Why Der Klassiker turned into das Massaker

plus a deep dive on the actual best match of the weekend (Leverkusen-Leipzig)

Headlines: der\das Massa(klassi)ker


In what was both the most anticipated and meaningful Bayern-Dortmund match since 2011\12,   - when a certain Robert Lewandowski’s backheel goal sealed the title defense for BVB - only the hosts showed up. The 5-0 shellacking led by ex-BVB stars Mats Hummels and Lewandowski shattered Dortmund’s title chances. The odds of a BVB title, which were as high as 42% by some models are now back in the 15% range, where they were two weeks ago and one cannot help but feel that given the way the match unfolded, Bayern have also put Dortmund “back into their place”.

(image courtesy of 11tegen11 and BetweenThePosts.net)

Niko Kovac, as he is wont to do in big matches relied on his Frankfurt roots, meaning lots of Javi Martínez and heavy counterpressing with Thomas Müller at the expense of James and Goretzka. With an emphasis and changed tactics on set pieces Bayern came out swinging from the first minute and never let an unprepared and flat Dortmund breathe. When the very active Robert Lewandowski strip sacked Zagadou and made it 2-0, the game was effectively out of reach. Javi “Toni Kroos” Martínez and Serge Gnabry made it four-nil before the break, just in case BVB had any come back ideas. By then Roman Bürki had already made five saves and 9 of the Bavarians’ 15 shots hit the target and FCB was close to 2.5 XGs. For more on how Kovac’s set piece tactics and pressing/counterpressing ideas, I’ve actually made two separate videos:

Set piece adjustments:

Pressing-Counterpressing by Kovac:

Favre’s worst game? Poor Dahoud

Of course, as mentioned in one of the three previews I wrote for this game and everywhere in German media, Dortmund were not the favorites for the match or the title, according to Michael Zorc himself. With a depleted squad - the injured Pulisic and Hakimi, Alcácer and Guerreiro not making the trip - Lucien Favre faced some difficult fullback questions, though Piszczek and Diallo passed late fitness tests and started eventually.  In a larger context the defeat has come on the back of a largely unimpressive Rückrunde that was riddled with uncertainties, disappointments (cup exits, points dropped against Augsburg and Nürnberg) and fortuitous finishes (Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Hertha). One could make the argument that aside from the Hoffenheim first half and the Hertha second half, Dortmund have looked much more like they belong with the Leipzig/Frankfurt/Werder/Leverkusen/TSG chasing pack than title favorites.

BVB with the 19 - 5 goal difference after the 80th minute, the best mark since Bayern’s 18-0(!!) in the 2016\17 season data via Soccerstats.com

The problem of course was that on Saturday, they looked more like a 13th placed side happy to sit back and try to get a goal on the counter, which, had Mo Dahoud finished his clear cut big chance in the 7th minute, might have worked. Though of course, there’s no guarantee that the ultra aggressive Bayern, who already looked impressive creating the 2nd minute penalty shout for Lewandowski. Not to mention Bayern nearly scored via a Mats Hummels header after 48 seconds (the first of 4 headers for the former BVB man inside the six yard box)  would not have turned it up even more so. Playing in a very surprising 4-3-3 for just the second time in the Bundesliga - the first was a dull 0-0 draw against lowly Hannover on MD2 where - Lucien Favre’s tactics hinged on using Mo Dahoud as the extra man in midfield and using his pace along with that of Sancho\Reus\JBL. The ex-Gladbach man and Favre protege has had a difficult time fitting into BVB and aside from his 7th minute huge miss was not able to influence the game. He managed 3 successful passes (all out wide) in the attacking third and had no end product. Defensively, while he did an admirable job joining Marco Reus as the second man in the high press and closed down the left halfspace passes from Hummels to the deep-dropping Lewandowski/Müller, he was not able to pick up any counting stats and was often outmuscled by the likes of Javi Martínez or Thiago counterpressing.

Where in the world is Marco Reus?

Dahoud was certainly not helped by his midfield teammates Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel as you can see from the StatsZone maps, but the cascading effect of playing 4-3-3 was the hardest on Marco Reus.

The 29-year-old’s having a remarkable Bundesliga season: over 2000 minutes, 15 goals and 6 assists are the most since 2015\16 and basically at the level of 2010-14 Reus (14.5 goals, 10 assists in 2550 minutes on average). So, despite a career low shot (2.5) and key pass rate (1.4) he has actually been remarkably consistent. His splits until and since the first Bayern match in November are almost identical: 950 minutes to 1050,  8-7 goals 3-3 assists, 2.46 shots to 2.74, 1.42 KPs to 1.54 with his XG + XA per 90 going from 0.85 to 0.90. Counting only the 2019 numbers, Reus is somehow BVB’s top scorer (Alcácer also has 4), despite playing the 11th most minutes in the Rückrunde, when of course he led the team in minutes logged with 1485 in the Hinrunde. His effectiveness as the numberr 10 in the 4-2-3-1 are as follows: despite the injuries, he’s a devastating counterattacking player, whose instinctual finishing is world-class. He’s in the top 10 among attacking players in tackle success (64%) and tackles won per match (1.4) and of course can press the opposing number six effectively. In addition, Reus has the ability drop into midfield to create numerical and qualitative superiority and ask all kinds of impossible questions of the opposing defenders, very much like Thomas Müller of Der Raumdeuter fame. (In case you’re interested I wrote something on his importance in German for Focus magazine, though as it turns out even with Reus, BVB’s chances against Bayern are non-existent)

Unfortunately, playing Reus up front in what defensively is at times a 4-5-1 and without the combinative Götze or Guerreiro (Bruun Larsen did combine with Reus to create BVB’s one great chance on the counter) had disastrous results. I pondered what the downside of bringing Götze on after going two goals down, because presumably the upside would have been an increased presence between the lines, more press resistance and better link-up play up front. When Mario did come on in the second half, the game was 4-0 and Reus mostly resorted to kicking Bayern players in frustration….

With 63 points from 28 games, Favre’s is now at 2.25 PPG which is now below Tuchel’s 2.29 from the “best runner up in Bundesliga history” season in 2015\16. But, there is some good news: the versatile, Favre-friendly Thorgan Hazard is apparently coming in the summer, despite Liverpool offering more $$. Hazard who can play both wide forward spots plus occasionally as a 9\10, comes at a price of 40+ million, which given that he has one year left on his deal and has produced 1.18 XG and zero goals in 11 games in the Rückrunde might be a bit steep. Still, Dortmund do have to spend that Pulisic money and replace the American and having some depth (albeit expensive) for a long UCL-filled season next year with the injury history of Paco and Guerreiro isn’t the worst thing in the world. Of course, this rather one sided Klassiker was far from the actually best quality match played in the German first division.

Rangnick switch and some good fortune beat BO4

If you’re looking for the best game of the Bundesliga weekend, it was not actually Bayern-BVB, but rather another battle between two teams, who were alongside Bayern and Frankfurt the top 4 outfits in the spring, Bayer Leverkusen hosted RB Leipzig. The home side, trying to recover from the 4-1 loss against Hoffenheim were missing Karim Bellarabi (out for the season) and Lars Bender as two starters, while Yussuf Poulsen and Tyler Adams were out for the visitors. Ralf Rangnick opted for his successful 4-4-2 diamond with the creative Kampl at the bottom (in place of Diego Demme, who has been struggling with fitness and form) and Forsberg on top, with pressing monsters Haidara and Laimer as the number 8s. Marcel Sabitzer joined Timo Werner up top. Peter Bosz’s ball dominant 4-3-3 has been the same for weeks now with only Wendell returning to LB and Havertz playing as an inside-ish winger on the right.

Knowing that Bosz is going to want to dominate the match and stop counters via a high line and aggressive counterpressing, Rangnick followed the Kohfeldt/Nagelsmann plan: some compact pressing to try to win the ball high up, shut down the halfspaces and take quick shots if it’s there, then retreat to launch counter attacks.

(RBL’s compact diamond midfield squeezes the middle and forces B04 wide)

One of the difficulties in executing this plan is that against Bayer’s 4-3-3 that features wingers with great technical, physical and 1v1 abilities (Bailey, Havertz) plus the pesky Volland, you’re very likely to have to leave back all four of your defenders. This means that you’re likely to play 6 v 7 against Leverkusen’s backline, plus Hradecky, who has become one of the better passing keepers in the Bundesliga and very adept at finding space between the lines.

In this aspect, Hradecky presents an upgrade over Bürki for Bosz, but the Dutchman is sadly still saddled with below average ballplaying\passing CBs in Jonathan Tah and Sven Bender. Hradecky thus often finds the technical and attacking-minded fullbacks out wide or Julian, who loves to come deep and collect the ball.

Of course Tah didn’t attempt this pass.

A quick dumpoff to Laimer and 5 pressing players are beaten - this means that unless Brandt’s man Konrad Laimer can close down Wendell (spoiler alert: he can, because he is the third fastest guy in the Bundesliga) either Kampl (not pictured) has to go all the way out or Klostermann will have to switch off Bailey to contain.

In the early phase of the game Wendell didn’t get forward as much, so Sabitzer couldn’t act as Werner’s pressing partner, that job belonged to Emil Forsberg, who also used his cover shadow well to prevent Leverkusen CBs accessing Baumgartlinger. Bender and Baumgartlinger counterpressed successfully to stop RBL counters in the first 7 minutes. However, when they were both half a step late (okay, Manni Bender, maybe 2 steps) it resulted in Werner’s first chance of the game after a Forsberg through ball.

Leverkusen did find other solutions to progress the ball, though the person finding those solution wasn’t a surprise: Julian Brandt. (On a side note, Julian Baumgartlinger going 37 of 39 in the first half playing as the lone six vs RBL’s press deserves a mention)

Brandt beats the press, Havertz’s technique scores the goals


Julian Brandt’s rise under Peter Bosz has been well-documented and predicted (watch the video I made 2 months ago), as the move to play as a left sided number eight has unchained the 22-year-old, who has a Bundesliga best 7 assists (on 5.3 XA) and 3 goals in the spring. Though, it won’t show up in the stats, it was Brandt’s quick thinking to take the throw-in early that led to Kevin Volland being tripped by Willi Orban in the box. Kai Havertz converted the pen and Bayer were 1-0 up. The duo would combine for what arguably should have been 2-0 for B04 in the 15th minute: on a throw-in Leipzig’s press was beaten, as Willi Orban was a step late on Havertz, whose chest control plus pass found Brandt in space. The Germany attacker rounded Konate and released Volland 1v1 on Gulácsi, a near 60% chance missed…

The 26-year-old Volland is a hard-working bruiser, who on the back of a 14 goal campaign had just 3 goals until late November. With 6 Rückrunde goals he could suddenly match that haul, but on this occasion Volland proceeded to miss another golden chance. From the ensuing clearance, Leipzig ran a counter that ended with Forsberg getting past Bender and Baumgartlinger and Aranguiz fouling him for a yellow 17 yards from goal. Much like a month ago vs Stuttgart, Marcel Sabitzer buried the free kick and it was 1-1. Luckily, Kai Havertz’s shooting technique is still off the charts and in the 23rd minute, the teenager put B04 back on top with a FIFA video game shot! Kevin Volland would miss another huge chance (0.39 XG) after Bailey managed the impossible, outmuscle the Terminator, Lukas Klostermann. At this point after 26 minutes, B04 had an XG tally of 1.78 (per Understat) or 1.6 (11tegen11), either way they reached 85% of their match XG! Leipzig desperately struggled after losing possession, presumably because of poor counterpressing shape, as Laimer, Orban were often put in uncomfortable\unwinnable situations that usually ended with Leverkusen racing down the other way. Bailey would torment Klostermann several more times in the first half and Leipzig broke up three promising counters. Speaking of breaking up counters, meet Charles Aranguiz who managed to tackle none other than Timo Werner on this play:

Virgil van WHO?

Brandt’s side footed sizzler in the 39th and a couple left-sided Leipzig counters, one ending with a Halstenberg cross cut out by Baumgartlinger, the other with a Forsberg outside of the boot cross that was just long, saw out the first half.

Even Dieter HecKING made an appearance!

Rangnick switches to 3-5-2, Bosz has no answer

Ralf Rangnick, known as the pressing pope in Germany, was never gonna go down without a fight: he decided to take out Amadou Haidara (injury) and Klostermann (torn up by Bailey) and bring on Nordi Mukiele as the third CB, with Halstenberg as the LWB and Laimer as the RWB. Kampl remained the single pivot, with Forsberg and Sabitzer as the 8s while Matheus Cunha partnered Werner up top. With five midfielders and two forwards Rangnick now improved his odds playing 7 v 7 plus Hradecky and left his three athletic CBs, mostly in single coverage. (Halstenberg would help out on Havertz at times)

While the first half featured more of a diamond look, this might perhaps be called the pentagon!

Laimer seemingly benefited from just having to press outside-in (vs inside out), while the central pressing was improved via Sabitzer playing as the 8 and the highly intelligent Kampl pressing at times from his number six spot all the way to the opponent’s box.

The effects on Leverkusen were noticeable in terms of sheer numbers:

Bailey who went 4 of 5 on take-ons vs Klostermann did succeed 2 of 3 times against Mukiele, but Brandt grew quiet: after a 10\14 passes in the attacking third first half, he went just 4 for 6 with no chances created. Havertz went 5 of 8 in the second half, vs 9\11 in the opening 45 minutes and the onus often fell on Charles Aranguiz to create unsuccessfully. In total, B04 went from 52 completions in the attacking third to 32 from the first half to the second and were forced significantly deeper. Note where the passes originate from:

Still, luck was definitely on the part of Leipzig, as even though Rangnick’s new pressing system forced some early turnovers, Leverkusen actually took a 3-1 lead through Leon Bailey’s thunderbolt, only for it to be correctly called back for a Kevin Volland offside.

(Volland offside as Wendell plays the pass)

A mix of desperate (Orban, yellow for scything down Havertz) and alert (Gulácsi) Hungarian defending and Bender shanking a rebound from a corner kept Leipzig in it. Brandt (bottom of the screen) tripping Orban behind the play while Havertz and Volland had a 2v1 in the 60th also did not help Bayer.

Rangnick’s calculated gamble would begin to payoff when Werner beat Weiser in an innocuous 1v1 situation (7% chance per XG) at the edge of the box and drilled home a shot that Hradecky saw late and could only deflect into the net. In the 66th minute Mukiele used his chest to make crucial interception on a pass by Julian Brandt that in the past few weeks always resulted in an assist. Two minutes later Weiser was the culprit with an unlucky handball, Forsberg converted the penalty to make it 2-3. Bosz made a personnel change, bringing on center forward Lucas Alario for Baumgartlinger, but kept his 4-3-3: Aranguiz became the six, Volland pushed out to LW, Bailey went over to the right and Havertz was the right sided number 8.

(The base 3-3-2-2 shape has Kampl staying back, but because Alario’s much more static he could press all the way up to Aranguiz)

That’s a super difficult compact shape by Leipzig to pass through…

Alario could’ve made an instant impact off a floated cross by Wendell that Orban mistimed (not for the first time), but his finish was woeful. Bailey’s pass a couple minutes later was also too long for Alario, and a slow turn from Bender, plus an outrageous sequence from Cunha ended the game:



For Leverkusen and Peter Bosz it’s now three defeats in a row and four in the last six, with a snowy 3-2 in vs Hannover and a 2-0 against Freiburg the exceptions. While there is an element of bad luck (the injuries, how this game unfolded) as of late, conceding 13 goals in 5 matches (ahead of only the mighty Thomas Doll and H96’s 15) is not looking great. Of course Bosz defenders can point to a Bayern level Direct Completions difference (+52 in last five games ties that of FCB for the league lead) and dominance in most of these games, but smart coaches like Kohfeldt, Nagelsmann and Rangnick have seemingly found out the flaws (poor counterpressing, vulnerability to counters, individual mistakes) Peter Bosz’ system. With such a tight race for the European places, 42 points sees B04 in just ninth place and seemingly out of the running.

Leipzig’s victory - after having to play 120 minutes in the DFB Pokal Tuesday night no less! - takes them to 55 points, already two more than they finished with last season. With the second most eXpected Points (52.4) and non pen XG difference (+26) are they really just two incredibly unlucky defeats against BVB (Bürki saving two big Werner chances in the 4-1 loss, Witsel stealing an even game in the return leg) away from being the second best team in Germany?

Stats All-Star of the Week: Ishak Belfodil

After Andrej Kramaric stole his hattrick against Leverkusen, Hoffenheim’s journeyman - at age 27, TSG are his ELEVENTH club - striker Ishak Belfodil scored “another” - actually his first this time against Hannover. The Algerian now has 9 (non penalty) goals in the spring, just two behind Robert Lewandowski for the lead. Having predicted his transfer to Hoffenheim in the summer, I’m not that surprised that a shot monster who can dribble and finish with his head does well in Nagelsmann’s system, despite some early health concerns\Szalai magic costing him minutes.

Thanks again for reading\sharing\watching! Stay tuned for the video coming tomorrow!