First tactical analysis of Bayern under Guardiola
There’s one more friendly scheduled for Bayern München against Barcelona before they’ll challenge Borussia Dortmund for the German Supercup final. The Bavarians won the Telekom Cup last week-end as they faced Hamburg and M’Gladbach on one-hour exhibitions. They didn’t miss the chance to enhance the first signs of Pep Guardiola’s arrival.
The two teams:
The former Barcelona coach had a couple of surprises for the first outing of the week end against Hamburg. If the formation used was quite usual for a Pep Guardiola’s team, it was the use of several players that did strike.
Frank Ribéry started as a left central midfielder alongside Toni Kroos, Thiago Alcantara made his début as an anchor man and Mario Mandzukic played in between the right wing and the lone striker position, occupied by Claudio Pizarro (Starke – Lahm, Van Buyten, Boateng, Alaba – Thiago, Kroos, Ribéry – Mandzukic, Pizarro, Shaqiri).
The day after against M’Gladbach, Guardiola kept the same formation but changed a couple of faces. Rafinha and Contento started on both sides of the defence, pushing Lahm into midfield alongside Kroos. Ribéry got back to his usual left wing role to form a triumvirate of attackers with Müller and Robben. (Starke – Rafinha, Van Buyten, Boateng, Contento – Thiago, Lahm, Kroos – Robben, Muller, Ribéry).
It was those changes of roles that altered the attacking application. Ribery had a wider role than Shaqiri the day before in instance. Starting Robben upfront balanced Bayern’s attacking game which was very much leftish against Hamburg.
As much against Hamburg than M’Gladbach, Bayern quickly got in control of possession. Last season, Jupp Henyckes’ 4-2-3-1 kept the principles of a good distribution from the back with Schweinsteiger dropping in between the two center backs. Guardiola’s arrival means that this pattern will be kept – without much surprise. In the extreme, Van Buyten and Boateng were even forced to leave the penalty box to get close to the touchlines at times.
Then Thiago made himself available for Tom Starke’s distribution. If he was tracked by an opponent, then it was Kroos’ time to drop – as Xavi used to when Busquets was closely marked. Ribéry and Pizarro were the following options in the pecking order in case both midfielders were closed tightly by their opponents. But the more the opponents did follow Bayern players dropping deep, the more they were likely to get caught out of position if outpaced thereafter.
Bayern obviously enjoyed those two friendlies to work on this specific facet of their play. Even when the opponent did monitor Thiago’s and Kroos’ runs, Stark did chose a short passing option ; even if that meant to put his defenders in awkward positions. Several times on both games Bayern formed squares in the channels thanks to the goalkeeper, a defender, a full back and a midfielder in order to get the ball out despite beind under pressure. One of those situation led to a splendid sequence when Bayern scored his third against Hamburg.
Useless back at Barcelona, the long distribution should still be used in Bavaria thanks to Mandzukic, Pizarro or Muller’s dominance in the air. Shall Mandzukic win an aerial challenge, then it can be a real threat for opponents if midfielders in support come out quicker than opponents do fall back to get on second balls. Nevertheless, that option will arguably be the last resord as one can notice how Bayern did emphasis on playing on the ground during last weekend’s two outcomes. Guardiola is likely to expect a similar influence on open play from his current goalkeepers to Victor Valdes back in Catalonia.
Ribery, the main asset on the left
All week end long, Bayern’s build up did tend to the left side because of Ribéry’s activity. Able to interchange positions with Shaqiri and Alaba against Hamburg, his left side has logically been prioritized by Kroos and Thiago. Lahm was the only player able to get himself available on the other side. The German full back was then offered passing options, most of those inside the field (Mandzukic, Kroos). As stated above, Robben’s entrance against M’Gladback did revive quite a bit the right side.
But let’s get back to the most interesting point: saturday’s left side featuring Shaqiri, Ribéry and Abala. Based on principles already used at Barcelona, the first one was asked to play the « out and out » role down his channel in order to pull the full back. At the start of the game, Bayern managed to find easily the Swiss international. Before being closed down by his direct opponent, Shaqiri had enough time to find Ribéry who drifted inside in between the opponents’ full back and center back.
After several similar dangerous situations, Hamburg adjusted ; the right back kept Shaqiri tighter in order to reduce him space and time to control the ball. Bayern then relied on Alaba to lead the play on the right flank. In case of a positional attack on the left side, Pizarro and Mandzukic weighed on the defence. The Peruvian international (as Müller did the day after against M’Gladbach) offered options to interplay with Ribéry and Shaqiri in order to allow them to get into the box more easily. On the weaker side, Kroos (as well as Lahm) got into positions to be the 3rd option to deal with possible chances.
The left triumvirate’s weight and the options offered forced the opponent’s block to slide on the ball’s side. At best, Lahm did find Kroos or his strikers at the heart of the defence. Otherwise, he could attack space ahead of him to put the ball into the box from deep positions.
Whether on the right or on the left, the Bavarians never were shy to pick the direct option when the opponent left too much space. Muller (against Hamburg) and Robben (against M’Gladbach) scored thanks to Lahm and Ribéry’s service without Bayern having worked to exploit their opponent’s approximations to slide (deep penetrating crosses and challenges won into the box). Earlier in the second game, the Frenchman enjoyed Robben’s service by running into depth.
Thiago and the axial threat.
When for want of anything better than to progress in the channels, the Bavarians used played the ball backwards and played with Thiago, always available in the central zones. The former Barcelona midfielder was either dictating the play by keeping the play flowing or made himself available in support on the full width of the pitch.Then he was in charge to switch play, either with a diagonal ball or via Van Buyten and Boateng. Both central defenders made themselves available on level if needed.
But Thiago joyfully outplayed that restricted anchor man role hold by Busquets at Barcelona when there was enough space to attack ahead of him. As much as his team mates in the channels, he wasn’t shy to look for Shaqiri or Ribéry’s runs into depth. As a matter of fact, he’s taken part in Bayern’s second goal against HSV as his pass did find Ribéry who gave the goal on a silver plate to Mandzukic.
In the manner of his outings at the U21 Euros alongside Illarramendi and Koké, Thiago also often outpassed his role to push toward goal. His technical ease coupled with the options offered by Kroos, Ribéry, Mandzukic or Pizarro in central zones allowed him to burst out and get past the first line. In order to keep the shape balanced, Kroos did take a few steps back to compensate on those very sequences.
If they weren’t succesful (in terms of goals or assists), the Spaniard bursting forward could be another string to Guardiola’s bow. Despite the lack of a false nine (such as Messi) able to drop into midfield and run into the opponents ; Guardiola could make do with a « false 6 » able to accelerate whenever he wants with plenty of options ahead of him. We’re left to see if it’s a choice due to Schweinsteiger’s absence or a genuine try ahead of the new season.
A few words on pressing:
Outplaying the two games, Bayern hasn’t been threatened defensively. Though they did a sufficient job when the ball was lost in order to make things easier for them. Thus, attackers’ workrate was a good way to bother the opponent’s distribution from the back and allow to recover the ball quickly and up the field. As he used to at Barcelona, Guardiola relied on his 5 most advanced players (Mandzukic, Pizarro, Shaqiri, Ribéry, Kroos against Hamburg) to occupy the attacking half and pressurize opponents.
When the opponent got the ball out through the channels, the two central midfielders slided simultaneously in order to form an oppressive enough pressing shape. A few steps behind, Thiago kept his positions in front of a compact defence. The spaniard only went on level with Ribéry or Kroos if one of those were upper on the field, close to the lone striker.
In the same manner, full backs only left the back four when the ball went through wide attackers’ back. They were covered by the rest of the defence (Boateng and Van Buyten to cover respectively Alaba and Lahm, with Thiago not far away if needed).
Guardiola hasn’t been in charge for a month and still he managed to implement his style on the Champions League winner 2013. Beyond the system used, the emphasis on building from the back, wide men’s positioning and pressing weren’t without recalling his FC Barcelona. But the Catalan did also take into considerations some of his new team’s distinguishing features: attacking sequences are primarily set-up on the channels and can have for outcome crosses from deep positions or penetrative play through space in order to take advantage of runs or the muscular dominance of his attackers.
This, in a nutshell, is a more than attractive provisional summary for Bayern supporters… as well as Guardiola’s.