Bayern Munich has only lost twice in the Bundesliga this season in away games against Borussia Dortmund and very recently against Hoffenheim.
Dortmund beat Bayern by playing a rigid 5-3-2/5-4-1 low block with Adrian Ramos and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line while Thomas Tuchel played without the width of Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele or Emre Mor. In midfield were Julian Weigl, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze.
Bayern Munich played a 4-3-3 that sometimes shifted into a 2-1-5-2 or 3-2-5 in the second half as Dortmund focused on pressuring and closing down Joshua Kimmich and Thiago Alcantara in the center. Dortmund was outnumbered in midfield but negated this with pressure from Aubameyang and Ramos on Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, ferocious counter pressing, funneling Bayern attacks out wide and man-marking.
Bayern Munich eventually pinned Dortmund back by pushing more men in between the lines, clever switch balls and utilizing the man-marking scheme from Dortmund to create spaces centrally and out wide as all these themes will be touched on below.
Dortmund pressure on Bayern
Dortmund ferociously pressed Bayern at the start of the game and counter-pressed to prevent Bayern from stringing together counters. They created many opportunities from pressing situations especially after knock-downs from goal-kicks while Gotze was a threat at recycling the ball in the half-spaces. They sought to prevent Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso from building up attacks from deep as the midfield duo had the most joy when Dortmund was pinned back in their own half as the two had time to cleverly pick out passes.
Dortmund’s two forwards also pressed Bayern’s centre-backs to prevent them from hitting long balls or playing line-breaking passes into the midfield line as they constantly forced them out wide. Aubameyang also specifically focused on Hummels while Ramos mostly pushed against Boateng so Aubameyang could utilise his pace against Hummels if a counter ensued.
In the video below, Aubameyang is rushing back to press Hummels after being on the sideline with an injury but by the time he reaches his former teammate, Hummels has already utilized the spaces created by Dortmund’s man-orientated pressure to find a pass to Robert Lewandowski.
With Dortmund focusing on pressuring the central areas and playing with such a narrow 5-3-2 shape (especially in midfield), every player’s role is so integral that if just one player was missing, the whole shape would fall apart.
Pressure on Thiago Alcantara
Gotze was tasked with marking Thiago in the first-half before Weigl was given the responsibility in the second-half before the responsibility was passed on to Gonzalo Castro after he came on for Gotze. Gotze marked Thiago with valor, especially in the higher areas as in the video above taken from the ninth minute, Gotze forces a vital turnover a minute before he sets up Aubameyang to score the winning goal.
In the video, we can see Gotze pushing higher to cut out the passing lane from the centre-back to Thiago but as Bayern’s build-up progresses, one should watch how he suddenly rushes to Thiago after seeing Neuer make a pass to a defender that would eventually see Thiago receive the ball. The second clip shows the team’s reaction to Thiago receiving the ball while Gotze is caught in front of him while in the third clip, Castro is jogging back into his defensive position before seeing Thiago receiving possession to suddenly rush to mark his man.
Gotze shadowed Thiago throughout the first-half and prevented some passes from the CBs into the Spaniard. Weigl marked Thiago from much deeper in the second half but pushed against Thiago in Dortmund’s pressing phase as the deep-lying playmaker had to juggle marking his man and shielding the Dortmund defence which allowed Thiago more room to play quick one-twos in the deeper positions. When Dortmund were in their flat defensive 5-3-2/5-4-1 shape, Thiago was afforded more space in the Dortmund half which allowed him to create some openings for his teammates.
Bayern’s switch balls and manipulating the movement of Marcel Schmelzer
In the middle of the first-half, Bayern discovered that Schmelzer’s left flank was less defensively organized than Lukas Pisczeck’s right due to the lack of defensive support from Andre Schurrle and Dortmund’s formation allowing Bayern to isolate him. Phillip Lahm began to draw Schmelzer nearer to the touchline to create spaces for balls into Thomas Muller and Lewandowski who in turn began to isolate Bartra. Bayern also built-up attacks on Dortmund’s right before switching balls to Schmelzer’s left leaving him with ground to cover and a one-on-one to face. Sometimes Lahm and later Douglas Costa held their runs so they could make late runs to Schmelzer’s flank when he was drawn inside by Joshua Kimmich.
In the picture above, Lahm is the free man as Schurrle is rushing to close down Lahm after marking a man in midfield while Bartra is drawn out of position as Schmelzer is forced into a choice of tracking Costa or covering the ball into the channel in what is essentially a 3v2.
Tuchel tried to remedy this by replacing Schurrle with Erik Durm who was heavily involved in two turnovers soon after coming on due to Munich still targeting Schmelzer. However, at the same time Dortmund brought on Durm, Bayern introduced Rafinha. In the picture below, Rafinha and Costa drop deep enticing Durm and Schmelzer to push forward and pressure them before Boateng plays a ball into the space behind them for Lewandowski to run onto.
Alonso and Thiago body feints when receiving possession
When Bayern moved play out wide, they regularly played back into the center where Alonso or Thiago would be in space due to Dortmund’s deep defensive block. The two midfielders would either switch play to the opposite flanks or use subtle body feints to make it look like they would switch the ball prompting the Dortmund defensive block to move a few yards giving the men that they received the ball more space before the midfielders would fire the ball back to the flank where they received the ball from.
This hampered Dortmund’s defensive structure and led to some big chances being created as they regularly fell prey to this ploy from the midfielders.
Alonso who created 4 chances from his deep-lying midfield position regularly used Dortmund’s man-orientated marking scheme against them. In the picture below, he receives a pass and controls it while Weigl is returning to his position after marking Thiago leaving Gotze to shield the defense. Alonso waits for the precise moment Gotze moves out of position to play a pass into Muller who has run into space in between Bartra who is focused on creating a 2v1 with Sokratis on Lewandowski and Schmelzer who is focused on pushing out wide to close down Lahm. Muller receives the ball in between Bartra and Schmelzer giving him enough time to lay the ball off to Ribery who is one of the three players who has pushed in between the central lines before Ribery tries to play in Lewandowski who has moved into the space that Bartra vacates to close down Muller but the ball from Ribery is inaccurate.
Dortmund had chances to close the game in situations that they created out of pressure and Aubameyang’s pace on the counter. They finished with 34% of possession but had more shots on target than Bayern with 4 to Bayern’s 3. Dortmund ended up hanging on due to Bayern missing chances, especially with Lewandowski missing a header at the end but the home side’s defending was valiant. Dortmund will need to cover both fullbacks this time as when they face Bayern, they will be able to add an extra body in midfield to play with more width in an attacking and defensive sense.