The clash between first placed Bayern and second placed Dortmund was arguably the season’s most highly anticipated match and one which was said to have huge implications in the title race. After an innocuous first half the match seemed more anti climactic than decisive but a second half resurgence from both sides ensured it lived up to the billing. A lone goal from Götze decided a timid and nervy contest and ensured that Bayern will not run away with the league just yet. The visitors executed their gameplan well while Bayern will inevitably ask themselves how they lost a match in which they had twice as much of the ball as their opponent.
Going into the match, Jupp Heynckes decided to give Robben his first start since August after the Dutchman was given a clean bill of health, a decision that was not without its share of risk but in light of Schweinsteiger and Tymoshchuk’s absences seemed a prudent move. This meant that Kroos, who up to this point played behind Gomez, now partnered Gustavo in central midfield, a role not unfamiliar to him but one he has not yet played under Heynckes. Apart from their win there last season, Dortmund had not won in Munich in some twenty years so Klopp and company had it all to do. His only injury concern was the absence of Subotic, whom he replaced with Santana. Kehl was also preferred to Leitner which hinted at a more cautious approach by Klopp from the start.
After the initial frenzy typical of the opening stages, the game settled into one of attrition with neither side wanting to expose themselves by taking great risks. As a result, few clear-cut chances were created, a stark contrast to last season’s encounters between the two sides. The closest either came was through half chances or speculative shots. The first real scoring opportunity did not present itself until the half hour mark when Ribery was played into space by Robben 14 meters from goal but the Frenchman rushed the shot and sent it into the stands. Dortmund’s best chance was even tamer. Lewandowski did well to get by Badstuber on the right and floated a dangerous ball across the goal but Rafinha beat Grosskreutz to the ball and cleared the threat.
It was as tight a match as we have seen this season, neither side giving an inch of space to the other. Both sets of players seemed more focused on shoring up their defense than trying to open up the other and preferred simple passes to ambitious ones when in possession. It was only natural then that both found it difficult to break each other down. Bayern were particularly comfortable to just knock the ball around in their own half rather than have a go at their opponent. Lahm, Badstuber and Rafinha played more passes between each other than the entire Dortmund side combined. Whether that was a result of nerves or to just keep the ball away from Dortmund it did have an adverse effect on their attack. As is often the case with Bayern, when the team fails to involve Gomez or they are preoccupied in midfield, it leaves the striker largely isolated and virtually nullified. Gomez had just 9 touches on the ball in the first half compared his Dortmund counterpart Lewandowski who had 26.
Bayern completed 262 passes in the first half compared to Dortmund’s 105 but had little to show for it, failing to win a single corner or get a cross in the box. Why were Bayern so anemic? Previously we have alluded to the possible fallout of Schweinsteiger’s absence but does that sufficiently explain Bayern’s performance? Perhaps. More notable in this match however was how Kehl and Bender nullified any threat posed by Ribery and Robben. Bayern are known to direct a lot of their play to the two wingers and most of Bayern’s attacks come through either Ribery or Robben. This game was no different but neither really managed to get going and that was in large part due to Dortmund’s central midfield pair. Rather than staying in the middle both moved out wide whenever Ribery or Robben received the ball and either intercepted or cut out most of their attacks. Bender was responsible for tracking Ribery down his side while Kehl helped Schmelzer deal with Robben on the other. That also explains Bayern’s long spells of possession, being largely unchecked in the middle but Dortmund’s backline was always comfortable in checking whatever Bayern threw forward.
Game opens up in second half
Both teams needed to be more imaginative if they wanted to get anything out of the game and as it were the match did liven up in the second half. Klopp looked the more comfortable of the two coaches up to that point, perhaps satisfied with his side’s patient and resolute showing, but even they needed to be more aggressive to take advantage of a growingly nervous Bayern side. With time running down each team committed themselves more to attack. Both Gomez and Götze had good chances after the break, both initiated by clever balls over the top, something that was sorely lacking in the first half. The tempo and willingness to take chances increased significantly and so did the chances.
The only goal of the match came on 65 minutes after Bayern carelessly ceded possession in midfield and Kagawa, Lewandowski and Götze combined to take advantage. The goal unsettled Bayern even more and Dortmund nearly doubled the lead but Lewandowski was called offside. Once again, Bayern were cut open far too easily, only adding to Dortmund’s momentum when they did have the ball. Although Bayern did not dominate possession as much in the second as they did in the first they still were still in control for the most part. The problem was the frequency with which their attacks broke down and their continual vulnerability to quick counter attacks. Bayern’s attack misplaced a total of 25 passes in the second half, giving Dortmund’s quick players more chances to counter and consequently putting more pressure on its own defense. So scattered were Bayern in their voraciousness to get a goal that they often failed to track Götze’s runs, the Dortmund playmaker having all the time in the world to check inside without any notable coverage.
Heynckes replaced the ineffective Müller and Robben with Alaba and Olic around the 70th minute to little effect. Their tactics did not really deviate and Dortmund simply continued to execute the gameplan they already had in place. The second half was eerily reminiscent of their performance against Napoli, in which they dominated much of the play initially but were always prone to mistakes and became increasingly vulnerable after their opponent settled. Kroos’s creative absence up front may have also had a detrimental effect on their offensive cohesion, the 21-year old being constricted in his deeper role and often unable to help initiate attacks. Bayern’s shortcomings aside, Dortmund carried out their gameplan as well as any side hoping to beat Bayern in Munich. They defended extremely well as a team and individually, won all the important challenges and remained admirably purposeful throughout.
After their rough start this season Dortmund have turned it around quite remarkably. Now unbeaten in their last 9 matches in all competitions, Klopp’s team appears to be back to their best. Lewandowski is not only scoring goals but has became an integral part in Klopp’s system as evidenced today and over the last couple of weeks, rounding of what has become a very balanced side. Accused of tactical naiveté in the past, Klopp knew his limitations today and took a step back from the usual gung-ho attitude to play a more mature and calculated game.
Bayern’s uneasiness over replacing Schweinsteiger meanwhile was not assuaged with neither Alaba or Kroos being the right answer so far. Suffice to say, it is a dilemma that might have more of an impact on their season than this result.
Latest posts by Cristian Nyari (see all)
- Bundesliga Hinrunde Best XI - December 27, 2014
- Löw: “We can play better, we haven’t reached our best yet” - June 29, 2014
- Thomas Müller: “The best is yet to come from us” – Germany’s dominant win against the US - June 27, 2014