Two elements were FC Bayern’s undoing against Eintracht Frankfurt in DFB-Pokal final on Saturday. The opponents’ pressing and a lack of firepower on the wings deservedly sunk the ship.
I have no comment to make about Jupp Heynckes’ lineup. In the circumstances, he picked the best possible starting XI without Manuel Neuer and Kingsley Coman, who were not fit to play 90 minutes of football. Heynckes also went with his standard 4-1-4-1.
This was no coffee-making French Press
The amount of energy the Eagles invested in the pressing game was decisive in this match. They came forward in numbers, with four to six guys covering the central midfield to clog the passing game. Bayern would have needed to a plumber.
Frankfurt’s shape varied with the flow of the Bavarians’ passes. What was consistent was their ability to control the middle of the park. For long spells, the Reds could not even enter the most central area without being challenged. Usually decent in ball distribution, Javi Martínez struggled to make a big contribution.
Forced to back up.
Frankfurt had their way by daring to chase Bayern players until they would reach the “first third”. Then, a defender would turn the play around and relaunch the attack. In the meantime, the Eagles were quick to run back to the midfield and reset their positions.
As soon as someone threatened to “cross the line”, he had a white shirt in his face. The gap between Bayern lines did not prevent the Reds from making passes, but as soon as the target would touch the ball, he would hear footsteps from a defender and have little time to react.
The first goal
Many Bayern “fans” will say that James Rodríguez played a poor game since a bad pass in the first half gifted Frankfurt the opening goal. Their evaluation is rubbish, of course. First, he played damn well overall. Second, the intercepted pass was a forced error.
James is on the right in this screenshot. Eintracht’s pressing puts the central defender Niklas Süle in a difficult position. He passes to James, who immediately has to deal with a challenge. That’s why he coughs up the ball.
The Eagles organised counterattacks from all angles, but they particularly liked attacking the full-backs to run down the wings. That is an understandable choice since Bayern’s weakness on the wings made David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich go up to support the attack’s efforts.
One of the storylines of the season has been a lack of bite on the wings. Without Kingsley Coman, Die Bayern lost their edge in the business end of the campaign. This problem plagued the team once again on Saturday.
Franck Ribéry was inefficient but energetic enough to bring the ball to the left flank and try to make plays. Thomas Müller was however very poor. He had no presence at all.
Two heat maps tell the story. The first one is the whole team’s map. Ribéry and Alaba have possession and penetration on the left than Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller.
Isolate Ribéry and Müller for a brutal result:
The 1:1 equalizer could have turned the game on its head. Frankfurt suddenly felt like pulling back and protect the tied scoreline, putting together a back six and leaving midfielders ahead to try and delay Bayern’s waves of attack.
As the time passed, the Bavarians looked poised to muscle their way in. Below, Franck Ribéry made a smart pass forward to James. However, Robert Lewandowski did not get a clean touch to convert the cross. You guessed it: lack of finishing skills came back to haunt the team when it needed a goal to clinch a double.
This game had Niko Kovac’s fingerprints all over it. He organised his players well to beat Bayern fair and square. The Bavarians could have played better football, but they lost their mentality after a bitter “defeat” to Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Jupp Heynckes could do nothing about it. He took over a team in a sorry state six months ago, made it run away with the Bundesliga title and made it a credible contender for a double. Not so long ago, even a treble was possible. Things could have been much worse.