While a 0 – 0 draw at Signal Iduna Park between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund might not have pleased all fans, Der Klassiker was perfect for those fascinated by the tactical side of the game.
As an important fixture with regards to the title race, a win for Bayern would have re-established their 8-point lead at the top of the table. A win for Dortmund, on the other hand, would have blown the title race wide open, reducing the difference to just two points between the arch rivals. Nevertheless, Saturday’s draw means that the title race is poised on a knife’s edge, leaving either side with no margin for error.
A close inspection of the game reveals how the two managers attempted to thwart one another at Signal Iduna Park.
With injuries to Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez, and with Mehdi Benatia left on the bench, Bayern’s defensive lineup suffered from a height disadvantage as Guardiola opted to field three natural full-backs and a defensive midfielder in his back four — none taller than 5 ft 10 inches.
Philipp Lahm and Joshua Kimmich deserve a special mention as they cut the supply lines to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by silencing Marco Reus in midfield. While Lahm’s presence was reassuring for the team, young Joshua Kimmich proved to be the star in the Bayern defence.
His intelligence and a shrewd sense of positioning left Reus with little room to navigate. This curbed most of Dortmund’s counter-attacking threat, as Kimmich forced Reus to misplace his passes by applying a high press. The Dortmund star was eventually replaced by Adrian Ramos in the 81st minute, with the German international shaking his head in frustration as he left the field.
David Alaba put in a great shift at the centre of the defence as he effectively tracked striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Even though the Gabonese international caused deep discomfort to the Munich defence with his direct runs, Alaba was able to limit his goal-scoring chances in the second half. Though his task for the night was to stop Aubameyang, he also contributed to the attack through his occasional runs forward, making a key pass to Douglas Costa on one occasion, who in turn set Arturo Vidal up with a great chance.
Meanwhile, Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso combined effectively to prevent Henrikh Mkhitaryan from influencing the game. While the duo forced the Armenian international to move towards the centre of the pitch, they struggled against Erik Durm, who recorded a 100% pass record in the final third of the pitch. The German international even completed 3 dribbles successfully and recorded a shot which crashed into the side netting, indicating his growing influence in the team.
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Although Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben were silenced by the Dortmund defence, Guardiola’s decision to deploy Arturo Vidal in an advanced role surprised the home team, as the Chilean international went close to opening the scoring on three occasions.
A particularly venomous strike looked to have found the target, only for Dortmund keeper Roman Burki to deflect it onto the crossbar. The ex-Juventus man’s presence in the box — particularly his aerial ability — made him the main attacker for Bayern, as he won two crucial headers against Hummels and Piszczek, setting up a shot on goal in the process.
Thomas Tuchel also had an ace up his sleeve as he tweaked his usual 4-3-3 formation into a 3-4-3 lineup, using Marcel Schmelzer and Erik Durm as wing backs in order to press the Bayern attackers. It worked wonderfully for the home team as Thomas Muller and Lewandowski were both robbed of the ball on several occasions throughout the first half.
Lukasz Piszczek formed an effective partnership with captain Mats Hummels as he allowed Douglas Costa little room to put in his trademark crosses. Mats Hummels was Dortmund’s best player on the pitch, with his leadership and composure helping his teammates to execute Tuchel’s gameplan to near perfection.
The German international nullified Arjen Robben’s influence in the game, as the Dutchman only managed to have two shots on target. His forward passing was largely unsuccessful as compared to his sideways and backward passes, as shown in the map below. Even Thomas Muller’s attempts to switch play in the second half did not come to fruition, as the Dortmund captain was at hand to thwart his crosses.
Rated as two of the best tacticians in the Bundesliga, Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola cancelled each other out in midfield. In what was poised to be a battle between two strikers who find themselves on an incredible run of form, the match turned out to be a battle for domination in the centre of the pitch.
Eight of Bayern’s 16 shots on goal came from outside the box, which explains how Tuchel decided to crowd the box in order to deny space for Bayern to play their one-touch football.
Bayern, on the other hand, were not perfect in terms of their positioning when Dortmund broke away with speed. As a result, Reus, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and an overlapping Erik Durm were allowed to get inside the box before pulling the trigger.
The main emphasis was laid on maintaining the defensive shape while defending counter-attacks. Whenever Aubameyang or Mkhitaryan drifted out wide, the gap left behind by their marker (Alaba/Kimmich) was immediately filled by Alonso. This regrouping was evident whenever Aubameyang occupied the far side of the box, with a minimum of four defensive bodies to clear out the ball. Even though Bayern were fortunate on a few occasions, it was arguably their best defensive performance of the season.
Though both sides were wasteful in converting the opportunities presented to them, the two managers will be satisfied with the manner in which their tactics were successfully implemented by the team.
How will the draw affect the title race?
While Bayern Munich have faced little resistance in the Bundesliga in the last three seasons, a shock home defeat to Mainz last week has split the title race wide open. It could be argued that a lack of competition in the domestic league in recent years has resulted in a slip in terms of intensity, which in turn has cost Bayern in the Champions League.
Dortmund, however, have been relentless in their title charge this season. By digging deep and grinding out results against strong opponents, they have shown themselves to be worthy of their tag of title contenders this campaign.
Saturday’s draw will push Guardiola’s men out of their comfort zone as they chase a fourth consecutive title win. However, the prospect of Dortmund winning the Bundesliga this term will reignite interest among neutral fans and critics alike. With just 9 matches left and a Champions League trophy to vie for, it will be interesting to see if Bayern Munich can retain their top spot on the league table.
Stats collated from FourFourTwo.com powered by Opta.