Julian Nagelsmann is a coach known for experimenting and tinkering with his team on a weekly basis. While the pre-season suggests he’s planning primarily with the 4-2-2-2 and the 3-5-2, it is almost guaranteed that we will see Bayern Munich line up in formations fitting neither description over the course of the season. Let’s go over some of the systems we could well see as the season progresses.
Note that this article was written hours after the confirmation of Mathys Tel’s arrival at Bayern Munich. If Konrad Laimer were to arrive in Munich this summer it would of course affect the complexion of some of these systems, but not to any major extent.
One: The 4-3-3
The 4-3-3 is a formation that carries an air of nostalgia for all of us, reminding us of the early 2010s era when almost every top team employed it. As outlined here, it’s not a bread-and-butter 4-3-3 like the ones we remember, but rather more asymmetrical.
The backline is pretty standard: Lucas Hernández and Matthijs de Ligt stay back as the centre-backs, Noussair Mazraoui and Alphonso Davies push forward. Joshua Kimmich screens the backline, and Leon Goretzka has a more free role in the final third, making late runs. Sadio Mané has a similar role as in his final season at Liverpool, playing as a false 9 facilitating his inside forwards.
On the left, Davies pushing forward provides width allowing Sané to come narrower and play in a role similar to the role in which he was ever so mercurial during the first half of last season. On the right, Sabitzer acts as an advanced 10, roaming almost freely in the final third looking for pockets. I would play Thomas Müller here too but I think Sabitzer would be employed better here as he can drop back and contribute more defensively with the lack of a true 6. Gnabry stays wider and with him staying wide Mazraoui can invert coming forward. The two can also swap positions with Gnabry going into the half-space as a late option and Mazraoui offering width. Off the ball, Mané pushes forward to join Gnabry as the front two to press while Sané and Sabitzer back off to block the wider options. Kimmich holds the area between the lines while Goretzka looks to annoy midfielders in the middle.
This system has gaps. I think all of Bayern’s current systems suffer from the lack of a true 6 as Kimmich’s screening abilities are a problem, but he will provide great cover with the ball and in progressing it through the middle. The lack of a true number 9 is a problem that many teams have gotten around as of late and while I think Nagelsmann himself is a pioneer of such systems, it is still a problem if the attackers are unable to share the goal burden.
Two: The 3-4-2-1
Back to a formation that was quite polarising during the 2021/22 season: the 3-4-2-1.
With the presence of three centre-backs who can all play the ball and defend, a proper vocal leader to bring Upamecano in line and a proper right wing back rather than the re-purposing of Serge Gnabry, I think the defense will be much more reliable than it was at times during 2022 especially.
The midfield duo of Kimmich and Goretzka is... well, Kimmich and Goretzka. There really is nothing new we can add to this dynamic. It’s so good when both are in gear.
The front three is one that will work much better now with Mané rather than Robert Lewandowski in my opinion. Mané coming short to collect the ball from the midfielders won’t cripple the attack as much since Sané and Müller can make runs off of him. The problem in the final third with the 3-4-2-1 was that Lewandowski dropping to collect often meant he wasn’t in the middle to get on the end of a cross off of his own hold-up play, but I think Mané’s general movement will cause Sané and Müller to react accordingly and push as the men in the middle both for through balls on the break as well as for headers. Never forget that Müller is one of the most consistent headers of all time.
Off the ball, Mané presses the centre-backs while Sané and Müller move between the lines to block the defensive midfielder option with their shadow. If the centre-backs pass wide, the respective inside forward and wing back press together to isolate the wing back and win the ball through either a tackle or a clearance.
Three: The 4-2-3-1
This is where your mind begins to melt into a thousand songs of wet grass.
The centre-back pairing is standard, nothing to say there. On the left, Davies pushes forward and provides width while Mané tucks in almost as a second striker. On the right, Mazraoui inverts and acts almost as a holding midfielder while Kimmich and Goretzka push as a double pivot fulcrum for the entire attack to move around and use. Gnabry tucks into the half-space while Musiala roams just behind him, wandering in to pockets out wide on the right and acting almost as a third winger while Goretzka and Kimmich take over responsibility of creating from the middle.
Up top, Müller has a completely free role, being able to hold up and play in Gnabry and Mané on either side of him while also being there with late runs to get on the end of crosses and through balls.
Off the ball, Müller is the first presser while Mané and Gnabry block the wide options while Musiala has the defensive midfielder in his shadow.
Is it a psychedelic swirl of spinning positions and fluidity to the point of dizziness? Yes.
Is it compelling enough for me to consider it as a very real option? Yes.
Will Nagelsmann actually use this system? No. But it’s the kind of system that he would cook up in a lab and employ against VfL Bochum only for us to get pasted 4-2.
What do you think of these systems? Do I need a psychological evaluation after that last one? Let us know in the forum below.