There is no denying that Bayern Munich is on a tear right now. Despite finding themselves second in the Bundesliga, the team has not lost yet this season and is currently on a five-match win streak.
Well, now that it has been laid out, a five-game streak doesn’t sound all that impressive for a club of Bayern’s stature, and when you see the opposition the team has faced, two clubs stand out — RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen are currently league leaders, while Leipzig are going strong at #5, scoring loads in the process. Teams you can consider quality opposition, and teams that Bayern have failed to beat. Thomas Tuchel’s record looks impressive on paper, but there are some patterns that don’t look very convincing, and if not fixed, could plague the team when things get real.
The eye test
Bayern Munich is a club that prides itself in its attacking brand of football. The philosophy has more often than not been “attractive highly intense attacking football.” The club has been gegenpressing ever since the counter-press became a valuable tactic that sent waves around Europe. Coaches like Hansi Flick, Jupp Heynckes, Jürgen Klopp, and Julian Nagelsmann will tell you that counterpressing is the heart of attacking football.
And they would be right, to a large degree. The club has enjoyed tremendous success with suffocating presses. The relentless pressure forces the opposition into making errors, which are then exploited with ruthless efficiency. Tuchel’s Dortmund was one such pressing machine. Tuchel’s Bayern, however, looks quite lax and passive.
It is perhaps a little unsurprising that this drop in intensity has coincided with the relegation of Thomas Müller to the bench. The man is the master of the counter-press and has a drive and an engine second to none. He propels the entire team to press with intent and regain possession the moment it is lost. His absence, along with Bayern’s adoption of Tuchel’s U-shape has meant that the team plays way more passively, especially to start off games.
That is perhaps why the team has looked much better in second halves this season. A lackadaisical, nervy start usually culminates in a losing/drawing position at the 45’ mark, followed by a couple of tactical changes and/or substitutions, after which the second half is salvaged by higher intensity, individual brilliance, or both. The drop in pressing intensity also leads to a more vulnerable defense, since ball recoveries don’t happen up the pitch anymore.
Paradoxically, the attack seems to be doing really well. Leroy Sané, Harry Kane, and Jamal Musiala in particular have been impeccable, with the three-headed demon wreaking all kinds of havoc in the opposition third.
Tactics? What tactics?
It is really hard to pinpoint an overarching philosophy or approach that Thomas Tuchel is following at Bayern. This is no tiki-taka. Neither is it intense pressing football. It’s not prime Mourinho park-the-bus either. Maybe the coach isn’t focusing on philosophies at all. Maybe the approach is to create microsystems, that together might mesh and yield results. Maybe Sané, Musiala, and Kane are so good together because they form a microsystem. Maybe Kim Min-Jae and Matthijs de Ligt are such a formidable pairing because they form a microsystem.
Perhaps the midfield has failed to thrive as much because there is no system there. And maybe that is the case because Tuchel is still mad he didn’t get João Palhinha. Or maybe it is something else. Either way, we don’t see the midfield being used much since most of the play happens along the wings. There is no direct threat from the middle.
It is hard to deny, however, that the goals are coming. The team should also do better defensively now that Manuel Neuer is back. Tuchel needs to connect Kimmetzka to the attack. He could do that quite easily by playing Müller. Oh, never mind, next solution.
A midfield three of Goretzka, Kimmich, and Laimer? Or maybe Dayot Upamecano as a CB-DM hybrid? How about ditching the midfield altogether? It all remains to be seen. However, one thing’s for sure: holding onto the ball for long periods while passing along the back without generating anything useful is not a tactic you want to employ in the Champions League, especially against opponents capable of launching deadly counters.
Locker Boiler room
Müller is probably not a big fan of Thomas Tuchel. De Ligt doesn’t seem to be one either, and neither is Noussair Mazraoui, probably. To be fair, I wouldn’t be either if I were a world-class player better than the other options in my position, only to get benched every game. Having a deep squad is a luxury. One that needs to be used to its fullest potential. And the key here is rotation.
Tuchel’s Bayern seems to have as much rotation as a swivel chair without ball bearings. It is nice to see that he gives youngsters chances during the dying minutes of games, and has been enthusiastic with regards to giving Mathys Tel minutes, but otherwise, the starting 11s all look the same. Keeping all the players fit and sharp for when the need arises is extremely important, and especially when said players are your best right-back, your best-attacking midfielder, and your best center-back.
It does look like the players are warming up to the coach though, and this should hopefully not be a problem that lingers on for much longer.
Thomas Tuchel is no stranger to winning the Champions League. His Chelsea FC side put up an impressive run, dispatching Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and Manchester City in the process. His PSG side almost won the Champions League in 2020, only to be stopped by one of the best Bayern sides in history. Even if the argument is that he was just incredibly lucky, I believe that luck could do the Bavarians a world of good, especially in cup competitions.
A more rational argument, one that is backed by evidence, would be that he drilled his Chelsea side into being a tightly organized defensive unit that looked boring more often than not but ground out the wins. The games may have been snoozefests, and the dreaded U-formation might’ve made golf look more interesting, but the man won a UCL with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Bayern Munich is not Chelsea, and the club stands for attractive attacking football. That being said, it is hard to pick a bone against a game plan that has you winning. The board would have no reason to sack the coach unless Bayern starts losing games or the locker room falls apart like dry cake. Right now, the latter looks more likely, but things could change at a moment’s notice, as we’ve seen in previous seasons.
But like it or not, he is our coach now, and the man could use some backing. The players seem to be in a rhythm, and the locker room appears fairly stable. Or on the verge of a complete meltdown. It’s hard to say, really.
Either way, the man isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He probably wouldn’t have to unless the season ends catastrophically. Replacing Tuchel with someone like Xabi Alonso might be tempting, but maybe not at the cost of another disastrous season.
Thomas, please win us the treble. And let the other Thomas help.