Bayern Munich have changed tactically, vitalized by new signing João Cancelo, and almost inevitably score a win in Mainz. Even if Bayern only performed optimally for one half, you can build on that.
After a brief crisis in results, Bayern Munich came back on Wednesday with a 4-0 win over Mainz 05. The success in the round of 16 of the cup was accompanied by a change of formation by head coach Julian Nagelsmann. Bayern didn’t play in a 4-2-3-1 like before, for which Mainz also seemed prepared, but in a kind of 3-1-4-2. There is room for speculation to what extent Nagelsmann gave concrete instructions in the preliminary meeting as to how the basic formation should be positioned.
However, such changes force every player to adapt accordingly anyway. Some things in Bayern’s game seemed instinctive or born out of the moment. The entire appearance of newcomer João Cancelo, who was called up as a right wing runner, is actually representative. The two players on the flanks in a formation with a back three are often referred to as “rail players”. However, the term does not apply to Cancelo, because the Portuguese’s game was only partially straightforward.
FC Bayern, tactical analysis: The wing pliers are convincing
Similar to previous years under Pep Guardiola, Cancelo selectively occupied the nearest aft room. Not only did this create a diamond in midfield and, accordingly, some triangles, but Cancelo’s movements in the early build-up of the game also led to a relief for Kimmich, who is currently concentrating primarily on the basics. Pavard usually took over a hidden six position next to Kimmich in the further course of attacks.
The deep wing runs and flanks of Cancelo will certainly be remembered, which represented the most obvious difference to a right-back Pavard or a right winger Serge Gnabry. But Cancelo’s initial positional play, who was always able to work on his inverse movements under Guardiola, was one of the reasons for Bayern’s temporary stability in ball possession.
The wingers Cancelo and Kingsley Coman knew how to convince in Mainz, but played differently than Bavarian wing pairings of the past. In addition, it could be that Alphonso Davies is more often preferred in this formation on the left, because when Bayern had to defend deeper, Coman didn’t always appear solid in the position play on the last line. Cancelo, on the other hand, can do both: progressive full-back in a back four or winger in front of and next to a three-man defence.
FC Bayern, tactical analysis: Lines are always good
What the change against Mainz brought with it was a more staggered Bayern team. The general rule of thumb is: the more lines a team has, the more proactive it can be in possession of the ball. Usually this means the horizontal lines reflected with the traditional number indications.
Bayern were neutral in a 3-1-4-2 on Wednesday, but this resulted in a few more lines within the ball possession phases – because, for example, Cancelo on the right and Kingsley Coman on the left varied their positional height, because Thomas Müller rarely next to Eric Maxim Choupo- Moting acted and because Jamal Musiala didn’t play directly in the room next to Leroy Sané either.
Ergo, more lines formed depending on the situation, the staggering became more complex and the passing game more pleasing. The effect was clearly visible before Bayern scored their first goal, when five players initially stood in a line in front of the Mainz penalty area, but then began to move in the opposite direction.
In addition, due to the vertical staggering, which a Guardiola attaches even more importance to, Bayern had an almost automatic triangle formation in the game structure and the pressing of the home team, which was not optimally positioned at first, came to nothing. In the second half, Mainz managed to better secure the first pressing phase because the midfield line positioned itself more intelligently in the pass paths and the back defenders did not push wildly forward.
FC Bayern, tactical analysis: Chain of three wobbles properly
There are many positive approaches that can be taken from the 4-0 win. There is, for example, Cancelo’s role, Müller’s free movements and Musiala’s game design, which was less based on complex breakthroughs and was really primarily a design of attacking moves. However, what did not work and could also be problematic against a prepared opponent is how the three-man chain works when you have possession of the ball.
In fact, especially in the first half, the three defenders regularly had opportunities to play that could be reached without taking too much risk. However, Matthijs de Ligt looked insecure on the left side, which was unfavorable for him, which was reminiscent of a few appearances in the Juventus jersey. In addition, Dayot Upamecano was another source of uncertainty because he lacked both accuracy and passing weight.
The Frenchman often acted in Leipzig under Nagelsmann as a middle man in a back three, where he was often allowed to push the ball forward and initiated a kind of bridging of the midfield. This risky style of play is less suited to Bayern Munich, and Upamecano does not have the confidence to do so in his current role in the team.
This leads to the final point: the basic formation was of course reminiscent of previous Nagelsmann teams, at least in terms of the pure division. In Hoffenheim and Leipzig he almost had carte blanche when it came to making tactical changes, experimenting a little and taking high risks. Little of it has been seen since his arrival in Munich due to the high demands and pressure. The 35-year-old cannot afford hara-kiri performances.
How much input he has at the moment remains to be seen. The fact that Nagelsmann after the game – probably incorrectly – said that the players sometimes got together without him almost gives the impression that the head coach only played a limited role in the game in Mainz.
However, his input will be in demand when opponents adjust to the changed style of play and, for example, attack a de Ligt from the inside and force him to leave his foot, or better tie Müller off from the outside in the gap so that he doesn’t have as much time for his passes. Then a mere formation change is no longer sufficient.