After beating Olympique Lyonnais, Bayern Munich reached the finals of the Champions League for the first time in 7 years — where they will play PSG. A very large part of Bayern’s recent resurgence to the top of European football has been the restoration of a high defensive line — a feature crucial to both attacking, transition and defensive phases of play, and synonymous with Hansi Flick’s brand of football.
In Bayern’s matches vs Chelsea, Lyon and Barcelona, the line has been further forward than ever. But just how are Bayern able to pull off such a suicidal defensive line, why do they employ it, how does it function and more? Find out in this analysis.
The importance of David Alaba, Manuel Neuer and Alphonso Davies
The high line leaves a lot of space in the area between the defenders and the goalkeeper. This means that it can be prone to through balls over the top and runners in behind the defense. However, with Alaba, Davies and Neuer, Bayern are able to minimize these opportunities.
The pace of Alphonso Davies is crucial — and allows the line to situate as high up as halfway. Defending counter attacks, the FC Bayern Roadrunner is able to do race back and prevent goal scoring opportunities for opposition attackers who have gotten between the defense and goalkeeper.
Moreover, David Alaba, as an extremely quick CB, is able to win races to the ball and sweep up balls penetrating the defense — acting almost like a modern libero/sweeper.
In addition, Manuel Neuer’s sweeping is instrumental to keeping the defenders so high up the pitch. ManWALL is able to rush out and intercept balls in behind the defense through his impeccable composure and anticipation. This means that even a slightly over-hit ball over the defense will be calmly swept up by the goalkeeper — therefore, preventing chances for opposition forwards.
So, through these three players, Bayern are able to deal with most over the top balls. However, Chelsea, Barcelona and Lyon all got in behind the high line multiple times during their matches, and in these situations, Neuer is crucial with his one-on-one tact.
Why do Bayern employ it?
The high line is employed to allow the team to play their aggressive counter press by shortening the distance between offence and defense, making it very compact for the opposition when playing in their half. This makes it harder for the opposition to beat the press, therefore allowing Bayern to force more turnovers in promising positions high up the pitch.
Furthermore, it forces the opposition to play more long balls while constantly under pressure. This adds to Bayern’s control of the game, as these can often easily be won in the compact midfield where there isn’t much space, or swept up by the defense if the ball goes that far.
In addition, the aggressive pressing results in passing mistakes from the opposition, which can be punished.
So, in summary, Bayern’s high line allows the team to counter press effectively. This in turn forces winning of the ball in the final third, more control and possession, and forces costly mistakes from the opposition which can be exploited. Many of Bayern’s best chances come as a result of Hansi Flick’s high line press.
How Bayern’s high line press works
Once Bayern lose the ball, they aim to constantly push the opposition backwards, away from Neuer’s goal. Everyone, including the defense, shifts up until the opposition have been pressed further back as pressers keep blocking passing lanes.
When defending corners, once the ball has been cleared from danger, the offside line quickly moves up in an attempt to squeeze the opposition, apply pressure to them and play them offside if they cross a ball back in. However, this tactic is risky if opposition players stay onside.
With the high line, Bayern’s attackers, led by a constantly gesticulating Thomas Muller, press deep into the opposition area. Every opposition player is quickly surrounded whenever they get the ball. The players aggressively sprint at the opposition man who has the ball and cut off passing options, suffocating the other team.
Whenever Bayern lose the ball, players close to the ball immediately work hard and “counter-press” to win the ball back — cutting down all the passing channels, and engulfing the area surrounding the ball. This often results in Bayern winning the ball back, quickly after losing it.
While Bayern Munich’s high line and resultant team pressing does have some vulnerabilities and will allow opposition opportunities on goal, it is absolutely crucial to Flick’s style of play and the Bavarians’ great performances in recent weeks. From being the catalyst to many Bayern chances, to helping the team control and dictate the tempo of play, Flick’s high line pressing has been instrumental in their road to the CL final. Let’s hope it’ll be just as effective against PSG on Sunday.