This piece has originally been posted by bundesligafanatic.com
Andre Breitenreiter fielded Schalke with 5-4-1 basic shape that will be transformed into something like 3-4-3 on attacking build-up. A defensive-based approach, in a deep block and quick counter whenever the opportunity occurred. Ralf Fährmann was shielded by five-men-back shape, consisted of Sascha Riether and Dennis Aogo on the, respectively, right and left back. Joel Matip, Benedikt Höwedes, and Roman Neustädter played as the central defender trio with Matip on the right half-back and Neustädter on the left. In the middle-line, there were Leroy Sane and Maxmilian Meyer on both flanks but made a lot of inverted movements as they need to attacked or defended more centrally. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the front line as the lone striker.
This season, Pep lined-up with double-pivot shape more often than ever. In this match, particularly in the second-half, he put Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal as the double pivot, occupying the six, which tactically contributed to Javi’s goal. On his back line, Pep played a back four. Philip Lahm and David Alaba on the wing and Mehdi Benatia and Javi Martinez were paired as the central defender duo. Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, and Douglas Costa filled the attacking midfielder strata without fixed position as they swapped a lot. These attacking midfielders supported the unorthodox 9, Robert Lewandowski.
Schalke 5-4-1’ish allowed a lot of overloading
Lining up in 5-4-1 basic shape had eased Schalke to be able to maintain their compact structure despite opting to display a man-oriented approach. The marking assignment was a standard one. The wide midfielder to mark the opposite full back and the full back to mark the opposite wide midfielder. The more central players to go against Bayern’s central players.
Schalke initial defensive scheme. The wide-men to man-mark Bayern’s wide-men. The central defender trio to man-mark any Bayern central presence (mostly the 10 and 9). The wide midfielder kept their positioning narrow, securing the half-space to allow Bayern playing it wide. The twin 6, Goretzka and Hojbjerg, to against Bayern’s double pivot or any central presence (the inverted winger or the dropping-deep 9). Huntelaar, the 9, adapted his orientation depending on who came into his territory,mostly Xabi or any Bayern’s center-half. Huntelaar would try to block the passing lane (put the opponent behind his cover-shadow), man-marked, etc.
In their first wave of pressing, rather than played it high-up the pitch, Schalke opted to establish a middle-block, waiting for Bayern to come close. If then Bayern managed to beat it (as they did over and over), Schalke would fall back and parked the bus in a very deep-block.
Breitenreiter decision to opt 5-4-1 as the basic defensive shape was a good decision as it enabled Schalke to create a compact defensive shape as well as created a lot of valuable overloading, both on wide and central area. The key is the 3-chain. The central back three.
Illustrative graphic of Schalke flexible 5-4-1 and possible adjustment on right shifting.
When an attack came from wide area, Schalke will adapt the shape and shift to create 5v4 numerical advantage on the wide area (with Howedes or Hojbjerg as the spare-man). Let’s make some possibilities adjustment Schalke might be taken.
If Hojbjerg, decides to move to the ball-side half-space, Meyer can still cover the vacant space and keeps the far-side area remains stable. In this situation, Howedes can still stay back. If Matip decides to move out to help Riether or Sane to create numerical superiority, Howedes can cover his post to man mark Thomas Muller. In this situation, Neustadter may move centrally and let Aogo to man mark Lewandowski with Meyer to drop deep to keep an eye on Robben.
By playing with three men behind, Schalke were able to keep their shifting structure remains stable. The similar approach applies when Schalke are about to defend the opposite flank.
The situation from 6th minute was one of the example.
Schalke defended the right flank. When Bayern played the ball to the right half-space, to Xabi, Vidal pushed forward and took the 10 space. Matip moved up becoming a defensive-midfielder alike to deal with Vidal, allowing Goretzka and Hojbjerg to defend centrally. When Xabi played it to Alaba, to the touchline, Vidal dropped slightly deeper, to Schalke middle-third, letting Costa and Alaba to get into the 18 box. This made Vidal to be marked by Goretzka and Riether + Sane tracked back Alaba and Costa. Such development gave a better chance for Matip to cover Sane-Rieteher partnership and, at once, created a 3v2 advantage over Alaba and Costa. The numerical advantage eased Schalke to stop Bayern’s attack, as you can see in the video below.
Schalke 5-4-1 alike man-oriented defended the right flank
That was the first good side of Schalke defensive lay. The second great side of Schalke defense was they were able to defend centrally without leaving the (far-side) flank left open vulnerably. Again, the back three in a five back shape combined with the deep defensive block being the good support of it.
Schalke shifting structure. 7v6 situation, advantage to Schalke, on the right flank. An open chance for Xabi to switch the ball to the far-side flank. But the positioning of Aogo had stopped Xabi from doing so.
In an attack, Howedes was forced to move out to the 6 to press Alaba. As Schalke played with three central defenders, there were still two defenders to cover the central area. The ball was played back as there was no enough space for Bayern to get into the box. Howedes kept tracking the ball movement and he even put a pressure on Xabi. As Schalke right side seemed to be isolated, it was a good chance for Xabi to switch it to the far side, to Robben, as it would put Robben in a qualitative-superiority against Aogo. But Aogo positioned himself properly as he stopped the potential switch-play. This was a simple but valuable defensive action by Aogo. Robben is well-known to be lethal at beating opponent in a one-on-one situation. By positioning properly, a defending player potentially stops Bayern to generate such scheme.
For the alternative scene, had Robben positioned much wider, to the touchline, and Lahm took a more advanced positioning, closer to Meyer, Xabi might have had better situation. He could play it to Robben and put Aogo in a one-on-one situation against the Dutchman.
That’s the second point. The last worth-pointing-out-point was the capability of Schalke back three at playing the intermediate area. In the first-half, we often found Arturo Vidal, David Alaba, Arjen Robben, or Thomas Muller occupied the between-the-line-area, as they were expected to connect the play between the deep development and the advanced players. Schalke responded it quite well. As aforementioned, the good side and the key of Schalke solid defense is the presence of their back three. On some occasions, if necessary, one of the central defender, particularly Benedikt Howedes, moved up to deal with any Bayern’s 10, defending the intermediate-defense. This, in turn, did not only managed to withstand Bayern progression but it also gave Schalke better timing to generate pressing trap. The central trap. A trap that would be better executed should the central defender got the better timing to move up to the intermediate area.
Schalke central trap. Howedes had enough and proper time to press Vidal. When Benatia played it to Vidal, the Chilean was “back-to-the-opponent’s-goal”, easing Howedes to hit from his back.
So were Schalke that perfect, without even leaving any vulnerable area? Not really.
Schalke’s deep block and compact shape had become the key of their resilient defense. Yes. But, on the other side, such deep-block had also shown the downside of Schalke game. An extreme deep block will always open the opportunity for the opponent to gain the pressing access, sothey can be pressuring the opponent to the deep and critial area. As you can see from the graphic below, it was a gegenpressing done by Bayern deep in Schalke early third.
Bayern gegenpressed Schalke in a high block press. For better view, you’re welcome to see the video here
Second-half and Pep’s tactical adjustment
In the first-half, Vidal was playing more vertically compared to Xabi. We can see him occupying the 10 or even the 9 space, as Bayern seemed to force Schalke to sit even deeper. It was also intended to create numerical superiority on that space as it could help them establishing a stable access to Schalke’s 18 box. But, it was not an effective approach, as Vidal gave no huge impact to the build-up. By the way, on one side, it shows us how Bayern missed the creativity of Thiago Alcantara.
After the break, Pep adjusted it. He adapted to Schalke defensive play. Bayern needed to vary their attack and their chances execution. Pep decided to try to take his central defenders into attack. That’s why we see Mehdi Benatia or Javi Martinez moved forward, acted like a libero. They carried the ball forward and tried to get into the attacking third trying to confuse Schalke’s defense. On the other hand, such adjustment impacted to the other area for sure.
As Pep needed his central defenders to move forward, he also needed to make sure that the back line was not left open, allowing huge vulnerable space to exploit. Xabi and particularly Vidal were often found staying behind to allow one of Javi or Benatia to push further forward. In this phase of play, Bayern shape was transformed into two men behind, one player as the 6, three on the second line, two players on wide area, and two players in the central area; something 2-1-3-4/3-3-4 alike.
Bayern structure when Javi pushed forward. If you take notice on Vidal’s gesture, it was him reminding Xabi to also cover the right hand-side of deepest layer of Bayern structural block.
Opting Javi to push forward and took part on chances execution phase was a proper decision. Bayern needed to vary their attack, particularly their execution. And Javi Martinez aerial ability was worth a try. It would be a hard task to “let” Lewandowski alone against Schalke defenders’ aerial ability. By instructing Javi (or Benatia) Pep was running on the right track. Whether Javi could finally score or not, it would be another thing, the important point was whether the tactician had been trying to take the right approach or not.
Bayern won the match but not impressive. But both Breitenreiter and Pep still deserve the credit. It was a resilient and good effort of defensive play by Schalke. The back 5-shape had kept Schalke compact through the match, particularly prior to Bayern’s second goal.
Pep also deserves the applaud as his adjustment, once again, took part of this important win. His tactical adjustment is another proof that football, formation, position, and role have became more more universal. It’s not the era of labeling a formation, position, or role. It is now the era of the “false”. Two or three years ago it might be ridiculous to say there was false 10, false 8, or false 6 within a tactic. But now, in the era of Pep, everything is “false”. A full back is also a 10, a 6 is also a 3 or 4 or even a 9. A winger is also an 8 in extreme level of duty. A central defender, the way Javi and Benatia played, is also an attacking midfielder and forward.
Bayern won it and they are now 8 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga 2015/2016 table. With respect to all clubs, it will be a very hard task to gun Bayern down from the title. So it’s now up to Pep and his boys how they maintain their form, as there are gonna be Bundesliga, Pokal, and Champions League to beat.
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