Jupp Heynckes lost his first game since he took charge for the fourth time at Bayern Munich. Against Borussia M´Gladbach for which Heynckes played a long time in his playing career. Gladbach usually is an opponent against which Bayern always struggles to win easily or even get the three points in the end. Under Dieter Hecking Gladbach slowly developed into the big team they were a few years ago.
The game against Bayern showed their biggest strengths, Gladbach defended very well and was capable of creating and using the chances. Bayern looked defensively compact, they built-up the game precisely but in the end, their offensive game in the last third looked a lot like in the first games under Ancelotti. Bayern couldn´t get access to the middle and tried to be successful with a lot of crosses which didn´t work.
Dieter Hecking chose his common 4-4-2 Formation. With Yann Sommer, Gladbach has a goalkeeper who can help building-up because of his technical abilities and he is overall a very good goalkeeper. In front of him, Vestergaard and Ginter started as centre backs, though Ginter moved into midfield after a few minutes due to the injury of Christoph Kramer. After Kramer’s substitution for Jantschke, Elvedi played as a centre back, Ginter in midfield and Jantschke took over the position as right back. Oscar Wendt played on the other side, compared to Jantschke the swede participated more in the offensive game.
In central midfield, new signing Zakaria played alongside Ginter. Patrick Herrmann who was injured for a long period was allowed to start on the right side, while Eden Hazard´s young brother Thorgan started on the left side.
Since Lucien Favre took charge in 2011 Gladbach has almost never played with a real striker. They normally use more versatile players like Reus, Kruse or nowadays Raffael and Stindl who started this game together.
Compared to Dieter Hecking, Jupp Heynckes couldn´t line-up his best starting eleven. Due to a lot of injuries Heynckes had to improvise. Bayern played that game without a real winger, which is uncommon because Bayern´s strong play over the wing with Ribery and Robben characterized Bayern’s offensive game in the last decade.
In this game, Sven Ulreich again started as a replacement for the injured Manuel Neuer. In front of him, Süle and Hummels defended in the centre while Juan Bernat on the left and Joshua Kimmich on the right side were the two fullbacks.
In Heynckes 4-3-3 Javi Martinez took charge of the space in front of the back-four. He got supported by Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Rudy. With Tolisso and James on the wings, Bayern had two players who normally feel more comfortable in the middle that’s why they pushed in the centre consistently especially James Rodriguez who enjoyed a lot of freedom. Robert Lewandowski started as always up-front.
Gladbach high compactness
You could anticipate that Gladbach will focus on the defence first and try to be dangerous through fast counter-attacks. This expectation became reality. Gladbach stayed ultra-compact in their 4-4-2. The distance between the lines was short, the vertical compactness therefore very good.
In the centre, Gladbach´s central midfielders covered the space instead of following the man like other teams in Germany. To get through that shape you have to move the ball fast and try to find space by shifting the play quickly. Bayern rarely was capable of that. They got no access to the centre.
Gladbach focused to close the middle. The two strikers always stayed connected to the midfield line, against Süle, Hummels and Martinez they rarely had a chance to win the ball. The strikers tried to cut passing lines into the middle and close down space for advancing with the ball in midfield. Nevertheless, Süle and Hummels could find players behind Gladbachs first line with precisive passes. Against players like Hummels it is almost impossible to avoid all forward passes, because Hummels is just that good in playing those longer flat passes between the lines of the opponent.
Despite the strikers, the wingers of Gladbach also positioned more towards the center. They started pushing to the wing very late and just when they have to. Gladbachs main objective was to stay connected in the middle and offer Bayern the wing. Due to their recent injury problems Bayern didn´t have the players to use that space.
Gladbach in possession
In possession Gladbach tried to be effective with fast one touch combinations after creating an overload in one halfspace. With Raffael and Stindl Gladbach had to strikers who moved a lot and participate on the combination play constantly. With Hazard Gladbach had an additional playmaker who pushed in the middle while they were in position. With Wendts higher role those movements were balanced perfectly.
Gladbach’s build-up is also elite in German football. They constantly created passing options during the build-up phase. However, Bayern´s 4-1-4-1 pressing worked quite well. Sometimes the central midfielders pushed out of possession and they started pressing Gladbach more aggressively. Formations like the 4-4-2 appeared in Bayern´s pressing phase spontaneously. All in all, Gladbach dealt with the pressing quite well and could free them up sometimes. Talking about Gladbach’s offensive game is hard. They had only a few chances and were super effective with those. As I mentioned the main objective was to use counter attacks or vertical combinations with an overload at one side and a switch of the sides after that.
Bayern’s good build-up and bad offensive game
Bayerns build-up as well as their overall positional play improved a lot under Jupp Heynckes. In this game Bayern rarely had problems to advance into the midfield or in the last third. Süle and Hummels built-up the game perfectly. Javi Martinez supported the build-up behind Raffael and Stindl or he the Spanian moved deeper and short-term used the space Kimmichs higher position creates.
Besides Martinez, Arturo Vidal and Corentin Tolisso also offered a deeper passing option. Not always those movements were necessary but sometimes it helped to continue the flow of the passing combinations.
On the left side Juan Bernat stayed wider and offered a passing option for switching the game to the left side. Because of Gladbachs defensive approach he had a lot of space. However, Bayern rarely could exploit the space. Bernat was isolated in the first half. James who moved a lot, couldn´t quite support Bernat. Because of Gladbach’s compact middle, Bayern got no access to the centre. As a consequence, they crossed a lot into the box which was not really successful.
Here a situation in which James helped Bernat on the wing. But Bayern couldn´t get access to the middle. James received the ball in a relatively wide position, the passing line to Vidal is blocked because Gladbach made the available space as small as possible. With an overloading run Bernat tried to help James, but those runs are easy to defend when the ball carrier stays so wide. Maybe it would be better if Bernat stayed in the half-space, with a switch from the wing to the half-space they could have open some passing lines into the middle. In the end James had to play the ball back to the centre backs.
Compared to the time under Ancelotti at the beginning of the season Bayerns structure was not so bad. With James, Rudy and Lewandowski between the defence and the midfield of Gladbach Bayern had a presence in the most important space. Tolisso and Vidal additionally supported the offensive game. Both positioned one line deeper in the midfield. In the theory the structure of Bayern looked good. However, Bayern couldn´t reach James or Lewandowski. When Bernat received the ball James didn´t always support the Spain left back. Also, Arturo Vidal´s positioning was not precise enough. If he helped during the build-up phase deeper, he couldn´t support Bernat quickly enough.
On the right side you could observe similar problems with Tolisso and Kimmich. Compared to Bernat, Kimmich pushed higher while Tolisso used the open space behind Kimmich. The young French helped during the build-up and started his actions from the right deeper side. Similar to Vidal Tolisso didn´t support Kimmich constantly. Sebastian Rudy positioned in the right half space and hold his position more than James. But on the right side appeared the same problem as on the left side. Bayern couldn´t get access to the middle. Too fast Bayern’s central midfielders and offensive players moved into the box as a result Kimmich or Bernat had to cross as their last option.
The role of the midfielders
What made me wonder when I saw the line-up was the fact that the characteristics of Bayern’s midifelders didn´t fit perfectly to each other as well as to their position. The first thing was because of the long list of injured players. For the second point you could criticise Jupp Heynckes.
What is the problem? If we take a closer look at the role of Rudy and Vidal along with their characteristically abilities, you could understand my point.
Sebastian Rudy is a prototypical passing player. Last year he worked perfectly in Hoffenheim´s system and also in the German national team. Rudy is a player who feels comfortable in front of the back-four. He has a great vision, understands how to position in order to be a passing option for his team-mates without destroying the structure of his team. If you observe him closely in a game, you understand his tasks. Rudy regularly stays between the opponents and doesn´t move in front of a line, because that movement wouldn´t put pressure on the opponent. Also, Rudy doesn´t move a lot, he just adjust his position along with the environment around him. With the ball Rudy shows his understanding of the passing-rhythm and his vision for space in the opponent’s defensive lines.
Against Gladbach Rudy had to play very high, between the defenders and midfielders of Gladbach. The problem is that Rudy is not that good with the opponent in his back. Furthermore, in this position he couldn´t observe the whole pitch. In this position he couldn´t exploit his strengths due to the tight spaces and pressure when he received the ball.
Arturo Vidal on the other hand often played deeper. Like under Ancelotti, in my opinion a deeper role doesn´t fit to Vidal’s abilities. Vidal’s lack of feel for the game and his missing vision for open space prevent him of being effective in deeper spaces. Arturo Vidal is strong in defensive duels as well as when he uses vertical movements in the box the be dangerous for the opponent. Vidal can be a penetrative force for any defence when he plays higher up the pitch. Jupp Heynckes used him in a higher role in the last game against Augsburg when he was really effective.
After trailing with two goals at the halftime. Heynckes reacted. Just before halftime he had to bring on Coman as a replacement for Juan Bernat who got injured. After the break, the young Marco Friedl made his debut, he came on for James who also had problems with injuries. With Coman Bayern had now a real winger who could use the space Gladbach left on the outside. However, the connection problems to the middle didn´t disappear as a consequence Bayern still had to cross the ball in as main offense weapon. Furthermore, Coman and Friedl didn´t work well together because Friedl rarely played with Coman together. Their actions often seemed to be uncoordinated and they couldn´t challenge Gladbach by dribbling with pace on their defensive block.
After 68 minutes Heynckes changed the system. With the substitution of Rudy for Wriedt, Bayern played in a 4-4-2 with two real strikers in the box. This change let to even more crosses which Gladbach could defend easily. Not even the goal from Vidal changed anything of Bayern’s game and was more or less luck.
In the end it was a well-deserved win for Gladbach. The team of head coach Dieter Hecking defended well and was so effective with their few chances. Bayern on the other side didn´t play that bad in terms of defensive compactness and build-up structure, however their offensive game was not creative nor flexible. Like under Ancelotti they couldn´t get access to the middle and tried to be effective with crosses. The next few weeks will be interesting for Heynckes team, who has to replace important players like Thiago. Especially in midfield Heynckes must adjust the roles of his players. For instance, Sebastian Rudy can´t be effective in a high role due to his abilities.
With Paris and Dortmund Bayern will face to big teams in the last weeks of this year. To win against both you have to improve offensively.