In a game with decent attacking intent, Köln were liberal in their use of long passes and crosses. Bayern matched the hosts and then raised the stakes in the second half to emerge winners from the game of long balls.
Similar formation, contrasting mentality
The two teams started with a similar setup. 4-5-1 was the order of the day.
For a dead rubber, the game had a certain edge to it, more so in the second half for Bayern. The already-relegated Köln were playing their last home game and the players wanted to put on a decent final show for their fans. Bayern, on the other hand, were still seething from the midweek Champions League loss to Real Madrid.
Thus started a typical game of champions against minnows. Bayern pressed the home side high up the pitch right from the outset. A 4v4 was common in Köln’s central defensive areas, sometimes including Javi Martínez.
Köln had no such intentions. Coach Stefan Ruthenbeck’s team was content to sit back, stay compact and allow Bayern to build up play.
Game of long balls begins
Ironically, the contrasting mentalities of the two teams led to similar responses. Both resorted to long passes.
Köln were more direct and blatant in the use of this strategy. The Billy Goats sprayed long balls to the wings to escape Bayern’s high press. Not only that, they occasionally caught the visitors’ high defensive line off-guard.
Bayern were more measured and selective in their approach. The patient build-up inevitably led to the ball moving out to the flanks, from where die Roten looked for distant targets. The wide forwards (Franck Evina in the first half, Thomas Müller in the second) served as these targets at the far post to either go for goal or square the ball for teammates in the middle.
In the second half, Jupp Heynckes’ men included cross-field passes in the build-up as well. This stretched Köln’s backline and contributed to Bayern’s second goal, as shown below.
Statistics support these observations.
Every sixth Köln pass was a long ball. Bayern weren’t far behind with 56, although the percentage out of total passes was lower thanks to the number of short passes played in build-up. The Bavarians in turn crossed 33 times, a direct consequence of playing out to the wings and looking for targets in the box. An aerial success rate of 65% and direct involvement in two goals meant that the strategy worked.
In praise of Thiago
Coming on for Evina in the second half, Thiago changed the game for Bayern. He was at the forefront of the long-ball strategy, successfully completing 5 out of 6. Operating in the left half-space, he seemed to raise Rafinha’s game and allowed James Rodriguez to operate in more attacking spaces. This, three days after he excelled in the number six role in Madrid.
The little man is as versatile as they come and he is getting warmed up for the World Cup. Germany, you are warned.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com.