Das Klassiker: A brief analysis of Dortmund v Bayern

I have always been of the opinion that the games between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are one of the top ‘derby’ games in world football and always seem to produce an entertaining game full of goals and excitement and this one was no different. Of course these are not officially classed as derbies but just as is the case of Manchester United and Liverpool games the rivalries are sometimes more intense than the games against there respective city neighbors.

Despite having only beaten Bayern once in the last 6 meetings Dortmund had started the season in tremendous form winning 8 games and drawing 2 out of the 11 games played. Bayern had also started the season in reasonable form but their form had trailed off a touch and losses away to Hertha Berlin and Gladbach at home and a draw again at home this time to Freiburg meant Dortmund fancied their chances.


If you watched the game i think you would agree that Niko Kovac’s Bayern side dominated possession even though the possesion stat say it was marginal (57%-43% in Bayern’s favour). Both teams set up in variations of a 4-4-2 with the Lucien Favre had set Dortmund up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape with a flat back four and four across midfield with Marco Reus just behind a solitary Mario Gotze up front.

Bayern also shaped up in a variation of a 4-4-2 when defending similar to the home side with a flat back four and four across midfield with Müller just behind Robert Lewandowski. The difference in shape between the two sides seemed to be Martinez and Goretzka playing almost side by side in the centre of the Bayern midfield whereas Weighl, who struggled and was hooked at half time, and the excellent Witsel looked to play in more of a double pivot with the former playing at least 10 yards deeper than the Belgian international.

The influence of Ribery

Bayern’s Franck Ribery.

Franck Ribery had his best game in a Bayern shirt for a while and gave Dortmund right back Łukasz Piszczek a pretty hard evening down the Bayern left hand side and if it wasnt for Dortmund winning the game he would have received my man of the match award. His tireless defensive work as well as his constant running at Piszczek was a key feature and it was clear that Bayern were consistently looking to do this during the game.

The doubling up and the constant threat of the overload on Dortmund’s flanks was also another key feature of Bayern’s play and this is visable in my pass map below.

If your a coach and you want to see what a near on perfect 4-4-2 should look like in regards to keeping a rigid shape whilst in a defensive and attacking phase you probably wont find one better than the Bayern shape above.

Ribery and Alaba have been an excellent combination on Bayern’s left hand side for quite a while now and with the coming of age Gnabry and the experience of Joshua Kimmich the Bayern right is equally as impressive. Looking at the graphic above we can see the way Bayern like to move the ball and it isnt through Martinez and Goretzka, the ball is almost always fed out through Boateng or Hummels, who incidentally was constantly pulled out of position by Reus and co, and out toward Ribery/Alaba or Gnabry/Kimmich but usually the former pairing is preferred.

Lets compare the Bayern pass map with Dortmund’s.

This now gives us a bit more of a clearer picture of why Ribery was able to get at Piszczek so often and get him in a lot of one v one situations. These graphics show an average position of a player and here we can see Piszczek, for the majority, was left isolated as Sancho was used more of an attacking threat and therefore didnt seem to defend a great deal although when needed and especially in the first half did try to help his right back out but Favre clearly wanted Sancho on the front foot ready for a Dortmund counter attack. But it must be said the Dortmund right back did his best up against the Bayern winger.

Of course exceeding your xG in a game usually helps one team did one team didnt. Dortmund created some high quality chances mainly from Reus and finished the good ones off and with 11 shots on target helping the xG count scoring three in the process won them the game.

The Dortmund graphic above also shows us how the double pivot of Weighl and Witsel came into effect and also how they played in another variation of a 4-4-2. I have also added in Paco Alcacer in to the graphic, more on that later.

Just how did Dortmund win the game?

As i mentioned before the possession stat doesnt really tell us the whole story merely that both sides almost equally shared the ball (duh) but in this game we saw a prime example of the old age saying of its what you do with it that matters.

For Dortmund it was more a case of work hard and see what we can get out of the game, and it worked.

Hakimi from left back was again excellent, as was Piszcezk at right back, Bruun Larsen had one of his quieter games but it was Marco Reus who dragged Dortmund to victory with two goals and one from substitute Paco Alcacer in an impressive second half comback coming from 1-2 down to win 3-2.

Dortmund were relying on the counter attack. Using Witsel’s ability to be able to recycle the ball in the centre of midfield and then pass the ball on to Sancho on the right and hoping to use the inguinuity of Reus and Gotze.

The graphic above backs this up with Bruun Larsen and Sancho averaging quite high positions out wide with Reus often dropping into the centre circle and surrounding areas.

In 14 games against Bayern that Reus has played in he has been involved in 9 goals and scoring 5 times up until this game, there isnt a doubt that Reus is indeed a big game player. Having had 3 years worth of serious injuries the newly recalled German international has been known to have said that just playing one game would have been satisfactory after all that has happened to him. If that one game would have been this one he would of left a very happy man.

Dortmund won the game through sheer grit and determination and the introduction of Paco Alcacer on for Mario Götze was a turning point in the game.

Alcacer gave Boateng and Hummels, who was reportedly playing with a head cold, and later on Süle something different to think about as he looked to get in behind the Bayern back line and forced them to make critical individual mistakes as Bayern fell apart in the second half. Even the usual unfallable Manuel Neuer conceded a penalty after being hesitant in coming off his line to foul Marco Reus who duly converted the spot kick. Alcacer casually slotting home the winner for Dortmund in the 73rd minute.

The introduction of Dahoud for Weighl at half time was just as important after Weighl simply couldnt adjust to the pace of the game from the off and mistiming tackles and passes throughout the first half. The trustworthy Thomas Delaney also added much needed steel later on.

Game Duels- Bayern playing from top to bottom

I thought i would add this graphic in out of interest in terms of how well Dortmund did to get the result when under a fair bit of pressure in various areas on the pitch.

The graphic above shows the winners and losers of the duels between both sets of players in the game with almost an equal share between the teams and once again it is hard to back Dortmund using this graphic as a reason as to why they won the game. But it does show the influence and graft of Hakimi and Bruun Larsen down the Dormund left hand side to thwart Gnabry and Kimmich and although Ribery and Alaba had decent games when it came to duels it was even stevens according to the data. Questionable on the eye test i must say.


Sifting through tactics throughout the game and looking at substitutions from both Favre and Kovac it seems the former got it right with his changes and in my opinion this alongside Dormund’s sheer determination and hard work coupled with an inspired Marco Reus was what won the game for the team in yellow and maybe Bayern felt hard done by but they didnt take the chamcestthe came their way and paid the price come full time.

Gareth Cooper


Bannan, Freeman and Grealish- Comparing three of the EFL Championship’s creative attacking midfielders.

Barry Bannan imageJack Grealish Imageluke-freeman-image.jpg

Recruitment in midfield

In the summer of this year it looked as though Jack Grealish would be on his way to North London to be part of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pocchetino’s young squad. Aston Villa fans, myself included, feared the worst and come August the 9th our worst fears were realised and Spurs bid £25 million. With Villa under huge financial pressure it looked as though Grealish was off but Spurs were told in no uncertain terms that he was not for sale, at any price. Had Daniel Levy and Co acted earlier they would have got their man or so Steve Bruce had claimed however Grealish eventually signed a new five year deal effectively doubling his wages but of course the pessimist in me says it is more than possible this is to merely increase his value for next year, I hope i’m wrong.

So to the point of this article. I have heard whispers on social media and seen a few snippets in the written media around the possible return to Villa Park of Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan.

This made me wonder that if ever that rumor ever became a possible reality would Bannan add anything to the squad? I think the answer would be well probably not. Of course there are a few others i could have analyzed and stuck in this article Duffy at Sheffield United amongst others.

Another player I coveted in the summer, and who I put forward for a move to Aston Villa, and also who I have admired for a long time now is QPR’s Luke Freeman.  Third last season in overall assists with 12 and with an xA of 13.01 (Bannan and Grealish didn’t even make the top 30 in xA last season)

Luke freeman 2
QPR’s Luke Freeman

I have wrote about and analyzed Freeman for a few years now right back to his Stevenage days in 2011 and believe it or not he is still only 26.

Freeman, in the 17/18 season, produced his best numbers to date with 12 assists and 5 goals (16/17 season- 5 assist 4 goals and in 15/16 6 assists and 1 goal) so is Freeman getting better with age? Well, yeah. It still puzzles me as to why he doesn’t seem to get a better gig than QPR (no offence meant).

So lets compare the three players mentioned above and stick em all in a wonky table for ease of reading.

Numbers wise we can see for Jack Grealish the season of 2015-16 in the EPL and Villa’s first season in the Championship following their relegation doesnt make for great reading. Injuries played a part of course but as he reached the season of 17-18 Grealish picked up albeit gradually with 4 assists. His numbers still werent as we would have expected from a talent such as his though.

Bannan produced and followed a similar path to Grealish the past three seasons with some low numbers assist wise bar a half decent return in the 16/17 Championship season with 7 assists and beating an xA of 6.07 in which he played 44 games but his goal return has been consistently poor. The season of 15/16 saw Bannan give a return of 2 goals and 2 assists in 38 games backing up that point.

Former Bristol City man Luke Freeman had a good season last year with a huge return of 12 assists from an xA of 13.01 showing there was probabaly more to come from him especially given he also had an xG of 8.41 and scored just the 5 goals. Freeman played just the 26 games for QPR and Bristol City in the 16/17 season and still produced 5 assists again with an xA of 7.5 and scoring 8 goals exceeding his xG of 3.95 massively. The changing of clubs in the season shouldnt be underestimated of course if you think these numbers are a tad low.

The present day

Given some teams have only played 16 or 17 games in the Championship this season there is a relatively small sample size to go from but be that as it may it will give us a peak into a window of what these three attacking midfielders can offer longer term now we have looked a bit at a small part of some of the numbers they have produced in the past few seasons.

I feel, as im sure most scouts and recruitment analysts will do also, that being able to receive and carry the ball into the final third and the danger areas in and around the box is a vital asset for an attacking midfielder to have. Its a big part of their play especially when playing as part of an attacking midfield three in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 shape as we have seen with Dean Smith’s Aston Villa at points at the start of his tenure.

So i wanted to look at the successful dribble rates of the three players i talked about above and where they tend to pick the ball up from and their ability to create opportunities from these dribbles.

First up Luke Freeman.

Luke Freeman Successful Dribbles 18/19

QPR usually play in a familar 4-2-3-1 formation with Freeman operating on the left of the midfield three and looking at the graphic above that i have produced that seems pretty clear. A success rate of 81% is well up there that much is clear and with a Total Non Penalty xG of 1.76 (he’s scored 2 goals) and an Total xA of 1.95 and 1 assist Freeman is on the right path again in a performance wise mixed season under a Steve McClaren led QPR side.

In regards to a few other measures I use in a simple, straight up AM template I’ve stuck them in a radar with per 90 unit samples and it would be interesting to stick these numbers in a AM/Winger template to see how they stack up for variance.

Luke Freeman radar 18/19

Just to be clear I REALLY LIKE LUKE FREEMAN! And if he turned up at Aston Villa I wouldnt be disappointed as he can play anywhere across a midfield three and on the left or right of a front three cutting inside or taking defenders on down the flanks and he can take set pieces so whats not to like? The fact that he is a VERY similar player to Grealish is the only issue but good players can always be accommodated in a team no matter what anybody tells you.

Anyway enough of the Luke Freeman love in lets see how Barry Bannan stacks up.

Barry Bannan Successful dribbles 18/19

To put it nicely, he doesnt. Stack up that is. Bannan, as i mentioned at the start of this article, has earned plaudits from some fans and EFL television pundits alike but I just dont see it personally. Admittedly Bannan’s Wednesday team are scoring goals with a current NPG total of 20 and an xG of 19.84 (my last count on xG and xGA is about a week out forgive me) it seems Bannan’slack of contribution may not be being missed after all but Wednesday have also conceded 26 goals and with an xGA of 22.6 (only Preston have a worse record) could this explain Bannan’s issues going forward as he is maybe having to fulfill a lot more defensive duties? Possibly but maybe we are clutching at straws on the Scotsmans behalf. His success rate when dribbling with the ball is low but as we can see he doesnt seem to attempt that many anyway. C’est la vie as they say.

Barry Bannan radar 18/19

When we compare Bannan’s stats on the radar with Freeman’s and Jack Grealish’s he is down on pretty much every measure. Although he is still a decent midfielder I think Bannan had his time at Villa Park and there is no need to go back from his or from Villa’s point of view if indeed, which I doubt, has ever been the case.

Super Jack Grealish

Maybe its age, maybe its just that he is that good but Grealish is starting to again find the form of last season playing in a struggling Steve Bruce side.

The sheer amount of dribbles attempted let alone the successful ones that are documented in the graphic above is enough to rival that of an above average Premier league AM let alone a fellow Championship one like Freeman or Bannan.

Unlike Freeman this season Grealish has usually been deployed in the Aston Villa team behind a central centre forward, usually Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, in a 4-4-1-1 formation and not on the left of a 4-3-3 however Grealish does tend to drift out more to the left hand side and cut back inside on to his favored right foot. He also has the highest success rate of all the three players mentioned with 84%.

Grealish’s assist numbers havent quite hit the numbers he or Villa would like as yet but as the season progresses they probably will and we can see from the first table that his numbers in the areas detailed have improved year on year and progression in a player is what drives recruitment.

Jack Grealish radar 18/19

I guess my overall point is that if Villa end

up losing Grealish and if they were to look

to recruit from the Championship and if

they dont get promoted and if… well

they could do a lot worse than taking

a good look at Luke Freeman.

Gareth Cooper

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