Bayern and Leipzig went into the game with only one point separating them, with Bayern having beaten Leipzig on penalties during the DFB cup victory in midweek. Bayern, now managed by Jupp Heynckes, lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Rudy and Martinez sitting as the two central midfielders, Thiago in front of them, James Rodriguez on the left (though would move inside during the game) and Arjen Robben on the right flank. Kimmich and Alaba were the fullbacks, whilst Boateng and Hummels started as the center back pair and Robert Lewandowski was the lone striker. Sven Ulreich was still filling in, in goal for the injured Manuel Neuer. RB Leipzig lined up in their usual 4-2-2-2, with Klosterman and Halstenberg as the two full backs, Orban and Umapecano as the center back pairing, with Keita and Demme in central midfield, Forsberg, and Sabitzer as the wide midfielders and Poulsen and Werner up front.
We could see in the first ten minutes how RB Leipzig were planning on approaching this game.
Bayern Munich as Red, RB Leipzig as Yellow.
In order to stop Bayern playing out from the back, Poulsen and Werner pushed up onto Hummels and Boateng and as Martinez dropped into the space in between, Naby Keita would push up onto him. Though this was brave of Leipzig, it was also risky. It left one ball over the first line of pressure, to leave Diego Demme isolated against Thiago, Rudy and James Rodriguez.
When Bayern played through the press, Leipzig would drop into their narrow 4-4-2 shape. Poulsen and Werner would both drop behind the ball creating a box to stop Bayern playing through the center of midfield. However, a positional mistake from Leipzig in the middle of the park allowed Bayern to play a through ball to Robben, from which Willi Orban was sent off. This was a game changer evidently, as with ten men on the pitch, Leipzig now had to move towards a 4-4-1 system. This derailed their game plan, as it meant that no longer could two forwards drop back and sit in front of Keita and Demme, but only Yusuf Poulsen as Werner was taken off for the center Konate.
This gave RB Leipzig one less body in the middle of the park, which Bayern aimed to exploit through moving Sebastien Rudy and Thiago further up the pitch, in behind Keita and Demme. The aim of this was to exploit the emerging gaps in the Leipzig defensive structure. The two full backs, Kimmich and Alaba, pushed Forward, high and wide to pull Sabitzer and Forsberg wider, in order to create space for Thiago and Rudy.
The opening goal from James Rodriguez came from Bayern’s play down the right flank. Whilst Rodriguez on the opposite flank came narrow to exploit the space behind Leipzig’s midfield, Arjen Robben on the right stayed further wide. The reason for this was that Robben could make a run in behind Halstenberg once Thiago or Rudy got on the ball. This was seen with the sending off, as Robben burst in behind Halstenberg to receive the through ball from Rudy. At right back, Kimmich provided Forsberg with a problem. If Forsberg went with Kimmich and pushed wide, this would leave a space for Rudy or Robben to drop into between Keita and Forsberg. When Forsberg stayed as the left midfielder, Kimmich was able to move into space overlapping Robben, creating a two vs one situation.
With RB Leipzig now a man short, the role of James Rodriguez changed. Whilst in the first ten minutes, Rodriguez played as almost a left inside forward, who would start wide and drift in, midway through the second half he became more of a fourth central midfielder. Thiago, Rudy, Martinez, and Rodriguez created a box midfield, aiming to outnumber and therefore dominate Keita and Demme. To cover the lack of width on the left, through the movement of James Rodriguez, David Alaba begin to play more as a wingback than a fullback. Alaba caused Sabitzer the same problem as Kimmich was causing Forsberg, which allowed Alaba to get into advanced areas, or push Sabitzer back into the back line, seeing him, play more as a right back than a right midfielder.
Coming out at half time 2-0 down, Ralf Hasenhuttl brought on Bruma for Sabitzer, pushing Forsberg to the right. The idea was clear to see. Hasunhuttl was hoping that Bruma’s pass and dribbling ability would be able to exploit the space left by the advanced Kimmich. Bruma did have some success in moving into the space Kimmich had vacated through his dribbling ability, however, he was not success in opening up or creating a significant chance against the Bayern defence. Lewandowski was also brought off, as Thiago moved into the experimental false nine position. This further allowed Bayern to dominate in central areas, through Thiago dropping into the space between Keita and Demme. Yet by this point, Bayern were comfortable and Leipzig with ten men, were unable to counter Bayern’s experimental positioning.
Bayern strolled to the 2-0 win in the end, nevertheless, this game cannot be taken as a true sample of how RB Leipzig will fair in the return fixture or even in other big games, particularly in Europe. Whilst Hasenhuttl did employ a risky tactic through pushing Keita forward onto Martinez to encourage the press, this could have gone one of two ways. It is very possible that this system would have been able to take advantage of a Bayern mistake in position in their defence third. On the other hand, Bayern could have exploited the space in behind Keita, and thus allowing James and Thiago chances to open up the Leipzig back line. The game, however, played out in a fashion Heynckes would have been content with, yet Leipzig are making a habit of having players sent off in crucial games and if they wish to launch a title bid domestically or Europe, they are going to have to stop this alarming trend.