The German Bundesliga has long been regarded as one of the most exciting leagues in world football, which has been filled with high-speed contests throughout the years. The 2015/16 league season was such an exciting one, as both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund displayed top-notch football. However, that season’s Der Klassiker at the Allianz Arena turned out to be one-sided, as the hosts thoroughly beat their rival.
Bayern (3-5-2): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Javi Martínez, Jérôme Boateng; Douglas Costa, Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcântara, Philipp Lahm, Mario Götze; Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski.
Dortmund (4-3-1-2): Roman Bürki; Łukasz Piszczek, Mats Hummels, Sven Bender, Sokratis Papastathopoulos; Julian Weigl, Gonzalo Castro, İlkay Gündoğan; Shinji Kagawa; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Bayern in possession
Bayern Munich used a 3-3-3-1 in possession, which helped create many passing lanes for their short build-up. Alonso was the deepest midfielder, and either Lahm or Thiago would be close to help.
Dortmund pressed in a 4-3-3 mid-block with Kagawa joining the front two when pressing. When Bayern played from the back, the trio generally would keep their distance from, and allow Bayern’s back three, time on the ball until they came near them – except when there was a back pass towards the back three, which triggered intense pressing from Dortmund. Kagawa tried to mark Alonso or block the passing lane towards him, as his passing range was a great weapon. Here, we can see Dortmund’s 4-3-3 press. Kagawa did not press Lahm, instead insisting on marking Alonso.
Borussia Dortmund’s defending always shifted towards the ball side, with the ball-near central mid (in this case Castro) ready to step out to press. With Bayern’s ball-near winger pinning the ball-near full-back by staying high and wide, the likes of Müller and Lewandowski could exploit the space behind Dortmund’s ball-near central mid. This created a temporary numerical advantage on the wing for Bayern, which meant they could combine to launch a cross into the box.
Here, Götze pinned Piszczek, meaning Lewandowski could exploit the space behind Castro, who stepped out to press.
The one exploiting space out wide could be a central midfielder, thanks to Alonso not dropping as deep as a third centre-back. Here, Thiago exploited space out wide, received the ball and put Costa into a 1v1 with Sokratis. Getting Costa into 1v1s would be a key feature of Bayern’s play, as the explosive Brazilian made Sokratis suffer badly.
Quick switches of play/counters to create 1v1 on the wings were one of Bayern’s priorities. If they allow Borussia Dortmund time to regroup, wing progression would become harder as Weigl and the ball-near central mid would move towards the ball side to help the ball-near full-back, making Bayern’s overlaps less effective.
To create isolation on one wing, Bayern liked to overload the other wing to combine and cross, with flexible movements from Lewandowski, Müller and the central mids. Dortmund’s 4-3-3 would be dragged towards that side and leave huge space on the other. The overload also helped Bayern to counterpress effectively. Bayern counterpressed by surrounding the ball-carrier and cut off all of his nearby passing lanes, with one player closing him down.
The below image is one typical example of Bayern’s counterpress. They didn’t simply rush at the ball-carrier (Gündoğan) but prioritised blocking his nearby passing lanes.
After the first goal, Tuchel solved this problem by shifting Dortmund to a 4-2-3-1, with Mkhitaryan the left winger, and Castro the right winger. This meant Dortmund always had two wide players to deal with Bayern’s switches of play and overlaps. Here, Castro on the right meant Costa had less time on the ball and fewer chances to go 1v1 with right-back Sokratis.
Dortmund pressed as a unit while trying to maintain a high level of horizontal and vertical compactness. This meant when Bayern had the ball, it’s hard for them to combine short as Dortmund would overload the area around the ball and press from all sides. When an opponent got the ball close to the Dortmund midfield, their ball-near midfielder always stepped out to press intensely in his own half.
However, this made them vulnerable to long balls from deep, for example, quick switches towards the far side by the likes of Thiago and Alonso. However, it was the passing range of Boateng that proved to be decisive in this match. Boateng started as a right centre-back, but Pep soon realised that in the centre, he would be much more effective than Martínez at distributing the ball and exploiting Dortmund’s high line. The right centre-back position was limiting his incredible passing range. The German could easily find a teammate between the line with a line-breaking pass or create a 1v1 for a winger with a crossfield ball when Dortmund overloaded the other side.
He even assisted two goals in this match from great through balls over Dortmund’s high defensive line. Below is the incident leading to the first goal. Boateng was not pressured as Kagawa still prioritised marking Alonso. Müller made a trademark run from out wide, which Piszczek couldn’t keep up with. The German received Boateng’s long ball, got past Burki and calmly scored.
Dortmund in possession
Dortmund built up short in a 4-1-3-2, with Piszczek higher than Sokratis. Weigl was the main playmaker from deep, showing pressing resistance and good short distribution. Gündoğan could also drop deep to help if Bayern committed many men to press. From there, Dortmund would look to progress quickly down either flank, through either a wide combination through some overloads or direct long balls into space for one of the three attackers.
Bayern set out to press high in a 3-1-4-2 from the start, giving the opponent no numerical superiority at the back. As Dortmund’s centre-backs spread, Lewandowski and Müller stood between them and Weigl, aiming to limit the pivot’s influence, while the wingers marked the opposite full-backs. When either centre-back had the ball, the ball-near forward pressed him while still covering his passing lane towards Weigl (and could also press the keeper in a similar fashion should he receive the back pass from the centre-back). A central midfielder would then step out to mark Weigl, and another would follow Gündoğan if he dropped deep to help. Bayern’s quality press meant Dortmund mostly had to go long, and the hosts quickly regained control of the ball.
Bayern’s dominance on the ball and pressing scheme meant Dortmund didn’t have a lot of the ball. When Dortmund got back possession, they usually tried to counter quickly by having Kagawa and the striker duo up high and free of defensive duties when Bayern had the ball in Dortmund’s half. In counters, both Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan moved wide to receive the ball and combine with Kagawa and Gündoğan, two skilful players with smart movements. They also went more direct with long balls into space for one of their fast strikers.
In a standard attack, Dortmund also had one of their strikers out wide. The full-backs were not in their natural positions and were asked to stay deep, giving the two 8s and the front players more freedom in attack. Wing combinations through overloads were the visitors’ main way of getting through Bayern’s intense press. From there, they would look to cross the ball. However, they usually only had one striker at the end of crosses, and Boateng and Martínez were clearly more dominant in the air. They created more danger from low crosses resulting from quick attacks, one of which led to their only goal.
In their own half, Bayern defended zonally in a horizontally and vertically compact 3-1-4-2, with Müller tracking back to help the midfield. They made sure they had lots of men around the ball. Dortmund had no numerical superiority at the ball side, and the ball-carrier was never allowed a lot of time and space. Most of their attacks were to no avail.
This analysis showed that a win was a fair result for Bayern. They dominated possession, exploited Dortmund’s defensive weaknesses, and stifled most of Dortmund’s attacks. For the away side, they couldn’t stop the threat from Boateng, handle Bayern’s press well or break through the opponent’s defence. Dortmund would go on to complete one of their best league campaigns but still couldn’t stop Bayern’s total dominance in Germany.