Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: Klopp floods the centre to harm Bayern’s build-up

May 1, 2015

The starting line-ups

Dortmund progressed to the DFB-Pokal final on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

Bayern selection

Pep Guardiola started with a three-man defence, and surprisingly named Rafinha, traditionally a right-back, as the left-sided centre-back.

Further forward, Mitchell Weiser was handed the right-sided midfield role for the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions, with Arjen Robben fit enough only for the bench.

Thiago Alcantara returned to the head of a midfield triangle, so Mario Gotze was on the bench.

Dortmund selection

Jurgen Klopp, facing Bayern for the final time as Dortmund coach, brought Ilkay Gundogan back into his midfield, in place of Matthias Ginter.

He also changed shape to a 4-3-3 / diamond midfield, with Marco Reus returning in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Jakub Blaszczykowski narrowed into a midfield trio, with Shinji Kagawa playing as a false nine, although the front three often rotated.

Match summary

Bayern dominated in terms of possession, although the ball spent far too long in non-threatening positions, and Bayern rarely converted their possession into clear-cut chances.

Dortmund shape

The most interesting feature here was the shape of Dortmund. Shinji Kagawa was pushed up the pitch with the two outright attackers either side, a system Guardiola would recognise well, not far from the 4-3-3 he played regularly as Barca won the European Cup in 2011. But whereas Guardiola’s system was designed to maximise possession play, Klopp seemed to be thinking primarily about how Dortmund were playing without the ball.

The away side played an extremely compact group of six players in the centre of the pitch, and while Dortmund didn’t press as intensely as during their peak years, they were excellent at preventing passes being played from Bayern’s defence into the midfield zone. The front three were usually pressuring the centre-backs (and Xabi Alonso, who dropped deep into defence) while the midfield trio concentrated on Philipp Lahm and Thiago.

Dortmund’s approach was simple – win possession in the opposition half, then attack immediately. This is a standard Klopp principle, of course, but was no doubt inspired by Porto’s recent success in the first leg of the European Cup quarter-final too.

Bayern slow in possession

At various stages in the first half, Bayern struggled to play through this block, and it became obvious that Alonso and Lahm, while excellent in possession, aren’t specialists at the art of receiving the ball under pressure, or collecting possession on the half-turn to ease into attack quickly.

Guardiola has often depended upon players who are excellent at this, like Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Toni Kroos. Even Thiago is far better at this than either Lahm or Alonso, and in a way it was disappointing he wasn’t fielded in a deeper role, to quicken the tempo and boss the game. Alonso doesn’t have the mobility required for this skill, while Lahm isn’t particularly strong physically and is simply unaccustomed to these tight situations in midfield – as a natural full-back, he’s used to receiving possession when he can see the whole pitch. Bayern’s inability to beat this press meant their midfield play was sluggish, and it was frustrating how long the ball spent inside Bayern’s own half.

Bayern shape

Bayern got more joy when moving the ball down the flanks – which has been a theme of Guardiola’s Bayern. To do this, the defence expanded into a remarkable shape, with Benatia and Rafinha almost permanently full-backs rather than centre-backs, plus Weiser and Bernat pushing higher up the pitch to become wingers. At times, when Alonso wasn’t in defence, the shape was like an M-M formation.

Dortmund responded to this with the wide(r) players, usually Aubameyang and Reus, sprinting out quickly to the touchlines. It was surprising that Bayern didn’t attempt to switch the play more, forcing Dortmund back and forth across the pitch, which would have been extremely tiring – there were fewer long diagonal passes than usual from the likes of Alonso and Boateng.

When the ball was worked forward to Bernat and Weiser, both went on decent runs but couldn’t definitively win their one-versus-one duels against the two Dortmund full-backs, who had decent games defensively. They didn’t always have options for combination play, either, and while a key part of Guardiola’s approach at Bayern has been to create one-versus-one situations out wide, Bernat and Weiser are clearly not Robben and Ribery, and Bayern produced few chances from out wide.


Considering Bayern were struggling to break down Dortmund when the away side had men behind the ball, the nature of the first goal was fascinating. It was essentially a counter-counter, started when Kagawa dribbled through midfield but then played a wrong pass – now Dortmund had five men (Kagawa, Blaszczykowski, Reus, Aubameyang and Durm) ahead of the ball at the turnover. They had no-one to counter-press, and the defence was exposed.

The most crucial of those five was Durm, the right-back. He was now wildly out of position, and Bayern attacked into that right-back zone within seconds. Benatia, who had intercepted Kagawa’s pass, thumped a diagonal out to Lewandowski on the left-wing – he had a quarter of the pitch to himself, and after his initial shot hit the woodwork, he finished the rebound coolly. It was a very simple goal, a one-pass move. Considering Bayern’s possession play had been so slow, it was a huge contrast.

In the second half, Bayern had their only other clear-cut chance in open play in a similar situation. This time it wasn’t a counter-counter, but instead a much more simple counter-attack after Dortmund had pushed men forward for a set-piece. Again, it ended with Lewandowski shooting against the crossbar from the left.

Dortmund get back into it

First, however, Dortmund had got themselves back into the game, and formation changes from both managers played a part. First, Klopp moved to a 4-4-1-1 formation. While Reus and Aubameyang offered pace through the middle, the real threat came because Dortmund now had width, which had been sorely lacking before the break. Blaszczykowski moved to his traditional position on the right, while Mkhitaryan replaced Kagawa and played on the left. While not a natural there, he stayed relatively wide.

Sure enough, Dortmund started to attack down the flanks, on the outside of Bayern’s back three. This was how they opened the scoring in the first league fixture between the sides this season, and this goal wasn’t dissimilar: the final ball crossed from one wing to the other. Aubameyang started the move down the right, cut the ball back to Blaszczykowski on the edge of the box, he chipped the ball to Mkhitaryan out on the left, and his volleyed, sidefooted cross was converted at the far post by Aubameyang. The move basically formed a triangle around Bayern’s defence.

Bayern changes

Dortmund then had chances through Mkhitaryan and Reus, and it’s arguable that Guardiola had contributed to the sea-change with a switch of his own. He introduced Robben in place of Thiago, which meant an extra attacker and one fewer midfielder – maybe designed to increase Bayern’s counter-attacking threat. However, it simply meant Dortmund gained the upper hand in midfield, and Guardiola eventually replaced Thomas Muller with Bastian Schweinstieger, effectively shifting the balance back to the initial idea. Robben then went off injured, replaced by Gotze, and it felt like the three subs hadn’t actually changed Bayern that much.

That said, Guardiola still found time to return to a back four for extra-time: Bernat was the left-back and Rafinha switched to the right, while Gotze and Weiser roughly played either side of Lewandowski. The extra-time period was tactically uneventful, though, with Schweinsteiger and Lewandowski having headed chances and Dortmund substitute Kevin Kampl dismissed – but penalties seemed inevitable.

Bayern contrived to miss all four, handing Dortmund a place in the final.


The overall feel of the game was predictable, but there were various interesting things happening here: Klopp’s shape harming Bayern’s build-up play, and Lahm and Alonso’s inability to convert defence into attack, defined the first half.

Bayern’s shape in possession was fascinating, as ever, but the goal came from a counter-counter-attack – which, in itself, is quite an interesting concept.

Second half changes influenced the rhythm of the game and Dortmund got back into it, for which Klopp deserves credit.

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