It was a disappointing night for the whole black and yellow family, as Bayern Munich laid a beating on Borussia Dortmund. Yet, even the result of 5-1 seemed to be decisive; the match itself was not – at least in the first half.
So what were the deciding factors that shaped the outcome of the clash some are calling (wrongly) Der Klassiker?
1. Guardiola’s approach
Despite expecting a more customary 4-2-3-1 shape, Pep Guardiola, once again, trolled the football community, as he decided to start with a 3-3-3-1. As we all know, those formations are just telephone numbers as far as the Catalan is concerned. But it sometimes shows the initial plan a coach has. In that case, Guardiola fielded only three defenders, while having no real wing-backs whatsoever. Defensive protection was created due to the compactness in midfield. Philipp Lahm was usually positioned alongside Xabi Alonso during Bayern’s early build-up play. Thiago travelled through the left half-space or dropped deep to pick up balls, while Thomas Müller had a free role behind Robert Lewandowski.
2. Tuchel’s caution
With Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotić being injured, Thomas Tuchel had lesser options to line-up his defence. The 42-year-old, however, not only made some changes regarding the back four – Sokratis playing as right-back to stop Douglas Costa in one-on-ones, Łukasz Piszczek defending on the left side, and Sven Bender being fielded alongside Mats Hummels in the center – he also threw the 4-1-4-1 formation, which Dortmund have used throughout their season so far, into disarray. With Gonzalo Castro, a third centre midfielder joined Julian Weigl and İlkay Gündoğan in the middle of the park. Therefore, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played up-front, yet mostly in wider positions, so that especially Aubameyang was not as present in the attacking center as he has been in other matches.
Consequently, Dortmund were able to dominate in the central zones, but could not convert it into tangible reward. Shinji Kagawa does not fit in the role as number ten/number nine hybrid, because the Japanese feels more comfortable in tighter zones than in a spacious area. Plus, Aubameyang normally defended the right side during the early stages of the match, so that he had a longer distance to cover to reach the central part of the offside-line.
3. Bayern’s wing focus
Focusing on the wings has become a common feature of Bayern’s season, with many attacks moving through the flanks, while the centre is used as a zone of preparation. Normally, we could expect that a team coached by Guardiola would try to carry the attacking plays through the central columns. Yet, Bayern more and more utilizes the wider areas to break through in the last third. With the triple pivot in the middle, the ball moved quickly to the outside, where Douglas Costa and Mario Götze aimed to involve Dortmund’s full-backs in one-on-ones.
Thomas Tuchel anticipated those attacking patterns, so that both outer central midfielders moved towards the side-line to support the full-back. Alternatively, Aubameyang or Mkhitaryan sprinted down their respective outside lane to help defending Bayern’s attacking plays.
4. Dortmund’s stability
Even though Dortmund seemed to be quite dominant during the first twenty minutes of the game, Tuchel predominantly planned to stabilize the defence. Throughout this season, some opponents exposed Dortmund’s lack of defensive protection, when the Schwarzgelben were in possession for quite a while.
Against Bayern, they mostly played in a 4-3-3 shape defensively. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang blocked passes into the half-spaces, with Kagawa either man-marking Alonso or pushing forward to attack Bayern’s central defender, while also covering Alonso using his shadow.
By blocking those passing lanes, Dortmund intended to direct Bayern’s build-up to wider areas, as then the ball-near forward would move to the outside and the supporting number eight would move forward to block possible cutback-passes and to press on a diagonal line. This, however, was just one option. In other situations, the front three became more passively by moving back and therefore compressing the central zones in cooperation with Gündoğan, Weigl, and Castro.
5. Centre-back’s switch
Guardiola is a genius, right? Sometimes it looks as easy as possible. He started his back three with Javi Martínez in between Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba. Because Martínez had problems to initiate attacking plays – he misplaced some passes into Dortmund’s second block – and with Alonso being man-marked by Kagawa, Guardiola was asked to solve the issue. After twenty minutes, Martínez and Boateng switched positions, with the latter focusing on playmaking by executing precise long ball after precise long ball. Between the 20. and 30. minute, he not only had a passing accuracy of one-hundred percent, but also played two key passes – one of those initialised Bayern’s first goal.
Normally, you would think that those long balls took a diagonal route and found Douglas Costa. That has been common throughout the season. Yet, Sokratis covered the Brazilian quite well. Therefore, the majority of Boateng’s long passes ended up in the number ten’s space or flow over the top of Dortmund’s back four.
Dortmund’s mistake was that they did not react to the new situation. Kagawa stayed closely to Alonso, and Boateng was not pressured at all on many occasions. But more importantly, the back four remained standing high up the pitch, leaving a pretty big gap to Roman Bürki. Dortmund neither played high pressing nor defended deeply and compactly.
After conceding two goals, Tuchel decided to return to the 4-2-3-1 shape, as Castro became the new right-winger, but the BVB coach could not catch Guardiola napping. The Catalan immediately responded to Dortmund’s adjustment. He ordered Lahm to move to the right-back position, and Bayern played with back four from then on.
6. Bayern’s dominance
After Müller scoring a brace and Aubameyang reducing the arrears, Dortmund had still the chance to win that game, when half-time was over. However, only a few moments after the interval, another long ball from Boateng was received by Lewandowski. Bürki did a jumping-jack and never touched the ball. Game over.
Afterwards, Bayern just showed how dominant they can be. Dortmund’s pressing weakened and the level of compactness declined following the 3-1. Their lines became less connected, and therefore it was easier for Bayern to knock the ball towards Lewandowski or Müller. Overall, Bayern had no problems to pass through Dortmund’s centre with ease, and consequently beating their defenders up in one-on-ones.
This match showed how ruthless Bayern can be, even when Guardiola’s tactical approach is not that complicated and elaborate. On the other side, it was Dortmund that could not find the antidote for those long-balls and later for those quick attacks through the half-spaces. That Dortmund’s defenders are not the fastest and most agile is hardly surprising.