Leverkusen focus attacks down the right

March 5, 2012

Leverkusen v Bayern

Bayer Leverkusen’s 2-0 win over Bayern Munich on Saturday was a devastating blow to Bayern’s hopes of winning the title – they’re now seven points behind Dortmund.

The game was evenly balanced, and could have gone either way. Bayern had more possession, Leverkusen broke quicker, and the sides had the same number of attempts. Robin Dutt can hardly take this as a brilliant tactical victory over Jupp Heynckes, but the nature of his side’s shape (whether deliberate or by accident) was interesting, because much of the home side’s play was concentrated down the right flank.

The diagram to the left shows the movement of each player. It was basically a 4-2-3-1 system, the formation Leverkusen have favoured for much of the season. Bayern also lined up 4-2-3-1, and it was a fairly standard tactical battle.

There were interesting nuances to the Leverkusen shape, though. First, in midfield they had Stefan Reinartz playing as the primary holding player. He is more naturally a defender, and so often dropped into the backline when Leverkusen played out from the back, turning them into a three-man defence. His partner in midfield was Lars Bender, a more energetic, vertical player who shuttled forward to help out the forwards.

There was also an imbalance on the flanks – Gonzalo Castro and Andre Schurrle played on either wing. Castro is comfortable as a midfielder but plays (slightly) more often as a right-back, while Schurrle is a converted forward and much more of an attacking player. Naturally, their movement was very different.

Using the Bundesliga’s chalkboards service, we can have a look at the lopsided nature of the side.

First, the full-backs. Left-back Michal Kadlec (24) stays in position on the left, while Daniel Schwaab (2) pushes higher up:

Next, the wingers. Castro (27) on the right plays a wider role, stretching the play – so most of his passes are knocked inside, or are crosses. Schurrle (9) on the left drifts infield immediately (despite having no overlapping full-back) and plays something of a hold-up role, with most passes being very short, backwards balls.

The midfield also contributed to the effect – while left-of-centre Reinartz sat deep…

…while right-of-centre Bender joined the attack, naturally more towards the right side.

The more attacking nature of the right flank meant that the two players on that flank completed significantly more passes than the two left-sided players (Schurrle was removed with eight minutes to go, but based upon his passes per minutes ratio, this cost him only two passes):

Then, finally, there was Stefan Kiessling upfront, who tended to drift to the right (with Schurrle providing support upfront to his left):

And this isn’t uncommon for Leverkusen, according to WhoScored – over the course of the season, they focus more of their passing down the right in general (on the left hand side below), and to an even greater extent at home (the right hand side below):

It seems unlikely that it’s a specific strategy by Dutt, but it demonstrates how a side’s approach can change naturally, depending upon the players used in each role. Both their goals against Bayern came after balls from the right flank into the penalty box.

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