In another clash at the top of the Bundesliga, Borussia Monchengladbach got the better of Bayern Munich by producing a supreme counter-attacking display, beating them 3-1.
Monchengladbach lined up in their usual 4-4-2, with two deep banks of four. Mike Hanke played the target man role to Marco Reus's wing creative role. The Monchengladbach full-backs stayed rather static throughout the game, and stayed in a clear bank of four.
The midfield four were also relatively static. Thomas Neustädter and Havard Nordtveit played defensive roles, Nordtveit being the more adventurous of the two. The wingers, Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann, did less defensive work than their central midfield counterparts.
However, Herrmann's contribution in that area was considerably significant as he won many tackles. He also had a license to go forward and exploit the gap made by Phillip Lahm, who was attacking the Monchengladbach defense.
Arango was lazier defensively, but was Monchengladbach's main creative force, providing the pass for Marco Reus to create Monchengladbach's second goal. The strikers, as aforementioned, were playing alongside each other, and also playing passes in for each other with Hermann running out from the wing.
Munich lined up in a 4-2-3-1, pressed high up and controlled most of possession. Anatoli Timoshchuk and Bastian Schweinsteiger lined up in a two behind Toni Kroos, cutting in and channeling the possession play to Lahm, who provided width to counteract Kroos's runs inside.
The Bayern defence played as a back four with full-backs pushing high up the pitch, to provide width for attacking midfielders cutting inside. Both Jérôme Boateng and Lahm went forward to great effect. Their crosses and runs created a lot of Bayern's half-chances. Defenders Daniel van Buyten and Holger Badstuber covered behind the rest of the side.
The striker and support striker were woefully inadequate for most of the game. Mario Gomez made some smart runs and headers, and Thomas Müller got more involved in the second half, but both were generally restricted very well by the deep defending of Monchengladbach.
Bayern were very persuasive with their possession play, channelling it through Schweinsteiger (using the ball energetically and trying to be very direct, something which did not suit the more subdued kind of game Bayern were playing, at least today). Tymoschuk (in distribution, was very slow and played very laboured long passes), as well as Muller (who could barely get in the game). All of this combined to form a Bayern who were dominating possession but creating little in the final third.
And of course, Lucien Favre's textbook gameplan suited this perfectly, with two deep banks of four, and a central midfield pairing which had a primarily defensive duty. Arango was more peripheral in the first half as Hermann's flank saw more action.
It was Lahm's forward runs which were taken advantage of in the first half by Monchengladbach, observable in the second goal, where a through ball out to an empty flank left Hermann in enough space to score. More chances along the same lines were to follow.
Bayern action was limited to long shots from the center. Kroos was probably their best player, classy in possession and channeling all their good play from a tucked-in position on the flank. They also tried to be more direct, trying to get to Gomez with forward crosses by Arjen Robben and Lahm.
Bayern bucked up; David Alaba was brought on for Tymoshchuk, and played on the wing in a more direct, crossing role. This directness helped reduce the need for Lahm on that side, and also allowed Kroos to go inside, and help with possession play.
Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes correctly surmised that since Bayern had so much possession and their opposition were going to play so deep, he did not require a holding midfielder, and could put Kroos in the centre to give him more control over the game.
Furthermore, Muller was more involved in play as he became more central. This made some difference to Bayern's approach, trying more balls over the top, all of which needed some smart last-minute defending from Monchengladbach players. This direct approach, while being less focused on Lahm's flank, switched to Boateng, and then to Rafinha, both of whom spent long periods high up the flank.
Borussia's defensive performance was not so much about luck as it was about tactics and Marc-André ter Stegen's prowess. Gomez was caught offside four or more times, and ter Stegen saved six out of seven shots on target, also collecting and clearing several balls. Ter Stegen also made the most passes of anyone in his side, indicating how counter-attacking their approach really was.
This was very well exploited by Monchengladbach for the second goal. Reus and Hanke were involved again when Arango won the ball from deep and delivered the it up the flank, beating Rafinha and leaving Reus in acres of space to switch the ball to the other flank, as an onrushing Hermann put the ball into the net.
1) Monchengladbach defended and countered well. Favre's setup was perfect in every way, and it was clear that the style fit the players like a glove, giving the requisite defensive responsibility and attacking freedom to reflect the talents and tendencies of their side. Reus was especially important in this game, manifesting their approach of attacking through the flanks by drifting into wide positions where opposition full-backs should have been.
2) Bayern's possession game, in contrast, felt unsuited to the talents and characteristics of their players. Although effective in terms of chances created, it is wise to note that they only created half chances and could not really find a way past the two banks of four. Their aerially focused passing did not suit them, and it was only when Kroos came centrally that their balls over the top began finding people.
3) Monchengladbach have surprised many with their adventurousness this season. They have a very considered tactical approach that is carefully thought out and crafted to suit their players. It is really no surprise, to be fair, in this game, with Favre taking advantage of a flaw in the Bayern defensive line.
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