November 24, 2017

BVB Bulletin: Bayern, Bayern, Dog-gone Bayern

This loss hurts deep down in there where seasons are lost. I dared Bayern to make me look foolish, and they did to an extent. I say to an extent, because, all things considered, Bayern did precisely what a win required, no more or no less. My colleague, Rick Joshua, was closer to the match’s truth in our preview: it was a close match, but only close in such a way that served up a win for Bayern, if a win was to be had at all.

Dortmund were mostly toothless in front of goal. Their 15 shots were mostly futile, poor quality chances. For the Signal Iduna faithful, it must have been a long afternoon:

 

Chart of BVB's shots against Bayern in Der Klassiker
BVB’s shots were mostly off target, blocked, or saved. (Courtesy of Squawka.com)

Aside from a classic Manuel Neuer save, BVB simply didn’t have any menacing shots. Die Schwarzgelb attack looked helpless. Jürgen Klopp didn’t have an alternative plan in the face of Bayern’s ruthless defensive work.

In end, I can only conclude that BVB lost to the deterministic logic of an opponent’s superior game plan, and precise execution of that game plan.

A Pep-Crafted Fate

Bayern won by not being the Bayern we’re accustomed to seeing during the Pep area: high volume of ball touches, huge swathes of ball possession, and almost all the match’s chances. Nope, not on Saturday.

By the final whistle, Bayern had a relatively small majority of ball touches (762 to BVB’s 720), hadSet featured image less of the ball (49% of possession by some counts), and even had fewer chances (6 shots with 2 on target, vs. BVB’s 15 shots with 2 on target). Moreover, Bayern’s passing play looked different, as die Roten “only”  completed 78% of their passes. More importantly, Bayern played more long balls than usual, attempting 62 in this match:

Image of Bayern's longball passes against Dortmund
Bayern completed 30 of 62 “longballs” against Dortmund in Der Kliassiker. (Courtesy of FourFourTwo.com)

These long balls, even when incomplete, bypassed Bayern’s own defensive third, so if/when BVB recovered the ball, they were forced into build up play. And we know how well Dortmund does with build up play. (Did you catch my sarcasm in that last sentence?)

Furthermore, when BVB did recover the ball closer to Bayern’s goal, the likes of Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger quickly challenged BVB attackers, forcing poor passes and touches, as Kuba, Kampl, and Reus struggled to hold up the ball, while Auba saw very little of the ball.

In many ways, Bayern beat Dortmund with its own version of the “BVB cryptonite” plan we’ve become accustomed to seeing during the Rückrunde: disciplined defense – basically eight back in defense with a stunningly good back three in this case – killing off any transitional chances for BVB, and waiting for BVB to over-extend, leaving their own defensive third soft.

Bayern’s back three of Benatia, Boateng, and Dante were sensational. These backs are tall, physical, and can spray passes around with the best of midfielders. The three defenders were expertly coordinated in their marking:

Heatmap of Bayern's effective back three against BVB
The precise defensive third groud covered by Pep’s back three of Benatia, Boateng, and Dante. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)\

Rafinha and Bernat were excellent at fullback, too, supplementing the defensive back three, as well as bring the ball forward in attack. Klopp had no answers, nor a “plan B,” to defeat these five defenders.

Perhaps this lack of flexible and alternatives was what I found most frustrating about the match. Klopp did make lineup changes, but, unfortunately, these changes hurt rather than helped BVB. Reus was slotted into a central attacking (“Number 10”) position, instead of Kagawa. The blonde was flanked by the ineffectual Kampl on left and stifled Kuba on right. In the match’s tightly congested midfield, Kagawa’s presence and skill in small spaces was sorely missed, as was Reus working with more space on his left side. Argh.

Marco Reus' heatmap in der Klassiker against Bayern
Marco Reus’ heatmap from Saturday. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)

Reus was a man without a territory or purpose on Saturday as seemingly he drifted about, looking out for where to exert influence from his central perch. Reus had a bit of left-leaning tendency, but no real impact on the match.

In all, Klopp didn’t seem to have alternative ideas to break down Pep’s defensive plan. As for Pep and Bayern, the rest of Europe, especially the Champion’s League, has been put on high alert: if Bayern can pull their defensive game plan, from the der Klassiker, out of the magic hat during UCL play, I don’t know if anyone can beat them. This defensive blueprint is the perfect antidote for guiding an injury-depleted Bayern through the season’s remainder, especially on the road. Europe, beware! Your days are numbered now that Bayern has demonstrated a soul-sucking plan B gameplan. The Dementors are circling, and no spells will call them off.

A Series of Silly Events

Bayern’s goal wasn’t cosmically fated. Or perhaps it was, given the pinging-about that caused it. Boateng plays a ball out of the back to Lewandowski. The Pole does what he does best: a bit of an NBA-style post-up move under the hoop, back to the goal. As the ball arrives, Hummels (damnit) clumsily overplays his slide tackle. By the way, what was Hummels doing up this far in this situation? Jon Harding might know. Opps. Lewa spins around and simultaneously (it seems) zips the ball to Müller, who is not offside (damnit). The defenders appear to panic, as Müller leaves them behind.

If you’re supporting Dortmund, your heart stops right about now.

Somehow, Socrates catches up and side challenges Bayern’s badger-lookalike of a forward. Müller’s shot-pass rebounds comically off Subotic’s leg. And … you guessed it …

… finds the classically handsome forehead of Lewandowski. Header. Goal. Bayern wins 0-1.

Lewandowski. Of all the possibilities. He’s the most likable and sympathetic of the stars we’ve lost at BVB in past season. Why Lewa, why?

But more importantly, why Mats, why? Why so high up the pitch? I don’t know what the handsome centerback’s marching orders were on Saturday, and we are used to seeing him roam deep into the midfield, but one mistake made while caught out contributed to BVB’s undoing.

Mats Hummels heatmap against Bayern in der Klassiker
Mat Hummels ventured dangerously high up the pitch in Saturday’s der Klassiker. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)

Look, I love Mats Hummels. I love his ability to roam out deep in the midfield. I love his ability to fearless play one-on-one challenges. I love his hair. But I know that risky business is always in the cards for us Hummels lovers. And sometimes, well. Gulp.

Oh, it hurts

This loss hurt. In these past seasons, der Klassiker has been built up to giddy heights, especially when the Signal Iduna Park hosts the match. This Saturday was no different, as the Yellow Wall and co. were out-of-their-minds passionate. Goose-flesh stuff. Only to lose 0-1 to an injury-weakened Bayern side, who managed to find a smothering plan B to snuff out Dortmund. Ugh, ugh, and ugh.

In these days following the match, I’ve mainly recovered from my emotionally-injected indictments about Dortmund’s play and season. Just a couple days ago, I swore that surely now this loss shows that Dortmund really is just not a good football team, that this nightmare 2014-15 season is not an outlier but is reality, or that Klopp is a simpleton.

But in the rainy light of a spring day, I know better. In fact, I know that there probably aren’t any ultimate answers to this season’s conundrums, heartbreaks, anger, and bewilderment. In an ironic turn, football bloody hell.

There’s still some season left to salvage. The Pokal quarter-final at home to Hoffenheim. And the rest of the Bundesliga season, in what will be a bitter face for the Europa League slots.

Heja BVB.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U8s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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