Cologne - Matchday 3 sees a real clash of the titans as FC Bayern München welcome Bayer 04 Leverkusen (29 August 18.30 CEST). It’s set to be an captivating affair both on the pitch and on the touchline. Pep Guardiola’s possession-based philosophy goes head-to-head with Roger Schmidt’s pressing machine.
If there is one coach that can cause Pep Guardiola a tactical headache, then Leverkusen's Roger Schmidt would be a prime candidate. In four meetings, Schmidt has emerged victorious on two occasions. Leverkusen triumphed 2-0 on Matchday 31 last season and Schmidt also came out on top in pre-season friendly whilst in charge at RB Salzburg.
"I’ve never experienced a team play with such intensity as Salzburg," said Guardiola in the aftermath of Bayern's surprising 3-0 defeat during the 2014 winter break. Guardiola was referring to the aggressive pressing style that Schmidt has also successfully introduced at Leverkusen.
"Both teams are very committed and try to implement their philosophy," said Ottmar Hitzfeld in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com. "Leverkusen's style is more power-football, very aggressive with lots of pressing and pace going forward, but also with an element of risk."
When the opponents are in possession, all ten outfield players switch into pressing mode. While Stefan Kießling, Hakan Calhanoglu or Karim Bellarabi close down the opposition defence, Bayer's defensive midfielders and full-backs push up into the space created to cancel out passing options. Once the ball has been won back, Leverkusen set off on the most direct route to goal.
The intense and strenuous style of play perfectly suits the players at Schmidt's disposal. The battering-ram Stefan Kießling has for years been the player entering the most challenges in the Bundesliga and Karim Bellarabi has clocked the fastest sprint in the league this season.
"It’s organized chaos in which you even speculate losing the ball so that you can win it back quickly," said Christoph Kramer.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola on the other hand tries to avoid chaos at all costs. The record champions play a brand of football based on dominance and possession. In the opening two matches of the season, Bayern recorded around 70 percent possession. Leverkusen reached just 56 percent in their last outing against Hannover 96, but covered around four kilometers more ground than the men from Munich.
"Bayern are more mature overall," analyzed Ottmar Hitzfeld. "They have more experience at their disposal and have a different philosophy. They place more value on passing accuracy and wait for the gap to open."
Individual weapons: Costa vs Calhanoglu
Whilst Schmidt sticks to a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation, the Bayern players constantly rotate around different positions. Sometimes Guardiola begins with a back-four, sometimes a back-three. Sometimes Thomas Müller plays up front, sometimes it’s Mario Götze. And sometimes even Xabi Alonos drops back into defence.
Should Bayern fail to find the opening, they now have the perfect weapon in their armory: Douglas Costa. The Brazilian has already created three goals this season using his devastating pace down the wing. "Costa is able to beat any opponent," said Hitzfeld. "He is very good one-on-one, draws in two players and is very quick."
But Leverkusen also have an ace in the pack should the "battle for the loose ball" be lost, as Schmidt puts it. Then the Werkself simply need to win a free-kick near the penalty area. Hakan Calhanoglu has scored an impressive 11 goals direct from a set-piece in his last 67 Bundesliga appearances.
Former Bayern coach Hitzfeld is however certain that "Bayern are favorites and Leverkusen will have to be on top form to get a point. But they do have the quality, some good individual players and strength in depth. But my tip is definitely a win for FC Bayern München."