Tactical Battles That Will Shape Hamburg's Clash with Bayern Munich

Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2014

Bayern's Toni Kroos, left, and Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart challenge for the ball   during  the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV  in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

Bayern Munich's Pep Guardiola was in a characteristically calculating mood on Tuesday afternoon when asked about tomorrow's DFB Pokal Cup showdown with fellow Bundesliga side Hamburg SV. 

"We can’t win any titles tomorrow, but we can lose one,” the coach said at a press conference

Yet in truth the buildup to such a game has been much more forgiving to the Munich giants, with much of the press coverage focusing on just how poorly Hamburg (second from the bottom) have been playing lately, with six straight defeats in the league, to praise of Bayern's league-leading season. 

These two clubs may be some of the biggest in Germany, but when it comes to current trends, form and the overall success of either side, you don't tend to get much more David vs. Goliath than this. 

But how could Bayern win this game?

The key to Bayern's strength is of course in the manner in which they squeeze each side in the midfield to the point of submission. That is also unfortunately one of Hamburg's greatest weaknesses. 

The away side are likely to set up in a predictable middle three of Philipp Lahm, Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze, while Hamburg go with their own trio of Milan Badelj, Tolgay Arslan and Rafael van der Vaart. 

As we can see from the graphic, which shows all six central midfielders as they are likely to line up in tomorrow night's game, this is just destined to lead to complete and utter domination for the Bavarian side. 


First of all, we have the unbalanced duo of Lahm against Van der Vaart. Now the very nature of Lahm's fledgling career as a defensive midfielder would usually work against him when faced with an opponent like the Dutch attacking midfielder, yet that couldn't be further from the case. 

Lahm is an incredibly intelligent player who often uses simple manipulation of players' positions to cancel out an opponent's attacking plays, whilst ensuring that his side always retain the ball.

Van der Vaart, on the other hand, is far from the all-encompassing No. 10 that we used to know at Real Madrid all those years ago. Not only will we see little of Hamburg's star player under the shadow of the Bayern captain, but we're also likely to see Lahm with plenty of time and space on the ball as his opposite number does little to close him down. 

This has a detrimental effect on Hamburg's other central midfielders—Badelj and Arslan—who will be tasked with keeping tabs on Thiago and Gotze. Yet that too seems very unlikely. 

Due to the nature of Guardiola's tactics, we often find Thiago playing just in front of Lahm in the central midfield role, moving from side to side and generally encouraging the pendulum-like style of Bayern's endless attacks. As such, the young Spaniard is likely to pull either one of Hamburg's holding midfielders out of position as he drifts wide, leaving plenty of space with the further forward Gotze. 

We also have to consider the concept of Arslan and Badelj as holding midfielders in the first place. Both are more attack-minded players and although they may be tasked with breaking up Bayern's attacks through the centre of midfield, neither is particularly good at defending on marking runs. 

The ex-Dortmund attacking midfielder is technically a central midfielder, but he is more comfortable behind the striker and tends to drift forward, where he forms a ruthless partnership with striker Mario Mandzukic. It's this space, between Hamburg's holding midfielders and the back line, that Guardiola will be urging Gotze to attack and the most likely avenue for the visitors to score from. 


This leads us to the attack, where we have the front four of the aforementioned striker, Mandzukic, alongside the two wingers that are likely to be Arjen Robben and possibly Xherdan Shaqiri due to Franck Ribery's recent injury. Gotze in the No. 10 role makes it four. 

Thomas Muller may be preferred on the day, but Guardiola has tended to stick with Shaqiri in Ribery's absence due to his similar style of play. Muller is direct and tends to run wide, while the young Swiss winger enjoys cutting inside and interacting with the central players. 

As such we're likely to see Hamburg's defence, which has conceded more than any other side in the Bundesliga this season, truly put to the sword in a number of different ways. 

In Hamburg's last game against Eintracht Frankfurt, we saw striker Adrian Ramos literally run through the defence on a number of occasions simply by running at the back line and exposing the space behind. Bayern don't have a pacey striker in Mandzukic, but their two wingers should offer a similar degree of speed.

On Bayern's right we'll likely have Robben's pace test Hamburg left-back Marcel Jansen as well as his covering centre-back Heiko Westermann in the way the Dutch winger only knows how: running down the line before cutting inside and testing shots for goal. Similarly, Shaqiri is likely to come up against full-back Zhi Gin Lam with the sole intention of keeping him on his toes for the duration of the game. 

The final part of Guardiola's plan will undoubtedly be the manner of exploiting Mandzukic's clear dominance in the air against two centre-backs in Westermann and Johan Djourou who truly struggle to deal with crosses. If Bayern can't overcome Hamburg with sheer pace on the ground, high balls to their big target man may work just as well.