Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 FC Bayern : Pep’s Positional Play Against Schmidt’s Compact Side

Bayern build up against Leverkusen pressing-shape

FC Bayern

Bayern started with an assymetrical basic shape. Joshua Kimmich and Holger Badstuber, the central defenders, were flanked by the dynamic Philip Lahm and David Alaba, respectively on the right and left. Lahm was different to Alaba. In most of Bayern’s very first-phase of build-up, Alaba was slightly deeper and stayed in the first-line. Along with the progression, if needed, Alaba went forward supporting the circulation from the half-space.

Lahm often took slightly-narrow higher position as he occupied the 6 in the second line, particularly on the right half-space, accompanied Xabi Alonso forming the double-pivot.

In turn, this Lahm hybrid-role gave some specific advantage for Bayern progression. For example, when they circulated the ball with proper shape and speed from the right to the left and back to the right again, Lahm centrally movement dragged Hakan Calhanoglu out of the left half-space as the Turkish followed him which created a relatively vulnerable space on Leverkusen left side. This provided enough time for Robben to receive a pass. And when Robben dropped even deeper (to Bayern’s middle-third) to pick the ball, for example, Douglas Costa, moved wide diagonally and filled the post that vacated by Robben, at 7. This movement forced one of the central defender (Omer Toprak) to move out to deal with Costa because Robben had previously managed to pull Wendell out from the left back post.

Vulnerable space on the left side of Leverkusen defence.

By occupying the 6, Lahm often found himself in a proper positioning to support the progression. Either providing passing lane for Xabi or even being the vertical access itself, this had given same positive effect on Bayern ball-circulation. It established a more pressing-resistant side against Leverkusen’s pressure.
Lahm provided the passing option and released a killer ball to Arjen Robben.

Another advantage Bayern gained from Lahm positioning was it helped them to establish a strong gegenpressing. By positioning himself at 6, particularly on the right half-space, Lahm helped Xabi to cover more grounds and made the necessary immediate-press and ball recoveries in front of the back-line.

It provided a stable defensive-barrier too, which avoided Leverkusen to directly attack Bayern’s back line. For example, when Bayern shifted far to the right flank. In the second line, there were Lahm, Xabi, and Arturo Vidal around the flank and half-space supported by Kingsley Coman who covered the center. By moving into the middle-line Lahm eased himself to be closer to Xabi which enabled them to hold Leverkusen’s attack on the higher area. In some specific situation, this also helped Vidal to concentrate to his “8-and-10-role” and reduced the space he’d got to cover on. Behind this four, there were Kimmich, Badstuber, and Alaba in the first line, defended the right flank and half-space.

Here, Bayern defended in a 3-4 basic shape with a strong ball-oriented which made it hard for Leverkusen to overload and penetrate the flank. This was a proper shape to play against Roger Schmidt’s side. Because Bayer Leverkusen have been known to be very compact team in almost every phase. In the above situation, all midfielders and Leverkusen’s forwards would have moved wide and formed a compact formation which allowed them to cover ball-side flank, half-space and central area. As shown below.

Compact shape. Six Leverkusen players trying to overload the flank.

In the other situation, when Bayern circulated through their left flank, it was also Lahm who allowed Xabi to shift wide to the near-ball half-space. It gave Xabi the opportunity to form a mini diamond formation along with Vidal, Coman, and Robert Lewandowski.

Xabi Alonso, the dedicated 6, and Badstuber, the central defender, often used as the progression-point from their first phase of build-up. In many scenes we can see Bayern, through the passing ability of Xabi or Badstuber, tried to exploit the central intermediate-area between the 6 and back-line of Leverkusen defensive-shape. Or, in many situations, half-space between the wide-men and side-back. Sometimes Bayern made use of the diagonal area between Kampl and Kramer. Sometimes they played it long directly to the certain targeted-area, where Lewandowski or Costa was.

Arjen Robben and Costa pair on the right side created the assymetrical shape compared to Vidal and Coman did on the left. Vidal was more to a 8 and 10 (occasionally 6) with Coman much more a classic right winger. Whilst Costa was more to an 10 and 8 (occasionally 7) swapped with Robben. Lewandowski, as ever, acted as the support for the build-up. He moved wide to half-space or dropped to the 10 to create the passing lane or provide lay-offs.


The initial marking-assignment in their high-block was clear. The two forward to pick up both Bayern’s central defenders, the wide-men to go against Bayern’s side-backs, and the central mid’s to keep an eye on Vidal and Xabi. Kevin Kampl for Xabi and Christoph Kramer for Vidal. Because of this initial assignment, the positioning of Kramer and Kampl was clearly different. Kramer stayed deep at 6 as he was assigned to deal with the 8-and-10-Vidal while Kampl was higher as he needed to reduce the working-space of Xabi. Leverkusen displayed a compact and hard-to-break-down-defensive-shape which forced the away side to play long directly from behind to the forward line.

When Bayern managed to progress and Leverkusen moved into their medium-block, the defensive-shape was adjusted slightly. Stefan Kiessling dropped deeper than Javier Chicarito did. If Xabi shifted wide to the right half-space, for example, Kiessling would pick him up. If Lahm moved centrally to cover the 6, Chicarito would be the one to get close to him. Kramer stayed with Vidal around the 6 and Kampl took the space right in front of the two central defender. So, in this context, there would be Kiessling, Bellarabi, Kramer, Tim Jedvad and near-ball central defender within the first layer of Leverkusen touchline-trap.

In their attack, as aforementioned, Leverkusen tried to overload the ball-side flank to penetrate into Bayern’s defence. The overload was established through a strong ball-oriented shifted, with the support of width and depth by, respectively, the far-winger and near-ball full-back. The far-winger occupied the center and the full back stayed deeper, waiting for the proper timing either to get forward or got ready to support the gegenpressing, in transition. As the attacking alternative, Leverkusen used Kiessling as the target man for their long-ball play.

The movement of Kampl and Kramer, especially to the half-space, often created some promising opportunity. Either opened the space in box 18 or dragged Bayern’s 6 out of position in the zone 5. These six’es supported the circulation by becoming the decoy and wall-pass.

An opened-space within Bayern defense. Bellarabi on the right flank. As the winger was pressured by Alaba and Coman, Kramer and Robert Hibbert approached to help him. The ball was played to Hibbert. Thiago saw it, he left from the elipsed-area to press Kramer. As Hibbert moved centrally, Thiago decided to press the right back. This allowed a gap between Badstuber and Alaba, which potentially utilised by Hibbert and Chicarito.

In the second-half, both managers made some changes. Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Muller came in replacing Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben. As soon as Thiago got into the field, the difference was clear. Bayern got the additional creativity they needed. With Thiago, a needle player, Leverkusen had to deal with “new dimension”of Bayern play compared to Vidal did. Not only his on ball skill, but Thiago off the ball movement also created some passing options, as Bayern needed it to progress from the deep-area.
Thiago off the ball movement

After the introduction of Thomas Muller, the match was developing even interesting. We were shown a more pacey match. Coman and Costa on both flanks supported Muller and Lewandowski centrally proved to be taking part of the speed-up. Good for Leverkusen, their defenders were on their form as they managed to deal with it very well.


A pacey game which undirectly held Bayern from playing their usual ball circulation comfortably. Leverkusen were highly-compact and made it hard for Bayern to break down. A fair result for both team.

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @ryantank100

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