Bayern Munich claimed the Champions League trophy for the fifth time in their history on Saturday, beating Dortmund 2-1 in a highly entertaining match that was close until the final whistle.
Very little separated the two teams, who were deadlocked at 0-0 or 1-1 for all but nine minutes. But in the end, Jupp Heynckes' Bayern had just enough in them to overcome Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund. And much of the credit for die Roten's success can be attributed to slight tactical advantages that emerged as the match progressed.
The game started exactly as Klopp would have hoped. Dortmund pressed their opponents high up the pitch and Bastian Schweinsteiger was forced to play almost in a libero role, often dropping as deep as his centre-backs.
With Schweinsteiger playing so deep during the early stages, Dortmund were fully comfortable. Not only content to counterattack, they enjoyed extended spells of possession in the attacking half with Ilkay Gundogan controlling the play.
The head-to-head battle between Gundogan and Javi Martinez was thoroughly entertaining and critical to the flow of play. In the early stages, the BVB man had the upper hand. Later, the Spaniard asserted himself more and the scale tipped in Bayern's favor.
Much is said of Bayern's attacking strength in wide areas, but the source of their defensive quality is in the centre. When Martinez and Schweinsteiger finally settled, their physicality was—as it was against Barcelona and Juventus—too much for their opponents. They were able to step in to win the ball and shield it almost with ease.
When Marco Reus received the ball between the lines, one of the Bayern holding midfielders would chase him as the centre-backs charged. One way or another, die Roten would either win the ball or concede a free kick. No matter the outcome, Reus was unable to run past defenders as he did to so many of BVB's opponents earlier this season.
Dortmund were increasingly reliant on balls played over the top to Reus and Robert Lewandowski, which were very difficult to claim against the tall and imposing Dante and Jerome Boateng. The diminutive Reus especially had no joy contending for headers against defenders several inches and nearly 50 pounds heavier than him.
Once Schweinsteiger was able to move into the midfield and Bayern got their bearings, their attacking play flowed from the flanks as he and Martinez played more cautiously. Franck Ribery struggled to make his mark, and Arjen Robben instead was the danger man for the Bavarians. The Dutchman could have scored multiple times in the first half, but made amends when he set up Mario Mandzukic for a tap-in that opened the scoring.
Ribery, Robben and Thomas Muller constantly changed positions, and it was when the French and Dutch wingers combined that Bayern were maximally effective. Ribery found Robben from the left to assist the opener, and the ex-Marseille man played the final ball before the latter's last-minute winner.
Bayern's fluidity in attack caused all sorts of problems for the Dortmund defenders, who consistently had to adjust to facing different tasks. The winner was scored after Ribery—playing in the centre forward position—fielded a long ball and Robben made a sprint through the centre. The striker, Mandzukic, was nowhere near the play.
Saturday's match was a hotly contested affair that captured the spirit of the Bundesliga as Germany's strongest club teams met on the greatest stage. Either side could have won it, and both had distinct tactical advantages, but in the end it was the Bavarians who emerged victorious. Although weak in the early stages, they adjusted to the play, tweaked their game plan and came out the better side in the second half. Those little changes made the difference, and Heynckes' side deservedly claimed the trophy at full time.