For the second time in a row, Bayern Munich could not manage more than a 1-1 draw. Despite a high share of possession, there were no scoring chances against Union Berlin. Urs Fischer’s team set a blueprint for how to keep the “Über-Bayern” at bay.

Bayern Munich lost the lead in the Bundesliga this weekend. After five match days, this is of course no reason to panic, but the furious start to the season was followed by two meagre results. The 1-1 draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach can still largely be attributed to an almost superhuman performance by goalkeeper Yann Sommer. The Swiss set a new Bundesliga record with 19 balls saved.

Union Berlin, however, did not have to demand anything similar from goalkeeper Frederik Rönnow for the identical result against Bayern on Saturday. In the first half, Julian Nagelsmann’s team only managed two goal attempts in 75 per cent possession, including the goal by Joshua Kimmich. Despite their superiority, the Berliners often kept the visitors from Munich out of the danger zone around their own goal.

Union forces Bayern on the outside

A key to Union’s success: the early pressing, which was sometimes intensively executed by Sheraldo Becker and his supporting players. The Berliners’ running routes and timing were particularly important. Bayern’s centre-backs were run into from the middle before they could play the first forward pass. In this way, Union tried to divert the record champion’s build-up play to the wings.

Although Bayern, as always, had top-class players on the flanks, Urs Fischer hoped for defensive success in this way. Kingsley Coman or Alphonso Davies occasionally broke through, but it was mainly individual actions. The collective high-speed football of the first weeks of this season was effectively prevented by Union. Fischer, of course, knew exactly how Bayern had previously outplayed opponents.

Mané dives

Nagelsmann’s team recently lived mainly on vertical and set-piece passes that passed through the middle of the opponents’ lines and, because they were executed so quickly, nullified defensive allocation. Union, however, were usually able to maintain their own defensive formation because Bayern’s wing-heavy attacking football was predictable. As a result, Union, even more than Gladbach the previous week, was able to keep spaces tight, initiate duels and bring toughness into the match. Because physically, the home side did not have to hide from Bayern, head coach Fischer was aware of that.

Sadio Mané in particular was ineffective in the Bavarian attack on Saturday. The Senegalese usually waited for passes far forward between the Berlin centre-backs, acting more or less like a classic centre-forward. After Mané was able to show double-digit ball contacts in the middle third of the pitch in the first games of the season, this value dropped to a meagre four against Gladbach. The Bayern newcomer had no presence whatsoever in midfield. Yet his strengths come to the fore as a drifting and combination-oriented attacker. Quick forwarding and a feel for the spaces between the lines are what distinguish him when he is not dribbling from the flank.

Don’t hope for weak phases from the opponents

Bayern should be pleased that they were able to create more penalty area action and score goals in the second half on Saturday. Even an experienced defensive team like Union can hardly keep up this kind of football over 90 minutes. At some point, gaps will open up. But hoping for that should not be the aspiration of Nagelsmann and his players. Instead, they have to find concrete solutions to play around the opponents’ early pressing attacks and then initiate their own direct forward passing game. From that point of view, the draw at the Alte Försterei may even come in handy as a wake-up call.