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Tactical Analysis: Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United

A very bipolar performance: let’s take a closer look.

FC Bayern München v Manchester United: Group A - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s Champions League opener against Manchester United was marked by a shaky performance and lack of stability. A game that could’ve ended 5-1 to Bayern ended in a not-so-close 4-3 win. It was a somewhat disappointing performance from both teams, with a lot of focus being on what went wrong with the team and heavy criticism of Bayern’s coach Thomas Tuchel.

Tuchel’s absence from the sidelines (and no interference with the match planning whatsoever, as he said) did not mean the lack of a tactical plan. There were a few discernible traits of the team and some individual performances worth highlighting. Breaking down some key aspects of the game:

  • Manchester United’s relentless press in the first 20 minutes and how it affected Bayern’s ability to create chances
  • Bayern’s formational structure when off the ball (why was it a 4-4-2 and what was the expected functionality?)
  • Bayern’s structure when attacking in the opposition’s half.
  • Bayern building up from the back and a highlight on Dayot Upamecano, who was amazing.
  • Harry Kane’s deep position, and flawless linkup with Leroy Sané.
  • Why Joshua Kimmich was a liability to Bayern’s attack at times.
  • Quick highlight on Mathys Tel’s cameo (and what Kimmich should be doing).

Ready? Lots to unpack.

United’s press in the first 20’

In the last three United games, there have been two common denominators. All three games were lost by United, and their performance in the first 20 minutes was very different from the rest of the game. The reason? In all three games, they conceded around the 20’ mark. Much like in the Bayern game, they seem to crumble and lose all control after the initial 20 minutes of a strong performance. Here’s an example:

All of Upamecano’s passing options are marked by United players. If he tries a pass to Konrad Laimer, it will be intercepted by Marcus Rashford. Immediately, United are in prime position to apply pressure on Upamecano and try to win back the ball in the opposition half.

And they do just that, forcing Upamecano to pass back to the goalkeeper and cut off an opportunity for a Bayern attack.

Here’s another, as United exploited Bayern’s weak pivot and pulled the wingers out of position and were able to create space and a variety of passing options.

Bayern off the ball

Off the ball, a very clear 4-4-2 formation was observed. Both advanced fullbacks pushed back into regular spots while the winger Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry acted as wide midfielders. Jamal Musiala pushed forward with (and sometimes ahead of) Kane in case of an counter attack.

Very clearly visible once again. Instead of a clear cut pressing structure we observed all ten outfielders in their own box to achieve numerical superiority. This way, Bayern were well covered and a player could run and tackle in an attempt to win back the ball, without facing implications.

Did it work? Well, yes. United made errors and Bayern took advantage. Maybe against a more sophisticated team, Bayern might need to deploy a real pressing structure.

Bayern in the final third

In these situations we could observe an overload of our players into the opposition box. Along with Musiala and the wingers, we could also observe that the fullbacks Alphonso Davies and Laimer made their way up the pitch too.

This gave birth to a sort of 2-2-6 structure to get as many bodies in the box as possible to find a pass and take the shot. This strategy paid off, as it made Sané and Kane’s one-two leading to the opening goal possible. Again, for the second goal, Gnabry was one of the many players in the United box who received the pass from Musiala after his heroics. This structure was short lived however, as we saw a small shift in the second half (more on that later).

Bayern in build-up: and a look at Upamecano’s awareness.

Build up from the back through Upameano has been a key feature of Bayern games ever since Tuchel took over. The game v United was no different. Upamecano was the channel for chance creating passes from the back and even made very impressive progressive carries into attack.

Once again, we can observe the 2-2-6 structure, but this time Upamecano carries the ball into the final third. Very impressive.

Passing from the back a 2-4 structure could be seen with Davies and Laimer pushing forward again, and if the attack progressed, further forward.

Upamecano was flawless in attack, making passes and carries that started attacks, More importantly, he barely put a foot wrong in defense. Even when out of position starting attacks, he always regained the ball.

Quick turnovers in United’s half left Bayern exposed at times but Upamecano was always there to win back the ball. Here’s an example.

Note Laimer’s position here. He’s caught completely off and leaves no cover for Rashford.

Don’t worry. Upamecano makes a quick run from around the halfway point to beat Rashford and regain the ball.

Unsung hero for the game: Dayot Upamecano. Wonderful performance all over the pitch.

Harry Kane - but wait, he's in midfield?

Not exactly midfield. But his role vs. United was much deeper than the usual #9. Tuchel, in his post match conference, said Kane was more involved within the half spaces in the second half which allowed for more fluidity overall.

Instead of the 2-2-6 in buildup, there was a shift which saw Kane fall back. Here’s an example.

He became more of a creator to Musiala and more particularly Sané while still taking the chances he got. His linkup with Sané was particularly flawless. Always finding the right pass to him as Sané began his run. Here are a few examples of a linkup that wasn’t just limited to the premier goal but ensued throughout the match,

Kane expertly finds Sané who has enough space to run into the box and get a shot off.

Another one (No, this is not DJ Khaled):

Kane, this time with multiple passing options still picks out the best one: Leroy Sané, ready to make his run.

Not Kimmich’s best day

Yeah. Saying this after he managed an assist might sound crazy, but it’s true. Let’s see why.

Kimmich’s biggest problem was the constant backpasses despite the opportunity to create attacks. Turning around and passing backwards instead of launching an attack: it happened a number of times.

Take a look at all of his potential passing options here. Gnabry’s open, so is Alphonso Davies. Both lead to starting an attack and Bayern have space to proceed.

Kimmich decides on neither and instead passes it all the way back to Kim min-jae. Not only did those move stop a potentially very promising attack but it also led to a loss of momentum. Again:

Even a sideways pass would work here. Rather, Kimmich turns around and makes the pass to Upamecano: leading to the same implications as before.

Such backpassing wasn’t the only issue. Sometimes. he got too close to the attack and became exposed, prone to press and in turn was forced to kill momentum. Here’s an example:

Too close, lack of passing options. Look at the empty space Kimmich could’ve been in and sent in one of his signature long balls into the box.

Instead, it’s just a backpass.

The goal with Tel however, was a perfect instance of what should have happened in this situation.

All in all, for how good Kimmich is, this was a very very bad day for him in the office, because these are just a few of many instances where this happened, neither is it just this game where this has happened. And it’s not only him who’s at fault, there are many others. But for what was expected of him in particularly these situations, he could have done better.

Mathys Tel: wonderkid

Everytime he comes on he doesn’t fail to impress. Always decisive and this game was no different. Let’s just quickly highlight his play.

See how quick he begins his run. He knows he’s getting the ball and doesn’t waste any time at all.

Quick to receive the ball and quick to make the pass to Thomas Müller, who hits the post. With a bit of scrambling Kimmich gets the ball who shows us his expertise (like mentioned) and Tel finishes with expertise. What a guy, eh?

That concludes it for the tactical analysis for the game against United. Hopefully this gave you some insight into the chaos that ensued.

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