Sunday, 18 May 2014

Have Bayern improved this season?

When Bayern Munich successfully defended their Bundesliga title with a record breaking 7 games left plaudits were rightly so rained down upon the German champions and their new manager Pep Guardiola. To emulate last season’s success was never going to be easy, Bayern would have to be the first team to retain the Champions League, the fact that that hasn’t happened is no reason to say that Bayern have gone backwards, but the manner in which that happened should to lead some questions being asked.

Last season when Bayern dismantled Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final they were a joy to watch, it was counter attacking football at its best, a 7-0 aggregate victory seemed to signal beginning of the end of possession based football. Given that, Guardiola’s appointment seems a little odd, especially because it was the team that he had helped build who were beaten so emphatically.

Fast forward to this year and the 5-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Real Madrid certainly seems to agree with that. Real who are so adept at playing against a Barca-esque team, they’ve been doing it for years were hardly troubled by a Bayern side that has been recast in their new manager’s image.

From looking at Bayern’s Bunesliga performances there’s certainly a difference between this year and last. Before securing the Bundesliga title Bayern went undefeated; a particularly impressive feat.

In terms of games won the record is identical, the only difference in results is that Bayern drew one more game last year than this, but then they won the title won game earlier this season.

The real difference is in terms of possession, hardly surprising when you consider the brand of football Guardiola is renowned for playing.  Bayern’s average possession per game increased from 63.6% to 71.1% from last season. However, with that possession Bayern had only 1.5 shots per game but more importantly, only 0.1 more shots on target, an increase from 7.5 to 7.6. So despite having more of the ball and controlling the game more Bayern are doing less with their possession. In fact, they had more shots per possession (0.270) in 2012/13 than this season (0.263).

This highlights the problem Bayern now face, in dominating possession in the manner which they have this season they have become more predictable and so become easier to play against. Perhaps this was not so evident in the Bundesliga, where Bayern still had the wherewithal to break down their opponents, but it becomes more apparent when you consider their Champions League record. Especially the game against Real Madrid who have so much experience of playing against such a possession based approach. Even Manchester United, who had a woeful year by their standards, came close to putting Bayern out.

Breaking down their passes per game makes this predictability more apparent. Bayern played more passes, with a higher pass accuracy this season. Interestingly, they also played more long balls this season than last, but as a percentage of their total passes it is lower (12% last season, compared to 10% this season).

Given the ability of their wide men, Robben and Ribery, and Mandzukic’s aerial prowess it’s surprising they didn’t play more crosses. Although that may be in part due to the lack of game time both Ribery and Robben had this season, much to the grievance of the former. It’ll be interesting to see how Lewandowski fits in with this style of play, given Dortmund’s approach is less possession based and he too is very strong in the air.

Less crosses suggests Bayern played through the middle more, and that’s certainly the case, last season Bayern played an average of 26% through the middle, compared to 29% this season.

Bayern were offside fewer times 1.9 compared to 3.4 last season, whilst that is a positive and corresponds to Bayern’s greater control of the game, what it also illustrates is a team playing less direct football, maybe taking less risks in order to keep the ball. That’s also shown by fewer through balls per game this season.

All this leads to an increasing sense of one dimensionality about their play, if they continue in this fashion teams will soon get wise to it, as they have done to Barca’s style of play in Spain. As long as they continue to win matches and trophies it’s unlikely anything will change, but on the evidence of this season that might be sooner than we think.  

Statistics courtesy of 

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