Tactical Analysis: RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich

Written by Liam Lam

This match was one of the most decisive matches in Bundesliga on the title race. RB Leipzig brought up a fight against the giant, Bayern Munich but the result was disappointing for them. They are 7 points behind which would be utterly impossible for them to chase given the consistency that Bayern Munich have shown over the past seasons. Apart from the result, what else could we take from this game? If we went back to the first match between them this season, the game was very open with both teams trying to outscore each other and it ended with a final score of 3:3. However, we could spot some differences in how they approached this game. In this analysis, we would take a look into the focus of Leipzig’s pressing, Bayern’s performance and what they have learnt before the Champions League quarter-final.

The intention of Leipzig’s pressing

Leipzig are known for their aggressiveness and intensity when it comes to pressing and they showed it at the very beginning. Their pressing were trying to disrupt Bayern’s build-up and their prime targets were Kimmich, who was positioned on their right side, an area Leipzig specifically targeted to win the ball by overloading it. As per the picture below, Leipzig had the numerical advantage on the side by closing down all the nearby options and specifically, Kimmich was closely marked by them which made it difficult for him to receive the ball.

To reduce the burden of Kimmich, Leon Goretzka had to sit deeper to help out on the build-up. However, Leipzig were not coming with empty hands as they knew the ball would go to Goretzka when they closed out Kimmich as an option. The second picture shows Goretzka was receiving the ball, but Tyler Adams anticipated it and he won the ball back from behind easily. Such a method was very effective where Leipzig gained an advantage by doing so and it was fair to say they had the upper hand in the first 20 minutes of the game.

Manuel Neuer appreciation

By facing such aggressive pressing, Bayern inevitably had to pass the ball back to their Goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. He was comfortable on the ball with excellent passing ability where he could hit all kind of ranges of passing with both feet accurately. This allows Bayern to continue to switch the play at the back, absorb and escape from the press without giving the ball away. He bought time for his teammates to get back on their feet.

Despite being one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the past decade, there were moments where people suggested he should make ways for his successor, Marc Ter-Stegen and Alexander Nübel in Germany national team and Bayern respectively. But he constantly replies with his consistency, high quality saves and insane sweeper-keeper moments to edge over his competitors. In this game, he reminds everyone that he is still one of the best in the world.

Individual qualities of the players

Leipzig continued to press but they could not capitalize on their advantage and the intensity have dropped eventually which let Bayern catch Leipzig up. As per below, we could see Kimmich successfully got the ball in the midfield area without too much pressure, and he made a through-ball to Thomas Müller who delivered a cross to the penalty spot. Tyler Adams was pulled away from the centre to cover as Haidara slipped and lost Müller. Goretzka seized the moment and space in front of him and he made deep runs and arrived late into the box to score the first and only goal of the game. This was the first shot on target for Bayern and they showed how clinical and ruthless they are even without their top scorer. The long passing, crossing and finishing were executed perfectly by three individuals. They possess a bunch of high-quality players who could stand up and turn things around for the team in the difficult moment.

Bayern’s plan B

Bayern’s attacking ability was considered as the best in Europe Top 5 league where they scored 79 goals in 27 games, 11 goals more than the second place. They constantly look for chances to attack, even with only 10 men on the pitch. They are always trying to score as much as they can. We would expect the same in this game but surprisingly, they did not attack and push forward aggressively as they did before. They would still press high up on the pitch but they defended tightly by creating blocks as a unit more often in this game. They showed discipline and did not mind letting Leipzig have the ball. It was an approach that was rare to see Bayern use. It could happen because of the injuries and absences of some indispensable players and perhaps it was a plan B for them to prepare for the Champions League, where they will face some of the best teams in Europe and there will be moments that Bayern could not control the game. This could be crucial for them to survive in the knockout stage. This shows the tactical flexibility of Bayern’s players and how Hans Flick is constantly trying to improve the team after winning the Champions League last season.

Remarks

The principle and philosophy of a certain playstyle were the core of a team and the ability to read the situations and find the suitable way to cope with it is what makes a good team great. Teams like Real Madrid, Liverpool who had dominated the Champions League in the past few years, had something in common. They showed tactical flexibility throughout the stages and their players showed individual brilliance. It would be difficult for Bayern to play without their superstar, Lewandowski but we saw how Flick was trying to deal with it. It would be interesting to see if he would come up with something different like putting Serge Gnabry at the striker position.  

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