Bayern started with an asymmetrical shape. Joshua Kimmich and Holger Badstuber, the central defenders, were flanked by the dynamic Philip Lahm and David Alaba, respectively on the right and left. Lahm’s role was different to Alaba’s role. In most of Bayern’s very first-phase of build-up, Alaba was slightly deeper, staying in the first-line. Along with the progression, if needed, Alaba went forward supporting the circulation from the half-space.
On the other side, Lahm often took a slightly-narrower and higher position, as he occupied the 6 role in the second-line, particularly on the right half-space, accompanied Xabi Alonso forming the double-pivot. This hybrid-role for Lahm gave Bayern some specific advantages.
For example, when Bayern circulated the ball with proper shape and speed from the right to the left and back to the right again, Lahm’s central movement dragged Hakan Calhanoglu out of the left half-space as the Turk followed him, creating a relatively vulnerable open space on Leverkusen left side.
This opening of space gave Robben enough time to receive a pass. And when Robben dropped even deeper to pick up the ball, for example, Douglas Costa moved wide diagonally and filled the vacant space (at the 7 spot). This movement forced one central defender, in this case Omer Toprak, to move out to deal with Costa, because Robben had previously managed to pull Wendell out from the left back post.
By occupying the 6 slot, Lahm often found himself in a proper positioning to support Bayern’s progress forward. His positioning, whether a wall-pass to Xabi or even vertical access itself, it gave the same positive effect to Bayern. It established a more pressing-resistant side against Leverkusen’s pressure.
Lahm provided the passing option and released a killer ball to Arjen Robben.
Another advantage Lahm’s positioning provided was helping Bayern to establish strong gegen-pressing. By positioning himself in the 6 slot, particularly on the right half-space, Lahm helped Xabi to cover more grounds and make the necessary immediate-press and ball recoveries in front of the back-line.
This dynamic provided a stable defensive-barrier too, which prevented Leverkusen from directly attacking Bayern’s back line. For example, this occurred when Bayern shifted far to the right flank. In the second line, there were Lahm, Xabi, and Arturo Vidal around the flank and half-space was supported by Kingsley Coman, who covered the center.
By moving into the middle-line, Lahm moved himself closer to Xabi, which enabled the two to pin Leverkusen’s attack down in higher areas. In some specific situations, this plan also helped Vidal concentrate on his “8-and-10-role,” reducing the space he had to cover. Behind this four, there were Kimmich, Badstuber, and Alaba in the first line, defended the right flank and half-space.
In this configuration, Bayern defended in a 3-4 basic shape with strong ball-oriented movement, which made it hard for Leverkusen to overload and penetrate the flank. This plan was the proper shape to play against Roger Schmidt’s side, since Leverkusen are known as a very compact team in almost every phase.
In the above situation, all midfielders and Leverkusen’s forwards had to move wide, forming a compact formation, which allowed them to cover the ball-side flank, half-space and central area, As shown in this image:
In the other situation, when Bayern circulated through their left flank, it was also Lahm who allowed Xabi to shift wide to the near-ball half-space, which gave the Spaniard the opportunity to form a mini-diamond formation along with Vidal, Coman, and Robert Lewandowski.
Xabi Alonso, the dedicated 6, and Badstuber, the central defender, were often used as the progression-point from their first phase of build-up. In many instances, Bayern, through the passing ability of Xabi or Badstuber, tried to exploit the central intermediate-area between the 6 and back-line of Leverkusen defensive-shape. In other situations, Bayern tried to exploit the half-space between the wide-men and side-back. Sometimes, Bayern made use of the diagonal area between Kampl and Kramer, or Bayern played it long directly to the certain targeted-area, where Lewandowski or Costa were posted.
Robben and Costa paired on the right side, creating an asymmetrical shape compared to Vidal and Coman did on the left. Vidal was more to a 8 and 10 (occasionally 6) with Coman much more a classic right winger. Whilst Costa was more to an 10 and 8 (occasionally 7) swapped with Robben. Lewandowski, as ever, acted as the support for the build-up. He moved wide to half-space or dropped to the 10 to create the passing lane or provide lay-offs.
Leverkusen’s initial marking-assignment with a high-block was clear. The two forward picked up both Bayern’s central defenders, while the wide-men went against Bayern’s side-backs, and the central midfielders kept an eye on Vidal and Xabi – Kevin Kampl on Xabi and Christoph Kramer on Vidal.
Because of these initial assignments, the positioning of Kramer and Kampl was clearly different. Kramer stayed deep at 6 as he was assigned to deal with the 8-and-10-Vidal while Kampl was higher as he needed to reduce the working-space of Xabi. Leverkusen displayed a compact and hard-to-break-down-defensive-shape, which forced Bayern to play long directly from behind to the forward line.
When Bayern managed to progress and Leverkusen moved into their medium-block, the defensive-shape was adjusted slightly. For example, Stefan Kießling dropped deeper than Javier Chicarito. If Xabi shifted wide to the right half-space, for example, Kießling would pick him up. If Lahm moved centrally to cover the 6, Chicarito would be the one to get close to him. Kramer stayed with Vidal around the 6 and Kampl took the space right in front of the two central defender. So, in this context, there would be Kießling, Bellarabi, Kramer, Tim Jedvad and near-ball central defender within the first layer of Leverkusen touchline-trap.
In their attack, as aforementioned, Leverkusen tried to overload the ball-side flank to penetrate Bayern’s defence. The overload was established through a strong ball-oriented shifted, with the support of width and depth by, respectively, the far-winger and near-ball full-back. The far-winger occupied the center and the full back stayed deeper, waiting for the proper timing either to get forward or got ready to support the gegen-pressing, in transition. As the attacking alternative, Leverkusen used Kiessling as the target man for their long-ball play.
The movement of Kampl and Kramer, especially to the half-space, often created some promising opportunity. Either opened the space in box 18 or dragged Bayern’s 6 out of position in the zone 5. These 6es supported the circulation by becoming the decoy and wall-pass.
In the image above, Bellarabi is on the right flank. As the winger was pressured by Alaba and Coman, his teammates Kramer and Robert Hibbert approached to help out. The ball was played to Hibbert. Thiago saw it, he left the elipsed-area to press Kramer. As Hibbert moved centrally, Thiago decided to press the right back. This decision created a gap between Badstuber and Alaba, which potentially utilized by Hibbert and Chicarito.
In the second-half, both managers made some changes.
Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Müller came in replacing Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben. As soon as Thiago got into the field, the difference was clear. Bayern got the additional creativity they needed. With Thiago, a needle player, Leverkusen had to deal with “new dimension”of Bayern play compared to Vidal did. Not only his on ball skill, but Thiago off the ball movement also created some passing options, which Bayern needed to progress out of their own deep-area.
Thiago’s off-the-ball movement
After the introduction of Thomas Müller, the match was developing even interesting. We were shown a more pacey match. Coman and Costa on both flanks supported Müller and Lewandowski centrally proved to be taking part of the speed-up. Good for Leverkusen, their defenders were on their form as they managed to deal with it very well.
A pacey game which indirectly held Bayern from playing their usual ball circulation comfortably. Leverkusen were highly-compact and made it hard for Bayern to break down. A fair result for both team.
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