After ten Bundesliga games, Bayern Munich decided to sack their manager Niko Kovač due to bad results and the disappointing way of play. Hans-Dieter Flick took over and Bayern immediately trashed Borussia Dortmund (4-0). Due to the better results and the way of play, Bayern announced that Flick would stay their manager until the end of the season.
In this article, I will analyse the tactics Bayern used since Flick took over. First of all, I will analyse the differences in the data since Flick took over. Furthermore, the analysis consists of Flick’s attacking and defensive philosophy at Bayern Munich.
A quick look at the data
It is interesting to look if there is a difference between Kovač’s stats and Flick’s stats as head coach in this Bundesliga season. Thus, all the stats are about Bayern’s games in the Bundesliga.
First of all, let’s take a closer look at the xG stats. The xG data show that Bayern Munich improved since Flick took over. On average, Flick’s xG and xGA values are better than Kovac’s. Kovac had an average of 2.07 xG and 1.28 xGA this Bundesliga season. Since Flick took over, Bayern averaged an xG value of 2.65 and an xGA value of 0.95.
The xG and xGA values are based on the shots both teams take during a match. Therefore, I took a closer look to see if there was a difference in the attempted shots and shots faced since Bayern switched manager. What stands out is that, on average, both the shots and the shots faced increased under Flick. On average, Bayern attempted 2.68 shots more since the departure of Kovac, while the shots on target increased with 1.49. The increase in both the xG value, as well as the increase in shots (on target) shows that Bayern created more chances than they did at the beginning of the season.
The stats surrounding shots faced are also interesting. Since Flick took over, the average amount of shots that Bayern faced increased. However, the number of shots faced on target decreased. Thus, Flick’s Bayern Munich forced the opponent to take on chances that had a lower chance of success.
When looking at both Bayern’s goals and goals against, we also see better results since Flick took over. Bayern Munich averages three goals and 0.85 goals against per game under their new manager, while in the period before they averaged 2.5 goals and 1.6 goals against. Lastly and most importantly, is there a difference in the results? In the first ten games of this Bundesliga season, Bayern averaged 1.8 points per game. Since Flick took over, the ‘Rekordmeister’ averaged 2.14 points per game.
Thus, statistically, Bayern improved on all the important aspects. They created more chances, scored more goals, were less likely to concede, conceded less and got more points. But how did Flick achieve this? In the following tactical analysis, I will outline how Flick’s side plays.
Attack: the build-up phase
Bayern mainly used a 4-1-4-1 formation. In this formation, the centre-backs position themselves wide besides their goalkeeper. The pivot positioned himself just in front of the two centre-backs, while the two full-backs took the positions at the flanks. The two more attacking midfielders positioned themselves around the midway line, so they gave the back four and the pivot the space to play through the opposition’s press.
Most of the time, Manuel Neuer played the ball to one of the centre-backs. These centre-backs got a couple of options to play through the oppositions press. One of these options was to find one of the attacking midfielders, who would drop in to offer support. When the centre-backs played the ball towards them, they could create a triangle with either the full-back or the pivot.
Another option for the centre-backs was to find the winger on the ball side. On those moments, the attacking midfielder positioned himself higher on the pitch. As a result, space opened up for the winger to drop into.
The centre-backs also had the option to play it short to one of the wing-backs. As the example beneath shows, Javi Martínez was in possession. Because of that, Benjamin Pavard moved towards the flank to make himself available. Martinez played the ball towards the full-back, who turned towards the opposition’s half. After he turned, Serge Gnabry made himself available. The full-back played the ball towards Gnabry, who immediately played it towards Leon Goretzka. The attacking midfielder enjoyed a lot of space and was, therefore, able to switch the play. Thus, Bayern used the full-back to play around the opposition’s press.
When the centre-backs had no options to play it short, they would look to cross the ball to one of the wingers. In the example beneath, David Alaba was in possession and saw no options to play it short. Because the opposition moved towards the ball and defended in a compact structure, it opened up space by Bayern’s right-winger Gnabry. Alaba switched the play, after which Bayern could attack the opposition’s half.
The examples above show that Bayern used several ways to create a numerical superiority which allowed them to play through the opposition’s press. When Bayern was not able to create this superiority, Neuer played a long ball towards one of their attackers. At those moments, the attacking midfielders had to move close to fight for the second ball. The other two attackers had to make runs in behind, in case the areal duel was won.
The third goal in their game against Borussia Dortmund is a great example of Bayern’s use of the long ball. Neuer was in possession and had no options to play it short. The goalkeeper decided to play it long towards Bayern’s left-winger Ivan Perišić. Just before the winger won his areal duel, Lewandowski positioned himself to receive the ball in behind while Thomas Müller and Thiago positioned themselves to fight for the second ball. Perisic won the duel and headed it towards Lewandowski. The striker made a one-two combination with Müller, after which he scored Bayern’s third goal: 3:0.
Attack: vertical passes
Bayern often used vertical passes to attack the opposition’s half. The Munich side used two types of vertical passes. The first one was to find the free player between the lines. Either an attacking midfielder or an attacker positioned himself between the opposition’s midfield and defence. The vertical pass then broke through the opposition’s midfield line, to find the free player between the lines.
In the picture beneath, we see an example of how Bayern used vertical passes to find the free player between the lines. Boateng was in possession around the midway line. Goretzka positioned himself so that he opened up the passing lane towards striker Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern striker dropped back a bit to make himself available, after which Boateng played a vertical pass towards him.
Bayern also used vertical passes to play the ball to players who made runs in behind the opposition’s defence. The picture beneath is an example of this. Alaba had the ball. The centre back looked up and saw that Kimmich made himself available through making a run in behind. After that, Alaba immediately gave the ball towards Kimmich.
Attack: cross to the winger
When attacking at the opposition’s half, Bayern used a lot of cross-passes towards the wingers. Bayern’s oppositions defended in a compact block at their half. Because of that, Bayern had little space in the centre of the pitch. However, this way of defending opened up spaces at the flanks of the pitch. Bayern tried to use these spaces to play through the compact defensive structure of their opposition.
In the picture above Kimmich was in possession around the midway line. Bayer Leverkusen defended compactly on their own half and tried to minimalize the spaces in the centre of the pitch. Because Kimmich dribbled towards the left side of the pitch, the Leverkusen team also moved to that side of the pitch. This movement opened up space at Bayern’s right-wing. Kimmich spotted the space and gave a cross pass towards Gnabry, after which Bayern could attack Leverkusen’s half.
Attack: The interplay between attacking players
Bayern tried to confuse the opposition through switching positions at the opposition’s half. Most of the time, these movements included the attacking midfielders, the wingers and the strikers. The picture beneath is one of the many examples that Bayern’s attacking players switched positions during the attack. Kingsley Coman had the ball and dribbled towards the centre of the pitch. Müller recognized that and made a diagonal run forward, which opened up space in the centre of the pitch. In the centre of the pitch, Gnabry positioned himself in the striker position. On the right flank, Lewandowski asked for a ball in behind.
This interplay not only opened up spaces but also made it possible for Bayern to create chances. The picture beneath shows a situation just before Bayern created a big chance against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Left-winger Coman received the ball in the centre of the pitch. At the same time, attacking midfielder Goretzka made a run in behind the opposition’s defence. That run opened up space for Coman to play the ball towards Lewandowski, who positioned himself on the left side of the pitch. Coman passed the ball towards Lewandowski, after which the striker just missed the target.
Attack: Interplay between fullback and winger
Bayern also frequently used the interplay between their full-back and winger when attacking the opposition’s half. Flick’s side had three different types of interplay. In the first one, the full-back provided the winger with an overlapping run. Because of that, the opposition’s full-back had to make a decision: press the winger or move towards the overlapping full-back?
In the picture beneath, Perisic was in possession. Bayern’s left-back Davies provided Perisic through making an overlapping run. Because of that movement, Bayer Leverkusen’s full-back hesitated. Perisic used that moment and played the ball towards Davies, after which the full-back could cross the ball towards one of Bayern’s strikers
In the second type of interplay, Bayern’s full-back positioned himself at the wing, while the winger positioned himself in the half-space of the pitch. Because of the winger’s position, the opposition’s full-back had to make a decision: stay in position or move towards the half-space of the pitch?
In the picture beneath, Bayern played the ball towards Pavard on the right-wing. After that pass, Leverkusen’s left-back Wendell decided to press Pavard. As a result, this opened up space for Bayern to play the ball in behind. Gnabry recognized the space and made a diagonal run to make himself available.
In the last type of interplay, Bayern’s wingers provided width, while the full-back’s positioned themselves in the half-space of the pitch. Thus, this type of interplay is almost the same as the one before, except for the positioning of the players.
The picture beneath shows the third type of interplay between the full-back and the winger. Bayern played the ball towards their right-winger Coman. After that pass, right-back Kimmich made a run in behind. In this case, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s full-back decided to stay with Kimmich. This opened up space for Coman to play in a cross.
Bayern pressed high at the opposition’s half. Flick’s side immediately pressed the opposition after the first ball was played. Bayern used two different ways to put pressure on the opposition’s backline. In the first one, the winger on the side of the ball pressured the centre back in possession. When pressing, Bayern’s winger closed the passing lane towards the full-back. Bayern’s attacking midfielder gave the opposition’s midfielder a little space to create a pressing trap. Because the attacking midfielder gave the opposition’s midfielder a little space, it looked like a good option to play through Bayern’s press. However, Bayern’s attacking midfielder immediately pressed the opposition’s midfielder when they played the ball towards him. At the same time, Bayern’s full-back positioned himself to put pressure on the opposition’s full-back whenever the ball was played to him.
In their game against Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich used this type of pressing. The picture beneath shows that Coman pressured Dortmund’s right centre back and closed the passing lane towards Dortmund’s right-back. Attacking midfielder Müller gave Axel Witsel a little space to create the pressing trap.
After Dortmund played the ball towards Witsel, Müller immediately pressed the opposition’s midfielder. At the same time, Bayern’s left-back Davies positioned himself to pressure Dortmund’s right-back.
In the second type of pressing, Bayern’s attacking midfielder pressed on of the opposition’s centre-backs. In his pressing, the attacking midfielder blocked the passing lane towards midfield. The striker positioned himself to put pressure on the keeper when the ball was played back, while the winger made it impossible for the opposition to play the ball to their full-back.
In their game against Leverkusen, Bayern sometimes used this type of pressing. In the picture beneath, Leverkusen’s right centre-back was in possession. Just after receiving the ball, Bayern’s attacking midfielder Müller pressured Leverkusen’s centre-back. Bayern’s other players made it impossible to play it short. Therefore, Leverkusen played a long ball.
Defence: create a numerical superiority on the flanks
When defending on their half, Bayern tried to create a numerical superiority around the ball. Bayern did this through closing the centre of the pitch. As a result, Flick’s side forced the opposition to play the ball to the flanks. After the opposition gave the ball towards the flank, Bayern tried to enclose the player in possession through creating a numerical superiority.
In the picture beneath, we see an example of this in Bayern’s game against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Mönchengladbach played the ball to the flank, after which Bayern moved to that side. In doing so, Bayern created a five versus four situation. Because of the numerical superiority, Bayern was able to get back in possession.
Bayern performs better since Flick took over. When looking at the data, Bayern scores better on almost every important aspect. When looking at the style of play, Bayern is a dominant, attacking side again. Even in the games they lost, Bayern was the dominant side and had a higher xG value. It will be interesting to see if Bayern can close the gap with the Bundesliga leader Borussia Mönchengladbach.