Preview: Bayer 04 Leverkusen – FC Bayern München

On Saturday afternoon, another important benchmark is on the agenda for FC Bayern. Bayern have to prove in Leverkusen that they can repeat their performance against Hoffenheim – ideally for 90 minutes. Author: Justin • Translator: Sam

When Peter Bosz was relieved of his duties in Dortmund, he garnered a lot of criticism for his playing philosophy. He was said to be too stubborn, the style with which he wanted to lead BVB to success too attacking. His defence was laughed at by tactic experts for focusing too much on the ball instead of having the whole pitch in sight. They were accused off too much “ball-watching”, in German circles too.

As loud as the initial cheer was, the departure came with a bang just as quickly. Bosz didn’t fit. He let things slide. In Leverkusen, he wants to do everything differently now and prove that he can do better. That he’s learned from his mistakes: defensive stability and fewer turnovers are the goals he has set for himself.

Bosz is somebody who would probably locate himself somewhere in Johan Cruyff’s church. Jordi Cruyff, Johann’s son, once brought him to Tel Aviv. Shortly before Cruyff senior died, Bosz had a comprehensive conversation with him in Tel Aviv about his philosophy and tactical procedures. “We spoke together for a week, but really I just listened, and learned so much that it will last me the next ten years.”

Transition and possession football

That’s also why Bosz is a much more interesting character than many assumed in Germany. His meticulousness, his ideas and his way of thinking football are special. Added to that, so far he has been reproached little on a person-to-person level.

At an Ajax training camp he spoke a little more comprehensively about his philosophy – specifically regarding counter-pressing: he said that his team have five seconds’ time to regain the ball after losing it. He sounded a bit like Jürgen Klopp. But ultimately that specifically is an important component of a dominant possession style.
Guardiola teams go early into counter-pressing too. In Dortmund, though, Bosz had problems implementing high defending. Above all in transition play Borussia lacked speed, compactness and aggression. That meant that the generally high positioning of the attacking players paid off. You could describe the Dutchman’s idea of playing as possession football with a high focus on transitions.

Full attacking power

What sounds bizarre is actually not so far-fetched at all. Leverkusen also had problems recently creating a lot of good chances from long spells of possession. Against defensively strong Gladbach, however, they managed 22 shots, though “only” 1.24 xG (expected goals). With 0.24 xG Karim Bellarabi had the best chance – for comparison: Thiago’s goal against Stuttgart was worth 0.09 xG according to understat.com. From a corner, Havertz also got a chance from a corner that was rated at 0.12 xG. The rest were mostly scraps.

Die Werkself wanted to improve against Wolfsburg, but came similarly ponderously into the game. Lots of possession, few chances. In the second half, partly thanks to a goal from the spot inspired by Havertz, things finally improved. Brand (0.31 xG, 49th minute), Bellarabi (0.14 xG, 59th) and Brandt again (0.51 xG, 87th), who then scored the clinching third to make it 3-0, had really good chances. The side showed by the second game that Bosz has brought with him ideas for the talented attackers first and foremost.

He put Brand and Havertz as box-to-box midfielders in a 4-1-4-1 (or 4-3-3), with Bellarabi and Bailey occupying the flanks in attack and Volland as a nine. Pace, technical ability under pressure and game intelligence – in these positions, Bosz might well find players more suited to his philosophy than in Dortmund.

Fewer turnovers, more penetration, more courage

Bosz, though, is nowhere near satisfied. “In the first half in particular we lost the ball far too much,” said the Dutchman of the game in Wolfsburg. That needed to be improved, he felt. Wolfsburg kept getting the chance to quickly get past the five attackers and then Aránguiz was often overwhelmed as the single balance-giver in midfield.
However, Wolfsburg didn’t make the most of their counters. Leverkusen were often able to win back the ball because VfL switched play too slowly on the one hand and were too imprecise with their passes on the other. FC Bayern can make more of such situations.

It will be interesting to see if Bosz goes with his attacking formation against der Rekordmeister as well. If so, the pass ratio will certainly have to be better in situations where their own midfield is too bare. The coach, then, is demanding more courage from his players. Something that initially sounds as contrary to the goal of safety is simply the demand that everyone gives 110% and isn’t afraid of mistakes. Bosz sees that demand as a part of a process.

With a cheer into disaster again?

But has the coach simply learned nothing from his time in Dortmund? It can’t be formulated quite like that. Against Gladbach and also in Wolfsburg you could already see that Leverkusen dropped back in certain phases into a midfield press. His Dortmund, meanwhile, often ran straight into a trap. His Werkself already seems to be smarter and more patient here.

In both games Bayer 04 operated very calmly and relaxed. That did occasionally lead to long ball possessions with no space gained, but Bosz knows that he can trust in the penetration of his attackers. At some point Brandt, Bailey or also Havertz will have a brain-wave.

It’s also a fact, however, that this philosophy requires time. In Leverkusen he should get that. The Werkself’s demands are high, certainly, but in the recent past they have held onto coaches for a while. As a result, working in Leverkusen could be just the trick for Peter Bosz. Let’s see what he can construct in Cruyff’s church and where Bayer end up at the close of the season. This team is capable of a fair bit.

Bayern like in Hoffenheim?

For Bayern, meanwhile, it’ll come down to repeating the performance from the first matchday since the winter break. Handy counter-pressing, good combinations in the half-spaces and a strong goal yield are the keys to winning away. Above all in build-up play, Leverkusen are still liable to be forced into errors. The reigning champions can certainly use that to their advantage.

Like against Hoffenheim it could help to force long balls or set pressing traps on the flanks. However, midfield and defence should shift across a little better. If Aránguiz, Havertz and Brandt – should they play – get the ball in midfield without pressure, Bayern will struggle. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that.

Kovač, then, will have to tweak his team’s balance. Bayern shouldn’t go about this important away game too offensively or too defensively. In phases of offensive pressing, compactness is just as important as in phases of midfield and defensive pressing. Because one thing is clear: a Bosz team will always have phases of the game with long ball circulation. In those cases, Bayern have to defend more actively and aggressively than they did against Stuttgart.

Prediction battle

You’ll find the rules here. The number for prediction 3 was chosen by Justin this time. Last minute changes are still possible up until matchday.

Last matchday’s result: Justin 4 – 2.6 Fatbardh

Total score so far: Justin 72.4 – 65.8 Fatbardh

Justin’s predictions

  1. Goalscorer: Robert Lewandowski
  2. Free prediction: both teams to score
  3. Over/under 3.5: over!
  4. Line-up: Neuer; Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Alaba; Thiago, Martínez; Goretzka; Müller, Lewandowski, Coman

Fatbardh’s predictions

  1. Goalscorer: Kingsley Coman
  2. Free prediction: both teams to score in the second half
  3. Over/under 3.5: TBA
  4. Line-up: Neuer; Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Alaba; Thiago, Goretzka; Müller; Gnabry, Lewandowski, Coman

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