The week after the acquisition of Serdar Tasci, the injury of Tasci and two emotional press conferences by Matthias Sammer and Pep Guardiola, Bayern had to travel to the BayArena – a stadium where they only managed to win once in the Bundesliga since 2009.
Because the only remaining challenger, Borussia Dortmund, only secured one point in their afternoon game against Hertha, Bayern could play with less pressure. But it turned out to be a game of high intensity – a 0-0 of high class.
Three things we noticed:
1. Leverkusen as prime example – up to the 60th minute
This season’s Leverkusen does remind a bit of the Dortmund squad from 2010-2013, at least with their pressing. They almost seem thankful when playing against teams that like to take over control. Leverkusen has the player material and tactical structure to destroy a constructive build-up early on and in many ways. At the offensive side, they are certainly more limited than the Klopp team from 2010 to 2013.
It is not only the known intensive pressing that makes Leverkusen strong. Up until minute 60, they managed to complicate the passing paths on Bayern’s wings. As a consequence Robben, Coman and Costa always had to get the ball with the back to the goal and under high pressure. That’s how one takes away their greatest strength. When Bayern tried to get to the wings with short passes, Leverkusen’s midfield shifted extremely to that wing and made space narrow. Bayern had to fall back to high and long balls which where difficult to manage. Bellarabi in particular went back numerous times to chase Coman. In the first half, Neuer had more ball actions (36) than all of Bayern’s offense players. And they managed to play only one successful pass into the box. What contributed to a weak first half was that Alaba had one of his weaker and more withheld games and the weak performance by referee Knut Kircher who let things slide way too often.
As a consequence, only Coman managed to create chances with one-on-ones and his speed up until the 60 minute. For the last 30 minutes however, Leverkusen’s pressure went down. That might have been because of the high intensity of the first hour but Bayern’s changes (Müller and Thiago in, Vidal and Robben out) surely helped a lot. Thiago played higher up in the playmaking space to act as another passing option. Costa could switch to the wing where he played significantly better than in a central position. On top of that came Müller as the typical trouble maker. After Müller’s substitution, Bayern increased their successful passes into the box from 2 to 10 and the shots from 1 to 6. Clear signs for an improved offense performance. In the end, it was the first real test in the second half of the season and maybe not the last face-off with Leverkusen (DFB-Pokal). Bayern should gain confidence from the last 30 minutes when they were able to penetrate Leverkusen’s structure numerous times.
2. Vidal test failed
Maybe it was a reaction to the latest criticism of Vidal to put him in the starting formation. Alcohol, overweight – he was right in the centre of attention in the last few days. Even more so since he has yet to prove that he improves Bayern’s squad. But of course this wasn’t the only reason, since Guardiola had extreme respect – and was right to have it – of Leverkusen’s physical and intense play. Kampl in particular was mentioned by Guardiola in the press conference on Friday. Vidal should help to fight Leverkusen’s pressing, be involved physically and strengthen the own counter-pressing. With his runs he should tie Kampl and Kramer to the defense – another test for the Juventus game in two weeks.
The idea was right – the implementation was not. Vidal seemed to be insecure. He had the third-fewest ball actions (21) and a weak passing accuracy (72%). In addition, he only had one successful defensive action. Alonso was clearly superior, registering 23 successful defensive actions. Leverkusen merciless approach revealed Vidal’s greatest weakness – swiftness of action and decision-making under pressure. Vidal lost many possessions because he wanted to do the wrong thing or because of a bad first touch.
It wasn’t his game. Maybe that’s understandable after the latest news. We’ll see when he gets another chance from the beginning in an important game.
3. Badstuber with an exclamation mark
His start to the year was shaky. Badstuber’s lack of match practice was very apparent in the games against Hoffenheim and Hamburg. But it was more than that. He was moving awkwardly and had problems with spins and changes of direction. The match against Leverkusen was a clear step forward. He might have benefitted from playing against the not really technical Kießling while Kimmich (with the highest mileage) and Lahm covered Chicharito. He only had seven direct tackles but managed 7 successful clearances. A clear sign of his improved timing.
Kimmich can’t be praised enough for his maturity in a different position but Badstuber was the boss. He directed the 4 defenders against the ball. He postitioned himself cleverly and had, with one exception, no mistakes in the build-uup (82% of passes completed). At the beginning of the year, Badstuber was planned as a rotation player to slowly get him back in shape. Because of the injuries he will be starter for the foreseeable future. The doubts about that status have become smaller after tonight’s game.
|Bayer Leverkusen – FC Bayern 0:0|
|Leverkusen||Leno – Jedvaj (52. Hilbert), Tah, Toprak, Wendell – Kramer, Kampl – Bellarabi (87. Mehmedi), Calhanoglu – Chicharito, Kießling (74. Brandt)|
|Subs||Kresic, Papadopoulos, Ramalho, Frey|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Lahm, Kimmich, Badstuber, Alaba – Xabi Alonso, Vidal (52. Thiago) – Coman (87. Rode), Douglas Costa, Robben (60. Müller) – Lewandowski|
|Subs||Starke, Bernat, Rafinha|
|Cards||Sent off: Alonso|