For all the talk of a new season in the Bundesliga, the opening match between Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 was the same old same old. Basically, the worst team in the Bundesliga for the year 2020, meets the best team in the world and it turned out just as you expected.
Hansi Flick’s Bayern kind of like against Barcelona did not even need to play their best football to win 8-0. In the #noonecares section of this game, the first 2-3 minutes belonged to Schalke, Lewandowski’s finishing left something to be desired, Goretzka was prone to easy turnovers, etc.
There is an interesting caveat, and I know it’s fantastically daft timing, but whether Bayern will continue the onslaught over the Bundesliga despite a brutal schedule is still a question to me. As I discussed on the Spielverlagerung podcast, it will see them play 23 matches in 95 days (13 Bundesliga matches, 2 supercups, 2 Pokal matches and 6 UCL group games) between now and December 22nd, or one every 4 days. So, while it’s tempting or even almost mandatory to fall for the “Bayern are gonna go undefeated” narrative, we should maybe not go that far.
But on to the actual match: long story short, Bayern obliterated a Schalke side that was giving off major HSV\Werder Bremen *insert your sacrificial lamb side here*. Sure, we could marvel at the Lewandowski rabona assist, wonder if Serge Gnabry might challenge Lewy for the Torjägerkanone, praise Kimmich’s insanely pinpoint long-range passes (or Jerome “I lost a bet and now my hair is purple” Boateng), praise Leroy Sané playing so much in the halfspaces and counterpressing well, or just make fun of Schalke.
But at the Bundesliga Bulletin, I try to go a little deeper than that, so let’s just leave the #narratives for Twitter and figure out what principles and tactical weapons Bayern used as they presented Schalke with a series of unwinnable scenarios.
1.If Schalke closes the center and wants to force you wide, use the fullbacks as passers
Schalke’s defensive setup was a 4-4-2 formation composed of two narrow strikers with loan returnee Mark Uth as a secondary striker to Frankfurt loanee Goncalo Paciencia occasionally pressuring the Jerome Boateng-Niklas Süle CB pair. More importantly the job of the Schalke striker pair was denying the quick pocket passes to Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich, who could also be situationally be pressed by Suat Serdar and Nabil Bentaleb. The idea was to direct the ball to the wing, where wide midfielders Amine Harit and Rabbit Matondo, who blocked the halfspace passes to Sane and Gnabry, would press out on Bayern fullbacks Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez in an attempt to force a backwards pass.
2. use Pavard and Lucas’ passing range/skills to quickly access Gnabry\Sane\Müller diagonally
A variation on this was to use Pavard in the zone normally belonging to a right sided center back in a 3CB system. Kimmich is pushing up deep into the right channel and occupying the left CB Stambouli, so once Müller drops wide (Bentaleb is late to react), he can just play Sané down the line. The German winger can go into a 1v1 vs Oczipka and pass to Lewandowski, who has a 1v1 vs Kabak. Stambouli makes a great recovery positionally and blocks the shot.
The penalty, earned and converted by Lewandowski also comes from Pavard as a 3rd CB in the halfspace, as Harit and Bentaleb rotate late off him and Kimmich.
In addition, Stambouli and Kabak (poor defensive stance, leads to Lewy turning and going) don’t have the best position and communication, though Müller dropping deep seems to influence the Turkish CB.
Overall, though Schalke did a pretty good job of shutting the fullback passes down - in the 17th minute Hernandez had a nice chip ball over Rudy to Sané, but the ex Bayern player got his boot to it enough for the ball to skid to Fahrmann. Pavard’s combinations with Gnabry and Sané sometimes also ended in turnovers, though through no fault of the Bayern RB.
In order to achieve better progression vs Schalke’s front six, Bayern decided to create a 3v2 in the first line by dropping one of Kimmich\Goretzka into the backline.
3. drop Kimmich-Goretzka central to create 3v2 in first line and push fullbacks higher to stretch the middle 4 of 4-4-2 and activate the halfspaces
The clear benefit of the 3v2 can be seen on the tactics board above:
Bayern can progress vs Schalke’s pressing two cleanly and since the CBs are wider\have better angles, their options increase:
-they can hit vertical passes to the halfspaces to multiple players (Müller and Sané here)
-access the wingbacks\fullbacks wide
-maybe directly hit the CF (Lewandowski) which catches everyone (even the man who interprets space, Mr Thomas Müller himself, as he points towards Sané for Süle to pass to)
but Süle recognizes Lewandowski’s brilliant off the ball movement to drop and hits him, with the Polish striker releasing Sane with a nasty outside of the boot through ball in the air. Ozan Kabak’s vital clearance stops what seems like a certain goal.
4. A pressing detour:
With so many options, it was always going to be tough for Schalke to pressure Bayern, and their 27.29 PPDA is just ridiculously poor
Via Statsbomb and fbref’s excellent pressure data we can glean that Rudy seemed to be the only one actively defending high: no other Schalke player had over 2 attacking third pressures and he also had 5 blocks (Stambouli too). The 16 attacking third pressures by Schalke were almost matched by Thomas Müller’s 12!
Or we could mention Jerome Boateng winning the ball via pressure, despite Rabbi Matondo having positional advantage on him in the lead up to the 2nd goal.
For the 4th goal, Schalke’s counterpressing on a throw in deep in Bayern’s half was a disaster, as Carlon Carpenter explains here:
Goal number seven is also a mix of little pressing effort resulting in Kimmich having tons of time to send Sane (Stambouli pushing up for whatever reason into the opponent half, leaving the center open) down route one…
Ball over the top!
Moreover, the 3v2 also allowed Boateng to play long balls diagonally from his left CB position to the right wing. While it did not always work, it stretched Schalke vertically (notice how the back four is out of the picture) and gave the defense another dimension to think about (ball over the top)
Speaking of the ball over the top: Kimmich’s deep ball to Gnabry making a diagonal run created the first goal:
Schalke’s front six are extremely narrow\close, but put no pressure on the ball, while the back line is some distance behind. They are not high enough to press Kimmich, nor deep enough to prevent Gnabry from controlling the ball on the 18 yard line and fire his now trademark turnaround leftie “jumper” to the far post top corner!
Similarly, once Pavard stole the ball off a bad Paciencia pass, Kimmich has all kinds of time to send Sane over the top, as Bentaleb is playing 3rd CB for some strange reason. He also gives up on the play as Kabak bounces off Sane.
5. Miscellaneous: long passes and underlapping fullbacks plus rabona assists
In addition, Bayern still had the long diagonal ball by their CBs whenever pressured, with Lewandowski acting as a target man. Goretzka and Sane, playing in the inside channel, attacked the second balls from better positions than the Schalke defenders and would be able to win them.
Finally, even when Schalke did a good job of pressing Bayern in, they were unable to win the ball. The 3rd minute high press when Neuer and Sané’s ambitious dribbling saved FCB is a great example, but this trap from the 9th minute works too. Paciencia pressures Kimmich all the way out wide, while Harit closes Pavard down and Bayern have to play the ball back. Unfortunately, since Bentaleb and Oczipka redundantly pressure Müller on the right wing, Schalke are short in the middle. Bayern patiently switch the ball to Boateng.
The German CB takes a dribble, but as Uth closes out very well, he has to pass the ball. Here, another common pattern emerges: the fullback underlaps (runs inside) the winger\wide forward, as we often see with Alphonso Davies. Gnabry rotates wide, Lucas Hernandez pushes inside, tracked by Matondo. Schalke somewhat recover, but Gnabry still has 3 better options than passing it to Goretzka who turns it over vs some pressure.
That’s all folks! I’ll be back with a roundup of MD1 Monday! Do let me know if you enjoy the content or just
below. I’d really appreciate if you could spread the word about this newsletter. Thanks for your attention,