Sunday’s matchup between Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen figured to be an exciting and hard-fought affair, with both sides positioned at the very top of the Bundesliga table – separated only on goal difference. Both teams have started strongly under new managers, but each new boss would have felt that they had something to prove coming into the contest. Nagelsmann already has Bayern running like a well-oiled machine but would have wanted a positive showing from his side after their first and only loss of the season, handed to them by Eintracht Frankfurt right before the international break. Gerardo Seoane has had a great start with Leverkusen as well, but after losing to Dortmund earlier in the season would have loved to get a result against Bayern and prove that his side could match up against the very best in the Bundesliga.
Bayern, however, had other ideas. They scored quickly — in just the third minute — by way of a well-worked free kick ending in a spectacular backheeled goal from Robert Lewandowski. The goals from Bayern Munich kept coming and before the 40’ mark Bayern found themselves up 5–0. After going down, Leverkusen searched for an equalizer but left themselves stretched in the process. Without a true defensive presence in the midfield — Aranguiz and Baumgartlinger were unavailable — Bayern were able to repeatedly play through the lines and create chances. Leverkusen struggled to find any rhythm of their own in possession as Bayern were relentless and efficient in their pressing.
In this analysis we will analyze the specific tactics Bayern used in the first half both in and out of possession to create chances and stifle their opponent.
Throughout the first half, Bayern were able to create numerical superiorities through the center of the pitch and between the lines. This was an important part of their success, as it allowed them to play directly through Leverkusen with regularity. On paper, both Bayern Munich and Leverkusen lined up in a 4–2–3–1, which would lead one to expect a match with straight-forward man-marking and few situations in which one team had a numerical superiority. However, in reality, Bayern attacked in a different shape. In the graphic below, we can see how Bayern moved into more of a 3–1–5–1 with Kimmich sitting deeper in front of the defense and Goretzka pushing higher just beneath Lewandowski.
Davies Pushes high and wide on the left, which gives Sane the ability to come inside. Sule tucks inside and becomes the right-sided centerback in a back three with Upamecano and Hernandez. Gnabry maintains the width on the right flank. Goretzka stays higher up and positions himself between the midfield and defensive line of Leverkusen along with Sane and Muller. You can see clearly in this image how Leverkusen were repeatedly outnumbered 3 v 4 in the central zone. This continuously caused problems for them as Demirbay and Amiri were unsure of who to mark. Wirtz as well struggled to deal with the movement of Kimmich while also providing pressure on Bayern Munich’s centerbacks.
In this instance, Upamecano executes a line-breaking pass into Goretzka that would have threatened Leverkusen if not for a poor touch. But you can see how Bayern’s positioning gives the ball carrier multiple options to progress the ball forward. Sane, Goretzka, and Muller are all positioned between the defensive and midfield lines of Leverkusen. This makes them harder to mark and allows them space to turn when they receive possession. It is also important to note the importance of Gnabry, Davies, and Lewandowski in creating space between the lines for their teammates. Gnabry and Davies stayed extremely wide during this phase of possession, which opens the field up and pins the Leverkusen fullbacks so that they are not able to step to Muller, Sane, and Goretzka between the lines. Lewandowski creates space and depth by pinning the center backs.
Bayern were repeatedly able to create similar situations and play directly through the center of Leverkusen’s midfield as you can see in the images below.
Here Kimmich loses his marker, Wirtz, and is able to find Goretzka between the lines. Sane and Muller are both central, so neither of Leverkusen’s holding midfielders can commit to just one player. Goretzka turns and carries forward before finding Tomas Muller at the top of the 18-yard box in a dangerous position.
Again Kimmich is carrying the ball forward and picks out Tomas Muller this time with a line-breaking pass. In this instance, Muller plays it square into the feet of Sane who takes a shot at the top of the 18-yard box which hits the post of the goal.
Kimmich here is able to find Sane, who one-touches a pass to Tomas Muller who again has space in a dangerous area.
It was quite remarkable to see how easily Bayern were able to cut through the midfield of Leverkusen time and time again. Once they advanced the ball into the final third, they then used clever 1–2 passing and movement to create chances. They repeatedly had open shot opportunities from the top of the 18-yard box. If the defense collapsed inwards to adjust for the extra player in the center, then Gnabry and Davies constantly provided a wide option where they could play crosses for Muller and Lewandowski.
Bayern’s second goal, which started all the way from a goal kick, brilliantly captures how Nagelsmann and his team were able to manipulate Leverkusen and find open players in dangerous areas.
Here, it is important to note how in the first phase of build-up, Neuer is playing with the positioning of a left-sided center back in a back four. This allows Davies to stay higher and wider, which as we saw earlier, allows Sane to come inside to overload the midfield.
Goretzka checks in and finds Muller in the next line. Demirbay is forced to follow Goretzka and Wirtz is slow to recover on Kimmich. Amiri is essentially left 3 v 1 in the center of midfield, and now Baryern have a transition-like moment to attack with numbers and space.
Muller finds Sane who can then drive at the defense. Bayern take advantage of this 5 v 4 advantage. Sane plays Kimmich who quickly finds Davies. Davies has a ton of space to cut inside and eventually assist Lewandowski. A brilliant team goal that started all the way back with the goalkeeper.
Bayern were excellent in their pressing throughout the first half. They were able to deny Leverkusen from successfully building out attacks and they repeatedly created turnovers in their attacking half. Forwards Muller, Lewandowski, Gnabry, and Sane showed excellent energy and organization. The approach from Nagelsmann to press high was brave as it left Bayern more open at the back. However, Kimmich, Sule, and Upamecano were excellent in the second wave of the press. Kimmich’s astute defensive positioning helped to protect the backline and he ended the match with 4 interceptions. Behind him Upamecano and Sule were very strong as well. They were often left in 1 v 1 situations with Leverkusen’s forward players but were able to use their strength and proactive positioning to deny balls into them as Leverkusen tried to bypass the press and play more directly.
ayern pressed in a compact 4–2–2–2 shape. Lewandowski and Muller formed the front two. Their job was to cover up Leverkusen’s double pivot while also pressuring the centerbacks. Sane and Gnabry formed the next line. They stayed compact initially, covering the pivot players and inviting the pass out to the fullback. Once the pass to the fullback was made, Sane or Gnabry would pressure aggressively towards the sideline. Pressing in this way ensured compactness from Bayern and denied Leverkusen the ability to advance the ball centrally.
Above we can see the 4-2-2-2 shape with Lewandowski pressuring the centerback with the pivot player in his cover shadow. Gnabry staying compact initially but ready to pressure the fullback when the pass is made.
Nagelsmann then relied on his defenders to win longer balls played into the forwards, and on his defensive midfielders to block off the passing lanes.
Above is an example, where Bayern force the pass out to the fullback, Jeremie Frimpong. Sane is quick to pressure Frimpong who looks to play forward into the feet of Patrick Schick.
Upamecano is quick to react and steps out with Schick.
He does extremely well to cleanly win possession and knock the ball out to Kimmich who is then able to turn and launch a counterattack.
Again, Leverkusen play out to the fullback, this time it is Mitchell Bakker who receives possession. Gnabry sprints out to Bakker immediately, forcing him to play forward quickly.
This time, it is Kimmich who does well to recognize the situation and comes across to intercept the pass. Again, Bayern can look to attack quickly after winning possession in their attacking half.
One final example here. Bayern force the pass wide to the fullback Bakker, and again Gnabry provides aggressive pressure.
Bakker plays the long ball forward again and this time it is Sule who deals with the ball comfortably. In the process launching another Bayern Munich attack.
The graphic below shows the locations of Bayern Munich’s interceptions from the match.
It is clear to see from the graphic that Bayern were successful in winning possession near midfield on the right side of the pitch. This was a result of forcing the initial pass out to Bakker and relying on Sule and Kimmich to win the longer ball forward, something they exceled at. The turnovers Bayern were able to generate led to multiple chances for them in transition, and were a key part of their success in this match.