Under Heiko Herrlich, we can still see some Roger Schmidt’s principles deployed. As can be seen in attack, Leverkusen overload the ball side wing and half space in order to find the penetration access through the ball side area. There are a lot of fluid movements among the front four within Leverkusen’s middle attack and final third penetration. Leverkusen also press intensely in high block depends on the development of situation in the first line of press.
The hosts also execute a similar principle in their attack, as their wing orientation relies on the dynamic created by the full back and wide man. Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery, and Thomas Muller constantly occupy the half space in the space between Leverkusen’s middle line and back line.
Bayern deep build up against high press
As mentioned above, it has been known that wide area orientation is one of the Bayern’s attacking principle. When the circulation reaches the wide area, Bayern rely on the combination between the full back and the winger to create dynamic in order to find access into the box. The wide men area free to communicate on who to fill the half space and who to occupy the wing corridor.
On the left hand side, there are David Alaba and Franck Ribery supported by Arturo Vidal. Vidal drops off movement often saw the Chilean occupied the area beside Matts Hummels. This is initially done by Vidal in order to free Alaba and Ribery so the wide-men can occupy the more advanced areas.
Dynamic on the left shown in the video:
They switch from the right side and that is followed by a diagonal forward pass by Hummels. A change of pace of attack: Ribery and Hummels’ combination drags the pressure of Leverkusen’s players. Alaba makes use of it by making a blind side run into the final third. A quick attack which unfortunately was followed and ended-up by mistake made by Thomas Muller.
On the right, it is a different approach taken by The Bavarians. Compared to the left side, Bayern’s resource are different with Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich. As they’re not as explosive as the opposite wing, it impacts the dynamic on the host’s right wing play.
Against Bayern’s deep area build up, if possible, Kevin Volland and co will press high up the pitch into the upper attacking third. The high press creates many forced long balls for Leverkusen. This is also followed by Jonathan Tah and co managing to make a lot of recoveries from such actions. In their initial phase of the high press, Leverkusen’s shape is determined by their man-oriented approach. The striker duo positions itself with regards to Bayern’s CBs, with wide men to go against Bayern’s full backs, and the central midfield duo to focus on Bayern’s central midfielders.
Note: the #numbers here represent positions, not actual jersey numbers, so a #9 is a center forward, a #6 is a deep lying playmaker or defensive midfielder, and so on.
But in practice, this is more fluid than what it’s been explained above. Leverkusen’s ball-oriented shift and the numerical direct clashes play a role here. When the near ball #9 (Volland for example) presses the ball side CB and the other #9 (forward, either Mehmedi, Bailey or Bellarabi) presses Bayern’s #6 (Rudy), the far side wide man will adjust and moves narrower as he has to get closer to the far CB as well as puts Bayern’s far side full back behind his cover shadow. This far winger adjustment enables the #9 to stay focused on Bayern’s #6 and with the CM’s duo going against Bayern’s CM’s, Leverkusen can avoid being numerically inferior in the central area. Bayern, in response to this, as mentioned above, choose to hoof the ball clear.
Leverkusen’s high block
Bayern’s progression and midfield build up:
In their midfield build up, Bayern, as usual, establish a 2-3 basic shape with Sebastian Rudy flanked by Vidal or Tolisso on each half space. Occasionally, Bayern form a 3-1 or 2-2 asymmetric shape as Vidal moves slightly higher than Rudy-Tolisso.
In the build up on the left side, Ribery was often found moving inward into the left half space acted as the freeman in between Leverkusen’s middle line and back line. If, in such situation, Alaba stays deep on the left back post, then either Thomas Muller or Robert Lewandowski will move wide and occupy the wing as it needs to maintain the width within the possession. At times, the ball side #9 stays narrow and make double occupation on the near half space with Ribery.
Against Leverkusen 4-4-2 pressing shape, the said 2-3 shape often managed to create numerical superiority against Leverkusen’s 1st line of press which, in turn, made it easier for Bayern to progress to the next line.
3-Leverkusen numerically inferior in their 1st line of press
Rudy picks up the ball with his back to the opponent’s goal. Admer Mehmedi tries to press from the blind side. Rudy’s movement draws the pressure from the opponent’s #9 near to him before his simple adjustment can make use of space left by his “hunter” (See the dotted line that indicates Rudy’s pass to Tolisso).
If Bayern manage to access the free player (Lewandowski, as shown in the infographic above), they will accelerate their pace as the ball carrier runs at speed through the half space. To overcome this tactic, the onward press by the near center back is crucial as it would have cancelled any vertical orientation moves by the receiver. Sometimes, Leverkusen’s CB’s duo couldn’t just do it when their access was bad due to the space to the middle line. This made them reluctant to leave their respective positions (as shown in the graph above), because had the press to Lewandowski failed and Lewandowski managed to access Muller then there would have been the possibility of a 2v2 situation in the last line and that’s not something the Leverkusen CBs could afford against Muller\Lewa.
Back to the situation when Bayern managed to access the free-man. On the right side, it is Kimmich who maintains the width of attack whilst on the left side there are Alaba and Ribery alternately occupying the flank and half space. In this situation in the 18’th minute, Lewandowski continues the attack by playing it wide to Kimmich before the Pole makes a diagonal run to the wide area – swaps position with Kimmich – and releases a floated cross. This wing orientation, as expected, also occurs in many similar situations of Bayern’s attack which results in many floated crosses into the box.
As an alternative, Bayern, at times, can still show some double off the ball movements in opening Leverkusen’s low block. The combination by Lewandowski, Muller, and Kimmich from the 26th minute is such an example. Again, the 3v2 situation in Leverkusen’s 1st line allows Tolisso to progress with the ball, but as this time Mehmedi (the near ball winger) is able to block the access to Muller, thus Tolisso decides to play it wide to Kimmich.
Here, Muller makes a forward run, but instead of moving wide to the flank he runs into the box through the half space. As the response to this movement, Lewandowski who initially occupies the center, moves diagonally into the box through the half space to receive the flick on from Muller after Kimmich’s chopped-pass finds him. Unfortunately, Muller’s flick on is too weak which enables Sven Bender to intercept it.
The other method is accessing the free man (Ribery) in the space between the lines, letting Ribery dribble at pace towards the opponent’s goal while the nearest striker supports this run by moving forward to provide a deep run into the box before receiving the through ball from Ribery.
Leverkusen’s attacking method and Bayern’s press
In the middle block, Bayern’s initial press begins with the first line occupying the space in front of Leverkusen’s #6 (Dominik Kohr or Charles Aranguinz). That should not be in a direct line with B04’s #6 duo, but slightly higher as the forward duo (Bayern press using 4-4-2/4-2-2-2) need to orient themselves to both CBs. The distance to the opponent’s CBs is maintained in order to ease developing the press from a middle block to a high block one. If the first line has to press Leverkusen’s #6s, it’s usually done by one striker who drops slightly deeper.
But, when both forwards mark the CBs, the task to mark Leverkusen’s #6 duo is done by Vidal and Rudy. When the first line manages to develop the press and get closer to the ball carrying CB it directs him wide, one of Bayern’s #9s (Lewa or Muller) will go directly to the ball carrying CB with the other forward orients himself to either the other CB or #6.
Leverkusen try to make use of the wing to create access through the same side half space to open access into Bayern’s early third. Bellarabi, Bailey, and Mehmedi move across the #8 and #10 positions to help creating a strong overload to support this attack. But, overall, Bayern manage to nullify such attacks particularly when the attack is deflected to the wide area. The horizontal ball-oriented shift, half space and center occupation, and center back onward press are the main factors as to why they manage to block Leverkusen’s access through the ball side areas.
To overcome Bayern’s initial press, as shown above, Leverkusen’s ball side CM will drop off to the half space and push the ball side full back higher. The principle is similar to Bayern since in such build up the near winger will get into the half space and drops deep to provide vertical access. In most of the time, Bayern are able to nullify the dynamic by using both onward and backward press by the nearest players around the ball.
At the other times, Leverkusen manage to access the free man behind Bayern’s middle-line as they failed to block the progression. There is a nice combination shown by Charles Aranguiz. Although this is not consistently practiced by Leverkusen, but when done properly the away side manages to exploit Bayern’s man-oriented approach, as shown below.
Leverkusen wide attack and movement
An off the ball movement by Aranguiz drags Sebastian Rudy wide (3) opens the space for Bellarabi to receive (4) a diagonal pass from Wendell (2). A back pass by Bellarabi to Mehmedi (4 and 5) enables B04 to switch to the far winger on the right flank.
In the end, this attack failed. One of the factors is the communication between Bailey and Henrichs. Instead of occupying the half space and flank in order to build a stronger spacing prior to the cross, Bailey and Henrichs occupy the same space and lose the temporal advantage that they might have gained. Despite sometimes managing to find the way out of Bayern’s press by using the wing, the duos’ final 3rd attack is not really good enough to create valuable chances.
The other way around, when Bayern’s defensive block makes the appropriate horizontal shift, they managed to shut down the away side’s attack. Bayern players are able to push Bayer’s players away from the playing block and stop the progression. The example from the 31st minute shows it. Leverkusen wide attack faced by a strong overload by the home side. Take notice on Joshua Kimmich, Sebastian Rudy, and Niklas Sule movements that being the key in this situation.
Here is the other situation of Bayern’s wing overload.
Leverkusen improvement: substitution and the change of formation
Julian Brandt and Dragovic came in to replace Bailey and Bender. And as expected, Brandt provides more dynamism in Leverkusen’s attack with his close control and decisive runs. The other big change made by Herrlich was that he changed from an asymmetric 4-2-3-1-to a 3-4-3-esque: Dragovic, Tah, and Henrichs as the back three; Aranguiz and Kohr in the central midfield; Admir Mehmedi and Wendell as both wing backs; Brandt, Volland, and Bellarabi upfront.
Bayern responded to it by taking Muller out and replacing him with Arjen Robben. With this change, Bayern’s formation becomes a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 hybrid. Robben and Ribery on both wide areas flank the three central midfielders, Rudy as the #6 and the Tolisso-Vidal duo at 8.
One of the positive impacts of the back three is how it can invite more pressure from Bayern’s middle line. Supported by the pressing resistance of Leverkusen’s midfielder, it can cause trouble to Bayern’s defense. One of the best example is the big chance by Brandt in the 57th minute.
One weakness within Leverkusen 3-4-3 is the inconsistency of the onward press by the half back. In a back three, the defending team have more cover in the center area of the last line than a back two have. So, a back three there should be more positive support given to the onward press by the central defender, since in the back three it will be two defenders staying deep when one of them steps up to secure the #6, for instance. But that didn’t work out for this Leverkusen side on this day. There are one or two moments when the back three stands off and allows Bayern to occupy the space between the lines. A minor weakness, but by improving it, Herrlich will improve Leverkusen’s defensive stability.
As time went by, Bayern focused more on the middle block. On the other hand, Leverkusen looked to be more aggressive. They put more intense pressure to the ball area, they also put more players in the space between Bayern’s defensive line. Dominic Kohr is the more vertical central midfielder. Along with the inside forward and wing back, they tried to create more havoc from the #6 space of Bayern’s defense.
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