Bundesliga Supercup Preview: Dortmund vs. Bayern
Many fans do not pay much heed to the Supercup, especially those of a Bayern variety. This is not only because its timing so early in the season means that both teams’ match fitness can still only be little better than at an advanced level of preparation. Also, many supporters see this match as an annoying outgrowth of the over-commercialisiation of football.
However, anyone who has seen the passion displayed by both teams for example in the 3-2 Bayern win last year, will have noticed the discrepancy between the fans’ view and that of the players. For them, the Supercup is not just a proper title fight, but also an opportunity at an early stage of the season to boost their own self-confidence and perhaps knock their opponents’ a little bit.
Especially this season, when things so far have not gone particularly well for FC Bayern for a variety of reasons, and the traditional rumours about a lack of depth in the squad and a possible champion from Dortmund have perhaps been more tenacious than usually, a title win, especially as it would coincide with the first win under Julian Nagelsmann at all, could certainly be an important push for the record champions. The same goes the other way round for the “Black and Yellows”, who have started the season well under Marco Rose.
So the game is anything but meaningless. Dortmund have already been able to sharpen their tools against a thoroughly disappointing Frankfurt side at the weekend. They gave last year’s Champions League qualification place rivals a thorough 5:2 thrashing, playing impressive, fast-paced football, especially in the first half. Much of what Rose and his coaching team have implemented everywhere they have been so far without exception was already evident again: A lot of space creating movements in possession, constant positional changes, a great deal of diagonal ball circulation, and active as well as aggressive counter-pressing.
Rose can draw on a firm foundation at Dortmund to implement this brand of football. The team sports a strong midfield behind an almost uniquely effective offensive line – the question is not whether Dortmund can score goals, but rather whether that alone will be enough to successfully get them through the occasional rough patch during the season. Bayern recently proved that it is possible to become Bundesliga champions even if you concede a lot of goals. However, it is doubtful whether such an approach can be turned into a sustainable long-term strategy, especially at a club like Dortmund.
The fact that Dortmund already started to press more actively and higher under Rose’s predecessor Edin Terzić seemed to do the team good. This is where the coaching team will build upon. The first games looked promising in this respect. Against Frankfurt, Dortmund won a lot of high balls in central positions. For most of the five goals, it was evident how efficient and lightning-quick Dortmund is in transition.
- Active and aggressive (gegen-)pressing always high pressure on the ball
- Strong in offensive transition
- Enormous individual quality in attack
- Strong midfield
- Can play several formations interchangeably
- Erling Haaland is almost impossible to defend
- Quick and precise passing game
- Full-back positions are somewhat underequipped – Guerreiro is also out of action
- Wide areas not well defended in some situations against Frankfurt – the compact setup in the centre may allow opponents opportunities
- Dahoud is a very strong number 6 in the midfield diamond in possession, but needs a lot of support without the ball, which he not always receives.
- The new ideas of the coaching team still need time, which sometimes leads to slight coordination problems
- Predilection for back four, but with a lot of variation: 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 diamond with fluid interchanges within a match
- Without the ball mostly 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2
- Constant movements and positional changes in the spaces in between the lines to draw the opponent out of position
- Always trying to play a diagonal rather than vertical or horizontal pass
- Very compact centre – with and without the ball
- Due to the focus on squeezing the centre, the opposing full-backs are often open without the ball but immediately closed down when they are passed to.
- Attempting to move the ball up top immediately with few contacts after winning the ball
In the Bundesliga opener, Bayern started in a 4-3-3, with Niklas Süle somewhat surprisingly replacing Tanguy Nianzou and with Josip Stanišić at right-back. Just as they did previously in the DFB-Pokal, Dortmund operated with a midfield diamond, but without slavishly clinging to it at all times. This resulted in different variations of a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 at times. If both teams were to stick with their last match’s starting eleven, it would look something like this:
For Dortmund, however, Thorgan Hazard will be unavailable. He could be replaced by newcomer Donyell Malen.
During the first wave of pressing, Dortmund’s aim is to keep the midfield centre compact and steer the opponent out to the wings. The three offensive players do not always close down aggressively, but that is by design as it is deemed most suitable in some situations. Especially against Bayern, as the last duels with Rose’s Gladbach showed, they will try to force Bayern’s build-up to go through the full-backs.
One reason is that Rose has had good experience with this approach, and another might be FC Bayern’s performance last Friday at his former club. Alphonso Davies and Stanišić gave away a few balls out wide too. Davies had 113 touches and 19 ball losses – for Stanišić it was 75 touches and 16 ball losses, each including misplaced passes. Neither of these are exceptionally high figures in isolation, but taking both players together, they are a little too high overall, especially as they increase the risk of conceding goals as was the case with Davies’ ball loss before the opening goal by Gladbach.
This is where Dortmund will launch their pressing. Davies is anything but an model of composure in build-up play. If his link-up players forward and in midfield are well placed, he tends to dribble dangerously into the centre. For his age, Stanišić is astonishingly calm. On the other hand, he has obvious technical problems. His strengths are mainly in defending. Dortmund will certainly put him under pressure and see what he has to offer – should he start again.
A key question will also be how and whether Bayern will manage to push their opponents back right from the start this time. If Dortmund notice that there is little to be gained with a higher press, they will sit deeper and wait for ball wins. From Bayern’s point of view, however, this requires that they have a clean and accurate passing and build-up game. What Dortmund do with opponents when they voluntarily concede the ball was seen on the first matchday against Frankfurt.
Another interesting aspect will be the role of the full-backs. Stanišić often drifted into the centre at Gladbach, while Davies only went into the middle when he had to protect the ball. Otherwise he stayed true to his wing. Stanišić on the right also had the task of closing down the opponent in the second phase of Bayern’s build-up play in order to open up passing routes to Leroy Sané on the right flank or to Thomas Müller. Against Dortmund there is a risk that too many players will impede each other in the centre. Bayern’s game will be much about occupying the half-spaces well and seeking ways to play around the opponent’s compact 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond by going wide. At the beginning of the second half, Bayern did this well against Gladbach several times and created several situations when an advancing Serge Gnabry or Thomas Müller had space in between the lines. A weak Frankfurt side were able to show that Dortmund are vulnerable when attacked through the wide areas at times.
Both Rose and Nagelsmann rely a lot on diagonal switches of the play and vertical through balls in attack. Dortmund played this against Frankfurt several times to excellent effect. Against FC Bayern they will try to evade Bayern’s pressing through a quick combinational play.
Dahoud acts as an important link-up player because he is a frequent target of the wall pass. His combination of orientation and vision is unique in the Dortmund squad. Again and again he manages to run free and thus offer his team the opportunity to advance the ball through him. Higher up the field, he can rely on the offensive players in front of him making themselves available for through balls. A popular way of doing this under Rose is opposing runs. Against Frankfurt, Marco Reus moved several times from the number 10 area into the inside-left channel, while Erling Haaland went the opposite way into Reus’s original position. These constant movements draw the opponent apart not only horizontally, but also vertically.
Tactically, the Supercup should have a lot to offer. Both teams rely on fast, offensive football, both act with a high intensity – with and without the ball. In addition, both Dortmund and Bayern are well trained teams. Only the current state of drill could mean that Dortmund are ahead of Bayern at the moment. Against Gladbach, the record champions showed a good performance between the 20th and 70th minute. At the beginning and at the end, however, it was noticeable that many players had only been back in training for a few days. Dortmund, on the other hand, looked very fit against Frankfurt. Not all automatisms worked, but you could tell that key players like Haaland or Reus did not have the summer’s European Championship in their legs. But that does not have to mean anything. Last season too, Dortmund went to Munich with a supposed fitness advantage, only to lose in the end. But it would not be an exaggeration to declare Dortmund the slight favorites. Whether that advantage will last for the entire Bundesliga campaign is another question. First, both teams have to get off to a good start to the season. An early title can only provide a boost in this endeavour. Especially with two coaches who are not viewed uncritically. Whoever wins, this game will neither silence all doubters nor result in the season being shelved. But a positive outcome for Bayern would noticeably increase the hopes of many fans. And so this Supercup is possibly simply the Supercup of good hope.