Champions League Final Tactical Analysis: Victory lies between the lines

Brendon Netto analyzes where the Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich could be won or lost.
 Brendon Netto
 Analysis | Europe
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Behind the fanatic rivalry, sub-plots and engrossing transfer news that the Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich caters to, lies an intriguing tactical battle between these two juggernauts of German football. The two sides have played out some incredibly close encounters in recent years and this game may be one for the catalogues as well.

Both sides employ their own variants of the 4-2-3-1 system which means that the game is likely to be won or lost in those pockets of space ahead and behind the midfield. It’s been confirmed that Dortmund’s Bayern-bound prodigy is ruled out of the final owing to a muscle injury so Marco Reus will be the man to operate in behind Robert Lewandowski while Toni Kroos’ absence means Thomas Muller will take up a similar role for Bayern.

Marco Reus

Thomas Muller
The two attacking midfielders could play a big part


Reus and Muller have all the attributes to flourish in that attacking midfield role. Their link-up play is exceptional while they can seamlessly drift into wide positions and score goals as well. However, the one difference is that without possession, Bayern requires Muller to drop deep and hassle the opposing side’s distributor off the ball while Reus won’t do the same job.

Against Barcelona and Juventus, Muller’s dogged closing down of the likes of Sergio Busquets and Andrea Pirlo often stopped attacks at their roots. Even though Busquets isn’t a playmaker per se, he was normally the one who received the ball from the defense and fed it into the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

What this did was it broke up the opposition’s build-up play and had them searching for different routes. This time around, Muller will probably find himself shadowing the impressive Ilkay Gundogan. A feature of Bayern’s success against Barcelona and Juventus was also the industry shown by their wide players. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are two of the most dangerous wingers when going forward but they both put in shifts against the Spanish and Italian giants.

On the other hand, Dortmund’s best route to goal may be on the counter-attack. While Kevin Großkreutz and Jakub Blaszczykowski are both hard workers, the system dictates that they don’t drop too deep and Reus won’t either. While that may leave them a little light at the back, it suits their policy of moving the ball swiftly and getting it from defense to attack in two or three passes.

Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich

Bayern’s approach is more composed as they keep the ball well and so a more compact and organized 4-4-1-1 formation suits them. Meanwhile, Dortmund’s method is more direct and relies on swift movements, hence a rather more stretched formation of a 4-2-3-1 where their players are more spread out works well.

The likes of Javi Martinez and Sven Bender will play key roles in between the lines as well. They could be responsible for picking up the opposing attacking midfielder. However, Bender may be the more burdened of the two midfielders. With Bayern being so compact and moving around the pitch as a unit, Martinez will have plenty of support. He can expect to see Robben and Ribery track back into full-back positions.

Sven Bender

Javi Martinez
The holding midfielders


Bender however, may only have his central midfield partner for support at times. If he drifts out to cover for a wide player, there’s the danger that Muller or perhaps a forward run of Bastian Schweinsteiger could exploit the gap he leaves in the middle. On the flipside, Dortmund would effectively maintain their threat on the counter which is perhaps their best chance given Bayern’s immaculate defensive record this season, highlighted by the fact that they never conceded in over 360 minutes against Juventus and Barcelona.

Individual battles may also prove to be crucial but given the system employed by the two sides, you can expect that what happens in those areas on either side of the midfield will play a part as well. Ultimately, it comes down to who holds their nerve, plays with heart and executes their own approach with precision. Both sides will know all about each other by now but when playing a cup final all bets are off and one or two tactical tweaks are but ordinary. So stay tuned!

Where do you think the final will be won or lost? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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