Tactical review: B04 Leverkusen

A tactics rich contest between two quality sides. B04 usually plays a back four, but without Schick available set up with Amine Adli as a false 9 in a 3-4-3, perhaps trying to match up Bayern's wingbacks. Bayern instead started with a back four, before switching seamlessly to their 3-4-2-1 in the second half.

Later, B04 switched to a front two with greater numbers in midfield, with the attacking line led by Moussa Diaby and Florian Wirtz. Bayern replied by withdrawing Gnabry for Choupo and matching with their own 3-5-2.

The draw was a fair result, but Bayern had the lion's share of control (69% possession, 19 shots to 9) and will rue their sloppier moments.

a. Leverkusen attacking through wings (image deck)

B04 RWB Jeremie Frimpong flashed dangerously throughout the first half, especially Bayern's defensive 4-4-2 block. The three swapping forwards regularly drew LB Omar Richards, leaving Frimpong with the full corridor on the right.

Bayern were saved on several occasions by wasteful play from B04's Amine Adli (another erstwhile Bayern target) who showed none of the playmaking vision and composure you'd like to see from a false 9. Still, the gaps were there and Bayern cleaned this up by changing defensive structure in the second half.

b. Bayern's attacking five (image deck)

After a shellacking last time out, Leverkusen tried to sit deep and congest the box with their three (quite good) CBs and two WBs. Bayern responded by running directly across the full width of the pitch, with 4-5 runners targeting the gaps between defenders and 1 forward player dropping into midfield to collect the ball uncontested.

Typical build up was through combinations on the left, resulting in a late runner out of midfield slipping into the support level just ahead of the backline on the right half-space. Flooding the left with players also gave Coman a lot of space on the right to get in behind and send crosses back.

Essentially the attacking shape was 1+5 (with Kimmich and sometimes Pavard constituting the deeper midfield support). The rotation of who becomes the '1' behind the five runners kept Leverkusen from ever getting a clamp on Bayern's ability to progress their attack into the final third.

c. Bayern play down the right wing (image deck)

Bayern's favored matchup was on the right wing. Mitchell Bakker held his own. The flat five in the back ostensibly matches up on both wings, but Bayern's concentration of build-up through the left, plus the central runners from midfield, often left the B04 LWB isolated against Bayern's danger man. The result is ample attacking initiative behind the lines on the right, with Lewy regularly floating dangerously between RWB and RCB at the far post to receive service.

Leverkusen did play solid defensively, however, with their RCB Tapsoba especially an imposing presence in the box. Bayern tried this pattern again and again with no breakthrough, but a few close calls.

d. Bayern's back four vs back three (image deck)

At halftime, Bayern had enough of giving Frimpong free reign and morphed into their 3-4-2-1 without changing personnel. Offensively, this offered extra stability for building from the back, enabling Bayern to patiently circulate between the 6 and the three CBs until one of them found a suitable vertical option. Eventually Leverkusen stopped pressing with three forwards and changed shape.

Defensively, this dedicated the LWB on Frimpong and additionally required the RW, now a wingback, to attend to defensive duties more, making the long balls more speculative. On the few occasions a Bayern CB was beat down the line 1-on-1, other Bayern players mopped up.

e. Both teams 3-5-2 (image deck)

At 70' the wasteful Adli was withdrawn for an extra midfielder and B04 shifted to a front two. Bayern responded with Choupo on at 74' and their own matching shift to a 3-5-2, likely to stabilize the numbers situation in the midfield. Correspondingly Bayern played through their own midfield more while still aiming to roll the ball right for crosses, now with an extra target in the center.

Sané even drifts inside, giving Bayern a midfield overload in attack, and with one fewer forward, Pavard also starts pushing up into space more often as Bayern chase a winner.

f. Lewy dropping deep (image deck)

Lewandowski is not only a poacher but a complete forward, and his regular involvement in build-up is neither new nor unusual. He doesn't do it super often, but routinely gets comfortable space to receive when he does. Because there are advanced central runners, the deep-sitting backline cannot follow him out.

The goal is to quickly get from "build out from the back" to "playmaker attacking the backline with 4/5 runners ahead" in the final third, and Lewy being part of this rotation down to collect the ball and be playmaker helps keep that going.

Plus, he isn't a blazer to lead the counters -- so the aim is to get the fast runners on the ball behind the defense, and then by the time it's crossed or worked around, Lewy is ghosting in between defenders to get on the end of it. This seems sensible for any team that tries to park the bus and congest space in front of their own goal.

g. Musiala as CM (image deck)

We've seen Musiala in the front five a lot so far, but that doesn't mean he didn't put in his shift as CM. He was a true box-to-box player for the full 90, and showed a lot of promise for his future direction. His feel for space and tricky feet are a real asset to receiving line-breaking passes between midfielders, and he showed good composure and vision in carrying the ball upfield into attack.

h. The Sabitzer chance (image deck)

The best example of Moose as CM was the ball he threaded through the Sabitzer, but that's a sequencethat deserves its own segment. It shows bit of everything, from the left-side combos in build-up to Bayern's right-sided 10 ghosting behind the CMs, to the through ball that shows the kind of danger Moose can deliver as a deep-sitting playmaker.

It was also a serious chance for a goal, spotlighting how Lewy causes problems with his attacking runs from deep to get on the end of the second ball. Sabitzer doesn't feel this out, unfortunately, and tries to go it alone under pressure.

i. Individual defensive losses (image deck)

In purely defensive 1-on-1s Bayern defenders showed up well throughout the game, and players like Wirtz and Diaby are not exactly easy to erase like this. It's hard to fault, for example, the one time Adli gets the better of Süle.

However, a couple other moments involving Kimmich might be worth mentioning, as it continues a running theme of his defensive instincts. Kimmich is a maximally aggressive player who will charge the ball. But he's also the 6 and should recognize when he is one of the last bits of defensive cover available. Here, there are two instances where he sees a CB commit to the ball and joins him instead of covering up the other side. It's the same kind of pattern that led to goals or serious chances in previous games I've done tactics reviews for. And while perfect coordination is not easy, it looks like an area for improvement to me.

j. Cheap giveaways (image deck)

Instead of losing individual duels, what's happening is Bayern are giving the ball away at bad times for the worst reasons. A lofted cross, for example, gives players plenty of time to react and also starts with the opponents pinned inside the box. These are not that.

For example, there are the tricks and flicks and lazy passes in build-up as the LB charges upfield, meaning the bypassed Leverkusen midfield instantly turns into the unchallenged base of their counter. Worse are the errors that occur while playing from the back.

The amount of times that that's Upa, making a choice that directly leads to a chance on goal, is getting to be a serious concern. Going into next season, I would not be shocked to see Pavard move to the center, with Upa left on the right. But as long as he's on the pitch he still has to tidy this all up.

k. Missed chances (image deck)

Finally, we have the narrowly missed opportunities in front of goal. I was going to say that sooner or later Bayern is going to stop getting only 1 goal out of nearly 3 xG, and then today against Salzburg it finally happened! But...xG aside, there had been a crispness lacking in the final third, and some more examples of that against B04.

Some of these are pretty narrow misses, and who knows what might have happened had B04 never equalized and were left to try to chase the game. Still, it fits a theme for me: attackers being a little too impatient and going for the extremely audacious, squandering some pretty advantageous positions in the process.

Like what do they say about Man City? They score the same boring goals a million times. Nags isn't the same, it's not all about drilling specific patterns, but I wouldn't mind some of that. With so much finishing ability and intelligent movement on the field for Bayern, oftentimes you don't need to try to heroball it. Just keep controlling the circulation, and sooner or later there will be a high percentage chance to break through.


I was going to say let's see how Salzburg goes, but now we already know :-)

Gradually I think I'm developing a better sense of what Nagelsmann is going for, and to me, it looks really promising. I think this team has been waiting for the game where it all breaks out and the goals flow, because it sure is frustrating to keep dominating games that end in ties. Defensive personnel shore-up is of course going to be needed, and Süle is looking a bigger loss by the day. And the team do need to balance relentless Bayern mentality with control and composure.

Still -- as of now, I'd say the future is looking pretty bright.

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