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Five observations on Bayern's dominant 4-1 victory over PSV Eindhoven

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Carlo Ancelotti showed his creative side today, fielding an amorphous 4-3-3 and wantonly inverting his inverted-wingers.

FC Bayern Muenchen v PSV Eindhoven - UEFA Champions League
Hmmm, what is "awesome" squared?
Photo by Marc Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich dominated PSV Eindhoven to the tune of 4-1 at the Allianz, but the way it did so gives us plenty of food for thought. There's apparently a lot more to Carlo's beloved formation than meets the eye.

So about that 4-3-3

As predicted, Carlo Ancelotti lined Bayern Munich up today in his customary 4-3-3 formation, despite the absence of Franck Ribery and two right wingers. What’s a coach to do? Play one of them on the left: in this case, Thomas Müller lined up on the left, ahead of Thiago, while Robben played in his usual position as an inverted right winger.

Right? Wrong. Carlo Ancelotti’s formation today was one of the most fluid and amorphous we have seen in a long time. Both Müller and Robben freely switched sides, with Müller ranging to the right wing and Robben to the left. But that was hardly the end of the story: not only did they cross over horizontally, they also wandered vertically. Müller and particularly Robben often strayed deep back into Bayern’s midfield, allowing themselves to be flanked by Joshua Kimmich on the right and Thiago on the left. And occasionally they did both: in other words, at any given time, Robben might wander over to the left midfield, freeing Thiago to move right or forward. The effect on PSV was utter confusion: it was impossible to predict who would play where. Whether the tactic would succeed against an elite defending team like Atletico is another question.

Bossing the midfield without the boss

Although it seems that Arturo Vidal has largely recovered from the minor injury he picked up while on international duty with Chile, Ancelotti was determined to rest his midfield warrior today as a precaution against further injury. How, then, could Bayern control the midfield without him? The short answer is Joshua Kimmich: starting on the right ahead of Xabi Alonso, Kimmich provided much of the fire missing from Vidal. Kimmich was not afraid to launch several shots on goal, and of course he was at hand to take advantage of the deflected cross from Alaba that he headed into the net. Kimmich also, however, took full advantage Ancelotti’s position-swapping scheme. He frequently surged ahead on the attack, at one point completely exchanging places with Robben and finding himself on the receiving end of a pass from Robben in a one-on-one with PSV’s keeper. Is goalie the only position Kimmich can’t play?

Hummel’d: Bayern caught on the counter just like old times!

PSV came back from two down with a surprise counter-attack that started as right winger Robben – playing at left midfield! – passed up to defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso. It was perhaps a moment of inversion hubris. Xabi promptly was dispossessed; PSV’s Gastón Peireiro then made the perfect pass to Luciano Narsingh: Mats Hummels was caught wrong footed and helplessly watched the decisive pass to Narsingh sail by. Alaba and Boateng couldn’t close the distance and Narsingh made a perfect shot just off of Neuer’s fingertips into the far corner. After Bayern had utterly dominated the game for forty minutes, it had the look of a case when everything simply went right for the other side. But Hummels proved vulnerable yet again when a dangerous cross found his man in the penalty box and nearly resulted in yet another goal. While Hummels and Boateng regularly hold down the fort together for the national team, Hummels’s role at Bayern needs further refinement.

Lewandowski is all right

There has been much concern around here about the goal-scoring mojo of our favorite Polish striker lately. After blitzing Werder Bremen with three goals in the season opener and scoring one goal each against Schalke, Rostov, and Ingolstadt, Lewandowski hadn’t scored for over a month. He netted one tonight off a blocked shot taken by Robben. It was a gratifying moment. He did everything a striker should: he was precisely where he needed to be when Robben’s shot rebounded right at him. But judging Lewandowski’s performance merely on goals does him an injustice. He is far more complete a player than a mere goal poacher. Lewandowski drops back aggressively into the midfield on defense; he exchanges roles with his wingers. At one point in the first half, Lewandowski ranged very far right and delivered a great cross for Müller standing in his place at center. In another scene, a deft give-and-go play with Muller set up a shot by Robben ­– who had roamed over to the left taking Muller’s place. Lewandowski is more than his goal tally. He took some excellent shots today and challenged PSV’s keeper. More goals will come.

Ancelotti’s trolling substitutions

Wait, what? Is that Javi Martinez at right winger? No, wait. It’s Sanches now. Ancelotti’s late-game substitutions showed the same degree of flexibility as his shifting 4-3-3 had during the game. While Douglas Costa, naturally enough, replaced Müller on the left wing, Javi Martinez came on for Joshua Kimmich, and Renato Sanches for Robben – and they both played roughly in the same positions. After getting used to Javi as a centerback, it felt downright strange to see him wandering up to PSV’s penalty area ostensibly a-goal-poaching. Sanches likewise strayed out to the right wing in a far more offensive position than we have thus far seen from him. Is Ancelotti testing the waters to see what his players are capable of doing in unusual situations, or were these substitutions inconsequential in a 4-1 victory?