Bayern struggled at first to undo Borussia Mönchengladbach’s tactical antidote. However, die Roten quickly identified the problem and strangled the Foals until the problem was no more.
The game is not one of those tactical wonders that could see me writing thousands of words. Much like many other Bundesliga games, it was a tale of Bayern asphyxiating the opposition, however brave they were at first. It remains interesting to identify and explain what Borussia Mönchengladbach were trying to do.
A cue from Montella
Indeed, Dieter Hecking tried to have his team replicate what Sevilla did in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. In that game, Vincenzo Montella assembled a 4-4-2. His intention was to cut off supply in the centre of the park. Montella wanted to force Bayern to play almost exclusively on the wings.
The principle remains the same as it did back in Andalucía. Gladbach have men like Josip Drmić who can help the team spring forward for counterattacks. Tough nuts like Christoph Kramer and Denis Zakaria crack down on midfield creativity. Gladbach kept two men forward, Raffael and Drmić himself, to press on the build-up initiated by Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle.
Bayern’s own solution was different than the one employed in Sevilla. Sebastian Rudy, deputising for Javi Martínez, sat directly in front of the centre-backs.
Rudy served as the liaison between the centre-backs and the midfield tandem of Corentin Tolisso and Thiago Alcântara. Both of them are mixed midfielders that can cross the opposition’s lines. In and of itself, this provided Bayern with a different set of options to undo a 4-4-2.
First, because Gladbach are no Sevilla. The Foals are undoubtedly less armed to keep this scheme going across 90 minutes than the Rojiblancos. Secondly, and perhaps resultingly, because Bayern felt more comfortable pressing with numbers upfield. Both full-backs and the entire midfield barrage stood in Gladbach’s half throughout the entire game.
It was this offensive mindset that allowed Gladbach to draw first blood. Mats Hummels was forced to run towards the wide line to block a passing line opened by David Alaba’s upfield excursions. Drmić’s Robben-esque shenanigans rendered Hummels’ conservative defending useless. However, Bayern never faltered in their intention of slowly cranking up the pressure on Gladbach as a whole. The result, as we know, was a very one-sided game with a very one-sided scoreline.
No need to overcomplicate
As I said, there are some games that warrant a massive analysis of tactics. Teams employ nuanced and complex systems with myriad complications like passing lanes, off-the-ball movements and dynamic positioning. Games like Atlético Madrid’s visit to the Allianz Arena last year, the reverse fixture at the Vicente Calderón or the whopping of Hamburg a couple of weeks back are such games.
This was not. This was a team doing their best to keep Bayern at bay, succeeding at first but then succumbing irremediably.
I like that.