RB Leipzig followed coach Ralph Hassenhuttl’s plans to the letter in a 3-5-2 formation. On the other hand, Bayern were found wanting tactically as well as in effort.
Wreaking havoc on Bayern’s defensive trio
From the outset, Leipzig’s strategy was clear. The hosts started with three centre-halves accompanied by Konrad Laimer and Bruma as wing-backs. They would sit back, absorb opposition pressure and rely on their potent front three for counter-attacks.
The key aspect here was the front three, which numerically matched Bayern in the latter’s central defensive areas. Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy were under constant pressure. They needed to be on top of their game, especially in one-on-ones. Unfortunately, only Süle emerged from the tough examination with decent grades.
Bayern’s own system and personnel did not help matters. Arturo Vidal, while switching play well at times, also lost possession regularly to concede counter-attacks. James Rodríguez, returning from injury, could not keep up with the intensity of the game. The wingers (more on them later) were not technical enough to peg back Leipzig’s defense.
A combination of all these factors conspired to make things more difficult than they needed to be for Hummels and co. My sympathies lie with Mats here. He regularly finds himself in these situations and usually deals with them imperiously. This defeat highlights the fact that he will require more support from surrounding players on an off-day. Which, by the way, he is allowed once in a while.
Bayern’s supporting cast disappoints
While an off-day from Hummels is acceptable on occasion, the display of Rudy and Juan Bernat is not. The duo came up with performances unworthy even of squad players.
Rudy, in particular, let down his teammates by doing the worst thing possible: disappear. Normally, being invisible is a compliment for defensive midfielders, implying that they are doing the job in the background and not making mistakes.
In stark contrast, the former Hoffenheim midfielder shirked from responsibility in the build-up and exposed his centre-halves to counters. One could argue that he was marked by probably the best player of the match in Naby Keita, or that he lacked the sharpness of a regular starter. However, that cannot account for the lack of application and effort, especially in the second half when a player is more aware of what is required of him.
This calls into question the value of ‘established’ squad players. Rudy and Bernat are unlikely to be starters for Bayern or their national teams. Their role is restricted to rotation and injury purposes. Would they, for the sake of their own development, be better off playing regularly in lesser teams? Can they do the job for Heynckes in a Champions League semi-final if called upon? Would Bayern instead be better off with younger, hungrier players who hope to break into the starting eleven?
Heynckes fails to capitalize on wing superiority
Hassenhuttl’s 3-5-2 system meant that Bayern wingers were afforded space. With overlapping full-backs, it also created numerical superiority against Leipzig wing-backs. Even so, die Roten failed to exploit this tactical advantage. The reason? Lack of required skills.
Take Thomas Müller as an example. The German international did not have a bad game by any means. He made attacking runs, linked up with Joshua Kimmich and attempted to find Sandro Wagner via crosses. Nevertheless, his stats at the end of the match were:
Shots Attempted: 0
Chances created: 1
Crosses (successful): 4 (0)
Take-ons (successful): 1 (1)
In another game in the English Premier League on Saturday, Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah demolished a similar system, scoring four and assisting one. He did so by isolating the wide centre-back, involving him in take-ons and relying on his pace and dribbling to attempt shots.
This is by no means a slight on Müller or an attempt at comparing him with an entirely different type of player. The point here is that Heynckes’ squad lacks a penetrative winger and Leipzig’s system could well be the blueprint to exploit this weakness.
With Kingsley Coman out for the season and evidence of decline in Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, Champions League teams will question Bayern’s incisiveness in one-on-one situations on the wings.
Heynckes’ men are used to deep-lying opposition by now but alarm bells should start ringing if wingers can be man-marked out of the game. This, in turn, will lead to more numbers committed in attack and more vulnerability to offensive moves on the break.
To cut it short, we are short of quality wingers and unless Robbery decide to have a final hoorah, it will probably be the reason we go out of the Champions League. But then, we all know that, don’t we?