Gladbach kicked off the Rückrunde the way they did the start of the season, with a win against Bayern and thus maintained their impressive unbeaten record at home. The win moves Gladbach within one point of the league leaders and further justifies their place in the discussion of potential title contenders this year. Goals from Gladbach’s talented youngsters Herrmann and Reus wrapped up a thoroughly deserving win against a lackluster Bayern, who struggled to create chances and left it late to show the kind of urgency expected from them following Schweinsteiger’s consolation goal in the second half.
Line-ups & Tactics
Both sides were missing key players. Gladbach were without their influential centerback Dante (suspended due to card accumulation) and Bayern had to make due without the suspended Franck Ribery. The reliable Brouwers stepped in for Dante while Heynckes surprisingly fielded Kroos out on the left in place of Ribery. Bayern also welcomed back Schweinsteiger after a 79-day absence following his shoulder injury in the Champions League. As far as tactics went, nothing out of the ordinary, both coaches stuck with their preferred 4-2-3-1 formations. The questions ahead of the match were: Could Bayern’s defense cope with Reus and would Gladbach’s defense remain disciplined enough to ward off Bayern’s plethora of attacking options?
Déjà vu in the first half
The answers to the above questions slowly started to unfold in the first half. The first 45 minutes were actually eerily reminiscent of their encounter in the Hinrunde with Bayern seeing more of the ball but seemingly incapable of getting past Gladbach’s sturdy defense. In that game, Gladbach were content to sit back and absorb Bayern’s pressure, taking their chances on the break. An error at the back between Neuer and Boateng decided that game and funnily enough, similar events unfolded in this match. A Neuer clearance in the 11th minute was misplaced and fell to the feet of Reus, who was as surprised as anyone that he had just so readily been handed the ball. Without hesitation, Reus controlled the bounce and put the ball in the back of the net from 32 meters out, Neuer failing to rush back in time to save it.
While Neuer’s careless clearance was responsible for the goal more than anything it was forced by Herrmann’s pressing from the front, something Gladbach did well throughout the match. In fact, 3 out of Gladbach’s 4 best tacklers in the first half were attacking players. Favre’s side has been successful because of their disciplined backline but Gladbach defend as well up top as they do in front of goal. 5 of Gladbach’s players ran over 6 kilometers in the first half compared to just 2 from Bayern. Because of their effective pressing and collective defending, Bayern failed to find ways to create any tangible goal scoring chances. Their only chance in the first half, and best of the match, came shortly after the opening goal after Robben’s cross from the right found Gomez’s head, forcing a great save from ter Stegen.
The only difference between this match and their season opener was Gladbach’s willingness to get forward. Rather than just sitting back, the home side looked eager to move forward at every opportunity this time and readily exposed Bayern whenever they left space behind them. Lahm was caught up the field on numerous occasions and Herrmann used the opportunity brilliantly. Gladbach’s second goal came under such circumstances after Daems and Arango dispossessed Robben on the left, laid the ball off to Hanke who saw Herrmann run in behind an advanced Lahm on the right and played him right in on goal. Herrmann’s finish topped off a fine first half performance. Hanke nearly made it three a minute before the break but his shot from 23 meters went wide right. The whistle could not have come quick enough for Bayern. It was only the second time this season that Bayern had fallen two goals behind.
Bayern uncharacteristically out of control
It is usually Bayern who dictate an opponent’s reaction and tactics in a game but that was not the case against Gladbach. One might confuse Gladbach’s deep defending as reactionary but it is in fact the foundation of their quick attacking formula. Like a clever boxer, Gladbach absorb and absorb and wait patiently for openings and when you least expect it, two and three passes occur in a matter of seconds to open a defense. What Favre and Gladbach have done so well is create a platform that invites teams to attack, albeit unsuccessfully thanks to their industrious and efficient defending, and capitalize when least expected. Bayern were opened up again on 74 minutes on arguably the goal of the night after Gladbach dispossessed Bayern. Arango quickly dashed upfield and laid the ball off to Reus who waited for Herrmann to make the run inside before he tucked a deceiving ball behind Bayern’s backline. Herrmann was again one on one with Neuer and rounded him to put Bayern behind 3-0 for the first time this season. Bayern defenders were left ball watching and Heynckes fuming on the sideline.
Bayern pulled a goal back 15 minutes from time from a goalmouth scramble following a corner but it wasn’t enough to galvanize the team or overturn Gladbach’s insurmountable lead. As expected, Gladbach withstood a late Bayern advance to see out their most impressive result of the season. Gladbach won the individual and team battles on the field. They thoroughly outran Bayern (6 Gladbach players ran more than 11 km, something only 2 Bayern players managed) and also won all the important duels. Gladbach’s 5 most successful tacklers won 63 duels compared to just 42 from Bayern. As a matter of fact, Bayern had their lowest percentage of duels won this season at just 34%. The homeside neutralized Bayern’s attack with a high defensive line that caught Bayern offsides on 7 occasions. By staying compact in the middle they also forced them out wide and limited them to just crossing the ball, 24 compared to Gladbach’s 2.
This was Gladbach’s first double over Bayern in 15 years and their biggest win over them since 1996. Favre’s men put on a defensive master class with cleverly initiated and executed counter attacks, which Bayern had no answer for. With this win, they set the tone for the Rückrunde and are just 4 points away from reaching their pre-season goal of 40 points. Humility has been a big part of Favre’s Gladbach but they can let loose a bit now and embrace the flurry of praise coming their way because it is well deserved. Next up is a trip to Stuttgart where they tied 1-1 in the Hinrunde.
As for Bayern, the winter break sessions in Doha may have relaxed the team more than invigorate them if this performance is anything to go by. The absence of Ribery may have taken away from Bayern’s creativity but a sense of cohesion was lacking throughout the squad. They were dispossessed far too easily, their defense failed to cope with the movement of Reus, Herrmann and Arango and the attack were shy of ideas. When faced with deep defending and organized sides Bayern are all too easily put off and resort to directing their play out wide which rarely ever works. The subsequent lack of an alternative is the most worrying aspect here because when Plan A fails panic sets in and mistakes become far too frequent. For a side aiming high in all three competitions, Heynckes has a fair bit of work left to do.