Carlo Ancelotti seemed clearly peeved during the obligatory press conference before the game against Borussia Dortmund. Hardly surprising: with Coman, Robben and Vidal, several players went down injured at once. The first half of the season is even over for Coman. The international break was a kick in the teeth.
In case you missed it
Carlo Ancelotti goes with a 4-3-3 against Dortmund, as expected. Before the match it was only unclear who would play on the left wing. The Italian coach went for Ribery. With him in the starting eleven, Bayern had won all five matches in the Bundesliga so far.
The rest of the line-up was reasonably familiar.
Alaba, Boateng, Hummels and Lahm make up the defence in front of Neuer. In midfield, Alonso lined up in the control centre as the defensive midfielder. Thiago and Kimmich covered the two half-spaces. Up front, as already mentioned, was Ribery alongside Lewandowski and Müller.
Dortmund, too, had to juggle a little in terms of the line-up. They may not have as many injuries as four weeks ago, but Thomas Tuchel still had a few absences to contend with. Guerreiro, Reus and Rode were unavailable. Equally, Bender and Subotic continued their longer spells on the sidelines. In the end, the Dortmund boss went for a 3-3-4-1 basic formation. Ginter, Sokratis and Bartra as the back-line, with Schmelzer and Piszczek wing-backs. Then there was Julian Weigl as a lone defensive-midfielder screening the defence. In front of him, Schürrle, Götze, Ramos and Aubameyang played in a very variable staggering. Aubameyang was clearly the striker in this, while the rest reacted to each situation very fluidly.
So the omens before the game are clear. BVB and their manager lining up with a very variable system, while Ancelotti sends out his trusty 4-3-3.
BVB begin the game with a lot of pressure. Hummels and Boateng are constantly attacked by Aubameyang and Ramos. Schürrle and Götze, as well as the two wing-backs Schmelzer and Piszczek, push up early too and force Bayern into a lot of long balls. Because most of these go straight back to Dortmund, there are a lot of phases of possession for BVB early on.
FC Bayern try to defend these phases by defending relatively deep in a 4-4-1-1, with Müller covering his national team-mate Weigl. In theory, this was to break up Dortmund’s build-up.
That works until the 10th minute. Then, Bayern commit a series of errors. Götze drifts from central midfield and smartly makes himself free on the right flank. Ribery loses sight of his opposite number, and also Alaba comes out too passively. Götze’s cross is cleared by Boateng, but only back into the centre. There, Alonso loses an aerial duel with Schürrle. He finds Aubameyang, who flicks the ball on to Piszczek. Once again, Alaba is too passive. Piszczek finds Götze again who nutmegs Hummels, with the Bayern man coming out too quickly. Then, Aubameyang scores in the middle, with Boateng already marking two opponents.
Dortmund’s goal showed once again the gaps in Bayern’s marking system, where there was a great deal of negligence on the part of several players. Alonso simply had to win the header against Schürrle. All mistakes after that, however, still could have rectified the situation.
Having taken the lead, Tuchel’s side are clearly more dominant. Bayern are only able to set themselves free when they’re able to get Alaba clear on the wing through combinations. His crosses, however, are all too inaccurate. On top of that, Dortmund were able to counter quickly on their other side, because Ramos and Aubameyang constantly force direct battles against Boateng and Hummels respectively. 10 minutes after Dortmund went ahead, Schürrle had a great chance after a cross from Aubameyang in a similar situation.
Bayern only become more urgent around the 25th-30th minutes. For one, that owes to their increasingly-high pressing, with Ginter, Sokratis and Piszczek constantly closed down and forced into clearances. On top of that, Bayern are able to bring the right side into their attacking game too. Here Müller wins sprints up against Bartra again and again in the first half, with the Spaniard clearly holding back after the break given he had a yellow card and then committed another tactical foul.
However, many of Bayern’s moves ended in crosses. They try sixteen times in just the first forty-five minutes. None of these found their target. Bayern’s performance does become more and more favourable until half-time, while Dortmund don’t quite sort out the structural gap in their midfield. Thiago and Kimmich receive a lot of freedom. The former had 74 touches before the break.
Bayern, though, can’t quite carve out the decisive chance. A lot of what they do create are merely half-chances.
And so Carlo Ancelotti’s men go down the tunnel having been visibly dominant for the last 15-20 minutes, but due to the individual mistakes made in the first fifteen minutes, they were behind, and not undeservedly so.
Both managers decide against changes at half-time. BVB begin the second half similarly to the first: high pressing against the Bayern defence and midfield, and it soon pays off for Dortmund. Kimmich squanders possession and Aubameyang has a chance to head in from a cross.
In the 55th minute, the ball nestles in Dortmund’s net for the first time. Once again, Müller comes out on top on the right hand side. His ball inside finds Ribery, who flicks the ball in. He was, however, clearly offside, as rightly acknowledged by the fourth official.
By his standards, Carlo Ancelotti reacts quickly, bringing Costa on for Kimmich as early as the 57th minute, changing Bayern’s 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1. Müller moves to the centre behind Lewandowski, with Costa taking over Müller’s brief on the right wing.
In the 59th minute, Bayern come closer once again. Alonso sends a shot from distance against the crossbar in the top right-hand corner with his weaker left foot.
In the last half an hour, Bayern go for a five-pronged attack. Alaba, Ribery, Lewandowski, Müller and Costa all stand practically in a line. Thiago and Alonso take on the roles of link-men, with Hummels, Boateng and Lahm behind them, with the latter replaced by Rafinha in the 67th minute.
Just a little later, Neuer keeps FC Bayern in the game. Alonso commits a huge error in the build-up, leaving Aubameyang with the ball at his feet. The striker runs clean through on goal, but makes a mess of it, shooting straight at Neuer. Ancelotti reacts promptly, bringing on Sanches for Alonso in the 73rd minute.
Until the final whistle, however, Bayern aren’t able to string together any decent attacks. Tuchel manages to almost cancel out Costa’s substitution with a few tactical adjustments of his own. Only through deep crosses are Bayern able to generate any kind of opportunity. Three shots in the last minute for them, and none on goal.
And so Borussia Dortmund earn the victory at the end. Due to their clearer chances on goal, the victory can’t be disputed. Carlo Ancelotti’s men showed their limits more than in any other game this season. With this defeat, FC Bayern surrender top spot to Leipzig.
In midweek, Bayern have the Champions League away game in Rostov, before another Saturday evening game against Bayer Leverkusen.
Three things we noticed
1. Too much focus on the flanks
As good as the phase between 25 and 45 minutes was, it equally revealed Bayern’s greatest flaw. Ancelotti’s team focuses too heavily on the wings. Sixteen attempts alone in the first period point to being clearly one-dimensional in a tactical sense. In the second half, due to Dortmund tactically playing more cautiously and doubling up on the flanks, even fewer attempts were successful out wide. Instead, crosses came in much deeper, but these were very easy for Sokratis and Ginter to defend. A total of thirty crosses were sent in by FC Bayern in this crunch clash. Not one found its target. No adjustment was made either during the match or at half-time.
The Dortmund 5-3-2 in defence actually offered gaps again and again right in the centre. They went with a very attack-minded midfield with Schürrle and Götze in there. So far, Bayern have neglected the attacking midfield area, which is a key concept. For his part, Ancelotti has already experimented with inside forwards who roam inside, but is still guilty for the current state of things.
Moreover, Bayern weren’t able to bring striker Robert Lewandowski, nor his sidekick Thomas Müller, into any finishing opportunities. They did indeed share six shots between them, but none of them could be considered chances.
Also contributing to that were the poorly-executed set pieces. The corners seem barely practised and symbolise Bayern’s harmlessness in attack so far this season.
2. Upheaval sooner than thought?
Bayern’s changes pointed to what stands before them earlier than thought. The upheaval is near. Alonso and Lahm can’t help this team anymore. Both try to give the team structure with their presence, but failed miserably.
Right now, that’s most obvious with Alonso. When Bayern conceded, and in another moment in the 70th minute, he showed how he can’t cope with the tempo these days. His black-outs like against Hoffenheim may not cost the team much, but they don’t contribute much to the team’s superiority either.
And so in the build-up it constantly came back to really unnecessary misunderstandings between him and Thiago. Both seem to want to take up the same position. Alonso did indeed play four key passes and deliver a shot against the crossbar, but his game doesn’t seem truly dominant like in his first Bayern season.
With Lahm, it’s a bit trickier. The heavy focus on the wings – see point one – requires a right-back who can bomb forwards as far as the by-line. Right now, Lahm can’t and doesn’t want to be that player. He was rarely active going forwards, and when he was he had little effect. In these circumstances, Rafinha is the more effective player.
And then there are the likes of Ribery and Robben, who can still make the difference in the odd game, but due to their injury-proneness aren’t guarantors of victory anymore. It’s like playing roulette to see whether either of them, and which one, will be fit to play.
It’s clearer than ever in these big games that the end of an era is near. Maybe the club management are also blinded by memories and are unable to see that the team has lived beyond its means. That, however, is precisely the case.
3. Silver lining Thiago?
Very little was worthy of praise tonight. But on Bayern’s side, Thiago was more worthy than anyone. 125 touches, 91% pass completion and 8/9 of his long balls found their target. Thiago is one of the few to profit under Carlo Ancelotti. With very good positional play, Thiago grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck from the 25th minute and always found good solutions in build-up play. From the 75th minute, though, he began to run out of steam and turned to crosses from deep, rather than seeking combinations.
You can basically criticise Thiago, just like before, that he’s not contributing much in front of goal. In a game where Müller and Lewandowski seemed isolated, the midfield have to offer something going forward. Thiago certainly missed one or two opportunities to push up into the box, though he should certainly stay in the line-up in the coming weeks due to his reliable and pressing-resistant performance.
|Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern 1-0 (1-0)|
|Borussia Dortmund||Bürki – Ginter, Sokratis, Bartra – Weigl – Piszczek, Götze (77. Castro), Schürrle (68. Durm), Schmelzer (88. Pulisic) – Aubameyang, Ramos|
|Bench||Weidenfeller, Sahin, Kagawa, Dembele|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Lahm (68. Rafinha), Boateng, Hummels, Alaba – Kimmich (58. Costa), Xabi Alonso (75. Sanches), Thiago – Müller, Lewandowski, Ribéry|
|Bench||Ulreich – Bernat, Badstuber, Green|
|Goals||1-0 Aubameyang (11.)|
|Cards||Yellow: Bartra, Götze, Ramos / Ribéry, Sanches|
|Referee||Tobias Stieler (Hamburg)|
|Attendance||81,360 (sold out)|