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Bayern and Leipzig: similar tactics, different visions

Matt Ford Munich
February 6, 2022

Clinical finishing and a lucky deflection saw Bayern Munich overcome an impressive RB Leipzig. Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco have similar styles, but their clubs represent different visions of German football.

Vorschau zum Bundesligaspiel FC Bayern Muenchen-RB Leipzig.
Image: SvenSimon/picture alliance

Bayern Munich 3-2 RB Leipzig
(Müller 12', Lewandowski 44', Gvardiol OG 58' – Silva 27', Nkunku 53')
Allianz Arena, Munich

Having already come from behind twice in Munich, RB Leipzig clearly believed they could repeat the trick a third time. And with just ten minutes remaining, they probably should have.

Still pressing aggressively late on, Benjamin Henrichs forced former teammate Dayot Upamecano into an error and crossed to Emil Forsberg. The Swede's first effort was blocked by Niklas Süle, his second saved by Manuel Neuer as Bayern held on for a fortunate win.

Fortunate because, for large parts of the evening, RB had gone toe-to-toe with the German champions, new head coach Domenico Tedesco matching his former coaching badge classmate Julian Nagelsmann in approach and style.

"A draw would have been a fair result," admitted Nagelsmann post-match. "It was an open match with dangerous counterattacks from both teams."

Domenico Tedesco shakes hands with Julian Nagelsmann
Tedesco and Nagelsmann are old classmatesImage: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

Indeed, if this Bayern team has one weakness, it's that their high line – often with all ten outfield players closing down spaces in the opposition half – can be exposed by pace on the break.

Few Bundesliga teams manage that, but RB Leipzig did – twice.

Their first equalizer courtesy of Andre Silva came following a counterattack which saw four Leipzig players streaming forward. The second saw Christoph Nkunku score after good transitional play from Konrad Laimer.

"Both the goals we conceded were similar; both came directly from us losing possession," analyzed Nagelsmann - and it could had been more had the impressive Dani Olmo been more precise with his efforts.

"We saw two offensive teams," said Nagelsmann. "That's so valuable for the Bundesliga."

'No football for Red Bull'

From a purely sporting point of view and in terms of a potential challenger to Bayern Munich, perhaps. But at what price? The identity of that challenger poses its own problems.

"No football for Red Bull," read a banner hanging behind one goal – a reminder that, even in their sixth Bundesliga season and despite their attractive football, RB Leipzig are still not accepted by a significant element of German football supporters.

Those fans may have spent most of the past two years confined to their televisions due to the pandemic – and only 10,000 were present here following a partial relaxation of coronavirus restrictions – but their fan culture still exists, none more so than in Munich.

As the recent dispute over Bayern's sponsorship links with Qatar, culminating in November's heated annual general meeting showed, Bayern Munich's hardcore supporters remain as determined as ever to make use of their rights as club members.

Such a discussion would not be possible at RB Leipzig. The 500 travelling fans up on the top tier on Saturday may have earned praise from Tedesco for their vocal support, but their relationship with their club is purely passive. Unlike Bayern's members, they have no say.

Christopher Nkunku and Serge Gnabry in action
RB Leipzig's Nkunku and Bayern's Gnabry in action Image: MIS/imago images

Were that model to apply to the rest of the Bundesliga – in other words, were the 50+1 rule to fall – German football would risk losing its unique fan culture, which is so reliant on genuine fan participation.

The start of a tactical rivalry

Whether that would be so "valuable" for the Bundesliga is not a question for Nagelsmann or Tedesco to answer; their focus is on the pitch, where their teams play a similar brand of football.

Nagelsmann and Bayern came out on top this time thanks to clinical finishing from Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, plus a deflected Serge Gnabry strike. But RB's resurgence under Tedesco suggests a tactical rivalry in the making.

But that's where the similarities end. Off the pitch, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig are worlds apart.

The 50+1 rule: What is it?

DW Matthew Ford Sports
Matt Ford Reporter and editor for DW Sports specializing in European football, fan culture & sports politics.@matt_4d