Bayern's furious first 16 minutes

presses BVB back to Dortmund - analysis of "der Klassiker"

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Pre match questions

Both Lucien Favre and Hansi Flick named the same XI that won the midweek UCL games, but that didn’t mean the starting lineups weren’t surprising or revealing of the respective game plans. For Bayern, starting Müller and Goretzka foreshadowed an emphasis on pressing the Witsel-Weigl double pivot, which had been one of the main actors in BVB’s mini-turnaround in the last few weeks. The makeshift back four was conservative in nature against Olympiacos, with the fullbacks rarely venturing forward on overlapping runs, for fear of being countered. That was a sound strategy vs. the strong front four of the visitors, who one would expect would also do their best to press Bayern’s 10th different backline formation this season. But, there were further questions left to be answered before the match.

1.which team would dominate the counterpressing: the positional play-oriented and structurally sound-thinking Flick or the improved aggression under Favre that Dortmund fans saw in the second half vs Inter?

2.Which number six would dictate the game, Joshua Kimmich or Julian Weigl - perhaps Axel Witsel?

3. In all 4 of the wing matchups, the defensive player seemingly had a disadvantage, so who would emerge victorious?

4. Who in the world could stop Lewandowski?

Minute by minute breakdown - pressing early and often

By the time Robert Lewandowski had scored his first goal after 16 minutes, all of those questions had been answered. Since Dortmund’s first shot attempt came in the 43rd minute (one of THREE times BVB entered Bayern’s box in the entire match), you could probably figure it out that Bayern were in complete control, even if you somehow missed the proceedings. Let’s walk through how Bayern were able to dominate BVB via their superior pressing, the elimination of Weigl-Witsel, the Alphonso Davies show and of course the usual brace by Lewa.

0-38s

Ironically given how the match turned out Dortmund came out high pressing and forced two backpasses to Manuel Neuer inside 22 seconds. Under pressure by Sancho, David Alaba’s forced into a long ball that bounces over Weigl and Müller, with Coman giving chase. Because Hakimi is high-pressing Davies, Akanji shifts to right with Coman, so Mats Hummels has to come deal with the long ball. (Schulz correctly pinches in, Witsel is sort of caught in no-man’s land). His clearance is not great and Müller instantly plays Lewandowski in, but Bürki reacts quickly, coming off the line to make a desperate clearance.

After the throw-in, the ball is booted back up and BVB have possession at the one minute mark.

Dortmund have the ball, but ….

As you can see from the stats, Dortmund actually were given about 56% possession in the opening 15 minutes. The problem however that most of it was without clear ideas (vertical runs, diagonal passes and runs behind the high line, winning aerial duels, etc) on how to break Bayern’s pressing, resulting in a lot of recoveries for the home side.

From the average positions for the match, you can see the asymmetric fullbacks (Hakimi much higher) at Dortmund, but more importantly their difficulties in possession: there is very little verticality offered by Brandt and Götze, whose average position is in the center circle! This is a problem, as you can see from the image below, when Bayern turn up the pressing and force the Dortmund CBs and Bürki to go long.

Given that look, Dortmund are forced backwards and as it will often be the case because Davies respects Sancho’s 1v1 ability on Hakimi’s side, the Moroccan will be the free man, but at 1:21 Bürki overhits the ball and it goes out of bounds.

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From 1:25 to about 2:35 we see Bayern in possession, with Javi Martínez and David Alaba afforded space by Dortmund, who defend in their usual mid block 4-4-2, forcing long passes towards Lewandowski and Müller who joins the Pole in a quasi second striker role. After the Weigl foul on Lewy, Hummels clears the free kick and Hazard starts a potential fast break, but Brandt’s sloppy pass goes out of bounds. BVB win it back from the throw-in and Hummels quickly reacts to the high press with a long ball:

Hazard is the vertical option, but he is offside after Brandt’s flick, you can see Bayern dropping Kimmich back on Brandt below:

After the ball gets back to Neuer, Dortmund manage to shut down the progression on Pavard’s side, forcing the switch to Alaba, whose job on this night was to hit the cross-court long balls to Gnabry\Lewy. Dortmund get the ball after a foul and Hummels once again quickly restarts and manages to find Hazard between the lines. There is a distinct lack of vertical passing option in the zone I marked. Given that Hazard cant pass it forward, he wants to play the ball square to a dropping Brandt and then on towards Sancho, but the lack of central striker options are appalling. Götze has drifted wide - Bayern cleverly passed him on to Martínez, since he is not going to beat anyone for speed - and Hazard gets closed down by Pavard and Kimmich, deflecting the pass to Alaba.

Defensive discipline

Dortmund regain possession, Bayern press high, Bürki finally finds Schulz as the free man, but his pass (one of 11 lost balls in his own half, no other BVB player had more than 4) is errant and Kimmich clears towards Gnabry, out of bounds. Götze is fouled and the ball recirculates to Bürki who tries a direct long ball that lands on the head of Alaba, then after recovering another one this time hitting Martínez. The clearance lands at Hakimi, who has a lot of ground on Coman and in front of him, a promising counterattacking situation for Dortmund!

But just 5 seconds later, as Hakimi passes it off to Sancho, Bayern show tremendous discipline (Coman and Kimmich tracking back), Alaba correctly reads that he is the free defender and helps close down Sancho with Davies. Coman’s outlet finds Lewa offside.

Against the strong FCB high press, Dortmund try Witsel in the right half space, creating numerical superiority.

Because of the angle of Coman’s run, (Müller realizes this and drops off towards Sancho, who is just on the edge of the center circle) Akanji becomes the free man, and on his second attempt has something:

Since Brandt is deeper, Hazard actually fills the central zone nicely and is kept onside by Davies not stepping up with the rest of the backline. However, instead of the chipped pass (green) he goes with the drilled one and it bounces of Martínez and to Pavard. Dortmund’s first decent press forces Neuer, who completed most of his passes as usual, into a rare missed pass.

Davies, the destroyer!

After some back and forth long balls, Hazard run sees Brandt make the switch to the right side. As mentioned earlier, that was the more active Dortmund side (was Schulz allowed in Bayern’s half?),

but it was also the less successful one. That was thanks to Alphonso Davies, thought to be a weak link, since he is still learning the LB position and just turned 19 a week ago, but then this happened.

Jadon Sancho also went 1 of 7 in his 36 difficult minutes - Favre subbed him out, NOT because he was hurt - while Hakimi ended 1 of 8. Of course, Coman’s diligent tracking back was helpful on this play, but those are some crazy numbers by the young Canadian, shutting down a recent UCL legend and a 100+ million phenom. Sancho would miss a pressing assignment on the ensuing buildup play, but a poor pass wide by Goretzka bailed him out.

The Pressing plan and the U- shape

On the goal kick, we get a nice look at the whole field, which from BVB’s perspective i split into a 7v5 (including Bürki).

This shows Bayern’s ultra aggressive pressing plan: Pavard is up very high on the potential chip to Schulz, and Flick isn’t afraid to put Javi Martínez on an island vs. the speedy Hazard. Eventually, Davies shuts down about three different attacks and Bayern can run their first dangerous counter, which Hummels - playing a good ten yards back like Lothar Matthaus in his sweeper days - snuffs out against Lewandowski. Dortmund also achieve a rare feat: an entrance into the box by Götze, although he does not register a touch as Martínez clears, but Akanji’s head does touch the ball, so that’s the first of 3 touches in the box for the match. Dortmund do start to come better into counterpressing, winning the ball back twice in the next 30 seconds and Alaba has to commit a borderline yellow card-ish foul on Götze in the 13th minute. Furthermore, thanks to Weigl’s quick switch (Bürki found the free man in Hakimi) to Schulz, Dortmund progress the ball through the Bayern press for the first time. But by the time they get it over to the right side, Bayern get 9 players behind the ball, and Dortmund are in the dreaded U shape.

Even after the predictable backward pass and Schulz turnover combo, Witsel and Götze do get Sancho into a nice spot, running at the defense with a head of steam. Müller makes a world class defensive play, tracking back and Dortmund come up empty again.

A Hakimi foul on Coman later, Bayern get some sustained possession in the BVB half, but it results in the Alaba chip to Gnabry, ending up in Bürki’s hands. Witsel actually manages to break the press via a turn off Müller and Dortmund end up with Hakimi on the right side getting a cross in, before losing possession to Coman on the break. Witsel clears the Frenchman’s cross, but Davies once again just blows Sancho up on the high press!

Müller creates the chance for Gnabry to play Lewandowski in, but Dortmund block it. Kimmich recovers and has Goretzka switch to the right side, where Pavard for perhaps the only time in the match makes a deep run. He and Coman have a 2v1 vs Schulz, resulting in the winger’s low cross, intended for Gnabry. Akanji has to go with Gnabry, while Hummels (slides at Gnabry) and Weigl both switch off Lewandowski, who’s free to sneak in front of Witsel to give Bayern the lead.

The rest of the 75+ minutes might even have been academic: Dortmund’s lifeless team was unable to create anything without risking more: Guerreiro’s pressing resistance solved the left side, but took away Sancho’s 1v1 ability and added another non-vertical player with little speed. With the introduction of Reus and Alcácer (Götze, Weigl) Favre switched to a single pivot 4-1-3-2 (or 4-1-4-1 depending on how high Reus was). It added some verticality and speed on the attacking end, but compromised the team’s vertical compactness defensively, as shown by the black and red lines:

#FLICKSZN

While Alcácer’s huge chance at 2-0 could have helped, it may not ultimately have mattered (given what transpired and how vulnerable the Brandt at midfield lineup looked) and would have merely masked another crushing defeat.

For Hansi Flick and Bayern, this was a statement win, channeling the days of Heynckes, both as a treble winner and caretaker, dispatching Dortmund with their relentless pressing (hard to single anyone out, but Flick favorite Thomas Müller deserves praise). It was also an excellent defensive performance on a team and individual level (Davies), and Lewandowski is still unstoppable. It’s truly #FlickSZN