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How Bayern Munich could switch to a 3-4-3 formation

Niko Kovac liked to play three at the back with Frankfurt. Could he bring it to Munich during his second season?

Liverpool v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I wrote about different possible positions that Joshua Kimmich could play moving forward. One of the options I briefly touched on was to switch Bayern Munich’s formation to a 3-4-3 and play Kimmich as a right wing-back. While I feel this new formation would suit Kimmich, it could also suit the team as a whole.

While at Frankfurt, Niko Kovac didn’t actually use a 3-4-3, but rather a 3-5-2. Though they both employ three center backs in the back line, there are key differences that should be highlighted.

3-4-3 vs. 3-5-2

I would sum up the main difference between the two formations with one sentence: a 3-4-3 supports attacks down the wing, and a 3-5-2 is more centrally stable. It’s easier to understand once you actually view it in action:

The 3-4-3 allows the wing-backs to join the already existing wingers in attack.
The 3-5-2 provides more balance in the middle

What would make the 3-4-3 more suitable to Bayern? Personnel. In a 3-5-2 there are more central midfielders, but no pure wingers. How does Bayern generally attack? Down the wing. The problem with a 3-5-2 is that it inhibits a team’s ability to do just that. However, with the 3-4-3, Alaba and Kimmich would have true wingers in front of them to play some combinations with to get in behind. That’s what they already do in the existing 4-2-3-1 formation. The only thing that would change down the flanks would be the increase in the wing-backs’ freedom to go forward, without worrying about sprinting back as fast as possible, every single time.

The problem with support on the wings is that it can leave you exposed in the center. Four wide players at once leaves only two central midfielders to deal with most teams three or more. It would be an even bigger problem if Bayern didn’t look to dominate possession. The center of the park is where the 3-5-2 gains the advantage. It’s a lot harder to pick apart a triangle of three defenders in the midfield, and it’s harder to win the ball from them as well. But the question is—does attacking down the sidelines or attacking through the middle help Bayern more? According to WhoScored, Bayern attacked down the flanks for a combined 74% of the time, and through the middle only 26%. That clearly shows how the Bavarians like to attack, and as we all know it eventually pays off, especially with the quality of wide players doing the attacking.

The 3-4-3 still helps ensure a team can retain possession, because the formation stretches the opposition so far wide, lots of passing channels and opportunities open up. This definitely suits Bayern’s current style of play: secure 60+% possession and find the opening in the opposing team to break through. Even with only two central midfielders, we have to remember who’ll be playing there. Thiago would almost definitely be first choice. Not only are his skills in possession excellent, this year he’s also shown that he can stop counter-attacks, which is precisely what the formation would require of him. Next to him could be any number of players. For a more defensive approach, Javi Martinez. More of an attacker? Go with Leon Goretzka, who’s also begun to show that he can restrain himself from being so aggressive with trudging forward every possible opportunity. Want a box-to-box kind of player to complement Thiago? Corentin Tolisso can channel his inner Arturo Vidal. Or, maybe you need someone who can make effective off the ball runs that collapse the defense? Look no further than the Raumdeuter himself, Thomas Müller. The possibilities and combinations are endless.

While Kovac can only play two central midfielders at a time, this could still be seen as a positive. Think about it. The formation requires the midfielders to do tons of running, both forward and back. So, while this may tire out the two starters, it ensures quality playing time for all the midfield players on the roster. Kovac should tell these players to give all the energy they have for the first, say, 60 minutes, because they know that coming in after them are full of energy and ready to work their, ahem, tails off for the rest of the game. Plus, maybe it’ll give Kovac an excuse to go back to his beloved rotation philosophy.

In terms of wing personnel and depth, that’s another reason why the 3-4-3 stands out. In a 3-5-2, either Kingsley Coman or Serge Gnabry would probably be forced out. With a 3-4-3, both can play and also have flexibility. The constant presence of wing-backs with them provide them with multiple options. They can look for a combination play, cut inside (knowing there’ll be an option on the outside), or remain outside (giving room for runs inside). The beauty of the entire formation is that the other team never gets a break from the outside. There is a constant barrage of runs inside and crosses that will certainly supply tons of goal-scoring opportunities.

The bottom line is that there are so many quality players on this team, so we need to make sure we’re using as many as we can and as best as we can. Just look at our defenders. Next year, we’ll have six top-quality defenders: Kimmich, Alaba, Süle, Hummels, Hernandez, and Pavard. It would be best to play three center backs at once, and provide cover for Alaba and Kimmich to do the things that put them in the conversation for best in the world. The other benefits to the team are an added bonus, for sure.

What do you think? Is it really worth switching Bayern’s formation? Tell us in the poll and in the comments!


Should Niko Kovac change formations?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    No, keep the 4-2-3-1
    (458 votes)
  • 9%
    Yes, to a 3-5-2
    (124 votes)
  • 53%
    Yes, to a 3-4-3
    (674 votes)
1256 votes total Vote Now

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