Carlo Ancelotti has had an enigmatic preseason. With the majority of his squad at the Euros and then on vacation, there have been few clues as to how his influence would change Bayern Munich. The International Champions Cup was a reserve laden cash grab rather than a true test, but offered some hints as to Ancelotti’s willingness to shake up Pep Guardiola’s formula. The first real litmus test of this team was Bayern’s 2-0 DFL SuperCup win over Borussia Dortmund, and that match heralds huge changes to this team.
Pep Guardiola brought high tempo, high press, fast passing football to the Allianz Arena when he joined in 2013. It was a radical departure from Jupp Heynckes’ style and while the emphasis on possession football remained the same, the means were dramatically altered. It should come as not surprise that just like Guardiola’s assertions of tactical continuity and changing little in 2013 were generally crock that Ancelotti’s assertions that he would change little this summer are also of the same vein.
High pressing in the opposition’s half is gone
Guardiola teams focus on playing in your half of the field and they focus on high pressing, swarming actions that win the ball before oppositions can attack during transition play. It’s why his teams always struggled against good counterattacking sides even if his defense’s were well set up to contain and mitigate 2v1 threats with Manuel Neuer’s sweeper keeping.
That style of defense was completely gone against Borussia Dortmund in the DFL SuperCup. Bayern really struggled to play in Dortmund’s half of the field in the first half. Their press was continually beaten on the pass and much of that came down to the distance between Bayern’s lines. The centerback pairing of Hummels and Martinez played dramatically deeper than anything we’ve seen Bayern employ in three years. That depth sucked the midfield deeper and left high pressing strikers isolated. Coupled with incredible passing, Die Schwarzgelben had a field day with it.
It took Bayern the entire first half to figure out some semblance of defensive shape and to get their midfield engaged in the game. With less than a week’s practice under their belt, it wasn’t a surprising thing to see happen but this was a huge shift for Bayern Munich.
The return of the 3-man midfield
This performance from Bayern Munich showed the return of the epitome of the 4-3-3 featuring a 3-man midfield. Gone was the deep regista/centerback combo of the Guardiola era and the focal reliance on the two-way players to act as the fulcrums for pushing the offense’s reliance on creating overloads and 1v1 duels. Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal, and Thiago all bore equal responsibility for offensive/defense positioning and they moved in concert.
This attacking schema worked well in possession and it was a disaster on defense as Dortmund exposed small holes to work possession into the feet of Dembele and Aubameyang with wanton abandon. Only Arturo Vidal — and the opening goal — really allowed Bayern to regain control of their midfield.
Carlo Ancelotti will play conservatively
After nearly 45 minutes of being hounded by Tuchel’s side — Bayern were out possessed, out passed, and out shot for the entire first half — Carlo Ancelotti went for the conservative option of dropping his team deep. The team spent the final 45 focused on maintaining tight lines in defense and attacking quickly in transition. The focus on spreading the field, bringing their entire team in support of attacks and overloading the opposition with bodies was gone.
Their lone two goals came as the direct result of counterattacks.
Is Borussia Dortmund the exception or the new rule?
Borussia Dortmund is an exceptional opponent. These two sides fought to a 0-0 draw last March that saw Dortmund control and dominate Bayern for the vast majority of the game. In that match, Guardiola played a very defensive style of his high pressing, high tempo defense, and it was easily the most conservative match of his entire tenure at the club. Is it any wonder that Ancelotti would choose the same option in his first clash?
The tactical choices Ancelotti made against Dortmund highlight a pragmatic coach who isn’t afraid to keep things simple against quality opposition. That in itself is a severe departure from the dogmatic styling of Pep Guardiola, but to really get a sense of how Ancelotti is going to change this team and where things are going to remain the same, we’re going to have to wait to see how he handles the Werder Bremen’s of the Bundesliga.