Bayern Munich are back! A convincing demolition of Mainz 05 sees them through to the next round of the DFB-Pokal, on the back of three excellent first-half goals punctuated by an Alphonso Davies header.
This was a perfect response game in a near must-win situation. Bayern were vintage Bayern, smashing the opponents over the head early. They showed composure by digging in for a calm, controlled, relative snoozer of a second half. That’s meant in the best way. Let’s dive into it.
C-c-c-changes bring a new energy
What was that formation?! Julian Nagelsmann really took his box of tinkers and unloaded it all with this move. 3-1-4-2 might be the way to call it? — with Thomas Müller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting forming a fluid striker partnership, and highly aggressive wing-backs (Kingsley Coman and Manchester City loanee João Cancelo) on both sides.
The fuse was lit from the off. Surprising formation or not, Bayern played with a new spark and energy, looking considerably more convincing than they have so far in the Rückrunde. And Cancelo delivers a pretty, pretty ball — doing so once early to slip Thomas Müller behind the lines and soon again to power Choupo-Moting to yet another Bayern goal. It's been a while since Bayern have seen crosses delivered with such consistent quality.
What does this mean down the road? Cancelo is only on loan, and Nagelsmann's continuing evolution of the Bayern roster and tactics will be a fun topic for discussion. For now it looks like all we can say is we don't really know — but as long as it can deliver the goods, we can't really mind.
Center-backs in the spotlight
With a back three, those spaces are wider than normal and the passes — particularly the ones from Joshua Kimmich — need a little more oomph if they’re to reach their target.
The loose passes and moments of confusion right now are understandable signs of unfamiliarity. They were never punished by Mainz, but more than once was it a pretty close call. Eleven shots to the home side, even if only one on target. There are some danger signs there.
Center-back Matthijs de Ligt took a nice long seat on the bench at the Men’s World Cup — apparently not suited to a role on the outside of a back three. Well, De Ligt might have to take a crash course now. Dayot Upamecano, too, has a lot more responsibility resting on his shoulders as a single central defender flanked by two wider CBs. The Frenchman has had a somewhat shaky re-introduction to Bayern ball and will need to improve his risk management.
If this formation is what Bayern intend to roll out in the Champions League against PSG, they only have a couple more weeks to get it down.
Nagelsmann the tactician
Much of the conversation around the Bayern manager’s changes this season have revolved around simplification in the face of crisis. Fixed positions, back to basics...four games into the restart and it’s looked anything but restrictive.
Per ESPN’s commentators, Nagelsmann had apparently been admonishing his players for using the wings too frequently instead of playing through the center. Back on his half-space beat again? Not exactly. Nagelsmann rolled out what turned out to be the perfect tactical answer to Mainz’s back-three / back-five — by spreading the field wide via wing-backs and then absolutely mauling them through the larger gaps opened up in the center.
Will the same setup work as well against back four teams? One suspects the tinkering has just begun. By the end of the game — with Daley Blind and Alphonso Davies both on the field — Bayern looked different once more.
Never count out the Raumdeuter
Thomas Müller is back and more important than ever. You didn't really think he would be out for long, did you? Yes? Then your lack of faith was disturbing. Paired up with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at the tip of attack, Bayern rarely looked slow — one of the fears of having too much age in the same XI. Rather, they looked consistently like they knew what they were doing, with a well-structured press and unsettling player rotations.
The two forwards nabbed an assist apiece and Mr. Captain, in particular, looked in command as ever. Getting him in good form augurs extremely well for the team, so this return to form — after a brutally tough autumn and World Cup — should be a huge lift.
Musiala? Choupo-Moting? Müller showed he can play well with both of them at the same time. That’s nothing but good news.
Crisis over? Let’s pretend that never happened
It was never a crisis if you’d asked the Bayern coach, but most of the concerns over Bayern’s sluggish start out of the Winterpause can probably now be laid to rest. The Bavarians didn’t have as many warm-up games as a team as others did, and racked up more scattered minutes of World Cup fatigue. Players, coach, and front office alike have been sending urgent messages about upping the energy level.
Now it’s happened. This is finally a Bayern team that looks awake and alive to the fact that there’s a competitive season going on. The restart can now begin in earnest, and PSG awaits.
Interested in a more in-depth look at the match, including the formation/tactics deployed by Julian Nagelsmann, Joao Cancelo’s debut, and the amazing influence of Thomas Muller? Well, why not check out our postgame podcast? We talk about all that and more! Listen below or on Spotify.
As always, we appreciate all the support!