Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: Dortmund take control with good pressing, but Robben moves upfront to make the difference

May 26, 2013

The starting line-ups

Bayern initially struggled to get into the game, but eventually emerged victorious after a strong second half performance.

Jupp Heynckes selected Jerome Boateng rather than Daniel van Buyten at the back – the only real selection decision either manager had to make.

Jurgen Klopp named his expected XI.

Dortmund started the game excellently, pinning Bayern back and attempting six shots before Bayern had managed one – but eventually their pressing dropped, and Bayern continually exploited the space in behind the Dortmund defence.

Dortmund press

Whereas Klopp used a 4-3-3 in the last two competitive meetings against Bayern, here he opted for the 4-2-3-1 Dortmund have played for the majority of the last three years. That meant Marco Reus was fielded close in support of Robert Lewandowski, rather than starting from the left, and his first goalscorer odds with looked particularly promising.

This formation helped Dortmund press high up the pitch, allowing Reus and Lewandowski to close down the centre-backs 2 v 2, while both also got into good positions to prevent forward passes played into Bayern’s holding midfield duo.

They were supported keenly by Kevin Grosskreutz and Jakub Blaszczykowski in the early stages – both pushed up high and got tight to the Bayern full-backs, while Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan were watching Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger respectively – Bender put in an early foul on Martinez, letting the Spaniard know he wouldn’t be able to dominate the midfield to the extent he did against Barcelona – at least in the opening stages.

On paper, Dortmund’s problem was Thomas Muller, who was allowed to go free between the lines – but Dortmund remained compact in the first half when pressing, with the back four pushing up to keep a high defensive line that was rarely exploited because Bayern didn’t have time on the ball to play through-balls.

Schweinsteiger deep but Bayern can’t pass forward

Bayern really struggled with the early pressing. Schweinsteiger often performs poorly in the opening stages of big games when closed down, and he took a while to get into the game to calm Bayern. He dropped into the back to create a 3 v 2 situation and allow Bayern to play out from the back, but he was unable to find a positive forward pass. Martinez was often stranded in the midfield zone with no teammates close by, and in this respect Bayern missed Toni Kroos – Muller wasn’t dropping into midfield to provide another forward passing option, something Kroos is excellent at.

In the first half, Bayern completed twice as many passes as Dortmund – but although they were dominating in terms of possession, they were struggling to get the ball forward. The zones of the first half passes, rather than the number of them, is particularly interesting.

Dortmund breaks

Dortmund attacked primarily through Reus, who played the central position astutely – darting between the channels to receive the ball in space, on the run. He dragged the opposition centre-backs out of position, and it was obvious Bayern were concerned about his dribbling ability, because Reus was cynically fouled on mini-breaks throughout the game.

Dortmund’s problem, of course, was that they didn’t fully capitalise upon their first half dominance, and while Reus combined impressively with Lewandowski a couple of times, his relationship with the two wide players was less obvious. Although the wide duo have been a consistent part of Dortmund’s attacking over the past few seasons, in this game they lacked the intricate combination play that was particularly obvious at points against Malaga and Real Madrid. In those games, one wide player moved inside into central positions to attack directly down the middle, and Mario Gotze was a big loss. Dortmund created half-chances, rather than clear goalscoring opportunities.

Bayern grow into the game

Against Dortmund, Bayern usually attempt to play possession football in the centre of midfield. Whether by design or accident, they actually reverted to something more like the football they played against Barcelona. Their first attempt on goal was a Mario Mandzukic header, and then they consistently threatened from corners, using their height advantage well when the set-piece deliveries were good enough.

Furthermore, rather than creating chances following long passing moves, they were more dangerous on the counter-attack, and with quick moves that exploited the space in behind the Dortmund defence.

Robben becomes prominent

The key player from around 30 minutes onwards was Arjen Robben. Having started the game in a very wide role, he continually scampered in behind the Dortmund defence and had three good goalscoring opportunities before half-time

The first came from a poked through-ball from the opposite flank by Muller. One of Dortmund’s weaknesses is their constant narrowness when pressing, and they can be exposed when play is switched quickly. Robben was thwarted by Roman Weidenfeller coming off his line quickly.

The second chance came a little later, when Robben again moved in behind the defence, but stumbled upon the ball with Weidenfeller out of his goal, and Mario Mandzukic waiting in the middle.

The third chance came from a huge punt forward from Dante – with Bayern unable to play through midfield because of Dortmund’s pressing, it was a logical approach to try and exploit Dortmund’s high line with long, straight balls. Robben got in behind Mats Hummels, but shot straight at Weidenfeller.

Second half

There were two key features of the second half. First, after an initial burst of energy, Dortmund’s pressing dropped. Bayern retained the ball higher up the pitch and got more opportunities to work the ball into goalscoring positions. Although Bayern’s centre-backs were still the players most frequently in possession, they were now close to the halfway line rather than close to their own box, as Dortmund lacked the energy to push Bayern back.

Dortmund won the ball in much deeper positions compared to the first half:

And Bayern were forced to play backwards passes less frequently:

On that note, Bayern’s own pressing was more effective. In the first half Mandzukic and Muller dropped deep quickly, but here they put Dortmund’s defenders under pressure. There was an interesting moment when Lukasz Piszczek struggled to clear twice in quick succession in the right-back zone after 50 minutes – that was the first time Dortmund had really been put under pressure in their own half, and marked a shift in the pattern of the game.

Robben becomes a centre-forward

But the real defining feature was Robben’s positional switch. He’d rotated positions with Muller a couple of times in the first half, but after the break it was more of a permanent move – Robben effectively became a centre-forward, constantly springing in behind the Dortmund defence with Muller spending more time on the right. This is something we’ve seen before in a major final – in the World Cup final of 2010, Robben essentially became a second striker after half-time, and had two huge one-on-one chances against Iker Casillas.

Despite Dortmund’s pressing dropping, the defence continued to play too high up the pitch, and the reason they eventually lost this game was because Robben was allowed too many opportunities to exploit the space in behind.

For long periods the second half was played at an extraordinarily high speed, with the sides becoming stretched and the ball travelling from end to end extremely quickly. The game was probably too frantic for the coaches’ liking – they had little control over the flow or direction of the play, and there were points when the match was so open that it felt like the players were being left to their own devices, rather than following a strict strategic gameplan.

Robben and Muller switched positions for the second half, and both found space in behind

Five chances in behind the Dortmund defence

But the Bayern attackers, particularly Robben, continued to exploit that high Dortmind defensive line. There were five key moments that summed up Bayern’s strength in this regard.

The first was the opening goal – Robben picked up the ball in a central position, swapped passes with Ribery while sprinting in behind the defence, rounded Weidenfeller and squared for Mandzukic to tap in. The Croatian’s finish was simple, but earlier in the move he’d excellently collected a long ball on his chest, knocking it down to Robben to start the attack – that simple touch sums up why he’s been so vital for Bayern this season.

Then there was a huge, accurate diagonal ball from David Alaba into the path of Mandzukic on 62 minutes – he got in behind the defence but his finish was poor from a tight angle – Robben was up alongside him, waiting for a square pass.

After Dortmund’s equaliser (a penalty from Ilkay Gundogan after Dante’s error), there was another Bayern chance on 71 minutes because of simple pace in behind the defence – Muller raced forward in the inside-right channel past Marcel Schmelzer, rounded Weidenfeller (a common theme – with Dortmund playing so high up, he spent most of the game as a sweeper) and rolled the ball towards the goal. Again, Robben was up in support, but Neven Subotic got ahead of him to clear dramatically.

On 76 minutes, the Robben-Muller-Mandzukic combination caused problems again behind the Dortmund defence – this time Muller was the man through on goal, from Robben’s pass, with Mandzukic up in support. Muller was half-fouled by Subotic and simultaneously played a poor pass to Mandzukic, who shot into the sidenetting from a tight angle.

At this point, having conceded four decent chances from Bayern casually knocking the ball in behind the defence, it was obvious that Dortmund needed to sit deeper. They didn’t – and they were punished two minutes from time.

Jerome Boateng’s chip over the top of the defence to Franck Ribery was a fantastic pass and showed great vision, but Dortmund were inviting Bayern to create a succession of chances – they just needed to knock the ball over the top and force the Dortmund centre-backs to turn.

This time, Ribery’s backheel found Robben storming into the box to roll the ball gently past Weidenfeller and into the net for the winner.


There were small factors that influenced the scoreline – you can highlight Boateng’s positional play, Ribery’s defensive work, Mandzukic’s aerial dominance or Martinez’s physicality as small reasons why Bayern triumphed.

But this was basically an extremely simple tactical battle. Dortmund gained the upper hand with their excellent first half pressing – Bayern were unable to get the ball forward and looked under pressure for a considerable period.

But Dortmund’s pressing had two consequences: a high defensive line, and second half tiredness, meaning little pressure on the ball. That’s a notoriously dangerous mix – Dortmund’s defence weren’t comfortable when forced to turn and run, Bayern continually got in behind, and Robben’s switch to a centre-forward position meant he picked up an assist for the opener, and then scored the winner.

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