Leverkusen 1-1 Bayern: The home side dominate, but miss too many chances
An enjoyable game that Leverkusen should have won, and ultimately it was a terrific weekend for Bayern – with Schalke suffering a surprise defeat, Bayern are now two points ahead of Schalke and six ahead of Leverkusen, with four games to play.
It’s rare these days that you find two sides both lining up with a standard 4-4-2 system, but that’s what we had at the BayArena. We also had a strange mixture of an open game, but few open players – both sides played expansive, attacking football, but the similarity of the systems meant that both sides struggled to find a player in space – there were no players between the lines, no unmarked midfielders, and it was back to the traditional battles of a 4-4-2 v 4-4-2 – wingers up against full-backs, strikers up against centre-backs, and two midfielders on either team doing battle with each other.
In these situations, it is often the full-backs who are in the greatest amount of space – and Leverkusen dominated the early stages because they seemed more willing to push their full-backs forward. The right-back Castro went on a couple of off-the-ball runs that exploited both Frank Ribery’s lack of interest at tracking back, and Holger Badstuber’s tendency to move into a fairly central position when the ball was on Bayern’s right, and Michael Kadlec also got forward from left-back.
As far as Bayern’s full-backs were concerned, Badstuber himself remains tentative about attacking, whilst on the other side Philip Lahm finds it difficult to get down the line because Arjen Robben’s starting position is so wide. Indeed, this was the main difference between the basic structures of the two 4-4-2s – Bayern’s wingers hugged the touchline and looked to stretch the play at the top end of the pitch, whereas Leverkusen’s wide players – Toni Kroos and Tranquilo Barnetta – both moved more centrally when their side was in possession. In fact, Leverkusen’s best two chances came when those two found themselves in central positions in the box after making a run inside, but neither could hit the target with just Butt to beat.
Bayern missed Thomas Muller’s ability to drop off into a deep-lying forward position. The Gomez-Olic partnership didn’t function particularly well in the box (on one occasion Gomez went for goal when a square ball to Olic surely would have resulted in a goal) but their main problem was in open play – Olic played slightly deeper than Gomez but seemed slightly uncomfortable making runs towards the ball, and the two Leverkusen centre-backs coped well in the absence of Sami Hyypia. Meanwhile, Martin Demichelis was unable to step out from the backline because Leverkusen deployed two out-and-out strikers.
Although Castro’s attacking nature meant Leverkusen dominated the start of the game, his defensive inabilities meant they conceded the first goal of the game. He got himself into an awkward position when Franck Ribery picked up the ball, then allowed the Frenchman to enter the penalty area before he put a clumsy tackle in. Ribery went down, won a penalty, and Robben converted.
Leverkusen later equalised with a scrappy rebound after a set-piece hit the post, and but for poor finishing would have won the game. Leverkusen did really well in keeping their lines close together – their forwards dropped off, letting the Bayern defenders have the ball in their own half, and instead made short passes to Schweinsteiger and van Bommel difficult. At the other end of the pitch, Reinartz and Friedrich pushed high up the pitch, and neither Gomez nor Olic were able to get in behind.
A tactical victory for Jupp Heynckes over Louis van Gaal, and it’s little wonder Heynckes said after the game, ”My team were tactically smart today, and based on the chances we created, we’d have deserved to win.” Nevertheless, van Gaal and Bayern emerge happier from the contest.Leverkusen 1-1 Bayern: The home side dominate, but miss too many chances