Bayern Munich cruised to a 3—0 win over SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga, which was a strong performance against a solid side. Instantly, the game was touted as Thomas Tuchel’s best at Bayern, which might very well be true. It was a prime display of Tuchel’s ideas and strive for fluidity: from what Thomas Müller provides, to Harry Kane dropping deep.
The key points to discuss:
- Tuchel’s gameplan — a look at the tactics board, discussing Leon Goretzka’s position & Bayern in the final third.
- Harry Kane is more than just a striker. Tuchel took full advantage of that and got him to drop deep, which was the key cog to achieving the fluid attack.
- Thomas Müller was crucial to Bayern’s attacking structure: Tuchel was right to start him. And he 100% deserved MOTM in the match awards.
- A quick look at Bayern in buildup from the back and their off-the-ball structure.
Tuchel’s Taktiktafel: What was the plan?
(For those unfamiliar with certain German terms — Taktiktafel: literally; tactics-blackboard. Defined as a tactics board, with dots or magnets to signify players)
Tuchel’s plan was absolute fluidity. Kane dropped deep, which required another play to occupy the left half-spaces. Generally, this player would be the AM (Müller) but rather Tuchel opted for Goretzka.
Goretzka’s play generally does include moving and camping much higher up the pitch: Tuchel saw this and decided to use it to his strengths.
Build-up instances varied formationally, but there were key transitions that took place. If one were to take every build-up instance from the game, the number of different attacking formations would be impractical to explain and confusing to the reader, In fact, Tuchel’s instructions lay on key movements by certain players in these situations and not in formational organization.
Here’s the idea:
Goretzka moves forward to occupy the spaces left by Kane dropping deep, Leroy Sané moves into a slightly more central role as Alphonso Davies moves forward with pace. Müller occupies the right half-space, complimenting Kingsley Coman (as we’ll see for the first goal). Noussair Mazraoui moves back to create a back three with Dayot Upamecano & Kim Min-jae.
And this is a rough idea! Based on the circumstance, Kane would either peg long balls into the box or make a run himself, Goretzka could overlap with Sané and Davies would combine well with both.
Simply put, the tactic was to have a combination of these six attacking players in various different set-ups as the game permitted, but these movements were the common denominator.
In the game, we can see this exact combination. Look at Kane, Goretzka, and Müller in the same positions we discussed.
And here’s the same chance from bird’s eye view.
Tuchel achieved absolute fluidity. To end this section, here’s a quote from Tuchel that might explain why it is important to look at this game from a different lens tactically: one that does not focus on informational play but rather highlights Tuchel’s ideology of fluid football.
“We are beginning to learn that the narrowness and rigidity of formations are no longer quite there. Maybe they are no longer that important.” — Thomas Tuchel ideating with students at Universität Witten-Herdecke, 2016.
Harry Kane drops deeper than the Pacific Ocean
No, but really. As discussed in the tactics board section, Kane played deeper than before, moving almost into midfield. Unlike his AM role as detailed in the analysis v United, Kane could be seen winning back the ball next to Kimmich multiple times. He confused defenders while creating chances of the variety you’d see from world-class creators.
Here’s a perfect example:
Look at Kane, and his marker in this position (Manuel Gulde) right as Kane is set to receive the ball. Kane’s deeper position confuses Gulde: to help out Maximilian Eggestien or maintain Freiburg’s defensive line.
Gulde decides to make an attempt to intercept Kane but immediately realizes his mistake, leaving a big gap in Freiburg’s defense. Simply put, Kane pulled his marker out of position to create space (for Sané to run into, as we’ll see next)
It’s too late for Gulde to track back, and that leaves Kilian Sildillia, Philipp Leinhart, and Lukas Kübler wide enough where closing in would lead to more players (like Goretzka) making runs into the Freiburg box. The best option would be to slowly start moving backward, trying to prevent penetrative runs.
But; look at Sané.
Kane expertly executes a long ball above the defense to Sané, who’s already making his run as he identifies the open space.
Sané’s made this run a million times, he does exactly what’s needed to get the ball.
Sane makes his run, and gets the ball in a great position, only to be stopped by Freiburg’s defense as they track back.
Davies made a very quick simultaneous run to get involved on the rebound, but simply couldn’t finish it right.
Bayern created a promising chance because Kane dropped deep, pulling his marker out of position to create space which was expertly exploited by Sané.
But Kane’s play wasn’t simply limited to opening up space. Kane was also seen in attacking positions, and that's thanks to his ability to effortlessly transition from collecting passes in midfield to making a late run to get involved in attack. Here’s an example:
Look at Kane, receiving and then consequently making a pass near the halfway line,
And six seconds later he is already making a leading run into the final third, getting ready to receive the ball in the box.
In this particular incident, the ball goes just past Kane, but it still serves as an amazing example of Kane’s genius in transition.
Kane pulled such movements off multiple times, and while he didn’t fulfill the flashy goalscorer role that many wanted him to, he fulfilled (in such games) a much more important one. Great all-round play from the Englishman.
Müller reminds us why he’s the Raumdeuter
Thomas Müller was crucial for Bayern to attack. Tuchel gave Müller his first Bundesliga start in a while (as he equaled Neuer’s win record), and it paid off. Müller treated us to a typical Müller performance. World-class off-the-ball movements as a leading presence in attack. One of the best examples of his movement was when he grabbed his assist.
The opener focused on Coman’s outrageous shot (or cross?) to catch Freiburg shocked, but it wouldn’t be possible without Müller. Take a look:
Müller moves rapidly to escape his marker and provide a passing option for Upamecano just as he is about the receive the ball. Müller is the only player on the pitch making an active movement to start an attack.
Müller makes his movement, recognized immediately as the best passing option by Upamecano: who makes his pass.
Müller now notices Coman, unmarked. Without wasting a single moment, Müller’s first touch is a quick short pass to Coman.
But that’s not where Müller’s work ends. Right Müller makes the pass, Coman starts to dribble into the little open space he has. Seeing the limited successful crossing options for Coman (remember how Müller was the only one making a movement?), Müller follows up to serve as a passing option for Coman.
However, Coman had other ideas. He unleashed a shot that stunned both the Freiburg defense and the viewers as it ended up in the back of the net: opening the score for Bayern.
Great work from the Frenchman: but the play wouldn't be successful without Müller, who served as a focal point for the functioning of the attack.
The second goal was all about Leroy Sané’s linkup with Harry Kane: but it wasn’t just them. Take a look:
See Müller here? Notice the tight space between Kübler (Müller’s marker) & Gulde. Impossible for anyone to make a run through that space.
Realizing this, Müller makes a movement seen rarely nowadays: he moves ever so slightly away from the action. And that immediately catches Kübler’s attention, who mimics the movement.
Because Kübler looked and moved towards Müller making moves, he lost valuable time and as a result, left an extentuated gap between him and Gulde (notice the difference in width between the two from the first picture). Sané saw this instantly and realized that it was too late for Kübler to close down that gap.
Sané makes a tight pass to Kane and then exploits this space as he makes one of his trademark runs penetrating the defense.
Kane sees Sané coming through and plays the pass back, to complete a wonderful sequence as Leroy doubles Bayern’s lead.
It is these movements Müller makes that usually go unnoticed by the large majority of fans, but at the same time, it’s these same movements that completely elevate Bayern’s attack. Exploiting space, creating space: it’s tactically so important, but only Müller does it to perfection. That’s why he's the Raumdeuter. He was easily one of, if not the best player on the pitch for exactly this reason.
Structural play: off-the-ball and build-up from the back.
Bayern controlled possession and won back the ball really quickly, which made it difficult to discern Bayern’s pressing structure. A few glimpses however, showed clearly.
Müller, who primarily occupied the right half spaces (as discussed in the first section) dropped right behind Kane and Sané in the event of a counter. Coman would drop from the wing closer to the halfway line, and Goretzka would track back into the pivot from his advanced position. It resembled sort of a 4-3-1-2, with the aim being to have a structural solution to rare instances where Freiburg initiated an attack.
This was not just one instance: there are multiple. Here’s another, same story.
When it came to build-up from the back, it was standard, textbook stuff like the last few games. Fullbacks Mazraoui and Davies pushed forward as Upamecano and Min-jae moved into wider areas. Joshua Kimmich dropped deeper to collect the ball.
An aspect to note was the types of passes the center-backs played. Upamecano as always was risky yet smart with his passes while Min-jae made many quick, shorter ones. Both played flawlessly, Sven Ulreich was never in action.
Flawless tactically, flawless performance from the players. It was an ideal showcase of what Tuchel wants to achieve at Bayern, and it can only get better from here on out.
In case you are interested in the various different formations that came up in the final third, this post on Reddit covers it rather well.
This piece took a LOT of time to write, so thank you for reading it. As always, let us know your thoughts about the game in the comments below!