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Julian Nagelsmann explains rationale for Bayern Munich’s back three system in win over Mainz

The back three isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it worked wonders in Bayern’s 4-0 win over Mainz in the DFB-Pokal.

FSV Mainz 05 - Bayern Munich Photo by Torsten Silz/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bayern Munich snapped their run of three straight 1-1 draws in the Bundesliga with their 4-0 routing of FSV Mainz in the DFB-Pokal round of 16 in what was stroke of tactical masterclass from Julian Nagelsmann to get his side back in the win column. They bossed every department of the pitch on the night and looked more like themselves than they have since the Bundesliga resumed after the World Cup and holiday winterpause period.

In what’s also a topic of tense debate, Nagelsmann made the decision to field a back three system in defense, using Dayot Upamecano, Benjamin Pavard and Matthijs de Ligt as the main three defenders with Joshua Kimmich anchored just ahead of them in midfield. On either flank, Nagelsmann fielded new loan signing from Manchester City Joao Cancelo and Jamal Musiala, with Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Muller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting rounding out the attacking slots.

After the win in Mainz, Nagelsmann said that his decision to switch to a back three system for that occasion came down to seeing how Bayern could best utilize space with the different players in the squad to strike a solid balance between defense and attack. “We played with a back four for a long time and that worked very well for long stretches. It’s not about the formation, but about how the space is divided on the pitch. We just have to put our performance on the pitch,” he explained (via @iMiaSanMia).

Time and time again, Bayern always seem to appear to be able to churn out a positive performance and result when their backs are against the proverbial wall after a run of poor matches, and the win against Mainz was just another example of that very sentiment. After three straight 1-1 draws to restart the Bundesliga campaign against RB Leipzig, FC Koln and Eintracht Frankfurt, Nagelsmann said the response mainly came down to the players themselves, and not anything he really said via a speech or dressing down of sorts. “There was no special speech. It was the desire to win again. They are all world-class players, but also people. There’s always a lot of talk going on outside, but the only ones who can affect the results are the guys on the pitch,” he said.

As far as the differences between Bayern using a back four or back three system, Nagelsmann said one way or the other doesn’t really hinder him from having an attacking-oriented lineup and system, which is a staple of his. He likes to be able to include as many attacking players in the starting eleven as possible, as has shone in his previous tenures at both Leipzig and TSG Hoffenheim before coming to Bayern. “Generally speaking, playing with so many attacking players is part of my DNA. That’s how I want to play football. A back three and a back four can both be very attacking, the formation is not that relevant.. You just have to fill the system with life,” he explained.

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