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Bayern and Leipzig met at the Allianz Arena in a first versus second contest as both sides looked to open up a lead at the top of the table before heading into the winter break. The result of the game would depend on how each team battled the other’s contrasting style of play. Bayern put in a formidable performance to run out comfortable winners as three first half goals gave them the three points. It was a top notch performance from the home side, while the promoted team were totally off colour on the night.
Line Ups: Bayern Munich (4-3-3): Neuer; Alaba, Martinez, Hummels, Lahm; Alonso, Thiago, Vidal; Robben, Lewandowski, Costa.
RB Leipzig (4-2-2-2): Gulasci; Halstenberg, Orban, Bernardo, Ilsanker; Forsberg, Sabitzer; Keita, Demme; Werner, Poulsen.
Poor defensive access from RB Leipzig:
Bayern Munich were able to dominate the game right from the beginning as Leipzig were not able to have a compact enough structure. Bayern dominated possession and were able to create a number of openings with their swift tempo in passing. Leipzig were in their customary 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 when they were out of possession as they looked to cramp out the center. The two forwards from Leipzig took turns to cover Alonso when the Bayern defenders had the ball. The ball near forward would move to the ball carrier while the other forward marked Alonso. By doing so Leipzig tried to cut out Bayern’s major outlet out of defence. However Leipzig’s intensity in pressing and their inability to have access to zones ensured that Bayern built up with ease. This also led to situations where they could not cut out the passes to the other center back as one of the forward was covering Alonso.
Poulsen is seen covering Alonso while Werner presses the ball carrier. However, poor access to the other side is seen as no Leipzig player is close to Hummels or Vidal, who has dropped into the half space.
Bayern immediately adapted to Leipzig’s initial coverage and easily progressed. Alonso often dropped into the back line between Hummels and Martinez to form a temporary back three. Leipzig did not press the first line of build up from Bayern and looked to close the space down in the center and cut down the passing options. The way Bayern set up helped them to easily access their teammates. Vidal and Alonso almost played like a double pivot with Thiago having a free role ahead of them. Vidal also dropped deep to offer extra passing options. With Leipzig not offering much pressure up front it meant that Bayern could easily pick their passes out as their players were all dynamic in their movements to free up spaces. Thiago and Douglas Costa in particular excelled in this. With overloads in the initial phases of build up, Bayern could create spaces by movements by their midfield players that benefitted Thiago who would immediately occupy the free space.
Alaba’s presence on the left flank gives Costa the license to engage Naby Keita in the half space. The right back Bernardo cannot follow Costa as Alaba can make the overlapping run. Once Costa slots in and Keita follows him the axial distance between the two midfielders is widened and Thiago could receive the penetrating pass from Hummels.
Another way Bayern bypassed Leipzig’s disjointed pressing was through long balls from Hummels or Alonso. Since there was very limited pressure on Bayern’s first line, Hummels in particular had a lot of time to pick out long passes to flanks.
Bayern’s overloading of flanks:
Bayern favoured the left flank during build up. The way Bayern overloaded one flank in order to underload the other side was very reminiscent of the way they played under Pep Guardiola. With Thiago, Costa and Alaba linking up on the left side Bayern oft created overloads to drag the compact Leipzig block and free up space for Robben and Lahm on the other side. Bayern’s dominant wing play ensured that they could progress freely but also avoid the congested center. Courtesy of their quick switches of play, Bayern stretched Leipzig a lot. The poor coverage of zones by Leipzig made this even more difficult as they did not have their usual intensity and organization to stay connected within their defensive block.
By orienting their play towards the left side, Bayern generated a free man in the first line of defense to pick out passes devoid of pressure. With Vidal dropping in too on the left half space, Bayern sought to drag maximum Leipzig players to the flank. Once the play was concentrated enough, Bayern used very swift pass combinations to enable switch of play to the other flank. Constant availability of players in all the zones ensured that Bayern could change the direction of play at any time.
We notice here that Leipzig players are dragged to the left flank with Alaba, Costa, Thiago and Vidal all engaging play in that side. However poor connectivity from the Leipzig players mean that the passing lane to the free Alonso is not cut and a switch of play is made. This is the scenario which led to the first goal as a cross from the overlapping Lahm on the right flank was turned in eventually by a late run from Thiago.
Even when Bayern were faced with lesser number of players inside a Leipzig defensive block, the qualitative superiority and the tactical intelligence of the players shone through to make sure that they dominated play. Thiago’s excellence was instrumental in their build up play as he was constantly found in between the lines receiving passes. His technical proficiency ensured that he was able to beat any marker who immediately pressed him. Xabi Alonso’s long passes are unique in the aspect that they are hit very low to the ground and drilled rather than floated. This does not give the opposition defense enough time to adjust and cover the zones quickly enough. The switches of play initiated by him aided by Lewnadowski’s drifting movements towards the flanks contributed to Bayern’s dominance.
The red card makes the match a no-contest:
Emil Forsberg has been one of the standout performers not only for Leipzig but in the whole of Bundesliga this season. His reckless challenge on Philipp Lahm around 30 minutes however ensured that Leipzig would play the game for over an hour with 10 men. Having already been 2-0 down by that time, it was almost an impossible challenge for Leipzig to mount any sort of a comeback as they were getting thoroughly schooled by Bayern even with eleven men. With Leipzig shifting to a 4-4-1 it ensured easier progression and build up from the back for Bayern as there was absolutely no access whatsoever for Leipzig up front. Ball progression was made easier and better options could be found from the back to move up front. Another major advantage that Bayern enjoyed after the red card was the tempo at which the game was played. They could settle the game to a pace where they could overload zones at their will and progress towards the box.
The increased coverage of space that was necessary now meant that the Leipzig midfielders lost more access to their Bayern counterparts. Thiago enjoyed even more freedom with the Leipzig back line unable to stay compact with their midfield line. However when they did try to close the gap down, they played a very high line that did not go unnoticed as Hummels’ long ball caught them out with Douglas Costa winning a penalty before half time.
There is no pressure on Hummels as Leipzig could not close down the heavy overload in the first line of Bayern’s buildup. Lewnadowski and Thiago immediately occupy the huge space in between the lines.
Hummels’ simple long ball beats the high line from the RBL back four as they are caught in two minds as to whether they need to close down the space in between the lines. The penalty won by Costa eventually was converted by Lewandowski as Bayern went 3-0 up.
Bayern kept opening Leipzig up in the second half and could have won by more if they had taken the chances that they created.
All the pre-match hype turned out to be very anticlimactic as Bayern brushed away Leipzig with disdain. This was by far Bayern’s best performance in the Bundesliga this season as they were almost flawless with the ball and their passing. Leipzig’s inexperience on the pitch showed as they could not live up to the huge expectation surrounding the match. Leipzig are still just three points off the top and sit in second place right now heading into the winter break. Bayern meanwhile have finally claimed the top spot and have put in a performance that can very well act as their platform on which they can go on to win their fifth consecutive Bundesliga title.