The empire strikes back: Bayern beat Dortmund 4-0
In case you missed it
Hansi Flick did not make any changes from mid-week’s Champions League game. Thiago and Coutinho remained on the bench, Joshua Kimmich started in midfield.
Lucien Favre set set up his team in a 4-2-3-1. Achraf Hakimi started at right-back, Julian Weigl got the nod ahead of Thomas Delaney in defensive midfield once more. Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt, and Jadon Sancho constituted the front three behind false nine Mario Götze. He was Dortmund’s second former Bayern player on the pitch besides captain Mats Hummels. Marco Reus, who had come back from an injury, sat on the bench.
The first half
The game started with a lot of small challenges and inconclusive action in midfield. Even though Dortmund had the upper hand in the early stages, Bayern went ahead with their first chance of the game in the 17th minute. After Coman could not successfully conclude a counter attack with a goal, Bayern got stuck around Dortmund’s penalty area. After a bit of ball circulation, Pavard volleyed a cross into the penalty area where seven Dortmund players were caught ball watching and allowed Lewandowski a free header on goal to make it 1-0.
Bayern now took full control of the game and pinned Dortmund back in their own half. Although they did not score the second goal immediately, it seemed to be only a matter of time. Lucien Favre reacted to the pressure and brought on Raphaël Guerreiro for the disappointing Jaden Sancho after 30 minutes. In the following minutes, Gnabry scored an offside goal and Alphonso Davies had another good chance, but the scoreline remained 1-0 for half time. At this point, this seemed like not enough considering their total superiority.
The second half
Both teams came back to the pitch unchanged. After just two minutes, Bayern belatedly reaped the reward for their first-half efforts. Kimmich released Thomas Müller with a terrific long ball into deep. Müller escaped his markers and squared a forceful pass across the penalty area, where the onrushing Lewandowski missed, but the equally onrushing Gnabry did not. 2-0 Bayern in the 47th minute.
Subsequently, Bayern remained the dominant side and continued to collect good chances, most notably by Robert Lewandowski who incredibly missed a sitter in the 59th minute. Favre reacted again and made a double change to bring on Reus and Alcácer for Weigl and Götze at around the 60th minute mark. The formation thus switched to an offensive 4-1-4-1. Bayern now let up the pressure a little bit and allowed Dortmund a little bit of breathing space in the game. Alcácer thus managed to get Dortmund’s first chance of the game after a cross from the right-hand side. Then it came time for Flick’s substitutions. Coutinho, Thiago and Perišić came on for Gnabry, Goretzka and Coman in quick succession.
Bayern decided the game with a double strike. First, Lewandowski won the ball close to Dortmund’s penalty area, laid it off to Thomas Müller, who chipped it back to Lewandowski by return of post. Lewandowski converted the ball for Bayern’s third goal after a brilliant first touch in the 76th minute. Four minutes later, Coutinho played a pass in the path of the advancing Ivan Perišić on the wing, whose cross Hummels deflected into his own goal, making it 4-0. With that, the game was finally decided and slowly petered out, interrupted only by one last chance by Perišić from a volley that went just wide.
The 4-0 scoreline accurately represents the relative strength of both teams. Bayern was the dominant side from at least the 15th minute until the end. After the international break, the next game will be away to Düsseldorf, where Flick will still be in charge as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge confirmed after the match.
Things that caught our eye
1. Penalty area presence and gegenpressing
After Bayern had taken charge of the game, they delivered one cross after another in Dortmund’s penalty area. What is often a sign of an uninspired game and lack of creativity seemed like an integral part of the plan this time, because Bayern made sure to keep a constant presence in Dortmund’s penalty area. The strategy of relying on crosses in attack is not an ineffective one per se, as for example Frankfurt demonstrated just a week ago, but there need to be more target players available to latch onto them than just Robert Lewandowski. This was the case today. Goretzka, Müller, Gnabry – all of them regularly penetrated into the penalty area; and whenever Coman managed to push through on the wings, Davies cleverly made himself available in the center.
To make such a crossing strategy ultimately effective, however, it is equally important that the attacking team launches into a coordinated gegenpressing if the cross is blocked or headed out by the defending team in order not to continually concede counter attacks. Bayern managed to do this in an exemplary fashion from around the time of their first goal onward. No matter what Dortmund tried to do in defense, they almost always lost the ball straight away. Bayern missed this kind of concentrated thoroughness in recent weeks when they conceded goal after goal.
2. Alphonso Davies
Some Bayern fans might have been worried about the prospect of the inexperienced Davies facing up to the English wunderkind Sancho and the incredibly quick Hakimi on his left side before the match. Davies turned these worries on their head. It was not him who had the problems, but Hakimi and Sancho did not manage to contain him and the other Bayern left-hand side live wire Coman. For Coman, it was a return to old form after weeks of disappointing performances. For Davies, the game might have been his breakthrough. 94% completed passes, 3 successful dribbles, 9 in 11 challenges won. When Davies started out as an unlearned left-back in the summer, there was still ample room for improvement in his defensive qualities. He is not the finished article yet, but he has made significant strides. He has now played five games in a row, in most of which he was one of Bayern’s better players with the game against Dortmund being the high water mark so far.
Maybe in years hence this game will not be remembered because of Hansi Flick’s first victory in charge, but because it was the breakthrough of one Alphonso Davies.
3. Future outlook
A very strange week has come to an end for FC Bayern. The match against Frankfurt was such a disaster that the coach got his sack. The next game against Olympiacos was a stabilisation and most people expected that the game against Dortmund would become a tight affair. Instead, Dortmund was taught a lesson in intensity, focus, and determination.
Bayern’s game is difficult to assess. On the one hand, after weeks of sub-par performances, many players were back to their best form. David Alaba, Javi Martínez, Benjamin Pavard, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry all played a very good game. So good, in fact, that Manuel Neuer, whose services had been in high demand in recent weeks, had almost nothing to do all match.
David Alaba, who showed one of his best performances as a center-back in a back four deserves a special mention. As good as Davies is playing right now at left-back, Alaba will probably have to play in the center more often.
Next to Bayern, Dortmund may have the best squad in the league, but their performance in the match was a disappointment across the board. Therefore, Bayern should not get carried away by their achievements in this match. One should not jump to conclusions prematurely, but considering the obvious improvements in pressing in such a short time and the general increase in performance, it seems as if Hansi Flick has managed to put the team back in track for the moment.