hole and not getting any closer to an equalizer.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari


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