Dortmund 0-3 Bayern: superior squad proves crucial as Bayern extend their lead
Pep Guardiola demonstrated Bayern’s tactical flexibility in the second half, introducing Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara to great effect.
Jurgen Klopp had severe injury problems for this contest – as well as the continued absence of Ilkay Gundogan, his entire first-choice back four were out injured. 34-year-old Manuel Friedrich, previously without a club, was drafted in to play at centre-back.
Guardiola was without Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, however, and used Phillip Lahm in midfield.
The scoreline exaggerates Bayern’s dominance – for long periods Dortmund competed well, but Bayern simply had greater strength in depth.
Bayern shift to back three
With Dortmund playing their regular system, the major tactical interest concerned Bayern. As we’ve come to expect from Guardiola this season, there were positional surprises in the way the players were arranged.
The most notable feature of the first half was how frequently Lahm dropped between the centre-backs, turning Bayern into a back three for long periods. This is a pretty standard tactic, to get around the press of Robert Lewandowski and Henrikh Mkhitarayan, but because Bayern held onto the ball for long periods in deep positions, often casually playing it around at the back, Lahm often appeared like a third centre-back rather than a holding midfielder dropping in occasionally.
Martinez deployed high
Lahm was at the base of the midfield trio – if you can call it that – with Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez ahead. The surprising thing here, however, was that Martinez wasn’t fielded close to Lahm in a protecting role, but instead at the top of the midfield triangle, breaking forward powerfully into attack.
Martinez is one of the best all-rounders in world football – perhaps only Juventus’ Arturo Vidal is as adaptable and versatile – and he impressed in the Champions League last season against Barcelona with his powerful bursts forward. But it was nevertheless a surprise to see him used in such an advanced role, and his runs towards the edge of the box provided a goal threat on a couple of occasions, and helped to push Dortmund’s two holding midfielders back. Had Guardiola used another passer – Thiago, say – instead of Martinez, Dortmund probably would have felt comfortable with Bayern playing in front of them, and could have pressed higher without fear of leaving space between the lines.
Instead, Martinez driving forward moved Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin deep, and created a pocket of space – between Dortmund’s front two and back eight – for Kroos to dominate. He had oceans of space, and was extremely careful with his passing, ensuring Bayern continued to dominate possession.
Dortmund’s relaxed press
One of the major features of Dortmund’s usual strategy is their pressing, but here they were more cautious than usual – probably because pressing requires intelligent decision-making and positioning as well as sheer energy, and with such a makeshift back four, the midfielders were better off getting behind the ball and protecting the defence. It’s also worth considering the European Cup final, when Dortmund’s early press helped them dominate but left them exhausted by the end.
As Klopp acknowledged after the game, too, Bayern played some early long balls to get past the counterpressing – although it’s surprising Klopp was shocked at this, considering long balls have been a feature of Bayern’s game under Guardiola from the start.
Dortmund did often win the ball on the left side of the pitch, however, particularly when Jerome Boateng played a forward pass. His distribution was poor, and often allowed Dortmund chances to break quickly. The home side’s finishing was disappointing, but they did create numerous opportunities on the counter, and before half-time were significantly more of a goal threat than Bayern, despite the away side’s possession dominance.
Another key factor in Dortmund’s direct attacking was the role of Robert Lewandowski upfront. With the Dortmund midfield deeper than usual, he needed to play particularly well to hold up play, win aerials and encourage midfield runners up in support of him.
He was particularly impressive in the air, beating Dante and Boateng to high balls, and also winning free-kicks which allowed Dortmund to get up the pitch. The player who passed to him most frequently was Roman Weidenfeller, which says a lot about Dortmund’s play, although Lewanwdowski also showed he was capable of moving towards the ball and linking play, too.
Dortmund attack down right
Dortmund were also strong down the right flank, partly because Arjen Robben – while he’s become more hard-working in 2013 – still isn’t the most reliable defensive player, and was often guilty of letting Kevin Grosskreutz run past him. With David Alaba playing a very attack-minded role in the first half, Dortmund often found space down that side.
Rather than winning the ball on the right and breaking vertically, Dortmund tended to win possession in the left-back position, and then switched play to where Jakub Blaszczykowski and Grosskreutz would be waiting. Grosskreutz crossed dangerously for Blaszczykowski in the first half, then later provided a great ball for Mkhitaryan midway through the second period – like in the away win at Arsenal, his constant energy was underestimated by the opposition.
At the start of the second half – actually, it seemed to take place around the 48th minute – Guardiola swapped Martinez and Lahm, asking the Spaniard to play in the deepest midfield role. Perhaps this was because he wanted someone to battle Lewandowski at aerial balls, or maybe he had reacted to the fact Bayern were having to play with a back three for long periods, so wanted someone more comfortable in that role – although, as it happened, Bayern played with more of a standard back four after the break.
Martinez’s absence from the attacking midfield role, combined with a more advanced midfield line from Dortmund, meant Kroos didn’t enjoy quite so much space in the second half. Dortmund’s midfield shut him down quicker, although the back four didn’t always step up at the same time, which created space between the lines.
This was probably what encouraged Guardiola to turn to Gotze, in place of Mandzukic. Guardiola was essentially moving from a proper nine to a false nine, and Gotze was more capable of moving deep to link play, which caused Dortmund’s makeshift centre-back partnership significant problems. The difference in Mandzukic and Gotze’s passing is obvious below (and consider that the Croatian played twice as many minutes here).
Guardiola’s second change saw Thiago replacing Boateng, who had been one of Bayern’s poorer performers, particularly in possession. This saw Martinez dropping into the centre of defence (his third position of the game) and Lahm returning to the holding role.
Now, Kroos and Thiago offered great guile and invention on the ball, while Gotze was more of a forward passing option than Mandzukic, and Bayern really took control of the game in this period. Gotze’s opener was from a right-wing cut-back – Bayern seemed to play down that flank a lot in the second period.
Klopp quickly removed Blaszczykowski and Mkhitaryan, introducing Jonas Hoffman and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their place. Dortmund moved to more of a 4-2-4, with Marco Reus playing off Lewandowski, and the two subs either side. Aubameyang started on the right but then moved to the left flank, and played up against Rafinha. Dortmund had more pace for quick attacks and supported Lewandowski much better, although they were extremely light in the centre and Bayern were able to control the match through their midfield trio, cooling the tempo.
Guardiola reinforced his defence by replacing Rafinha with Daniel van Buyen, moving Martinez back into midfield and Lahm going to right-back – these two players spent the whole second half being shifted around. This gave Bayern a more defensive format against a reinforced Dortmund attack, and two traditional centre-backs to defend aerial balls.
But Bayern are tremendously versatile in a tactical sense, and having spent long periods retaining possession and killing the game, they also offered a counter-attacking threat. Robben scored the second on the run as Dortmund pushed forward, which effectively won the game, and Thomas Muller grabbed the third.
Dortmund were eventually defeated resoundingly, but they competed for long periods and created a succession of promising moments. Considering how severely their defence had been weakened, they protected the back four well, and still had the capacity to spring forward on the break. Lewandowski’s aerial prowess was important, as was Grosskreutz’s energy from right-back.
Guardiola’s experimentation verged on the self-parody in the second half, with Martinez and Lahm constantly switching positions. The Bayern coach can certainly take credit for the way his substitutes influenced the game – Gotze was a different option upfront and Thiago had a positive impact too – but really, this was primarily about Bayern having a significantly stronger squad, rather than the deployment of the individuals introduced.
Dortmund 0-3 Bayern: superior squad proves crucial as Bayern extend their lead