Loss to Borussia Dortmund proves lazy Bayern Munich need to find another gear

The Bavarians' sluggishness was exposed as a weakness on Saturday, prompting the need for coach Jupp Heynckes to find an alternative game plan as soon as possible
By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor

It was a flippant statement Mario Gomez made in October when he called Bayern Munich a lazy team, but there was more than a morsel of truth in his words.

At the time, it was no concern that the Bavarians covered the least ground of all teams in the German top flight (110.2 km per match): they were winning, and convincingly.

It is conventional wisdom not to change a winning game plan. But when things go wrong, questions have to be asked. On Saturday, Bayern’s so-called ‘lazy’ football came up lacking against its antithesis, employed by high-pressing Borussia Dortmund.

The Bundesliga title holders put in a tremendous effort, out-running their hosts by 10.56km on the night, and took the spoils in a narrow 1-0 win. Just how deserved the victory was can be debated, but it was clear on Saturday that Bayern waited far too long to pose a threat in attack. And when they did, it only came after they threw in the kitchen sink, changing to a three-man defence and bringing on attacking substitutes. It was a final roll of the dice, not a plausible game plan from the start, and came too late for the hosts to snag an equaliser.

"We are the laziest team in the league, but we score the most goals"

- Mario Gomez, to Bild

Long before it was 1-0, even before the game, Bayern should have adjusted their tactical plan, which was always going to have problems. Just as in their two losses to BVB last season, they were too slow, too predictable; too willing to assume that letting the ball do the running would be enough. The only difference was that this time, to their credit, there was less space between midfield and defence. Dortmund had precious few chances on the counter-attack, but even had the game ended in a draw, it would not have satisfied the Bavarians, who wanted a win to avenge the previous season’s shortcomings.

MATCH FACTS | Bayern 0-1 Dortmund

On Target
Tackles Won
Distance Covered
110.9 km
121.4 km
Ultimately, the way Dortmund kept a clean sheet was quite simple. When the ball went wide to Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery, there was always a second defender on hand: the BVB winger would drop back, and if forced to divert his attention elsewhere by an overlapping run, either Sven Bender or Sebastian Kehl would be extra cover to deny any inward run from either of the inverted wingers. The Frenchman, whose flexibility let him slip into gaps in the opposing defence, had two clear chances that he failed to convert, but his opposite, Robben, did absolutely nothing before being substituted on 72 minutes.

With no real break-down out wide, centre-backs Felipe Santana and Mats Hummels were left with a numerical advantage in marking the lone striker Gomez. The Germany international centre-back was particularly impressive, shutting out the reigning Bundesliga scoring champion for the third consecutive meeting between the two sides.

Dortmund were organised, and being as athletic and hard-working as they are, were never going to be caught out of position unless on the counter-attack. Inexplicably, especially given the pace of Robben, Ribery, and Thomas Muller, Bayern did not press to exploit the one area in which they could potentially punish their opponents. They had all the technical ability to push the tempo of the game, but did not. There was one instance in which Ribery did manage to get forward on a fast break, and it showed just how dangerous such situations can be: he nearly drew level, but had his finish saved. But that one instance was an anomaly.

Bayern could have taken a lesson from from Monchengladbach, who earlier in the day put five past hapless Werder Bremen in a clinical display of counter-attacking class. The Bavarians have made no secret of their interest in Gladbach forward Marco Reus, but the 22-year-old would not be a good fit in their system as it stands. All his genius comes in fast-break situations. Similarly, Thomas Muller has seen a dip in form, in part because he so rarely is able to use his pace and power. He was able to use his physical strengths for Germany in midweek, and absolutely dismantled the Netherlands. But on Saturday, he was hopeless.

OFF THE PACE | Bayern were unable to match Dortmund's work-rate
Bayern player
Distance run (km)
Dortmund player
Distance run (km)
Luiz Gustavo
Sven Bender
Toni Kroos 10.56 Kevin Grosskreutz 12.53
Franck Ribery 10.33 Shinji Kagawa 12.48
Jerome Boateng 10.32 Mario Gotze 12.02
Mario Gomez 10.16 Lukasz Piszczek 11.22

Some might blame individuals, others might blame fatigue, but Bayern’s problem on Saturday was systemic. One can’t be faulted if he is not allowed to play, and certainly that was the case for the likes of Robben and Gomez. And if anyone had reason to be tired, it was Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, who had a seven-hour time-zone change to recover from on his way home from international duty, yet still managed to assist the winner and run 1.02 km more than Luiz Gustavo, and nearly a full 2 km more than Toni Kroos.

The unavoidable truth is that Bayern - much like Barcelona and Spain - have cruised to too many comfortable victories without having to raise their intensity to a new gear.  Like the Iberians, they have been spoiled by a glut of early goals, and had the luxury of being able to relax their pace for the last 45 or 60 minutes.

There is wisdom in letting the ball do the work, but in some cases it has to be more in motion: runs from players not in possession, as perfected by Joachim Low’s Germany, are simple but just as important as movement of the ball itself. Tactically, die Mannschaft might have matched BVB on Saturday. But Bayern were never going to. They now need to find a new gear, a new degree of pace and intensity. Otherwise, they’ll never win the Champions League.

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