Is it bad to nitpick after a resounding win? Bayern Munich played Leverkusen out of the park in a 4-0 demolition on Friday, scoring inside of three minutes and all four of their goals on the break. But, when invited, they seemed content to smash strength on strength — attacking down the teeth of a settled defense.
It didn't matter on this day, but called to mind the fruitless attacking efforts of recent Bundesliga weeks. What's going on? Let's take a quick look.
Tip-tapping down the middle
It's one thing to score in transition moments — the opponents are on their heels. However, Bayern weren't as good picking the lock when Leverkusen got set, and didn't seem to make consistent tries to get in behind.
Here, for example, left-back Alphonso Davies — a lightning-quick terror on the wings — receives wide and works the ball inside, as has been his habit and apparently instruction this season. Bayern players are crowded out with little chance for a continuation of this play.
What happens next? Neither the left half-space down the line, nor a recycle back to Marcel Sabitzer (#18) on the edge in order to reset or work a switch to the opposite flank, are utilized. Musiala lays it back to Davies, who continues his run inside and shoots into a wall of bodies. Leverkusen collect the rebound and break.
Less than a minute later, Davies again takes the inside track:
Again, there's a ring of Leverkusen players congesting the central areas in the box — they know that Bayern are determined to funnel their attacks down these lines. There's space down the line in the left half-space; it's not even the wing and would not be considered a wide attack. But Jamal Musiala doesn't look to use it — even if only to drag defenders away. Davies has the ball nicked off him in his attempt to cut inside, which perhaps was a predictable choice.
Not long after — and this time Bayern have the jump. Leverkusen are racing to get back, but are just about there, though it's more a box than a hexagon crowding the center of the box:
A threaded through-ball finds Davies in decent shooting position for a lefty, but he's once more always looking to take this inside. Or if not a shot, Davies could hold play up slightly, let Sadio Mané run off his shoulder, and lay it off for a driven cross towards the far post runner (Leroy Sané).
Instead, it's a low cross right into the ring of Leverkusen players and it's easily cut out.
Final example, all of which have occurred in a matter of minutes. Thomas Müller here has the ball on the right edge of the box, and the Raumdeuter loops it over to the left for the switch — instinctively knowing there is space and opportunity there. However, both left-sided attackers, Mané and Davies, have been drifting inward. Bayern have three forwards happily occupying the interior of the Leverkusen ring of defenders, and it's difficult to understand where the attack is supposed to come from this way.
Perhaps what coach Julian Nagelsmann wants is for quick ground passes to find Davies at the top of the box, for him to then thread through to the three vertical runners hitting the gaps. But Müller clearly had a different feel of the situation.
Previously, we discussed why Nagelsmann — in contrast to predecessor Hansi Flick, now of the German men's national team — favors going down the center so much. If you missed that discussion, catch up here or click below:
The gist is that should possession be lost, it keeps Bayern in shape to recover. And indeed, Nagelsmann said after the game that the "counter-pressing was very strong".
But are Bayern getting bang for their buck on this trade-off? Consider this second-half attack, where Kimmich receives in space and drives forward, eventually threading the ball through to Müller straight ahead of him:
Müller has Sané to combine with, but they're two Bayern players — the furthest forward at that — in the middle of a ring of seven white shirts. Müller tries a quick combo but possession is lost. All the while, Bayern had serious overloads on both flanks and ample time for Kimmich to have tried using them instead. Again, it's difficult to imagine how Müller and Sané might have continued this.
Worse still was the outcome of lost possession. Bayern's front five are actually spread wide — Benjamin Pavard having pushed up on the right. The first pass out from Leverkusen bypasses Kimmich and now Leverkusen are breaking. The second ball is played into space, bypassing two more Bayern players — that's eight now behind the ball, and it's three-on-three charging forward at the back two. A better team might have punished this.
What's the solution?
Bayern this season are relying substantially on two things: blistering pace in transition — which can be fashioned out of nowhere if need be through Joshua Kimmich's long passes — and Musiala magic.
No amount of congesting the box can deal with a wizard who dribbles through five players like this:
And from there, it really is arrows down all sides — a probable goal even if the extra defender had not been fouled here by Matthijs de Ligt. But even Musiala can't do that all the time. Or can he?
You might also be wondering, with all the hullabaloo over Robert Lewandowski's FC Barcelona exit every time Bayern fail to score: how would Bayern look with a box striker? Pretty good, actually:
Here's Serge Gnabry — who got into very threatening positions once he moved into the right wing for Leroy Sané — looping a ball in that nearly finds the head of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Crossing and praying, a timeless tactic? No joke, it really looks like a regular change-up Nagelsmann should work into his deck of tricks.
As Liverpool FC coach Jürgen Klopp reminded Bayern fans recently, scoring a 1-0 out of nowhere is no small change to the dynamics of a game. Traditionally that's helped open the floodgates over many a hapless opponent.
But when Bayern find themselves needing to chase a goal — or when that opener eludes them after more and more time goes by — they still look like a team that needs to figure out how they're going to threaten a stubborn defense.
Let's hope, between players and coach, some consistent solutions emerge.
As always, we appreciate the support!