A Diamond 4-4-2 is now an option but don’t expect it often
Carlo Ancelotti debuted his famous diamond 4-4-2 formation against Ingolstadt (it’s also called a 4-3-2-1 - they are the same thing). There was a main reason for this: the Ingolstadt midfield press is intense.
By packing the midfield with Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal, Joshua Kimmich, and Thiago, Bayern Munich ensured they had plenty of passing options to bypass the press. They weren’t always successful, but it gave the team control of the match in a scenario where that otherwise might have proven deadly.
That control in midfield came with a sacrifice on the wings. David Alaba was expected to own the entire left side of the field by himself and while he had occasional help from Thiago early, the veracity of the Ingolstadt press forced him to concede that role after the opening 15 minutes of the match.
Lacking width, Bayern’s attacking outlets came from one of two ways: longballs into Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müler, or breaking the Ingolstadt press with two runners. The former was Bayern’s preferred strategy early as it allowed Thiago to push up into midfield aggressively. When Ingolstadt realized that Thiago was making these forays unsupported by Kimmich or Vidal, they instead focused on stopping Thiago entirely. That left Lewandowski and Müller isolated.
The real issue for Bayern came with how they deployed Joshua Kimmich. The young German had issues reading Thaigo’s cues going forward in the first half and frequently found himself too deep to support play going forward. To his credit, Kimmich adapted his performance in the second half but still found himself with limited effectiveness.
All in all, the diamond 4-4-2 was effective and it represents another option in a set of tools Carlo Ancelotti has at his disposal.
Welcome back, Thomas Müller
This was Thomas Müller’s best game of the season. He was dynamic, continually making runs across the backline, and his inside-out runs when Ingolstadt were under pressure opened the midfield for Thiago. He even added a game winning assist with a nice pass to a wide open Arturo Vidal.
That said, Thomas Müller disappeared for a majority of the first half. The strength of the Ingolstadt press after they realized they could target Thiago isolated Müller from his teammates and it’s a stark reminder that if play isn’t flowing near him, Thomas Müller can be a curse more than a luxury.
Renato Sanches can’t buy a game
Joshua Kimmich struggled with transitioning up the field and was physically dominated when he did by Ingolstadt. That really calls into question where Renato Sanches was. The Portugese international is very similar to Kimmich and while his touch and passing are not as sublime, his physicality and direct play are exactly what Bayern needed in their midfield.
It was that same physicality and vertical play that Bayern used late with Arturo Vidal that won them this game and why Ancelotti didn’t go to his bench sooner to bring Sanches on is a lingering question.
Let’s talk Ingolstadt
We haven’t seen a team attack the Bayern Munich midfield in quite this manner since the loss to Dortmund in November. If Ancelotti hadn’t decided to transition to the diamond 4-4-2, I’m confident in saying they would have lost. Javi Martinez was constantly under siege in this match from Dario Lezcano and Mats Hummels wasn’t the stalwart he’s been this season either. It was Bayern’s midfield that saved them today if only for it’s ability to retain the ball.