Bayern Munich Overly Reliant on Crosses in 2-1 Defeat to Gladbach

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Bayern Munich weren’t at their best against Borussia Monchengladbach. They struggled to find any rhythm in attack, and after conceding two first-half goals, they couldn’t find a way back. Arturo Vidal managed to set up an exciting finish by netting from the edge of the area midway through the second period, but against a tough, compact and resilient Gladbach defence, Bayern couldn’t find a late equaliser.

That meant Jupp Heynckes suffered his first loss since returning as Bayern’s manager, and he reflected on their poor attacking efforts early on. “We lost the match in the first half, we invested far too little then,” he said. “We were too slow, failed to up the pace and didn’t really find our rhythm.”

As far as summaries go, that was a pretty good one. The Bavarians had a huge amount of the ball, 72% of it to be precise, but they passed it around slowly and without much creativity. One could argue their long list of injuries had a part to play in that, but even accounting for the absentees, they didn’t get enough out of their efforts in attack.
Left-winger James Rodriguez, as part of Bayern’s 4-3-3 formation, typified their game, as did fullback Joshua Kimmich on their other side of the pitch. They got plenty of the ball, but showed little invention. They just looked to cross at every available opportunity, especially prior to half-time, and the well-organised Gladbach defence were equal to the many balls that Bayern lifted into the area.

Now, on raw statistics alone, it might show that Kimmich, James and Bayern created a few good opportunities using this approach. Kimmich, for instance, hit a massive 16 crosses for the match, and five were successful. That sounds okay in theory, but when you remember that a successful cross is one that finds a teammate, it then becomes clear that the quality isn’t always factored in. His cross in the 81st minute highlighted this, as Kimmich hit a ball that overshot the 18-yard box before being tracked down by a teammate out near the opposite touchline. A successful cross, sure, but not an effective one.

This isn’t to pick on Kimmich, who contributed quite well going forward, but Bayern’s match, more generally, had this kind of quantity over quality feel to it. They advanced the ball into the final third, and when they couldn’t break down the Gladbach defence, they simply reverted to crossing. Heynckes’ men hit 46 crosses over the 90 minutes, which is well above the 26 that they average each match in the Bundesliga. It was almost as though the many absences in attack got to them, and they didn’t see a way to create through the centre. This led to a lot hopeful balls and a lot of poor shots being taken, with 50% of the club’s 26 shots against Gladbach coming from outside the area.

In fairness to Bayern, one of these shots got them a goal. Free-wheeling midfielder Vidal latched onto a clearance, which naturally came from a set-piece that was lifted into the area, and he volleyed a low drive into the back of the net. It was a brilliant piece of technique, and Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer failed to see the ball early enough to stop it from skidding into the goal.

In fact, one could argue that this illustrated Bayern’s greatest strength throughout the encounter. They were simply brilliant at setting up to regain possession following a cross, and with guys like Javi Martinez, Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso, as well as the goalscorer, Vidal, creating a kind of wall around the box, they swooped upon loose balls and clearances very effectively. This is part of the reason why they shot so often from range, and after the game, there remained a sense that they could’ve used these situations, while the Gladbach defence was still regaining their composure, more efficiently.

Even so, it’s important to note that this is a strength of Bayern’s, and when they’re on form, crossing and then winning the second ball is a strong part of their overall strategy. Here, however, they offered little else. They needed more genuine creativity, more invention through the centre and more variation in their play. That would’ve allowed them to give their opposition a little more to ponder, but without that, they were very predictable. Heynckes went onto argue that Gladbach were “clever” in their approach to defending against the reigning Bundesliga champions, and while they certainly were, the Foals were helped by a fairly predictable Bayern side who took shots from ordinary locations.

In the post-match, Sommer argued that Gladbach knew that they “would have to be ready to defend a lot of long balls and crosses,” and it turned out that way, especially in relation to the latter. They defended those moments beautifully and, as Lars Stindl put it, “passionately,” and with some smart, fast-paced attacking thrown into the mix, that enabled them to win against the league leaders.

Bayern, on the other hand, need to regroup and need to get some players back, but perhaps more than anything else, they will be making a point of adding some additional variety in their upcoming fixtures. They’re still going well and they’re still in a strong position, and neither of those things should be forgotten, but if they can bring some more invention and variation than they showed against Gladbach, they’ll be on track for even more success.

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