After two bad results in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich were looking forward to getting a win at home against the newly promoted Union Berlin. It was clear that Bayern would find themselves fighting to find a crack in a very compact defence and that it would take some creative thinking from the Munich side.
In this tactical analysis, we will see how Bayern were able to obtain victory using a lot of movement from its front players and how Union Berlin tried to cope with Bayern’s endless rotation.
Bayern maintained a 4-1-4-1 formation throughout the entire game. Captain Manuel Neuer was the GK. Benjamin Pavard paired with Jérôme Boateng in the middle of defence replacing the injured Niklas Süle. Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich were the left and right full-backs respectively. Their job was to help in the buildup and make inner-laps once the line was occupied by one of the front players. Thiago Alcântara was the single pivot at the back of the midfield line with Ivan Perisic, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman and Philippe Coutinho forming a more advanced line. Each one of them had a different role in Bayern’s buildup as we will see later in this analysis. Robert Lewandowski was the final piece of the puzzle in the striker position.
Union Berlin played in a 4-2-3-1 formation mostly basing their game on long balls. Rafal Gikiewicz was the goalkeeper. Marvin Friedrich and the experienced Neven Subotic were the two Centre-backs. Christopher Trimmel was on the right side and Christopher Lenz on the left. Both men were extremely occupied with Bayern’s front players which limited their ability to join the attack. Felix Kroos and Robert Andrich were the two pivots at midfield while Marcus Ingvartsen, Christian Gentner and Marius Bülter were the more advanced players. Sebastian Andersson was the sole striker acting mostly as a target man to Union’s long balls.
Bayern’s buildup, Union’s long balls
Usually, Bayern prefer to play with two pivot midfielders with the intention of having a numerical superiority against a team that would press them high. In this match, Bayern assumed that there will be no need for that since Union would prefer to keep extra men at the back instead of pressing them. Bayern’s build-up was based mostly on the two central defenders and Thiago but they often saw assistance from Coutinho who made a lot of movement backwards in order to receive the ball and to drag out his marker as shown in the next image.
Coutinho’s movement backwards created space right in front of Union’s backline, that was often exploited by Lewandowski, Müller or Coman. The Frenchman actually found himself in a lot more central position than usual. In most games Coman would stick to the line, trying to utilise his fantastic dribble but in this match, he often made movements inside, freeing the line to Müller.
Müller was very mobile in the entire game. As mentioned, he often was the one to occupy the line, creating confusion at Union and allowing Coman and Lewandowski more room in the centre. In the following images, we can see two examples of Müller occupying the line while Coman is in the centre.
Occasionally, he also, like Coutinho, made movement backwards, but unlike the Brazilian who sought out the ball, he was more interested in pulling his marker outside from his position. In the passing map below we can see how Thiago and Coutinho were the key players in Bayern’s buildup.
Union’s buildup was much less fluid. They often based their attacks on long balls, most of them towards Bülter on the left side as can be seen in the passing map below. This passing distribution also shows how difficult it was for Union to get the ball to their front players.
In the next image, we can see one of the few times Union was able to pass Bayern’s press using the space behind the pressing line. But situations like the one below were rare occasions.
Union defensive shape and press
Union’s defensive goal was to close down Thiago by putting a marker on him. The job was given to Gentner who was struggling to keep up with Thiago’s pace. The trigger to their press was when one of Bayern’s full-backs received the ball. This caused Bülter and Ingvartsen to move out of position. The main issue Union had in their defensive plan was the constant rotation of Bayern’s front players. Because of their formation, Kroos and Andirch, who were the central midfielders, were in charge of chasing any of Bayern’s players in the middle, however, it often ended up in them not being well positioned. In the following images we can see Union’s defensive shape and also how high Kroos needs to get in order to follow Coutinho.
Bayern got the job done against Union Berlin. If we look at the statistic, it wasn’t an impressive performance by Bayern, but it did demonstrate their flexibility in finding solutions to teams that will not try to press them. In this tactical analysis, we saw how Bayern modified their tactics in order to penetrate Union’s rigid defence and how off the ball movement can be utilised to create spaces.