Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and nearest challengers RB Leipzig played out a game for the ages on Saturday, with Bayern eventually prevailing 5-4. But how was the match of the season won and lost?
bundesliga.com trains its tactical microscope on the nine-goal thriller...
Watch: Highlights of an unforgettable contest between Leipzig and Bayern
Despite losing the reverse fixture 3-0 in December, Leipzig stuck with the same 4-4-2 formation they employed at the Allianz Arena, with Bayern once again utilising their now-customary 4-2-3-1. Injury deprived Leipzig of Willi Orban, so Dayot Upamecano deputised at centre-back, with Bernardo – a right-footer – playing at left-back.
Bayern had a makeshift defence of their own: David Alaba filled in at the heart of Carlo Ancelotti's back four as Mats Hummels and Javi Martinez were unavailable, while Tom Starke made just his seventh Bayern appearance in Germany number one Manuel Neuer's stead.
Bernardo was selected by Ralph Hasenhüttl presumably to accommodate for Arjen Robben's propensity to cut inside. Bayern – looking to pick on the out-of-position greenhorn Brazilian - attacked Leipzig's left flank relentlessly, with Robben (80) and right-back Philipp Lahm (87) having more touches of the ball than anyone else. However, the tactic of encouraging Lahm overlap to join Robben in the final third was to have consequences at the other end of the pitch.
Leipzig were happy to cede possession to the visitors and hit them on the counter, and they carried a 2-1 lead into the break. Lahm was central to each of the first three goals.
The opener saw him deep in opposition territory, and two touches after goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi's long throw out, Emil Forsberg found himself in behind the Bayern defence and onside. A pin-point left-footed cross later and Marcel Sabitzer headed home Leipzig's quickest ever top-flight goal after just 65 seconds.
Bayern persisted with the tactic and pulled one back from the penalty spot after Bernardo handled a Lahm cross, but the next time the Bavarians were caught out of possession with Lahm camped in the Leipzig half, Timo Werner exploited the space in behind, squared for Forsberg who earned a penalty, and converted a spot-kick of his own.
Thiago takes Keita to school
Leipzig pulled further clear at the start of the second half, this time taking advantage of Juan Bernat's overlapping. With the Spaniard high up the pitch, Werner had time and space to cut back Forsberg, who found Yussuf Poulsen to fire home from the edge of the box via a deflection.
It was from another Lahm cross that Bayern reduced the deficit again, Thiago heading home from Xabi Alonso's nod down. Lahm was involved once more as Leipzig extended their lead, his heavy first touch allowing Werner to nip in, skip past Jerome Boateng and slot through Starke's legs.
Subsequently, though, Bayern began to exert their dominance on possession as the game entered its final third. This was in large part due to Carlo Ancelotti's men controlling the midfield. This season Leipzig fans have happily grown used to seeing Naby Keita slalom forward and instigate attacks, but here he won a game-high 12 tackles as he and Diego Demme tried to stem the tide, outnumbered by Thiago, Joshua Kimmich and Alonso.
It is telling that Bayern completed 454 passes to Leipzig's 277 as the experienced champions, playing with the oldest average age in the Bundesliga this season on Saturday (29.4 years), were able to let the league's youngest (24.0 years) chase the ball.
That led to Leipzig collectively covering 109.37 kilometres, whereas the visitors only ran 102.70 Km. Indeed, Bayern's ability to conserve their energy proved crucial in the closing stages and it is no coincidence that, with the hosts tiring, they struck three times from the 84th minute onwards.
No Orban planning
While Upamecano performed admirably against one of the best attacks in the world, he was only in the side as captain Orban was out with an injury. Orban has started 28 Bundesliga games this season and aside from his impressive statistics – the 24-year-old has won over 60 per cent of all challenges contested, scoring three goals and providing one assist – it is his leadership skills that are arguably of greatest value to Leipzig.
Orban organises, cajoles and inspires his team-mates; he is the glue holding the back four together. It was noticeable that without him Leipzig were second to almost every loose ball in their own penalty area – as highlighted by Thiago's goal and Lewandowski's second. It is hard to imagine Upamecano, who is still just 18 years old after all, marshalling the side in the same way as the club captain. Simply put, with Orban in the side Leipzig concede an average of 1.07 goals per game; without him that increases to 1.4.
Watch: Arjen Robben shares his thoughts on Bayern's last-gasp triumph in Leipzig
Playing it safe against Bayern
If ever there was a game that underlined the theory of attack being the best form of defence, this was it. Shortly after Werner put the hosts 4-2 up, Hasenhüttl took off Sabitzer – scorer of the opening goal and a key player in Leipzig's counter-attacks due to his pace – and replaced him with the more defensive minded Benno Schmitz. In the 80th minute, with the score still 4-2 in the hosts' favour, Werner was replaced by holding midfielder Rani Khedira.
At the time, the substitutions made perfect sense – Leipzig had a two-goal lead and were trying to shut up shop and see what would have been a famous result over the line. However, Sabitzer and Werner had forced Bayern onto the back foot, stretching the defence and leaving Boateng and Alaba wary of another lightning-fast break. Their absence removed that threat and allowed Bayern to breathe easier, focusing on going forward and now able to play a higher line.
A second goal from Lewandowski, Alaba's free-kick and Robben's rampant run down the right that culminated in the Dutchman scoring the winner sealed an astonishing comeback and taught Leipzig a harsh lesson. Their ultimate goal of ousting Bayern from their Bundesliga throne will be far from easy.
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