In front of a sold out Borussia Park, Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach engaged in their first top of the table clash in 40 years. With 'Gladbach sitting just 4 points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga table, this match was an opportunity for the hosts to gain ground. On Bayern's side, it was an opportunity to increase their lead on the rest of the Bundesliga.
However, the 0-0 draw that culminated from those expectations was not a game that Bayern Munich deserved to draw, let alone win. While Bayern Munich dominated possession and dictated the flow of the game, it was Lucien Favre's side who outplayed and executed a tactical gameplan that left Bayern Munich weak through the middle of the park and unable to generate any offensive impetus beyond using the flanks.
We can recount all the close chances and saves on both sides but the single fact from this match is that Bayern Munich was able to dominate the center of the pitch. The normally tactically astute Xabi Alonso was marked from minute one of this game by Raffael. It's a tactic that Pep Guardiola never adapted to. Alonso was still being marked by the 90th minute and still was unable to dictate the flow of the game in the way that Bayern Munich has shown that it needs from deep.
Granit Xhaka and Cristoph Kramer spent the rest of the game bottling up lanes and forcing Mario Götze to drift wide while leaving Robert Lewandowski to be managed by the Gladbach centerbacks. The whole idea being to force Bayern Munich to the edges and into shooting from tight angles. It was a strategy reliant on Yann Sommer performing well, and the Gladbach goalkeeper was more then up to task.
On the flip side, Mönchengladbach were in this game to win it on the counter. After halftime, the combinations of the Gladbach players forced countless saves from Manuel Neuer as Andre Hahn and Patrick Hermann proved to extremely dangerous to both Juan Bernat and Rafinha (especially the later) while Max Kruse was everywhere. Their pace and technical ability were confounding for much of the evening. When they paired those facts with Cristoph Kramer, Bayern Munich were lucky when they were able to stop the 'Gladbach counters. That their luck came paired with a side of Manuel Neuer was just enough to see them through to the clean sheet.
In some ways it's hard to separate what was could be considered a poor Bayern Munich showing from the unbelievable display put on by Cristoph Kramer. The German international was everywhere for 'Gladbach, turning Xabi Alonso, Philipp Lahm, and most of the rest of the Bayern Munich offense/defense into his own personal play toys all match long. He anchored a 'Gladbach defense that was downright dominant. It's not something that Pep Guardiola could really account for, either tactically or in preparation. That might have been one of the best games Kramer has played to date, and how exactly do you design tactics to mitigate that kind of performance on the fly?
Yet at the same time, it was not a shameful or haphazard performance from Bayern Munich. They were spritely in attack and generated numerous opportunities from both flanks. When they found their moments of space, they worked intricate passing combinations through the Gladbach defense and generated quality chances. They ended the game with 20 shots, 11 of which weren't blocked by 'Gladbach. Of those off-target shots many of them were excellent opportunities that whistled just wide of Yann Sommer's post.
It was always a situation where Bayern Munich had the bodies in attack to carry out their gameplan. They had the players to score. But every time, Borussia Mönchengladbach was just one step ahead of them.