Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: surprising Dortmund midfield shape leaves Kroos free

December 2, 2012

The starting line-ups

The league leaders and the champions played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in Munich.

Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to the centre of Bayern’s midfield, while Jupp Heynckes selected Mario Mandzukic as his lone centre-forward.

Mats Hummels, Ikay Gundogan and Mario Gotze all returned to Dortmund’s side after missing the 1-1 draw with Dusseldorf in midweek.

This was an evenly-balanced game that went through various phases – the game started at a frantic tempo, then settled down into a tight tactical battle for the remainder of the first half, and then became more open after the break.

Blaszczykowski

Although there was nothing unusual about Klopp’s team selection, Dortmund lined up in a surprise shape. Rather than playing in his traditional right-sided position, Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski was tucked inside as a shuttler, with Gotze and Marco Reus on the flanks. Sven Bender was in a deep midfield role with Gundogan to his left.

Blaszczykowski was probably fielded there in order to pick up Schweinsteiger, but Bayern’s midfield trio was fluid and often rotated around the pressure. The odd thing about the midfield battle was that while Bender started as the deepest of the three midfielders, he was often the one to push forward and press Javi Martinez when he received possession, with Gundogan staying deeper and Blaszczykowski on the wrong side of the pitch to help out.

Kroos freedom

None of this really seemed to make sense – Gundogan’s role without the ball wasn’t clear, but everything was happening at such a quick tempo in the first 20 minutes that Dortmund seemed unable to adjust and shift towards the more natural format, which would have seen Gundogan pressing and Bender sitting. Or, if they preferred, the two could have swapped positions. It was simply illogical to have Bender making diagonal runs up towards Martinez, when he was supposedly occupying the space in front of the back four.

The obvious beneficiary of this was Toni Kroos, Bayern’s number ten and one of the most intelligent players in Europe at finding space between opponents. Kroos needed no invitation to move between the lines – he was essentially playing there anyway, although he did place himself left-of-centre in the zone Bender should have been patrolling, and kept getting the ball in dangerous positions. After 12 minutes he sliced a wayward shot well wide, but already the pattern had become clear – Dortmund were pressing in midfield but leaving Kroos free, and neither of the centre-backs were keen to move forward and close him down.

Dortmund disorganised

In all, Dortmund’s defensive shape was much less structured than usual. They’re accustomed to defending with two banks of four, but with the change in formation, plus Gotze and Reus told to stay higher up the pitch and concentrate on tracking the Bayern full-backs, Dortmund’s full-backs lacked protection. Bayern played a couple of fine crossfield balls, switching the play rapidly to the flanks – but neither Franck Ribery nor Thomas Muller created anything of note in the first half.

By the end of the first period, Kroos was clearly the key player, afforded far too much space. On 39 minutes he picked up the ball in space in the centre of the pitch, with Dortmund’s side so disorganised in the middle that left-back Marcel Schmelzer was the player forced to close him down. Kroos sent the ball forward to Mandzukic in the channel behind the defence – in the end, nothing came of it, but his importance was clear.

The  pattern continues

How long did it take Kroos to have an effect on the game in the second half from between the lines? 12 seconds. Again, it was a wayward shot over the crossbar, but Bayern simply sent a long ball downfield from the defence, Mandzukic won the header and flicked the ball back for Kroos, who volleyed over in a position in behind Bender – this time, it was right-back Lukas Piszczek forced to come across and challenge.

That said, the structure of the Dortmund midfield appeared to change slightly. Bender no longer pressed Martinez, while Gundogan moved to the left when in possession, allowing Schmelzer to get forward on the overlap. There was more overlapping from both left-backs, with David Alaba trying to scamper past Gotze, contributing to a more open game.

But Kroos’ positioning was still the key feature of the game – he continued to get into positions between the lines, with neither Bender nor Gundogan tracking his runs, neither Mats Hummels nor Neven Subotic stepping out to meet him, and the gap between midfield and defence unusually large considering Klopp likes his sides to stay compact. Kroos’ opening goal was a fine example – he’s in oceans of space during the build-up, and both centre-backs are forced to dive forward into unsuccessful challenges shortly before he fires into the net.

Substitutions played a minimal part in the match – Heynckes only made straight swaps, while Klopp introducing Ivan Perisic for Blaszczykowski had no impact on Dortmund’s equaliser, which came immediately afterwards from a corner situation. Here, Kroos was the villain – switching off when supposed to be tracking Gotze.

But Kroos was still a threat at the other end – he had one excellent chance in the 86th minute when slipped through by substitute Mario Gomez, while Muller drifted inside more to become a goal threat, but Roman Weidenfeller had a excellent game.

Conclusion

This was all about the midfield battle – Dortmund’s surprise system resulted in disorganised pressing and a less of compactness, which was chiefly exploited by Kroos. In scoring the opener, switching off for the equaliser and missing  he best chance at 1-1, he was unquestionably the key player.


Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: surprising Dortmund midfield shape leaves Kroos free

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