Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann is known to be tactically flexible. The German manager showcased multiple formations and interesting tactics during the 2021/22 season — it appears this will continue in the coming season if Bayern’s game vs Manchester City is anything to go by.
Against City, Bayern utilised multiple formations and tactics — these contained many interesting tactical ideas and points which I have picked up on. Therefore, I have written about Bayern’s defensive, offensive and pressing formations in the match — and some of the ideas behind these tactics.
Bayern’s formations and play in DEFENCE
4-2-3-1 and Thomas Müller’s Pressing
Bayern started in a 4-2-3-1 formation when defending. Thomas Müller led the line — a smart tactic, making use of one of the world’s premier pressers — allowing him to press from the front.
The 4-2-3-1 during the match — Müller is clearly furthest forward.
Müller’s pressing leadership is shown as the German gesticulates to teammates to push forward and close down opposition players.
This causes a dangerous scenario for City where all players are surrounded and Müller intelligently cuts off the passing lane to City’s right back through a curved pressing run. Quick pressing like this forces City to go long and Bayern to likely regain possession.
3-5-2 and high octane press
Bayern later moved to a 3-5-2 system — allowing for more ferocious pressing due to the additional man up front.
One of the main tactics behind this 3-5-2 was having Müller and Serge Gnabry (the strikers) each on one centre-back. And, Leroy Sane tightly marking City’s Rodri (circled)— who could not get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the match as the holding midfielder usually does. This prevented City from playing it short and was a smart pressing tactic — perhaps designed specifically to play against a 4-3-3 like system. Simply, when the goalie collects the ball, it is impossible to play short.
Tight pressing with many players was a hallmark of Bayern’s play. For example, the FIVE Bayern players in that small circled area where the ball was, forced a turnover and created a Bayern chance. City were suffocated like this at multiple moments leading to quick counter attacks. Nagelsmann clearly wanted to press high, hard and with as many bodies as possible. Moreover, when City were forced into small areas out wide, like in the photo, many Bayern players bunched up around the ball to restrict the chances of a successful press breaking pass.
However, while a Bayern chance was formed, after this petered out, City were able to quickly counter. Due to such an aggressive pressing style with seven Bayern players involved in the press — counters like this were common during the match. Now, Bayern are left with a three-on-two scenario.
Another deficiency of the back three was that wide center-backs had to follow opposition wingers. This left space open, for example the “X” in this photo,
Another instant of the 3-5-2 high press — with Bayern’s high pressing wingbacks always on City’s full backs such was how far Bayern committed themselves forward. Here, all City players are marked leading to a likely long pass from City’s right back — thus, a likely turnover of possession.
High line aided by Manuel Neuer and fast defenders
Nagelsmann used an extremely high line to limit space between offence and defence. This was aided by Alphonso Davies’ monstrous recovery pace. Bayern’s team is made up of very fast defenders in Lucas Hernandez, Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies and Noussair Mazraoui — allowing a high line as there is some insurance that Bayern defenders will catch opposition attackers.
Manuel Neuer’s sweeping also enabled such a high line as long through balls were calmly dealt with by the collected Neuer.
The highline is often a liability though. Here, a quick throw in leads to a 1vs1 opportunity. Bayern’s defenders must be more alert to situations like this in the future. Perhaps playing a defensive line at the halfway point is too extreme?
Bayern’s formations and play in ATTACK
In attack, Bayern were always in a 3-1-4-2 formation — Joshua Kimmich sitting in front of the centre-backs.
The formation in match.
Kimmich was often marked, however there was often ball progression to one of the other two midfielders (Marcel Sabitzer and Sane/Jamal Musiala). Here, Musiala is open and receives — later progressing play forward. However, the midfielders receiving were tightly marked — in this photo, Musiala eventually dribbles his marker. Musiala’s tight control and smart thinking were perfect for this role — unlike his predecessor Sane who lost the ball multiple times in similar situations. It is slightly shambolic to have someone like Sane, playing as a centre-mid.
Another strategy was to play the ball to a dropping striker who would be in space. This dragged City defenders, thus creating fast counterattacks and beating the City press — like in this photo where the dropping Gnabry plays to Kimmich who sets Sane off on a counterattack.
Moreover, Matthijs De Ligt’s passing range was crucial for a back three buildup. De Ligt was able to quickly switch play from side to side. In this photo, as the ball had come from the right side, City were more swayed right. This left space for an unmarked Davies who De Ligt quickly found. Having a great passer as the central centre-back is invaluable and crucial to a back-three system where overloads on the wing are key. De Ligt will be crucial for switches like above, but also pinpoint passes to midfield (like the one to Musiala a few photos up).
However, one deficiency with this 3-1-4-2 buildup is that risky passes through the centre can be cut out. Above, led to an interception and chance for City. Moreover, as Kimmich often dropped deep to collect the ball — there was often no Bayern player where the “X” was. This allowed City to press harder and higher — preventing Bayern buildup. For example, the pass in the photo could have been made by a centre-back, but it is Kimmich who makes it. This wastes Kimmich’s potential presence in the middle.
Bayern Munich’s match vs Man City showcased some interesting tactical ideas from Nagelsmann. However, it is still fair to say that Bayern were dominated in the match. Ultimately, Nagelsmann must make the highline defence less susceptible to the rampant counterattacks seen during the match. Furthermore, Bayern’s buildup must be improved by using players like De Ligt and Musiala instead of Sane — and a more cohesive buildup structure which doesn’t rely on the individual brilliance of a midfielder in spinning their man, or hapless long balls to Bayern’s strikers.