Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

When to press, when to wait, who can have the ball, who could not have the ball

As Xabi Alonso said, “to find the right moment, when to press, when to wait, who can have the ball, who could not have the ball.” Those decisions allowed Bayer Leverkusen to outclass Bayern Munich out-of-possession and control the game.

Figure 1.1 - Leroy Sané drops into space behind Leverkusen's first-line, and Robert Andrich follows.
Figure 1.2 - Leroy Sané turns around Robert Andrich and attacks Bayer Leverkusen's back-line.

This is type of situation you want to avoid if you are playing against Bayern Munich. They’re quick, good at dribbling, and they will hurt you in the channels at speed.

You don’t want to give Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala, or Harry Kane space and a passing lane to drop and receive in front of the Granit Xhaka and Robert Andrich double pivot. That would force the pivot to jump, and then allow them the opportunity to turn behind that pivot and attack Bayer Leverkusen’s back-line.

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso detailed after the game what he liked about today’s performance:

Today, for me the defensive work of [Nathan Tella], [Florian Wirtz], and [Amine Adli] has been fantastic because when they have choose the right time to go press the center-back, when they need to cut the passes to the midfielders. Our midfielders, they were not jumping to [Bayern Munich’s] double 6 and create that space [behind]. Musiala and Sane, they were waiting to find this space, and Kane was dropping. He likes to drop, so we have chosen to take many right decisions, when and where right to press. And because of that, we have been able to control the game, most of the times, without the ball.

Figure 2.1 - Bayer Leverkusen's 5-2-3 out-of-possession shape in settled play.

This was Bayer Leverkusen’s initial shape that they’d work from. Clogging the middle and cutting off passing lanes to the forwards, allowing the pass back and around from Bayern Munich’s center-backs to the wing-backs.

Figure 2.2 - Bayer Leverkusen's movement to block off any pass central.
Figure 3.1 - Nathan Tella curving his run to force Kim Min-Jae back.

The speedy Nathan Tella did a lot of work to track the runs of Kim Min-Jae when he carried forward or Jamal Musiala when he dropped into that space in front of Granit Xhaka. His ability to pressure allowed Xhaka to stay put in the pivot with Robert Andrich, as Xabi Alonso mentioned.

Amine Adli did the same on the opposite side of the pitch when Leroy Sané attempted to combine with Noussair Mazraoui, to allow Robert Andrich to stay put in the pivot.

Figure 4.1 - Granit Xhaka, Nathan Tella, and Florian Wirtz block off the pass to Harry Kane. Amine Adli blocks off the pass central or back to Kim Min-Jae.

Jonathan Tah did a great job following the most threatening central player around the pitch, when Bayern Munich got closer to Leverkusen’s box. Usually that was Harry Kane but on this instance it was Musiala because Kane dropped. That allowed Leverkusen to effectively use a simple back-four, with Tapsoba and Hincapié holding in the middle.

If Kane, Sané or Musiala dropped in front of Xhaka or Andrich, Tella and Wirtz would rush to block them off and force the ball pack to the center-backs. In particular, force it back to Eric Dier.

Figure 5.1 - Bayer Leverkusen press to force the pass into Leon Goretzka.
Figure 5.2 - Nathan Tella pressures Leon Goretzka into passing back to Eric Dier.

First Bayer Leverkusen would allow Bayern Munich to pass around the back, and once they settled they’d begin their press. They’d move to apply pressure and force Bayern Munich to pass backwards, away from Musiala and Sané.

They first block off the passing lanes to Bayern Munich’s pivot, and track the runs of the forwards dropping. Then Amine Adli applies pressure to Upamecano, and when the ball is played central to Leon Gotetzka, Nathan Tella would immediately run to his back to force him to play it back to Eric Dier. The pass to Pavlovic is blocked off via a shadow cover by Wirtz.

Had Tella not applied pressure to Goretzka, Goretzka could have turned and played a ball forward to Jamal Musiala as he dropped. Musiala receives that pass, turns, and Bayern Munich are off in transition behind Bayer Leverkusen’s second-line.

Bayer Leverkusen had the complete package defensively. Bayern Munich had no access to the half-space or the space in-front of Leverkusen’s back-line, and because they had no access to those two spaces, they had no access to the channels to switch play or play a through ball. Everything was forced back or side-to-side, and eventually all the way back once pressure was applied. There was no space for Kane, Musiala, and Sané to operate in. And then Bayer Leverkusen would hit them on a quick well executed counter.

Match: Leverkusen 3-0 Bayern Munich, 10 February 2024

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