Bayern Munich 0-1 Borussia Dortmund: slow-burning game decided by scrappy Götze goal
Mario Gotze struck midway through the second half as Dortmund move to within two points of Bayern at the top.
Jupp Heynckes welcomed back Arjen Robben to play on the right, although he didn’t look 100% fit. Thomas Muller moved into the centre of the attacking three, whilst Toni Kroos played the Bastian Schweinsteiger role deeper in midfield.
Jurgen Klopp played his usual 4-2-3-1. Veteran Sebastian Kehl played in the centre alongside Sven Bender, whilst Felipe Santana played rather than the injured Neven Subotic – but otherwise it was Dortmund’s usual XI this season.
This wasn’t as great a game as many hoped and expected – the first half was something of a standoff with neither side dissecting the other with their passing, primarily due to every player being tracked closely by an opponent.
4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1
A familiar pattern emerged across the pitch, with the two attacking central midfielders, Shinji Kagawa and Thomas Muller, staying high up and closing down the opposition centre-backs when out of possession, making the sides look like 4-4-2 for much of the game.
In midfield, the two sets of holding players were up against each other, with both pairs also moving high up the pitch to prevent balls being played into that zone from the centre-backs. As a result, the game was slow and none of the central midfielders enjoyed much of the ball, as everything became compressed into the middle third.
Bayern long balls
The most obvious tactical feature of the first half was Bayern’s use of long, usually diagonal, balls from defence to the front four. Most frequently, this saw either Jerome Boateng or Rafinha quickly switch the ball to Franck Ribery on the far side, and then he looked to take on Łukasz Piszczek. A couple of times Bayern tried a similar ball in the opposite direction out to Robben, but with Kevin Grosskreutz staying a little wider than Gotze, there was usually less space on that side.
Ribery didn’t quite make the most of those opportunities, although with the frequency of the ball being played out to him, he was probably the most likely to make something happen.
Dortmund created little in the first half. Compared to last season, their transitions from defence to attack seem slower, although after 15-20 minutes when the game opened out slightly, they started to look more threatening. They were dangerous when they broke quickly and had space to motor into – when Bayern got men behind the ball, Dortmund lacked the invention from deeper zones to break down two banks of players.
Still, with Gotze coming into the centre they were arguably more of a threat through the middle than Bayern – Gotze looked to form little triangles with Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski, and although nothing came of this intention for most of the game, Gotze moving into the middle had an impact later on.
There was more fluidity in the midfield in the second half, with Kagawa coming deep a couple of times to bring variation to the build-up play for Dortmund.
The teams realised how they could take advantage of the game becoming squeezed – balls over the top. Bayern started to take advantage of Dortmund’s tendency to push up, as a chipped pass over Dortmund defence to Mario Gomez resulted in a decent chance, which he dragged just wide. Dortmund created a good opportunity with a similar idea – breaking quickly in behind. Lewandowski laid the ball off for Kagawa, but Manuel Neuer did well to save. This approach seemed like the only way a goal was going to arrive in open play.
Dortmund’s goal owed more to bad defending than great attacking ability, and wasn’t an overwhelmingly ‘tactical’ goal. It was notable, though, that Dortmund’s attacking players all got into central positions to create confusion in the Bayern defence – that probably wouldn’t have happened at the other end.
Bayern push forward, Dortmund sit deep
Dortmund immediately became more cautious after going ahead, and since Bayern’s best hope of a goal in the second half had come when they played the ball over the defence, this avenue was no longer an option as Dortmund sat deep. Muller’s last contribution before being subbed was an attempted chipped through-ball that went straight out of play for a goal kick, which summed up their new problem. He was replaced by Ivica Olic to try to poach a winner (Heynckes recognising the lack of space between the lines and the need for someone prowling in the box) whilst David Alaba replaced Robben.
Dortmund kept two banks of four and relied upon great performances from the centre-backs and goalkeeper. Hummels was particularly impressive, and even when Heynckes went gung ho with Nils Petersen on for Rafinha (and Alaba back to right-back), they held firm. Set-pieces and simply lobbing the ball into the box and hoping for a lucky break seemed Bayern’s best bet late on, as Dortmund successfully parked the bus.
Neither side played their best football here, and a 0-0 wouldn’t have been an unfair result. Dortmund did little more than Bayern to merit the win, although it’s fair to say that Lewandowski played the lone striker role better than Gomez, and Gotze was more involved than Robben – his moves inside eventually proved important in the goal.
Both lacked creativity from midfield, however. There are both tactical and personnel reasons for this – tactically, those midfielders were all pressing each other and denying their opponents time on the ball, and in personnel terms, Dortmund still miss Nuri Sahin, and Bayern are not the same without Schweinsteiger.