DFL Supercup Preview: Bayern vs. Dortmund
The significance of the domestic Supercup is debatable. While last Thursday’s UEFA Supercup enjoys a great deal of prestige, the DFL Supercup is seen as just another marketing c(o)up by many people. Of course, the winners always enjoy their victory, and the odd exuberant celebration on the pitch in recent years also shows that it the match is not entirely meaningless. But its significance as a benchmark for the season is always exaggerated.
This year the situation is different again. Of course nobody would admit this publicly, but the date is certainly less than convenient for either team. Especially FC Bayern, who had almost no sooner won the Champions League final than their new season kicked off, have already shown early signs of wear.
Against Sevilla, but even more so against Hoffenheim, signs of fatigue became apparent, which will have given Flick ample reason for concern, rightly so. Those in charge at the club, with Hasan Salihamidžić first and foremost, still have time until 5 October to add some urgently needed reinforcements to the squad. But even if they manage to sign another 2 to 3 players, this season will nevertheless be a big challenge for the record champions, especially considering the additional burden of the FIFA Club World Cup and the almost ludicrous number of domestic games – unless coronavirus provides another break.
Dortmund should not yet be too badly affected by such problems. On the contrary: This season is actually a big chance for the perennial title chasers in vain to achieve something that nobody believes possible any more in times of a Bavarian monopoly reigning supreme in German football. However, when Bayern already dropped points for the first time this season last weekend, not a single one of their supposed challengers for the title was able to capitalize on it.
Dortmund was one of the teams who failed. They, too, lack a competitive early season form. As so often in recent years, the team under Favre seems too stiff and uninspired when they have to face aggressive, well-organized teams, despite the huge talent. Against Augsburg they did not get their show on the road, especially in attack. Their game seemed too pedestrian and unstructured as soon as Dortmund reached the final third.
It is games such as the one we are about to witness that suit Lucien Favre’s team best: An opponent who does not just play along, but wants to make the game itself offers Dortmund the opportunity to force turnovers and then launch counter-attacks from a midfield press. The resulting space is perfect for their high speed offensive.
Favre can take cues from Hoffenheim’s strong performance. Sebastian Hoeneß has managed to adjust his team perfectly to FC Bayern’s style of play. Out of a compact 5-3-2, Hoffenheim not only managed to restrict Joshua Kimmich’s room for manoeuvre in the engine room, but also effectively shut down the half spaces.
If building up via Kimmich does not work, Bayern are forced to rely on their full-backs for their build-up play. This works well in most cases because Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies (or Lucas Hernández) are very composed players on the ball who are able to resolve pressure situations in a variety of ways. In addition, there are always enough options in the half spaces to support them.
Most Bundesliga clubs’ press is triggered when the opponent plays the ball out to a full-back during build-up. They then initiate their press immediately to isolate the full-backs on the sidelines when they are still in possession and their wiggle room is severely restricted.
Pavard is very good at beating this kind of press because of his clever positional play and accurate passing ability. Davies, on the other hand, likes to use short dribbles and one-twos to push diagonally into midfield or to advance along the sidelines.
Hoffenheim have defended both players magnificently. Not only the players who had the task of marking Pavard and Davies directly, but also those who pushed forward to provide protection and block the routes into the half spaces and the center. Bayern’s game is usually so fast that opponents find it difficult to defend against it. Hoffenheim, however, often managed to force a delay in Bayern’s game, which gained them the decisive fractions of a second to counteract this speed effectively at the weekend.
They were also quick to meet Bayern’s shifts of the play. Of course, that they played with a back five was a help, but their midfield trio also did a great job expecting the next actions of their opponents and closing them down quickly. After the game Flick said that Hoffenheim had consistently managed to block the spaces his team wanted to play in. With this he hit the nail on the head.
Dortmund may be inclined to take a leaf out of this book. The big question, however, is whether what Hoffenheim achieved really equates a decoding of Bayern’s game. It is a bit like Arjen Robben: Everyone knows what is coming. But they can only defend it if he has a bad day. Maybe it is the same with Bayern as a whole.
Basically, Bayern’s game is designed to be versatile and not easily decodable with just two or three targeted tactical adjustments. Nevertheless, even Flick will have to work on alternatives in order to be able to continue to surprise his opponents despite the predictability of a lot of his team’s patterns of play.
For instance, Bayern could attempt to keep their wing players in wider positions. Shifts of the play in most cases reach one of the advanced full-backs. Why not try to have Davies shift inside diagonally more often on the left and let Leroy Sané or Kingsley Coman provide the width? Both players are strong in one-on-one situations – a feature that was often lacking from Bayern’s game against Hoffenheim.
Both Gnabry and Sané created not enough danger. This may have been for the simple reason that neither player was 100% fit. Nevertheless, Flick will have to recalibrate his tactics if he wants to overcome opponents as well organized and prepared as Hoffenheim in the future. After all, the game was not lost in the final stages but much earlier, when fitness problems could not possibly have entered the equation yet.
For FC Bayern, tonight’s Supercup is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there is the nuisance of having to play what is essentially just one more unnecessary game. On the other hand, there is a chance for immediate rehabilitation after the defeat against Hoffenheim. But the biggest challenge over the next few days will not be found on the field. It will be about finding two to three more players who can help the team – at best immediately. Because Adrian Fein and Mickaël Cuisance obviously do not play a role in Flick’s plans any more or yet, the game tonight will be the least hotly debated issue awaiting Säbener Strasse over the next few days, irrespective of its result.