Is that all you got, George? This classic line from Muhammad Ali to George Foreman applies well to Bayern’s win against Leipzig. Except that the Bavarians ate no punches.
The biggest realisation from Wednesday’s game is that we probably overestimated RB Leipzig’s ability based on matches against inferior opposition. All they had to show against Bayern Munich on was disorganised street football. 30 minutes were enough to dispatch them to dreamland with a stunning knockout.
Back to 4-2-3-1
Carlo Ancelotti fielded what turned out to be a 4-2-3-1 formation with Thiago as the designated playmaker. Yes, no.10!
The first couple of minutes made me think that the game would be very tough. Leipzig seemed to have the kind of determination needed to defend, press and mark through the midfield, as you can see below. Had they gotten it right and clogged that space, it would have been a tough night in the Bavarian capital.
Thankfully, they were in for a nasty surprise. That 4-2-3-1 featured Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso as “double six” in central midfield. Surprisingly, Vidal was the man hanging back and protecting the defence, giving Alonso the freedom to press (below) and contribute to the attack. Meanwhile, Thiago went forward as a target man for the first pass to the second half of the pitch.
This is what I find most interesting in Bayern’s game on Wednesday. During the Guardiola era, I mused about using Thiago as a playmaker and making Alonso an “attacking central midfielder” more than a defensive midfielder. It always felt like the best use of their abilities. I feel totally vindicated because this specific use of their talents produced impressive results!
Now, how do you get it done? It is rather simple. Have Alonso relaying the ball forward to Thiago, as you can see below. Leipzig wanted to crowd the middle but their marking was poor. With his attacking instincts, Thiago found space everywhere he went, taking that first aggressive pass and creating plays ahead.
Being comfortable in deeper positions, Thiago helped relieve pressure by coming back a bit, taking the ball and finding a new angle to get plays going.
Above, he gets the ball, comes back further and gets ready for a transition. Below, he finds Philipp Lahm on the right flank to bypass Leipzig’s midfield.
Die Bayern also pulled central midfielders back near the central defence to force Leipzig to press. Draw them in so stretch their formation and make a long pass forward.
All the opposition had to offer on the night was street football. RBL’s marking was poor and its organisation… non-existent. Not a good idea against inspired Bavarians who ran all over the pace.
1:0 Thiago. The first goal set the tone for the rest of the match, exposing their street football for everybody to judge and say “hmmm, they’re not that good after all”. Look at the short-range player chasing, without any sense of tactical organisation. Unless you have a system such as Leverkusen’s, you should never have five guys with their eyes set on the ball against three guys.
Six seconds after the above screenshot, all it takes is getting the ball out and you have acres of space to make a play. Douglas Costa sends the it back to Alonso, who hands it to the Lahm-Robben duo to create the chance for the winning goal.
Bayern’s baiting game worked. The back line was able to draw Leipzig’s players, make a first forward pass and immediately get past the midfield to attack. Leipzig had no response.
In addition, the Energy Drinks were not that great under pressure. A relatively tame challenge by Vidal created the second goal. He won the ball for Robert Lewandowski, initiating a play that ended with Alonso’s finish.
Desperate to attack in the 30th minute, Leipzig went too far. A counterattack by Philipp Lahm led to Emil Forsberg earning a red card for a rash challenge. This, and the third goal, sealed the deal.
RB Leipzig are overrated.