Hansi Flick was rather direct in explaining his game plan in Bayern Munich’s 2-1 win over Wolfsburg.
Surprising everyone with a lineup that featured three wingers, four center-backs, no right-backs, and no true defensive midfielders, Flick spoke candidly to the media after the game about his strategy and what the thought process was behind his unorthodox plan:
Flick on today's system: "We wanted to play with a back three in the buildup: Süle, Boateng and Alaba. Hernández was further up the pitch on the left side. Müller as an attacking number 6. We have to be a bit creative, hence the asymmetric system" pic.twitter.com/HX54fAArpP— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) December 16, 2020
A formation previously unheard of at Bayern, this particular approach involved a lot of bold moves — putting Niklas Sule as a right back/center back hybrid, Thomas Muller as a box-to-box midfielder, and almost playing Leroy Sane as a right-back. The scary thing? Almost all of those choices were spot on.
Sule proved himself to be more than capable of being a right back with his sheer size and pace. Muller gave his teammates some slick passes while also chipping in with defensive work as well, recording the second most tackles (3) in the team. Yes, Sane was pretty horrible, but they can’t all be golazos, right?
This approach isn’t too unlike how Julian Nagelsmann took apart Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in last season’s Champions League. Nagelsmann utilized a hybrid of a 3-1-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1, positioning his wing-backs/full-backs asymmetrically to counter Atletico’s strengths on the flanks, while also maintaining defensive stability. In Bayern’s case, they switched between a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3, depending on how they were attacking and defending.
Lucas Hernandez would run up and down the flank frequently, similar to what Angelino did for Leipzig. Sule, on the other hand, would be mostly parked in his place, in either a more central role or out on the flank while defending, like Konrad Laimer. As a result of Bayern’s fluid switching, Wolfsburg’s attacks were often unexpectedly pushed out into awkward places, from where Bayern’s defenders could clean them up relatively quickly. Although Wolfsburg had more shots than Bayern (17 to 11), their xG was lower (about 1 to 2), which proves that their shots were taken at more difficult positions than Bayern’s.
In attack, long balls were the way to go. By lessening the midfield and putting one more ball-playing center back in the defensive line, Bayern was able to take a more direct approach in terms of goal scoring, rather than get caught in the midfield like they did in the early stages of the game. Both of Bayern’s goals were results of either crosses or long balls. Whatever midfield sweeping was needed was taken up by Muller, who pretty much covered almost three quarters of the field with his work rate. Bayern thus didn’t really lose control of the midfield drastically.
Whatever Flick’s crazy plan was, it worked, as the team fought to turn yet another deficit around to complete a stellar home season. Bayern finished the year unbeaten at home, something they hadn’t achieved in almost forty years. I remember saying that Flick is a tactical genius if he wins with this lineup. Well, I guess he is!