Vol5: James increases Bayern’s goal difference, Reus saves Dortmund

Vol 5: James increases Bayern’s goal difference, Reus saves Dortmund


Bayern Munich’s 6-0 trouncing of Mainz meant that despite Marco Reus’ heroic 92nd minute goal to give Dortmund three points in Berlin, the Bavarians are now SEVEN goals ahead on goal difference as we head into the international break. James Rodríguez’s first hat-trick since 2011 was the obvious talking point, but such was FCB’s dominance that NINE players registered either a goal or an assist. Somehow, despite 105 touches in the match and 16 passes to James, Joshua Kimmich was not among them, and Niklas Süle just missed scoring with a nice chip\curler in the second half. By then the game was so out of reach that Alphonso Davies was introduced as a left back! The Canadian teenager wasted little time in making history, following up on Lewandowski’s big chance and scoring the sixth goal on the night. Since analyzing James’ performance is about as useless as Mainz were at stopping him, and given that I was driving his MVP bandwagon last season, let’s look at other aspects of Bayern’s superiority.


Bayern’s domination in six points

It was a game which highlighted all of the Bavarian team’s strengths:

1. the vertical diagonal passes from Boateng and even Süle that hit the deep-dropping Lewandowski whose layoffs always asked difficult questions of the Mainz CBs

2. Kimmich’s halfspace orientation and pre-assists and Alaba’s constant wing threat befuddled FSV, who always ended up 1v2 on the wings, despite lining up with 5 midfielders

3. Thiago, Goretzka and James represented the strongest Bayern midfield trio, as either one can and would drop back in to the no. 6 role to collect and progress the ball upfield (see Goretzka before the 1st goal, Thiago before the third)

4. James popping up everywhere in the attacking third and Goretzka creating two chances inside the Mainz box. Meanwhile Thiago ended some of the would be Mainz counter attacks, finishing the match as the leading tackler with 5 successful attempts from 7 tries, with 11 ball recoveries as well

5.  Bayern fans also saw the best of Kingsley Coman, whose goal, shot on the post and 12\12 attacking third passes paired nicely with Thomas Müller’s excellent pressing and great movement to create spaces for Kimmich.

6. Finally, Lewandowski’s instinctual finish for the opener was perhaps his worst chance - his misses against Müller in the 5th and 69th minute both seemed rather makeable. Still, the Pole consolidated his lead atop the goalscoring charts in Germany and was able to get into advantageous positions inside the box on Sunday, unlike in the match against Liverpool.

The future is….

Media focus was obviously on Bayern after the UCL fiasco at home versus Liverpool, and Kovac’s team delivered a strong rebound performance and perhaps more: kicker stated that FCB scoring at least 5 times in each of the last three Bundesliga matches was the first since Kaiserslautern doing so in the 1983\83 campaign. Still, despite winning 13 of 14 league matches and the last few in spectacular fashion, the questions surrounding Bayern’s future abound:

  • Will it be with or without Kovac? With a tight Bundesliga race and the DFB Pokal, there is still so much up in the air and a domestic double (plus the lack of quality coaches who would want to endure working with the Bayern leadership) could perhaps tilt things in Kovac’s favor.

  • Who besides Pavard and Hernandez are they signing? Not (yet) Kai Havertz, per the latest news,  though Callum Hudson-Odoi still remains a popular choice.

  • Where do the “intensifying” negotiations stand with Timo Werner?

  • What happens with James, who in light of Zidane taking over at Real, is suddenly happy in Munich? Maybe if Florentino had appeased Zizou’s demands, Bayern - with a content James - would have gotten past Liverpool? It’s the kind of what if story, that Bild should be all over, so let’s get on it!!!

  • How will Kovac deal with the returning egos (Robben, Ribéry, etc) given that there are now only two weeks where Bayern have to play twice during the week?

What the Mainz? On poor execution and cringey Twitter accounts

One question that we had an obvious answer to was that Mainz, on current form, were always going to have a tough time in Munich. Sandro Schwarz’s “Zerofivers” started the season with 7 points from the first 3 games, and through their interesting and intensive 4-4-2 diamond press surprised a few teams in the Hinrunde. Their results, 23 points from the last 23 rounds, and metrics (a negative 17.5 non penalty expected goal difference is only ahead of Hannover and Nünrberg) have been trending down since then, but in the last seven games things got downright disastrous. After that six goal shellacking FSV have now shipped TWENTY goals in their last seven, while scoring only five - three of which came in the “unofficial Christian Heidel retirement party” 3-0 win against Schalke 04. In this match, there were some questionable lineup choices: starting in a four defender setup with the offensively limited CB Niakhaté at LB instead of the all offense/no defense Aarón Martín, starting Boetius at LM when he has been better as a ten, relying on the perennially disappointing Levin Öztunali, playing the athletic Gbamin at the 6 instead of the much-better passing Kundé were all decisions that went against Schwarz.

Of course, there isn’t much he can do about some basic defensive mistakes such as before the opening goal:

Notice the six Mainz players sort of pressing, but also blocking absolutely nothing but empty space, without any pressure on the ball. Goretzka has time to pick out Alaba streaking up the pitch.

Though Brosinski, who is also marking Coman, does a nice job of switching off and closing Alaba down, once the Austrian gets the return pass, there are FIVE Mainz defenders on the right side. Of course Onisiwo is late to block the cross and I have no idea what Gbamin, Bell or Öztunali are defending there. As a result of Lewandowski making the near post run that he would score on, and James going to the penalty spot, Müller is also open on the back post.

Shortly thereafter, Mainz used a successful high press twice against Bayern, forcing Neuer into a long kick. Unfortunately, Gbamin failed to control the second ball in midfield, resulting in Kimmich running on them in transition in the right halfspace and releasing Lewandowski 1v1 against Müller in a 35% chance.

There would be several more chances for Müller, James and Coman (hit the post on 12 minutes) inside the first 15 minutes with two Mainz long distance shots answering them. With Kimmich’s brilliant chip plus Goretzka’s chest set-up for Lewy, FCB were 2-0 up when the otherwise deep-defending Mainz experienced further pressing difficulties:


The rest of the match quickly deteriorated into a mix of James Youtube career highlights and the stuff of cringey official club account Twitter jokes - both Mainz and Schalke should probably ask some questions of the people responsible: Is it really the best time for self-deprecating\flagellating humor when your team is getting crushed by 6\7 goals? At what point do we trade dignity for likes and clicks? I’ll leave it at that before some German outlet decides to hire me as “crusty old-school writer/pundit no.467 on staff”.

Reus rescues P̶u̶l̶i̶s̶i̶c̶ Dortmund

On Saturday, Dortmund travelled to Hertha, a team that they managed to beat just once in regulation in the last 3 seasons, with a decimated squad that was now also without Witsel (adductor), Götze (broken rib) and Alcácer (muscle injury). These injuries forced Lucien Favre to start Jacob Bruun Larsen as the main striker, a position that the young Dane thrived in in preseason. Hertha are of course Favre’s former team, led by the birthday boy and Favre friend\mentee, Pál Dárdai, and the Hungarian was not gonna make it easy: BSC were ready from the opening kickoff, pinning BVB in with an aggressive high press that has been the surprise element to Hertha’s match plan this season.

Dortmund struggle to break Hertha’s first pressing line

If you have seen a Hertha match this season - and we know for a fact that BVB employ several excellent video\opposition analysts - it should not have been a surprise to guess what would happen: Dárdai loves to use Ondrej Duda to man-mark the opposition’s number six in the buildup (see games against Schalke, Hoffenheim etc) and the Slovak is not afraid to get his hands dirty, with 63 fouls committed, he is leading the Bundesliga. In the first few minutes, Hertha employed a mix of space-oriented pressing with some man-marking concepts:

Notice the pair of Duda vs Weigl (circle) with the rest of Hertha in man coverage, leaving open the ball far side, Abdou Diallo in the blue box at the bottom of the screen. Dortmund’s CBs were split very wide in the first half, and with Weigl marked out of the buildup, it fell to Roman Bürki to make some plays in the passing game. In fairness to the Swiss GK, who has arguably been one of the 3 best keepers in the Bundesliga (Gulácsi, Sommer) I included one situation AFTER his mistake that yielded Kalou’s opener.

Here, Hertha are man-marking up high on the right side (Weigl v Duda circled) with 6 players against 8 BVB outfield players plus Bürki. The key to the play is Selke using his cover shadow well and thus Zagadou can’t switch the ball to the space left open on the right side. Zagadou plays a long ball that the Hertha back four can deal with, even if Bruun Larsen flicks it on to Sancho.

Another example that shows Favre’s initial setup and Dárdai’s press exposing Bürki’s playmaking deficiencies: the BVB keeper doesn’t recognize Diallo (with his hands up in the blue box) and ends up hitting Grujic in the head in the center circle, thus starting a Hertha attack. FYI I could’ve also linked the same buildup problems for Bürki from at 10:15, 12:16, 16:29, 19:38, etc.

Party on the Hertha right side

Another interesting development in the match was the asymmetry between Hertha’s LWB Maxi Mittelstadt and RWB Valentino Lazaro. The Austrian, who has had a breakout season and has been linked with clubs like Napoli, is an excellent offensive RB\RWB but as a natural midfielder lacks defensive instincts and gets caught up the field a lot, which isn’t great if your opponent is Jadon Sancho.

In addition, he tends to overcommit and can get in trouble vs skillful fullbacks like the superb-dribbling Abdou Diallo, who used a simple cut inside to dust him in the 13th minute, resulting in a nice Bruun Larsen shot. In fairness to Lazaro, some of his defensive exposure was exacerbated by Salomon Kalou pressing high and Grujic not being able to rotate out to the right side, for fear of leaving Reus in the middle.

Lazaro’s mistake in the 14th minute was a grave one: having gotten trapped along the sideline after Grujic was pressed, the Austrian overhit a pass that Thomas Delaney ran down for the equalizer, even if his pass (shot?) was deflected in for Rekik.

The rest of the half followed a similar pattern, with BVB struggling in build-up, owing to the aforementioned issues (high press, Bürki), but getting some transition chances on their left via Sancho and Bruun Larsen. Part of the reason for the ineffective BVB right side was the horrendous day Christian Pulisic had, failing to complete any of his six dribble attempts in the first half!!

(this is why Buczko gets paid the big bucks)

Hertha countered well, with Kalou getting the better of Zagadou for a yellow card, but Dortmund could’ve taken advantage of a loose header by Karim Rekik. Reus played in JBL instantly, and the Dane showed great speed to take it all the way, but Jarstein made a key save. Recent Germany call-up Niklas Stark exhibited some of that amazing recovery speed to make it tough on Bruun Larsen - something that the Jürgen Klinsmann, Berti Vogts, Jogi Löw trio definitely noted from the VIP section. Stark was also the initiator of another nice Hertha attack in the 28th when his pass found Lazaro in space. The laser pass inside to Duda and the third man run by Grujic seemed almost like a set play, but Zagadou intercepted the cut back wonderfully. In the 34th minute, Hertha’s right side created something again: Lazaro’s back heel to Maier and the pass to Duda was lightning fast and the onrushing Julian Weigl used his elbow across his body to block the cross. Kalou converted the penalty, giving him another brace against BVB, after one in the Hinrunde and Hertha went 2-1 up.  As a side note, I’m not sure how Weigl’s “handballer” joke on Twitter would’ve gone over had BVB lost….

The rest of the half saw Sancho come alive, but Stark’s slide tackle in the 38th and Jarstein’s big save in the 42nd frustrated the Englishman.

Dortmund overrun Hertha in the opening 15 minutes of the second half

Whether or not Lucien Favre is using the kind of in-game video technology that other teams in the Europa League are is not confirmed, though given Favre’s incredible attention to detail and the Pep\Tuchel teams of 2015-2017 doing this, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine so. Nevertheless, as Favre usually does, he did figure out the solution to beating Hertha’s first pressing line: by dropping Julian Weigl in between the CBs, it forces Duda to react. If he follows Weigl, it creates a 4v3 for BVB that they can exploit via the physically strong and technical central defenders carrying the ball forward.

Zagadou does just that and with acres of space due to man-marking and the threats of Reus\Sancho\Pulisic, he can find Bruun Larsen in the middle.

Seeing as he got some valuable CB experience this season, Weigl even dropped in between Zagadou and Akanji upon defending counters:

When he intercepts the Duda pass, Weigl has a quick one two, then acres of space into which he can pass the ball to one of the BVB ball carriers, Pulisic or Reus.

Switching Pulisic and Sancho = profit

The other move that Favre pulled is to switch the struggling Pulisic from this preferred right side to the left, where he actually went 3 for 4 on dribble attempts, compared to the 0 for 9. A nice example was his take-ons before the 2-2, where he beat two players and forced a good save from Jarstein for a corner. Though, we know Hertha employ a set piece analyst, we can also probably deduce that they aren’t reading the Bundesliga Bulletin, for if they were, they’d know that BVB ran a variation of the play for Zagadou than vs Leverkusen. This time they started their 3v3 on the edge of the box, and didn’t have a short corner option, but Zagadou was able to use his strength to fend off Grujic and Torunarigha and equalize:

The other benefit of the Pulisic - Sancho switcharoo was the English winger going nuts: 4 of his 5 chances created came in the second half and he succeeded on all 4 of his second half take-ons. Dortmund ran off an 6 to 0 shot spell from the 46th to the 56th minute, with all but one of the shots inside the box. However, due to Sancho and Pulisicm as well as JBL, missing all of them and\or Jarstein coming up with a couple big saves (on poor Bruun Larsen), all those chances for a combined 0.6 XG yielded no actual goals.

In what was a pulsating back and forth affair of the highest caliber, Hertha’s lone big chance (due to BVB’s improved defense against the counter thanks to Delaney and Weigl making key tackles) came in the 56th after an ill-advised Pulisic turnover and the failed counterpress by Reus and Larsen sent Grujic on a 3v4 across the field. The Serbian found the streaking Kalou and controlled the return pass brilliantly and faked Wolf out before hitting the post!

Just a few minutes and a delightful Reus nutmeg (poor Torunarigha) later, Pál Dárdai was irate: it appeared that Ondrej Duda was tripped/pushed inside the box, but perhaps the replay told a different story. The trouble of course, was that Diallo failed to play the ball and certainly used his body to fend off Duda, but as former ref, now Sky in game expert, Peter Gagelmann explained, there wasn’t enough to overturn the no-call. So, after VAR looked at it, referee Tobias Welz, who was so sure of his decision against Weigl earlier, was not convinced.

(Dárdai’s death stare as Favre wags his finger on the Duda penalty situation)

Needless to say, Sancho would get and waste his biggest of the match after a brilliant pass from Diallo (who quietly went 21\24 in attacking third passes to lead BVB) in the left halfspace: the first touch was excellent by the England international, but the side foot finish left a lot to be desired.

Dribbling through the press and Guerreiro as an 8 = Favre’s game-winning move

Hertha did maintain its threat through quick wing attacks: typically it would be Grujic winning a ball in midfield, then a couple passes down the wing and a cross\cutback, but Dortmund’s much-improved defense with Akanji and Zagadou dealt with it. The CBs plus Delaney had ZERO interceptions in the first 45 minutes, versus SIX in the second half, with Akanji’s three leading Dortmund. Meanwhile, versus the tiring BSC press, Favre’s BVB employed the following tactic. Using dribbles by the defenders into space and past the first line of press, worked: the fullbacks succeeded 4 of 5 times compared to the lone Wolf dribble in the first half. Zagadou’s probing runs don’t really show up in these stats, but they certainly relieved the pressure on Roman Bürki, who after 26 touches in the first half, only saw the ball EIGHT times in the second.

In minutes 70-75, Christian Pulisic worked on his finishing to little avail - check out Reus’ body language to see what he thought of those efforts -  then Favre made his final impact on the match, subbing JBL for Guerreiro. It immediately yielded the first yellow card on Torunarigha, as well as a hat trick of chances for Sancho, Pulisic and Hakimi (on for Wolf). In terms of formation, Reus was now the striker, with Pulisic as the no.10, with Sancho on the left and Guerreiro on the right playing more to the inside.

Hakimi’s attacking threat caused the Torunarigha second yellow, and Dortmund continued to threaten with Delaney hitting the bar from distance. The Moroccan who took 15 of his 17 touches in Hertha’s half was positioned so high that it sometimes looked like BVB were playing with a back three.

The ever active Guerreiro who continued to progress the ball at every opportunity had one last trick up his sleeve. Against a tired 10 man Hertha in a 4-4-1, it was a simple dribble across the field that won the game. With Grujic, Lustenberger and Maier all failing to prevent the pass to Sancho, who as only he can do attracted two defenders before playing in a marvelous pass to Reus, who as only he can do, just got enough separation from Stark to win the match. And apparently break poor Vedad Ibisevic in the process:

All of these Dortmund heroics were only a continuation of the recent trends, where a struggling and injury-ridden BVB side barely (if at all, see vs FC Augsburg) ekes out the needed points, while Bayern cruise to five plus goal victories. With the muscle injuries to Witsel and Alcácer, Götze’s broken rib and Reus potentially missing the April 6th derby due to the birth of his child, Dortmund’s chances of winning the title are probably in actuality below the 17-19% range that most models predict. With 13 BVB players spending the international break representing various countries (Hertha and Leipzig lead this category with 14), and Bayern, who only send out 10 thanks to Jogi Löw, who are now now out of the UCL and looking their best, a seventh title in a row seems likely. At any rate, once we get back from the Euro qualifiers, Dortmund will face the hat-trick scoring VfL WWW (Wout Weghorst Wolfsburg) while Bayern travel to Freiburg where they dropped two points in the fall.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back later this week/the weekend with a deep dive on how Bremen’s press was able to neutralize a poor Leverkusen 1st half and what Peter Bosz did to adjust. In addition, subscribers will get an ode to Max Kruse who turns 31 today, the struggles of Thomas Doll at Hannover and a scouting report on Milot Rashica, who is now second behind Robert Lewandowski in Bundesliga non penalty goals scored in 2019….