A massive battle of pressing took place between FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. The flanks also stand out as a key area in Bayern’s 3:1 win against BVB.
A strong lineup and formation
Jupp Heynckes pleased most fans by assembling the strongest possible lineup in the circumstances. He featured Javi Martínez and Thiago Alcântara in central midfield and put James Rodríguez in as playmaker. James was able to turn that into a 4-3-3 with more conservative positioning.
The formation looked a bit like this. David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich hugged the sidelines. Javi stood in front of the defence while Thiago went forward a bit more. James roamed. The wingers and Robert Lewandowski did their usual thing.
A pressing battle
BVB have a tradition of midfield pressing, a tactic they used well in the middle of the park in Dortmund on Saturday. The ganged up to clog ball circulation and make it hard to push forward to feed Robert Lewandowski and Kingsley Coman.
Once they forced Bayern players to bring the action back to the defence, they came forward with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Andriy Yarmolenko chasing to minimise movement or force mistake. In the meantime, their mates marked in the middle so that FCB could only make progress on the flanks.
Bayern sometimes made the mistake of not committing enough men to the central midfield. Outnumbered on the play below, Javi lost the ball and BVB countered. Sven Ulreich had to make a fine save to make sure the Bees could not tie the game.
Once again: high pressure in the midfield, forcing a pass to the back.
Key matchups and battle on the flanks
I was particularly interested in two key matchups during that game.
The first was Arjen Robben and Marcel Schmelzer squaring off on Bayern’s right flank. The Dutchman’s contribution to the defence deserves a mention because his pressing is effective. He used pace and positional awareness to mark the BVB left-back.
On the following two plays, you can see how both teams overloaded the same area of the pitch and how Robben threatened Schmelzer to steal. This forced Schmelzer and Ömer Toprak to pass back and forth, trying to find small spaces. Unsuccessfully.
In that battle, Die Bayern sometimes formed a defensive shield that would sandwich the BVB midfielders between a couple of red lines. In the circumstances, only a long ball could have unlocked the scheme.
BVB did use the long ball occasionally. This brings me to the most important one-on-one matchup of the game: Niklas Süle against Aubameyang. The gigantic central defender put Batman in his back pocket, even when he received dangerous vertical balls. The following play led to a huge, and successful, challenge.
BVB are known for playing the high line of defence, but they reverted to a defensive 4-4-2 when the Bavarians threatened in the final third. We cannot say that they are not flexible.
How do you beat a team that mixes both schemes, in addition to pressing aggressively? Vertical balls to the final third can help. Below, Thiago used David Alaba’s speed to challenge Marco Bartra at right-back.
Below, Mats Hummels targets Kingsley Coman to send him forward from a longer distance. BVB’s pressing cannot do anything about that and it puts pressure on the back line.
Sven Ulreich’s role
What a lovely surprise! In addition to providing an assist to Kingsley Coman against Celtic, keeper Sven Ulreich uses his goal kick abilities to make excellent passes over the top.
He did that against BVB on Saturday, finding Robben who then sent a delicate pass to Lewandowski. Surprised, the yellow defence could not prevent the scoring chance.
Tactics don’t decide everything in football. In the end, brilliant plays by Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski determined the result. However, we enjoyed proper football at Signal Iduna Park on Saturday between two excellent teams. That’s my highlight of the match.