Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Bayer Leverkusen's spacing accentuated Atalanta's physical strength

I did not understand why Bayer Leverkusen both made the pitch small and pushed their wingers high. It played into Atalanta’s physical strength because the main outlet was to the ball-side winger.

Figure 1.1 - Bayer Leverkusen win the ball.
Figure 1.2 - Amine Adli moves high wide left.
Figure 1.3 - Granit Xhaka has the ball, Amine Adli is unavailable to be played into feet because he's shifted higher.
Figure 1.4 - Space behind Atalanta's second line to Amine Adli.

Amine Adli moves higher, and that cuts off the flow from the back to the front on the ground. Atalanta squeezes you with their man-marking. Leverkusen is in control of where those markers are.

To take advantage of the space created by Adli, Leverkusen would need to play the ball over Atalanta’s second line. That’s going to require a precise pass, and it will be a physical one-v-one with a defender.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of what I think would be more effective; having Amine Adli drop to drag an Atalanta defender back. Resulting passing options open up.

If you’re going to make the pitch small, I think you should go all the way by having Amine Adli drop. Promote shorter passes. Overload the ball side, and then take advantage of the pace in larger spaces behind the Atalanta’s second line. Avoid physical battles and quickly out-pass them.

Figure 1.5 - Bayer Leverkusen switching the ball on the ground.
Figure 1.6 - Exequiel Palacios rotates forward. Space on the right in front of Jeremie Frimpong (out of picture).
Figure 1.7 - Granit Xhaka is the out-ball from this tight passing sequence in the corner.

The same thing happens when they switch the ball to the opposite end. I don’t like the spacing. Four men close to the ball, Xhaka and Palacios just far enough away to not be a short pass option, and then Jeremie Frimpong higher up the wing.

If you play the ball into Xhaka, Palacios is too far away from him for a quick one-touch pass out of pressure, and Frimpong is completely out of the play for a short pass into that space on the right-wing.

Figure 1.8 - Jeremie Frimpong attempts to win a header.

Because of that spacing, this passing sequence should naturally end with a long ball to the ball-side winger. Atalanta has the switch to the other winger covered, and there’s no one central.

If the passing was more succinct, maybe we would see Bayer Leverkusen string together a potent transitional focused attack, but Atalanta are more than solid defensively, very tough, and strong in the tackle. Bayer Leverkusen wanted that battle with the long ball, and it didn’t favor them.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Atalanta, 22 May 2024

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