Bayern stuck to the tried-and-tested 4-2-3-1 to deal with Hannover. Tactically, it worked its wonders. However, no amount of tactics could predict or respond to the bonkers game we saw at the Allianz Arena.
Nobody will remember this game because it was interesting to watch how the teams shaped up and how running was done. It will go in the season highlights because of the crazy sequence that started with Robert Lewandowski’s ruled out goal. However, there is a lot to talk about.
Hannover tried to press high
Alas, it didn’t really work. See, pressing Bayern high is not a bad idea. Die Roten commit a lot of men forward. This makes them vulnerable to being outnumbered on the break.
However, there are two caveats to this approach. The first is that no team can possibly keep the high pressure up against Bayern for the full 90 minutes. The second is that this has to be done in an orderly manner. A block run upfield is the best way to ensure that the whole team is in sync to press high and minimise the chance of it backfiring.
Hannover failed to do the latter. Here’s how that looked:
On the surface, it looks as if Hannover could get Bayern in trouble like this. Nevertheless, any Bayern player in possession of the ball has plenty of passing options forward. It is useless to press high if you’re leaving spaces for the buildup. The high pressure becomes more a liability than a fruitful resource.
Bayern employed a clear 4-2-3-1…
…but with plenty of fine print.
Indeed, it looked pretty normal in defence.
While the formation was not dynamic per se, there were two important tidbits. The first is that the central midfield was split. Javi Martínez (more on him later) sat deep and close to the central defenders. Meanwhile, Arturo Vidal ran further upfield constantly. Both these observations are well in the realm of the nature of both players.
This changed when Corentin Tolisso replaced Javi. The Frenchman likes attacking more than he does defending. Jupp Heynckes didn’t ask him to sit back in central midfield. Rather, both him and Vidal created more pressure for Hannover in the offensive third.
The second tidbit is a high degree of positional freedom for James Rodríguez and Thomas Müller. Nominally, James played on the right while Müller occupied the space behind Robert Lewandowski. In practice, both players moved about as they wished. This wreaked havoc on Hannover’s defence.
These things allowed Bayern to control the game. Even if Hannover enjoyed their fair share of chances, Heynckes’ men took their entire arsenal for a walk. Kingsley Coman was unstoppable on the left. Jérôme Boateng showed his best performance this season, with majestic tackles and delicious long balls. James Rodríguez was left in space to shoot and tried his best to score.
Javi Martínez unchained
Ever since he returned to the central midfield position, Javi Martínez has been a throwback to 2013. In this match, I saw something from him that really got my attention.
It happened in the first half. Hannover recovered the ball after a failed long ball by Mats Hummels. In the ensuing wave of volleys, Javi saw an opportunity.
Number 8 ran upfield quickly and stole the ball from the Hannover men. Immediately, he passed onto Müller, who botched the chance. This, to me, proves that it doesn’t really matter if you’re not particularly quick. Javi isn’t, but his head was ahead of the ball. He saw an opportunity to destroy Hannover on their own buildup and took it. This sort of deep playmaking is why he stood out in 2013 and why he will stand out this year in midfield.
Insanity ruins tactics
What happened in the first half cannot be explained by tactics. That sort of ridiculous chain of events is mere entertainment.
However, it started to slowly creep into the tactical side. After Tolisso went in, Bayern ditched their scheme altogether. Coman took to whichever side the ball was in. Both full-backs were fully committed to the attacking effort. When Franck Ribéry entered, he sat behind Lewandowski. It was a classic case of chasing the ball and it worked.
Sometimes, tactics are less important. They were interesting to observe today, but in the end, it was sheer willpower that won the game.