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Should Bayern Munich switch to a three-man defense?

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As a result of constant injury problems on the wing and the availability of world-class wingbacks, it might be a good idea for Hansi Flick to look into a back-three.

FC Bayern Muenchen v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images

We have once again reached that part of the season where a crucial Champions League tie is just a couple of weeks away, and Bayern Munich have almost run out of wingers. Although Kingsley Coman just made his comeback from injury, he will need more time to get up to speed. Meanwhile Ivan Perisic is injured, and Serge Gnabry looks like a pale shadow of himself.

However, Lucas Hernandez also made his comeback to the team, and he looked sharp in his outing against RB Leipzig. With his return, a new option becomes available to Hansi Flick — one that could help deal with the winger situation at the club and simultaneously solve the numerous tactical issues that have become apparent in the team these last few weeks. He could play a three-man back line.

How does it work?

Compared to the standard four-man back line that uses two center-backs and a couple of fullbacks to defend out wide, a three-man back line has three-center backs with a pair of wingbacks on the flanks, who generally play higher up the pitch than traditional fullbacks. Antonio Conte is an example of a coach who has used a three-man back line to great success — he won titles at both Juventus and Chelsea with a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-3 formation respectively.

At Bayern, a three-man back line would probably look like this with the current personnel:

The pros

While it’s not something that the players are familiar with, Bayern Munich are currently in a unique position to take advantage of the benefits provided by switching to a back-three. The main arguments for the switch are as follows:

  • Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard have extensive experience at fullback, so they would be perfectly suited to playing as wide center-backs.
  • It prevents the coach from having to field two left-footed players in central defense just to get both of his best defenders (David Alaba and Lucas Hernandez) on the pitch together.
  • Joshua Kimmich might be happier as a wingback than he is as a fullback, as it would allow him to get forward much more. Despite the unequivocal praise from the German media, Kimmich’s exploits at defensive midfield leave a lot to be desired, whereas he was a legitimate contender for best right-back in the world last season. Getting him back on the flank would allow him to start racking up assists again.
  • If Kimmich refuses to vacate the center, the formation is still viable with Pavard moving to RWB and Jerome Boateng coming in.
  • The back three allows Bayern’s wingbacks — especially Alphonso Davies — to bomb forward more often without leaving the defense vulnerable. One of the biggest problems in the game against Leipzig was that the fullbacks had to shift high up the pitch to provide width due to the lack of true wingers, leaving space behind them that allowed RBL to counterattack. Using wingbacks instead neatly plugs that hole.
  • With a wingback supporting him, Thomas Müller will be able to play much closer to the center (and Robert Lewandowski) without compromising Bayern’s wing play. One of the other key weaknesses seen against Leipzig was how easily they shut Müller down as he isn’t a traditional winger and cannot beat his man by dribbling. A back-three solves that issue.

The cons

Of course, there are reasons why a back-three hasn’t been tried yet. There are a few issues:

  • Teams with dominant winger-fullback combos like Liverpool will outnumber any team with wingbacks on the flank, leading to issues in defense.
  • If the wingers DO get fit, then Bayern will have issues keeping everyone satisfied with their minutes while playing a 3-4-3.
  • A three-man defense is often seen as a bit too defensive. If played right, it can boost Bayern in both the defensive and control departments, but the players’ inexperience with the formation might cause issues (at least at first).
  • Hansi Flick will need to completely rework his pressing scheme for it to be effective with such a drastic formation change.

Of course, this entire article is mostly a thought experiment. While Bayern have all the tools necessary to try a back three and make it succeed, there will need to be a significant time-investment from Hansi and the players to learn and execute a new formation in the middle of the season.

While easy games against Köln and Paderborn are coming up, the team management may decide to spend the time getting Coman or Gnabry up to speed instead. However, if either happen to re-injure themselves, then a back-three is something that the coach should seriously look into.

Poll

Do you want to see Bayern Munich try a three-man back line?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Yes, it can help fix our problems.
    (308 votes)
  • 56%
    No, we should work on what we have.
    (392 votes)
700 votes total Vote Now