‘TheHardTackle Whiteboard’ is a semi-regular column which anatomizes the tactical development/non-development in the game. So if chalkboard, formations, FM series and Herbert Chapman arouse you, then you are looking at the right page. Today we focus on the Champion League final at Wembley. We bring to you a tactical analysis of this game.
The stage is set for what is perhaps the biggest sporting spectacle on earth after the football World Cup and the Olympics – The Champions League final. Wembley is the venue and it will host what is being called as the new El Clasico. However, from a neutral point of view, we don’t really need another El Clasico in football, especially after experiencing the on-field antics that has often overshadowed the occasion. But this is not about Barcelona or Real Madrid, this is about the two German sides who toppled them. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have caught the imagination of fans all around the globe and fans have already prepared their couch, bought their popcorn, and are eagerly (under statement) awaiting Nicola Rizzoli to blow the whistle.
The big news of course was a that of Mario Gotze missing the final with an injury. It was a massive blow to Dortmund’s chances of stopping the Bayern juggernaut. But perhaps this will be a preview of life after Gotze for Dortmund next season. Other than missing his talent on the pitch, Gotze’s absence will also tactically affect Klopp’s game plan for this game.
Gotze’s replacements and their tactical implications
When the squad sheets for both the teams are submitted, one can expect Dortmund and Bayern to field a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but tactically it is unlikely to be as straight forward as that; at least not for Jurgen Klopp, because the 45-year-old German will have some hard calls to make.
Mario Gotze’s absence from the starting line-up will pose a lot of questions, first of which is who shall replace him in the starting line-up? When you look across to the Dortmund squad, three names comes to the forefront – Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Kehl and Kevin Großkreutz. Tactically, a lot will depend upon the choice Klopp makes.
If either of Sahin or Kehl is selected, Gundogan will have to play a more advanced role in midfield. Sahin brings along with himself a lot of creativity from the deep, whereas Kehl brings in more defensive solidarity – so tactically both are very different players. In their penultimate match of the league against Wolfsburg, Klopp opted to play Sahin and Bender in the pivot, with Gundogan playing in a more advanced role –Dortmund scored three goals in that match, but ended up conceding three as well. In the immediate next match, Klopp dropped Sahin and once again deployed Bender and Gundogan in the pivot, with Großkreutz playing at wide left and Reus through the middle- Dortmund scored just one goal and conceded two. It must be noted though, that neither of the two goals came from open play (Salihovic scored a brace from the spot).
So the defensive vulnerability of the side while playing Sahin as the deep-lying play-maker and Gundogan in a more attacking role is eminent. This brings us to Sebastian Kehl – he and Bender are too similar to play together in front of the defence. The 33-year-old has started in 19 matches for Dortmund in the league this season and Klopp has mostly paired him with Sahin (since his arrival) or Gundogan in the midfield. So the veteran in all likelihood will once again start from the bench as Bender will be one of the first names in the starting line-up for this match.
The defensive vulnerability of playing Sahin and Kehl’s similarity with Bender means Klopp’s likeliest choice will be Kevin Großkreutz. Großkreutz in many ways is a very underrated footballer. He has always been the utility man for Dortmund. The 24-year-old has played as left-back, right-back, central midfielder, on the right wing and of course most commonly on the left wing. The German might at times disappoint with his final ball or creativity, but he more than makes up for it with his hard work and versatility – and these traits of Großkreutz will be worth in gold against Bayern Munich.
Dortmund are unlikely to use 4-2-3-1
With Großkreutz in the starting line-up Klopp has the option of playing him as the left winger, with Reus down the middle and Jakub Blaszczykowski down the right. But when one takes a closer look at Klopp’s tactics in the last few games against Bayern, it is almost conclusive that he will field anything but a 4-2-3-1, specially with Gotze missing from the line-up. Klopp has reverted to a 4-3-3 in three of his last four meeting with the Bavarian giants (the only anomaly was in the last league match between these two sides, which was largely inconsequential). In the DFB Pokal match held in February this year, Klopp fielded a three man midfield of Gundogan, Bender and Großkreutz. Whereas during the first meeting in the league between these two clubs this season, Klopp preferred Jakub Blaszczykowski in place of Großkreutz. But due to Gotze’s absence in the final, Blaszczykowski is expected play as a part of the front three on the right, while Großkreutz is deployed in the midfield.
This 4-3-3 deployed by Klopp is more defensive minded than his 4-2-3-1. It must be noted that since the arrival of Martinez in the Bayern midfield this season, Klopp has reverted to a more counter-attacking tactic against Bayern as compared to what he used in previous seasons. While defending, his 4-3-3 almost changes to a 4-5-1 with the wide men dropping deep to help out the full-backs and stifle Bayern’s build-up play in the midfield.
It must be noted that both these teams are extremely good at pressing, although at times Dortmund’s pressing game has lacked the same intensity in the domestic league matches. But it won’t be surprising if Dortmund decide to sit deep this time around as they would expect Bayern to have most of the possession and try and hit them on the counter-attack. Another reason for Klopp instructing his men to sit deep would be to reduce the gap between the midfield and defence, which has appeared far too often this season – something which Toni Kroos exploited brilliantly back in December.
Bayern’s tactical flexibility
Kroos of course will be missing from this game and this in a way makes Jupp Heynckes’ starting line-up very predictable. The only question that he might face is the field Daniel van Buyten or Jerome Boateng. Considering Dortmund’s abundance of pace upfront and van Buyten’s lack of it, Boateng in all likelihood will start once again. Jupp Heynckes won’t be facing too many tactical questions as his team has done excellently against Dortmund this season.
Interestingly, despite both the teams starting out with similar formations on paper, they end up having contrasting formations while attacking and defending. Most of Bayern’s attacks are made through their wings, not only due to the presence of two brilliant wingers, but also due to the fact that both their full-backs are excellent in attack. Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 almost changes to 3-4-3 while attacking. Both the full-backs are deployed higher up the park into the opposition’s half, while Martinez drops deep to almost form a three man defence.
While defending Bayern, form two banks of four, with Muller and Mandzukic pressing up as a front two, the resultant formation almost looks like a 4-4-2. It is a wonderful transformation in tactics and one that has been a big reason behind their success so far. The other thing that has been pointed out is their ability to mark out opponent’s key players.
One of reasons why Mandzukic has been preferred to Gomez at times is his ability to defend and press from the front. During their match against Juventus, Muller and Mandzukic were excellent in closing down Pirlo. The Italian maestro, who is such an integral part of Juventus’ game was rendered ineffective by the duo. There is no doubt that Jupp Heynckes will instruct them to target Gundogan similarly in the midfield. Even Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini placed Duda on Gundogan, and that significantly reduced his influence on the game.
While Toni Kroos has had a wonderful season for Bayern, his absence has increased the directness of Bayern’s attack. Muller, who has taken up the role of playing as the attacking midfielder is of course much more direct and plays higher up the pitch than Kroos. This along with an improvement in Arjen Robben’s form has made Bayern a more potent and direct attacking threat.
Robben’s good form is a cause for worry for Dortmund, especially considering the fact that Marcel Schmelzer is perhaps the weakest link in the defense and a certain Philipp Lahm will also be up in support of the Dutch speedster – perhaps this is why Großkreutz’s inclusion on the left side of the midfield becomes even more crucial. Großkreutz’s brilliant work-rate means Schmelzer will receive defensive cover.
This big final, like most football matches nowadays, will be an intricate battle of exploiting space. Dortmund might sacrifice space in front of the defence to exploit the space in-behind Bayern’s defense, whereas Bayern in their ranks has a player who is perhaps the best exploiter of space in world today – Thomas Müller, the ‘Raumdeuter’. He might prove to be the difference once again.