Bayern 7-0 Basel: Basel’s brave strategy vaguely logical, but their application of it disastrous

March 13, 2012

The starting line-ups

Bayern stormed into the quarter-final after a comfortable victory.

Jupp Heynckes decided Bastian Schweinsteiger wasn’t fit enough to start – he was on the bench. Luiz Gustavo played in the middle with Toni Kroos ahead, Philipp Lahm switched to right-back, with David Alaba on the left.

Heiko Vogel made one change from the first leg, bringing in Cabral for Benjamin Huggel, so Basel were back to the XI that beat Manchester United last year.

Basel started off pressing high in the first five minutes, but then retreated into a deep shape with two banks of four behind the ball.

Basel leave two up

The final scoreline makes Vogel’s tactics look ridiculous, but there was some level of logic to his decisions here. The most notable feature of the first half was that Basel left both strikers high up the pitch. Marco Streller played upfront, and Alexander Frei drifted off, often to the left.

Usually, a manager would instruct one of the strikers to drop into the midfield onto Gustavo to help Basel out when they didn’t have the ball. Vogel didn’t bother, however, which meant the two Bayern holders had all the time on the ball they liked to dominate possession after Basel’s initial press had died down.

However, it did make some kind of sense. Basel wanted to play quickly on the break, and by leaving two strikers up, they could clear the ball downfield and get a 2 v 2 situation at the back. A couple of times towards the end of the first half, they created decent half-chances. The downside was that Bayern would dominate the ball, but then Vogel would have accepted that before the game anyway.

Defensively, the problem wasn’t the formation, but the fact the centre-backs both had awful games, and Bayern’s wingers were on fire. Some defences can defend more than capably with four players in front protecting them, but Basel let Mario Gomez have countless opportunities.

The problem offensively was the transitions from defence to attack. It’s reasonable to play two men high up the pitch and ask Fabian Frei and Xherdan Shaqiri to carry the ball when Basel broke up moves – that’s their natural game – but neither did so well, and Basel’s first pass out of defence was very poor and handed possession back to Bayern.

Bayern wide players

Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were fantastic. Robben’s display was more impressive, because he drove Bayern forward when the score was 0-0 and 1-0, whereas Ribery did much of his good work at 3-0 and 4-0.

Robben’s positioning here was excellent. Often he stays wide, hugs the touchline to get space to receive the ball, then ducks inside and dribbles from there. He, here started much narrower and essentially played between four Basel players – Lee, Dragovic, Frei and Xhaka. When Basel pushed men forward, he reverted to being a traditional winger.

Part of Basel’s problem was that Fabian Frei had been told to help out Lee and double up, but Robben’s highness and narrowness made this difficult – Frei then played very narrow on the left himself, which simply opened up space for Lahm to motor into (although this did open up space for Alexander Frei higher up).

Robben’s movement was excellent, and varied. He could come inside into a number ten position, or burst between Dragovic and Lee to get in behind to pick up through-balls. This was where Basel’s numerical disadvantage in midfield did come into play, as they often couldn’t close down Kroos without opening up space elsewhere.

Ribery and Gomez looked great once Bayern were in control, but Robben was the man who gave them that control.


Bayern were excellent at times – brave enough to keep four men upfront at times, and also in leaving 2 v 2 at the back. They enjoyed the freedom of the midfield, and spread the ball intelligently from side to side.

Vogel’s overall approach wasn’t as ludicrous as the result makes it seem – but Basel’s penalty box defending was terrible, and the poor transitions meant the ball kept coming back at them. That’s a combination ripe for a thrashing.

Referring to Bayern’s 7-1 win over Hoffenheim at the weekend, Vogel said: “The margin of victory does not impress me. I have absolutely no fear that Bayern will score seven goals in one game [against us].” Oh dear…

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