Bayern 1-3 Dortmund: Schweinsteiger tries to play deep, but Dortmund don’t let him play

February 27, 2011

The starting line-ups

Dortmund ended Bayern’s faint hopes of winning the Bundesliga with an impressive victory.

Louis van Gaal kept the same XI that started the midweek win over Inter. Luis Gustavo played at left-back, whilst Danijel Pranjic was in the centre of midfield.

Jurgen Klopp made one outfield change, welcoming back Neven Subotic in place of Felipe Santana, and also gave a debut to Mitchell Langerak in goal.

The first 20 minutes of this game were probably the most exciting of the European season so far, given the importance of the game. Dortmund went ahead on nine minutes when Lucas Barrios sidefooted home after Bastian Schweinsteiger was caught in possession, Bayern quickly equalised when Gustavo turned in a corner, then Nuri Sahin curled a wonderful shot into the corner to make it 1-2 after 18 minutes.

Open game

The frantic start to the  game was helped by both sides’ commitment to attacking football. Often games like this are cagey early on, with both sides sitting back, playing on the counter and waiting for the other to make the first move. The openness made for a fantastic contest, with both sides playing high up the pitch.

Tactically, we had two 4-2-3-1s up against each other, a relatively common feature of European (and in particular, German) football this season. The two shapes were very different in practice, however. Bayern’s was based around width, with Arjen Robben hugging the touchline without the ball, and Frank Ribery staying reasonably wide and drifting deeper to collect the ball.

Dortmund’s two wide players played much narrower, coming inside early and attempting to combine with Barrios. They frequently got plenty of men into the box, and played a more direct form of football compared to Bayern’s patient passing game.

Schweinsteiger deep

The defining feature of the game was the role of Schweinsteiger, who played very deep and dropped between the centre-backs both in and out of possession. We’re relatively accustomed to seeing holding midfielders drop between the centre-backs to provide a passing option at goal-kicks, which gets out of the natural press of a 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 quite easily. Schweinsteiger frequently simply looked like a third centre-back, though – within the first five minutes he found himself caught under a cross, and Robert Lewandowski sneaked in behind and volleyed over.

It’s not clear why he played in such a deep position. The average position diagram below shows that, in the first half, he was often level with his centre-backs. This could have been simply to provide an extra man at the back (Bayern’s centre-back partnership is far from established) or it could have been so he got more time on the ball. The former isn’t his strength, however, and the latter didn’t happen because Dortmund put a particular emphasis on closing him down when he  got the ball. The first goal came when Bayern played the ball to Schweinsteiger, and Lewandowski and Kevin Grosskreutz immediately closed him down. Schweinsteiger completely missed the ball with his passing foot and the ball hit his standing leg – rebounding to Grosskreutz, who set up Barrios.

Schweinsteiger's average position (No 31) - image courtesy of http://www.bundesliga.de/en/

Dortmund pressure

That incident really summed up the game – Dortmund were putting pressure on Schweinsteiger which contributed to his poor display, but he still made basic errors. He was beaten in the air seemingly every time Barrios came in front of him – he only won 5 out of 14 challenges in the game, which for a central midfielder isn’t too bad, but for an auxiliary centre-back is a big problem.

Towards the end of the first half Schweinsteiger again found himself as the deepest defender when Bayern were facing a long free-kick from the Dortmund half – Schweinsteiger booted the ball against one of his teammates and then had to atone for the area by blocking the resulting shot with his face. This was a long way from the calm, intelligent passer we’d become used to.

Bayern keep ball deep

Schweinsteiger playing so deep meant that Bayern held the ball in non-threatening positions for too long. Often this isn’t a problem for them (and has become a key part of their game) but they were behind for 78 minutes of this game, and therefore needed to be playing the ball higher up the pitch. They finished with 70% of possession but too much of that was in deep positions – Schweinsteiger only completed two passes in the entire game to Thomas Mueller, for example. When Bayern had Mark van Bommel playing deep and Schweinsteiger had more license to go forward, those two would combine frequently.

Schweinsteiger’s deep role also meant that Bayern often found themselves outnumbered in midfield. When Muller moved forward he was picked up by the Dortmund centre-backs, leaving Pranjic on his own in the centre of midfield. When Barcelona used Sergio Busquets as a third centre-back against Atletico this season, they had Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta commanding the centre of midfield – Pranjic was hardly likely to do the same here, and whilst that problem wasn’t translated to the raw possession statistic, the nature of the possession wasn’t suitable for a game Bayern were losing from the 18th minute onwards.

Conclusion

From the sake of tactical innovation, it’s a shame Schweinsteiger played so poorly here. The modern ‘centre-half’ or ’sweeper’ will possibly be the next craze in football, but any manager watching Bayern’s use of Schweinsteiger here will be put off from trying it themselves.

None of this should detract from Dortmund’s performance. They were simply the better team – more organised without the ball, more direct with the ball, and fully deserving of the win. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly tactical win from their point of view, though – in this game, and in this season, they are simply a far better side than Bayern.

Bayern 1-3 Dortmund: Schweinsteiger tries to play deep, but Dortmund don’t let him play

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