Bayern München 4 – 1 Werder Bremen – Bayern back on top thanks to Robbery

After a recent run of poor form Bayern were finally back to winning ways with a convincing performance against fourth placed Bremen. Two goals apiece from Ribery and Robben decided a rather eventless and one-sided match with Rosenberg’s strike a mere aberration, Bremen never quite mustering enough to trouble Bayern. With other results also going their way, Bayern are now back on top of the league while Bremen remain in fourth for the time being. The match simply showed the gulf in individual quality between the two sides and hinted at Bremen’s bigger problems as a team.

Schaaf was relieved to welcome back the ever influential and seemingly timeless Pizarro after a brief injury as well as Sokratis who was serving a suspension. Mielitz also started in goal for Bremen after Wiese pulled out following the death of his father. Bayern meanwhile remain without Schweinsteiger until the New Year, an absence said to be largely responsible for their poor form as of late. Despite that, Heynckes trusted in the same eleven that lost to Mainz last week with a fit Robben still watching from the sidelines.

Hectic start and the reappearance of Robbery

Perhaps having learned from Bayern’s shoddy performances over the last couple of weeks, Bremen came out very aggressively, trying to push the hosts back and force errors in defense. Similar to Dortmund and Mainz, the idea presumably being to force turnovers and bring the ball forward as quickly as possible and never allow Bayern to get into their groove. Bayern usually do the same from the getgo and it made for a somewhat scrappy and physical affair in the opening minutes. Due to the combative nature, especially in midfield, both sides neutralized each other and few goal-scoring chances were created. Both sides would loosen up as the match progressed though, helped by a particularly clever player.

Ribery's heatmap

After some 20 minutes of dogged play and only two shots on goal, Bayern would break the snarled nature of the match. Hunt’s free kick was blocked in Bayern’s half and Alaba was alert, picking up the ball at the half way line and picking out Ribery on the left. The Frenchman cut inside past Bremen’s defenders and slotted in his 7th goal of the season. As usual this season, Ribery was heavily involved and saw the ball more and more after the opening goal. Sokratis, who has been doing so well this season, had a difficult time keeping up with Ribery and only the half time whistle saved Bremen from a player who was becoming increasingly more threatening.

Despite being outplayed going into the break it would be Bremen who scored after the restart. Rosenberg leveled the score with only his second touch after coming on for Arnautovic. Pizarro won a challenge against Van Buyten and played Rosenberg clean on goal, the Swede neatly finishing in the bottom left corner. The goal gave Bremen a bit more self belief but the goal was more anomalous than indicative of a comeback and Bayern responded almost immediately. Fourteen minutes later Gomez was taken down by Wolf in the box and Bayern awarded a penalty. Robben, who had come on just 8 minutes earlier converted with ease and restored Bayern’s lead.

As if Ribery was not enough, Bremen now had to deal with Robben as well and 8 minutes later the Dutchman split Bremen’s defense with a pass that Ribery met and convincingly finished to effectively kill the game. They were not finished though and after Hunt was dismissed due to a vicious tackle on Kroos, Bayern again earned a penalty, Sokratis again failing to deal with Ribery and taking him down in the box. Robben converted his second to round off the score.

4-2-3-1 vs. 4-4-2 diamond

Bremen's average position against Bayern, notice compact nature of formation

Schaaf’s reluctance to deviate from the midfield diamond has both cost him and earned him a requited self-assurance regardless of its success or failure. More often than not though, the midfield diamond is ill suited against the more flexible 4-2-3-1. In particular, the 4-2-3-1’s strengths out wide are in exact contrast with the diamond’s dearth of width and as expected, Bremen dealt poorly with Bayern’s wide players.

Ribery, and later Robben, had far too much space out wide with Bargfrede and Fritz tasked with holding down the middle as well as coming out wide when needed. The dual responsibility often left Bremen thin either in the center or out wide. Bargfrede was forced to make a match high 18 tackles during the game. With Marin, Pizarro and Arnautovic virtually separated from the rest of the team (all three had the least amount of touches on the ball), Bremen were outnumbered in midfield. Bayern’s most active players meanwhile were their wide players, Lahm, Boateng and Ribery had a combined 275 touches, 37% of all of Bayern’s touches. Bremen’s misplaced passes were also more frequent out wide than in the center with Ignjovski, Sokratis, Hunt and Fritz giving the ball away a combined 33 times.

Bayern's average formation, notice how spread out it is and players available out wide.

Epitomized by Hunt’s reckless challenge on Kroos and subsequent dismissal but also by Bayern’s cat and mouse game, Bremen were never allowed to settle and play at their own tempo, being partially down to the drawbacks of said formation. Because the diamond is so centrally focused it lacks the variability to go beyond its initial prescription. Against Bayern, Bremen’s strategy, whether intended or not, was rooted more in stopping Bayern than really creating much for themselves. Seven Bayern players completed more passes than Bremen’s best on the day and the visitors had just 6 shots on goal.

Final Verdict

Bayern will think that Christmas came early considering their performance and all other results effectively going their way. A win was important following the disappointment against Mainz and Dortmund. They did fail to keep a clean sheet again though, something they managed just once in their last 9 matches in all competitions, a complete reversal of their 10-match streak without conceding a goal at the start of the season. That said, it was Heynckes’s first win over Bremen in 17 matches as a coach and, while far from their best, an overall improvement in performance

Bremen were thoroughly outplayed and Schaaf outsmarted. What is most worrying though is their continued form against the “top” sides in the league. Their three losses this season are all against teams currently occupying the first three spots in the standings. Schaaf, ever the purist, could also benefit from a little tactical versatility in his coaching arsenal.

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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


  1. Thanx Cristian!

    With the 4-1-2-1-1 that Schaaf employs, Bremen neither have the width, nor the tactical flexibility to adapt to their opponents’ game. And time and again it has been proven that the 4-2-3-1, given all its versatility is the best answer to counter a 4-2-3-1. And Bremen have all the necessary ingredients to establish a succesful demonstration of the formation.

    A 4-4-2 could prove detrimental against the well established 4-2-3-1 of the Bundesliga offering little flexibility. The rigid nature of this formation will decrease the chances of Marin to showcase his attacking flair restricting him to his respective flank (similar to Ribery’s role in the first years under van Gaal). Moreover it gives added defensive responsibilty to Marin, which given his light build will not suit him.

    In my opinion, the best option for Schaaf is to emulate a Barcelonaesque 4-3-3 with Marin filling in as the ‘false 9’ giving him the license to focus on the attacking game and often dropping back to control the tempo of the game in a style similar to a certain diminutive Argentine 😉

    These are just my perspectives on the game. Would love to you takes on that 🙂

  2. Thanks Sid! You make some very good points, especially the analogy to Villarreal.

    Mainz played 3 in the middle with both wide forwards dropping deep so they were able to defend from both ends whereas Bremen only had their fullbacks up against both Bayern wingers and fullbacks. And Dortmund are so industrious that Bayern never managed to compete in terms of running. Bremen lacked in both these areas, they couldn’t compensate for their tactical shortcomings physically and they Schaaf didn’t set them out with enough versatility to overcome those shortcomings.

    I propose a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 for Bremen with Fritz and Bargfrede the double pivots, Marin and Hunt out wide and Pizarro and Arnautovic up front. Couldn’t possibly be worse, could it?

  3. Pinpoint analysis Cristian 🙂

    I have to say I echo all that you’ve had to say about the tactical naïvety of Die Hanseaten. The match reminded me a lot of the CL play-off against Villareal. The Spaniards employing a similar formation were undone by the width offered by the tricky Bayern wingers. Analysing the previous two matches of Bayern Munich, it could be seen that both Dortmund and Mainz nullified the threat of Ribery with fullbacks pressing higher up the pitch and the wingers tracking back along with the holding midfielders marking him out of the game. Suffice to say, Bremen’s lack of width left little freedom for fullbacks to press up the pitch and left the holding midfielders in no mans land enabling Toni Kroos (reiterating the fact that he was’nt as sharp as usual) to bulldoze down the space in the centre. God knows what would have happened had Schweinsteiger been playing!

    I hold the view that its time Thomas Schaaf breaks out of his stereotypical diamond formation and goes ahead with a little tactical switch. Secondly, Aaron Hunt is simply not suited for his role in the centre of the park, neither is Marko Marin. Philipp Bargfrede who defended his heart out plugging gaps and neutralizing threats recieved little support from his midfield partners (Aaron Hunt and Clemens Fritz) who were caught with their pants down as ‘Robbery’ ran riot. Marin, given all his talent has been underperforming throughout the season. His final pass leaves a lot to be desired. Both Hunt and Marin are natural wingers who survive on pace and craft down the wing. Felix Kroos, Lennart Thy and Florian Trinks should be given more playing time.

    Looking forward to hear from you 🙂

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