Tactical Issues of Bayern Munich Under Carlo Ancellotti 

Following Pep Guardiola’s spectacularly exciting reign of tactical innovation and evolution of Juego de Posición, Bayern Munich decided to appoint Italian manager Carlo Ancellotti as the boss. Perceived as a manager focused more solely on the priority of winning, rather than his predecessor Guardiola, who many claim at times overexperimented and even complicated things. So far under Ancellotti, Bayern have begun to get the job done and no more, more often than they did so under Guardiola. In the pursuit of perfect, Guardiola made a few costly mistakes, whilst his successor Ancellotti is often more sensible and won’t experiment overly, rather allowing his focus to remain on winning, no matter how narrow or ugly it may be.

As expected, Manuel Neuer is Ancellotti’s goalkeeper. Lahm is usually the right-back for Bayern this season, though Rafinha has also played there at times, as well as Kimmich, usually when Lahm is playing in midfield. Boateng and Hummels are most likely Ancellotti’s first choice central defenders, though Javi Martinez has mostly partnered Hummels due to Boateng’s injury. Alaba has featured at CB, though is definitely seen primarily as a LB by Carlo. Juan Bernat has made a number of appearance as left back.

Xabi Alonso seems to still be seen as a starter for Bayern as 6 despite his noticeable drop over the last year or two. Kimmich, Vidal and Thiago have also featured as Ancellotti’s main pivot, though the three of them, alongside Renato Sanches and Thomas Muller, usually take up the other two midfield roles.

Frank Ribery has most often been the starting left winger, with Brazilian Douglas Costa the right. Arjen Robben seems to be beginning to take a starting spot on the right wing following his return from injury. Lewandowski is the main striker.

Poor Halfspace Occupation

As arguably the best area of the pitch in terms of proving efficient connections with other zones, the halfspaces have become somewhat neglected by Bayern this season.

In what Bayern hope to consider progressive possession, the halfspaces are initially used in slightly deeper areas of the field, as they are quite often easiest to access, both in terms of length/distance of movement required and frequently seen weak spots of opposition pressing. More frequently the left halfspace but also the right, is an area where Bayern often look to start their possession from. Frequently Thiago will drop from his left interior position into a deep left halfspace position. The reasons for halfspace usage in deep build-up are clear and have been spoken about in detail on Spielverlagerung, as well as being briefly explained a few times on my site here. Despite the benefits of the halfspace however, Bayern’s players other than Thiago don’t make use of them as much as they perhaps should. Alaba is often horizontal, or even behind Thiago when he receives here, meaning a pass to the wing is usually useless. Alonso doesn’t make many movements away from deep in the centre, and in these situations usually can’t do much more than Thiago could in terms of passing. Vidal, Renato and Kimmich are more defensive focused 8’s and remain deep in the other halfspace rather than offering an option within or between the opposition block. The wingers don’t make many movements to receive from Thiago here and stick close to the touchline as an out-and-out singer rather than drifting into a receiving position between lines, and Lewandowski remains on the last line. None of the above mentioned provide viable support to the halfspace here, especially in terms of vertical progression. 

From here, we see pretty heavy reliance on individual actions in order to allow Bayern to progress. Thiago will use his press-resistance to beat the initial press, and then attempt to penetrate the block by using a diagonal dribble. This is an unclean and inconsistent build-up method, though one Thiago is often forced to take upon himself due to Bayern lacking a capable receiver between the lines. The alternative, which is used if Thiago is in a bad situation, is for the Spaniard to play a simple pass to the full-back, who will then adopt the individual responsibility of making an inwards diagonal dribble. Though it varies depending on the opposition’s touchline pressing, this second approach is generally a more efficient approach to progression. 

By dribbling inward diagonally, Alaba forces a horizontal shift from the opposition who prepare to defend the area Alaba is headed towards. As this shift is made, the focus moves away from defending the wing, where Alaba previously was, to defending the other, seemingly more realistically accessible areas of the pitch. This means Bayern’s left winger doesn’t have heavy defensive focus on him situationally. He will from here attempt to find an open receiving lane from Alaba, within the spaces the opposition shift is momentarily neglecting. Alaba will attempt a line breaking pass into the anger who will likely have made an inverted movement. Using ‘against the grain’ is actually one of the few, slightly unique features of Bayern’s game this season. Despite this, their reliance on using it and Thiago’s dribbling to progress from good halfspace positions is inconsistent to rely on.

Another phase where Bayern often fail to occupy the halfspaces efficiently is in the final third at almost the very last stage of an attack. 

When the opposite winger is in a strong crossing position, Bayern will quickly load the box in numbers and prepare fully for firstly the cross itself, then a potential press if the cross is unsuccessful. 
With such a focus on the preparation of a potential press, this leaves Bayern neglecting other possibilities than a cross. From a wide-halfspace position, connecting with the underloaded side is a commonly used attacking option in order to generate qualitative or spatial superiority to create in the final third. By lacking anyone in the opposite halfspace, connections with other areas of the field are difficult, meaning around only half of the pitch can be used situationally. 

1:43 vs. Borussia Dortmund: Weak halfspace occupation makes connectivity with the opposite side impossible.

Risky Structure of Backline in Possession

As many high-possession-rate teams around Europe do, Bayern Munich’s centre-backs split into wider positions, usually in either halfspace early phases of possession. As well as having the benefits it is implemented for, the structure and it’s surroundings has also cost Bayern.

Before looking at the issues of Bayern’s structuring here, we must firstly understand why they use it.
Seen as the strongest team in Bundesliga, Bayern often face pessimistic opponent’s with a damage limitation mentality, defending in a deep, narrow block, willing to let Bayern have possession in unthreatening areas. By placing the centre-backs in wider positions, and usually the guys ahead of them occupying more zones, this forces the opposition block to defend a wider space, becoming more stretched. Ultimately, this should open up spaces which are too large to be covered by shifts and make the previously compact block penetrable. 

As the centre-backs drop into wide positions, the centre in the last near to their goals is temporarily vacated. A pivot, from a midfield position, should drop into this central position for two reasons; 1)provide strong connections with both sides from the centre 2)provide stability and defensive cover in a key offensive space for the opposition. The first reason is one Bayern have generally managed to avoid getting by without it being a great issue. Their use of diagonal passes to the switch sides despite bypassing the centre in phases where it is not occupied is effective, though if the diagonal lane is cut, Bayern do have some trouble in making switches. The second reason has troubled Bayern more so out of the two however. Using Thiago and Vidal as the two deeper midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 is a significant reason why there hasn’t been consistent occupation of the central space in the backline when the CB’s split. Thiago works best in between lines or opposition blocks, from the left halfspace and his dropping movements don’t occur so often and can’t be relied upon. Vidal is primarily a box-to-box player and prefers to offer only some movements from within midfield positions, rather than adopting a key central role in build-up. This has seen Bayern’s centre-backs split, only to leave a great space in the centre of the backline which no-one moves into.

43:11 vs. Rostov

In the case of a turnover, Bayern can be extremely exposed in what most would consider the key position to defend. Any quick and efficient counter-attack which focused on central play would most likely make it through this central space as Bayern’s wide CB’s simply wouldn’t be able to recover such a big distance in time to defend. This was evident in Rostov’s first goal in Russia, when Bayern lost 3-2.

Chance Creation…Or Not?

The final third is one area where Pep Guardiola’s team’s have not had issues in creating good situations for themselves, which result in clear chances and lots of goals. Since the Catalan boss’ departure, Bayern’s chance creation has hindered. 

The wide areas are ones where Guardiola place heavy focus on chance creation, as he seen wingers Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery as Bayern’s “unstoppable guys”, alongside bringing in Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman to aid with the quality on either wing. These wingers were often paired with full-backs in situations of numerical superiority, though the wingers were also often given their chance to remain 1v1 on the wing in situations of qualitative superiority. Ancellotti, though at times placing heavy chance creation responsibility on the wingers, seemingly does not trust his wingers in creating good situations for themselves, particularly 1v1, as he often places another player in close support of them in the offensive phase. 

72:57 vs. Rostov

In the above scenario it is clear that Juan Bernat has been instructed to support Ribery high up on the left wing, creating either a 2v1 or 2v2 situation. Ancellotti’s lack of trust in Bayern’s wingers in 1v1’s often leads to slow, predictable situations on the wing, due to the structure and circulation strategy requiring the wingers to be supported, usually by full-backs, before moving onto the wing. These extra seconds spent waiting for a second, or even third, player moving over to support the winger, give the opposition valuable time to shift and prevent an overload, or prepare to defend behind the first defender. 

Conceding only nine goals in sixteen games, an average of less than a goal conceded per game, it is clear that Bayern’s issues do not lie defensively, but instead in the cleanliness and efficiency of their use of the ball. The flaws in their possession game have a knock-on effect on the final third, which also in itself has major decencies, despite possessing such quality individually. Against the deep blocks of a few teams, notably Atletico Madrid and Rostov in the Champions League, Bayern’s attacking game has really been exposed. Goals have frequently came from counter-attacks, which seems to be the only phase where Bayern’s attackers get the freedom of a quick attack without being slowed down by weak tactical instructions. 

Going into the the second half of the season, where Bayern are likely to defend more, with tougher games in these five months than the previous, perhaps Ancellotti’s side will appear stronger, even if not always in full control, as their conceding of space and poor progression is masked by defensive strength and efficient counter-attacks. 

One thing for sure though; Bayern miss Pep and dare we say it, Pep perhaps misses Bavaria.


The Potential of Borussia Dortmund Under Thomas Tuchel

After a season of what some would consider relative success, Borussia Dortmund have entered the apparent annual stage where clubs with more money pinch all their best players. Die Schwarzgleben looked as strong as ever in the 2015/16 season and arguably look even stronger than Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund, who consecutively won the Bundesliga title in 2010/11 and 11/12. After what some would consider a disastrous start to the transfer window this summer, the Dortmund board seem to have rectified the situation, leaving Thomas Tuchel in a great position for the coming seasons.

The First Season – A Brief Analysis

After a period of tactical evolution in Bundesliga, with Jurgen Klopp truly turning the high press and the art of counterpressing into a trend in German and European football, the excitable Dortmund manager’s tactics begun to become predictable, stale and easier to beat than ever before. More ‘attractive’ managers such as Pep Guardiola found ways to escape this intense pressing game, such as utilising playmakers into the backline, as well creating a three chain during build-up to offer more stability, alongside other successful ideas. Klopp began to experiment with all sorts of formation, most notably 4-1-3-2 and 3-5-2, though without too much joy. Dortmund’s form worsened, they finished 7th in Bundesliga, and Klopp decided to quit. Along came Thomas Tuchel…

Tuchel, like Klopp, wasn’t afraid to fully implement his ideas, and experiment with different tactics in order to find the right team dynamics. In his opening season Tuchel primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he has also infrequently experimented with a 3-4-2-1, deploying a double 10 behind the striker. 

Most commonly used by BVB throughout the season, the 4-2-3-1, saw Dortmund play in a very fluid system with free positional play. The back five selection of Burki, Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels and Schmelzer was pretty consistent, though Ginter and Bender were sometimes in in place of Piszczek and Sokratis. The midfield duo of Weigl and either Gundogan or Castro was the strongest area of BVB last season, with the pairing dictating from deep as well as making some movements into 8 positions excellently. The starting front four remained as Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, Reus and Aubameyang all throughout.

 The 3-4-2-1 formation was a cool experiment at times, particularly the 2-2 draw with Koln on the last day of the Bundesliga calendar, where Aubameyang was tested as right wing-back. This wasn’t the normal selection though. It was as follows;

Bender came in as the right defender of the back three, while Sokratis and Hummels played in the two roles left of him. Durm took over from Piszczek usually, though this was likely down to the 3-4-2-1 being used in games where Tuchel was rotating his side, hence Piszczek getting rest. Castro normally started as 8, with Gundogan on the bench, due to Castro’s greater athleticism to make dynamic vertical movements. Mkhitaryan and Kagawa competed for the role as right 10, while Reus usually played as left false 10, primarily working from the left halfspace. His forward runs supported Aubameyang up front.

The 3-4-2-1 is actually quite similar to the build-up shape which Dortmund move into in their 4-2-3-1, meaning not too much tactical changes would need to be made in training. The fluidity and dynamic positioning Dortmund’s 3-4-2-1 offers is even greater to that of what their 4-2-3-1 does, both with and without possession. 

After a 5-1 thrashing to Bayern early in the Bundesliga season, Tuchel realised he moved need to make alterations to his team next time the sides faced off. He did so very well, by deploying a 5-2-2-1 similar to the attacking 3-4-2-1, but with more defensive solidity. By deploying shape and strongly focusing on quick transitions in their next two games with Bayern, Borussia managed two 0-0 draws, which in both games the team showed they could’ve won the game with just more clinical finishing. These changes by Tuchel, which you can check out in more depth here, highlight how good a manager he is, particularly in tactical and game management terms.

I am aware that I haven’t looked at Borussia Dortmund in the 2015/16 season in too much depth, as that isn’t the purpose of this article. To find out more, check out this team analysis by @TomPayneftbl.

Activity in the Market Leads to Whole New Level of Squad Depth

Losing arguably your two best players before the transfer window has even begun is never a good thing, never mind rumours constantly floating around that three of your other best players were set to depart too. This was Borussia Dortmund’s exact situation. With Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan leaving for Bayern Munich and Manchester City, it was clear that the summer may be a long one for Dortmund. Despite this, spirits within the camp were lifted when Marc Bartra, Sebastien Rode and Emre Mor all signed within the space of a week, as well as the knowledge that Mikel Merino and wonderkid Ousmane Dembele would be joining the squad for new season too. Star of their 15/16 campaign Henrikh Mkhitaryan left for Manchester United, but the money this generated was enough to buy Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle as replacements. 

Following these transfers, Dortmund’s window appears to be over, bar maybe one or two minor departures which shouldn’t directly affect the first team squad. The window could be considered a success by some, while a failure by others, but one thing is for sure, Dortmund’s squad depth for the upcoming season is ridiculously well covered in all positions.

As their two goalkeeping options, BVB have Roman Burki, who will likely play all league fixtures, and veteran goalie Roman Weindenfeller, who will probably play in cup ties. The options at the right-back spot are Lukasz Piszczek, Erik Durm and Felix Passlack. All offer similar qualities, especially in terms of in possession. Piszczek will remain first choice if BVB play a back four, while his position on the right will be seriously challenged by a number of players if Tuchel goes with a back three. On the right of central defence if a back four is likely to be Sokratis Papastatopoulos or Sven Bender, while in a back three Bender and Sokratis will probably both play, as RCB and CB respectively. New signing Marc Bartra should start as the other centre-back, on the left in either a back three or four. At left-back this term there will be stiff completion, although Marcel Schmelzer is one of the world’s best LB’s, Raphael Guerreiro is an excellent addition and further proved his capability at Euro 2016. An interesting battle.

One of BVB’s best players last term was Julian Weigl. The young German performed expertly in the deep-lying playmaker role, between defence and attacking midfield, and will occupy the same role again this coming season. More interesting though will be who plays in midfield alongside him. Should Tuchel go with a 2-1 or 2-2 midfield again, Gotze will play as 10, while either Castro or Rode will partner Weigl, if it is a 1-2 midfield, then it will be Weigl with Gotze and either Castro or Rode ahead of him. It is hard to predict who will take up the third spot in midfield, though if forced, I would say Castro will start the first few games with Rode making appearances here and then, with Tuchel deciding from there who will be full-time start. Mikel Merino, Moritz Leitner and Felix Passlack should not be forgotten though, and offer good rotation options for games of low significance. Meanwhile, Kagawa and Pulisic will both be working hard in an attempt to compete with Mario Gotze for the position.

As if proving himself in Ligue 1 wasn’t enough, Ousmane Dembele has excelled so far in Dortmund’s friendlies, showing Tuchel he is definitely ready to be the team’s first choice right winger. This will be the case come start of the season. If he fails to do so, there are plenty of options in Emre Mor, Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus to replace him. Jakub Blaszczykowski is currently still with squad and options a versatile option anywhere on the right, but I would expect him to leave before the end of the window. On the left will be Marco Reus. Main striker will be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whom Dortmund will be delighted to have kept a hold of this summer.

Tactical Possibilities

As already mentioned earlier in this article, Borussia Dortmund were one of 15/16’s most intriguing sides in terms of tactics. With some players leaving, and Tuchel replacing, yet not directly with a like-for-like, this will only add further dimension to BVB’s tactical game in the future.

One tactical feature which is likely to carry on from last term is the dynamic movement of the deep midfielders during build-up. During the early stages of the season, when Ilkay Gundogan partnered Weigl, there were more variations of dropping movements, though when Gundogan got injured and Castro became Weigl’s new main partner, Weigl was always the one making dropping movements. Weigl would often drop into a position slightly higher than, in the centre of the two centre-backs when a CB was in possession. As this happened, Castro would make a vertical movement away from the ball. If Weigl was blocked by a presser, Castro would then drop again to prevent the CB becoming isolated with no support. This movement pattern has been continued in pre-season friendlies against Manchester United and Manchester City, but with Weigl still on holiday after the Euros, Rode has took over his role as the dropping DM for now.

The usage of the halfspaces has been a prominent component in Tuchel’s strategy at Dortmund. Deploying Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a role off either the right or left of the attacking midfield three, the Armenian has been used to provide connections in the halfspace, making inverted movement from his starting position on the wing. By drifting into the often unoccupied halfspace, while Piszczek/Schmelzer occupy the wing, Aubameyang makes a run in behind to occupy the centre-back, and Shinji Kagawa moves slightly towards the ball to create an overload, this makes it very difficult for the opponent to have defensive access to Mkhitaryan, with him now able to freely connect with either the wing or the centre, the two zones on either side of him.

Above we can see Mkhitaryan and Kagawa using the halfspace to then connect with the Cohen switch to the wing to create a good situation for Hoffman.

The frequent usage of the halfspaces to create connections in advanced positions may be seen far less this season though, and we have had an indication of this in the friendlies against Man United and Man City. Due to often having two more traditional wingers on the pitch at once, this means there will be less halfspace occupation by an inverted movement, a key component in BVB’s connection high up the pitch. 

The only frequent halfspace occupation in advanced positions has been from horizontal movements by the number 10’s in either game, Kagawa and Leitner. This hasn’t be so successful though, as with both United and City using man-orientated defensive approaches, their pivots have often just followed Kagawa and Leitner, making it difficult for them to receive the ball facing the goal and create positive connections vertically. In order to progress up through the stages of possession without reliance on the now less-occupied halfspaces, we have seen more long passes from deep than before. One common pattern is for Dembele to make a vertical movement in behind to occupy the full-back, this often clears the wing and isolates Schmelzer. Rode or Sokratis will often play a high diagonal from the right halfspace. 

Moving into a very widely discussed topic is the formation and team selection which Tuchel will utilise next season. After making a barrel load of changes to the squad, the options for team selection, and for the formation they are set up in are very high. Below are two selections I believe would be ideal for Dortmund to use.

The first is a relatively similar 4-2-3-1 shape which was deployed last season. It would allow for nice midfield rotation with Rode and Götze’s dynamic positioning allowing for occupation of many different horizontal and vertical lines. There is potential to become a number of different shapes, particularly in build-up, due to the variability that their is in all four players on the wings. This is a realistic shape to which Thomas Tuchel will regularly select throughout the season.

Though appearing to be a relatively normal 3-4-3, the variation this would offer in attack would turn this into an extremely unique shape. Despite being left footed, the deployment of Raphael Guerreiro as a right wing-back alongside Ousmane Dembele on the right wing would offer very interesting variability. The double wing occupation would allow the pairing to make movement in accordance to the other, either choosing to offer support in whichever zone they are in, or while the ball is on the wing, moving into the halfspace to isolate and create a 1v1. Despite the exclusion of Reus above, he could easily be brought in to replace Götze or Dembele, as he would be more than capable of carrying out the same role as them.

What’s Next?

After a season and a summer where excellent foundations seem to have been built at Westfalenstadion, Thomas Tuchel will be looking to build on the strong base he has formed. His quick implementation of such complex ideas which not many bar Pep Guardiola can teach in just a season has been extremely impressive. His Dortmund players must, and will continue learning under their coach for as long as he is there to teach them, as what he is building seems to be something special. Despite last season’s point gap of ten, which Tuchel openly stated his disappointment at, last season somehow felt like Dortmund’s strongest season by far, since their most recent Bundesliga win. The progression both individually but most importantly collectively in the 15/16 season was remarkable and a joy to watch for outsiders. 

Though it seems to be have been taken for granted amidst all the other positives at the club in the past year, Borussia’s automatic qualification for 16/17 Champions League is hugely significant for all at the club. With arguably as strong and deep a Borussia Dortmund squad as there ever has been, Tuchel certainly won’t be taking the competition lightly, and is sure to rotate and use the full depth of his squad in a similar fashion to how he did so last term, in order to remain competitive in the prestigious European competition. In domestic terms, despite many claiming the Bundesliga is already a foregone conclusion, no one at Dortmund will be thinking this way, and they are sure to push Ancelotti’s Bayern for as long as they can. 

Bayern 1-0 Man City

After three seasons of mind-boggling, yet genius tactics from Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich the Catalonian coach made the decision to leave Bavaria in search of a new challenge. Guardiola made the switch to the English Premier League, for the first time in his career, while his successor was announced as Carlo Ancelotti midway through December. Many have made somewhat understandable claims that although Ancelloti’s Bayern are unlikely to be as exciting to watch as Guardiola’s, his superior game management and preference of trophies as a measure of success rather than quality of play, will most likely be more successful. In the first match under Pep Guardiola’s tenure at City, he will face off against his old club, Bayern in a tantalising affair which will be the second of Ancelloti’s reign. 

In a 4-3-3 formation which looked not too dissimilar to the one Guardiola commonly used at Bayern, was the Bavarians. With a number of key players still on a break following summer tournaments, Bayern were without a few. Ulreich was in goals in place of the resting Manuel Neuer. Bayern used a back four consisting of Rafinha, Feldhahn, Javi Martinez and Bernat. As 6 was Alonso, Lahm and Alaba played to either side of him in central midfield. Benko played in a wide right role, Green retaining role of centre forward in absence of Lewandowski and Muller, while Ribery played left wing.

Willy Caballero took the goalkeeper role. In front of him a makeshift defence of Maffeo, Adarabioyo, Kolarov and Angelino. The double-pivot was made up of Fernandinho and Fernando. The three pronged attacking midfield was Jesus Navas, Zinchenko and Barker. As 9 was Kelechi Iheanacho.

An Early Coaching Impact – City’s Reconstructed Build-Up Phase

Under Manuel Pellegrini, one of the weakest areas of their play was their build-up. Due to an apparent lack of coaching to the centre-back pairing of Otamendi and Mangala in terms of their fluency in build-up, as well as Fernandinho and Fernando lacking barely any quality in build-up between the two, City very often struggled to penetrate their opponent’s when building from the back. 

City’s passing network by @11tegen11 in the UCL semi-final last season. Shows their worthless U circulation.

Although not on show on the match tonight due to injury, Ikay Gundogan has been signed by City early in the transfer window. Gundogan will instantly improve City’s build-up, as his vertical passing and ball-carrying make him among the best players in the build-up phase in Europe.

Against Bayern however, Guardiola showed off City’s new structure in build-up. Similar to the 3-4-3 build-up structure he has used at previous clubs, it was evident that changes are already being implemented in possession. Man City occupied a 3-3-1-3 which could probably be considered a 3-4-3 if it wasn’t for the significantly staggered positioning of the advancing 6 and Oleksandr Zinchenko. The shape was pretty simple and familiar with Guardiola, though there were a few changes. Dropping in between the centre-backs who would split wide would be either Fernando or Fernandinho. This is the first change. Usually Pep has a single-pivot who is tasked with dropping between their centre-backs when they split wide, to provide stability. The fact that Fernando and Fernandinho alternated the role depending on the situation is something we have rarely seen from a Guardiola midfield. Wide full-backs Maffeo and Angelino advanced forward onto the same line as the non-dropping 6, while Zinchenko positioned himself some metres ahead of them, ideally in between Bayern lines. Navas and Barker occupied the wings in high positions, usually in line with the spearhead of the attack, Iheanacho. This was another differentiation from Pep. Usually at least one of his wide players, either full-backs or wide midfielders/wingers move into their near halfspace, though this didn’t happen, and Pep usually had four players occupying the wings.

The movement into the 3-3-1-3 possessional structure were very smooth and it looking in from the outside, it seems that the initial movements in preparation of building are what Pep has spent the most coaching time on in his first weeks as manager. Despite these fluent movements, expectedly after such a short time, there were flaws in City’s build up. Coming with Fernando and Fernandinho’s lack of technical quality was their lack of movement to create angle to receive the ball while the centre-backs or Caballero had the ball. This made short passes in triangles difficult as City couldn’t create strong structures local to the ball to play out quickly and effectively, while drawing Bayern players out of positions, particularly on the left, where Alaba’s overzealous pressing could’ve been exploited at times.

Pressing Traps and Miscommunicated Orientations

As seemingly every manager in Europe makes the change to 4-4-2 without the ball, Pep Guardiola seems to have followed the trend. 

As Bayern’s centre-backs collected the ball, Zinchenko and Iheanacho lead the City press a front two. Defending in a mid-high block, City’s defence and midfield four used zonal coverage. Without being too tight horizontally, the players maintained a relatively close distance which allowed them to spring into pressing traps in certain areas, these I will speak about later. Zinchenko and Iheanacho used body shape to block Lahm and Alaba out of build-up as much as possible, while opening up a vertical passing-lane, though one City were prepared for.

As the ball-near presser showed the Bayern centre-back the open passing-lane in the halfspace, this was often seen as a good opportunity for Bayern to penetrate with a vertical pass. As the pass was made the ball-near 6 would press the receiver, while the ball-near wide midfield would pinch in, also pressing, while making sure a first time pass out wide wasn’t possible. The ball-near presser would then attempt to drop towards the ball quickly, to block backwards pass and trap them in possession and to make the space even tighter, making it hard to escape. 

Despite this seemingly successful pressing trap, there were flaws, largely down to miscommunication. In order to escape the tight pressing traps, Lahm and Alaba often made dropping movements in their respective halfspaces. Here, Fernando and Fernandinho were far too keen to follow them, and often did, defending in a man-oriented approach while their teammates defended with a passing-lane orientation. This had a clear negative effect on City’s vertical compactness between their back-four and midfield, leaving a ton of space in between their lines. Frank Ribery began to exploit this with inverted movements, first into the halfspace, then even getting closer to the centre as his success grew when infield. From deep in the right halfspace, we often saw Lahm play chipped diagonal balls into the advanced Ribery in the left halfspace. This gave Bayern great success and was probably the reason why Ribery was man of the match.

A Blossoming Partnership?

Starting game as City’s 10 and 9 (admittedly wearing 35 and 72) were Oleksandr Zinechenko and Kelechi Iheanacho, respectively. The pair had relatively dynamic roles where they chose their movements and positioning depending on the situation, rather than a strict positional game.

Zinchenko and Iheanacho made vertical movements both towards and away from the Bayern goal. Though Iheanacho is more of a movement-orientated forwards, he is strongest running in behind on the last line, he made a number of dropping movements in and around Zone 14. This may be a sign of Pep trying to mould him into a more complete forward with more to his game. Zinchenko, played very close to Iheanacho in terms of line heights. As Iheanacho made a dropping movement to into Zone 14, Zinchenko would burst forward with a quick vertical movement to occupy Bayern’s CB’s, this ensured Feldhahn and Javi Martinez didn’t have such an easy time and their defensive line wasn’t always able to be held.

The reactive movements from Zinchenko and Iheanacho were very fluent and with such a small time of training together, they seemed to understand each other very well. Their dynamic positioning and vertical line heights seemed to be glanced at and understood in an instant by each other. Perhaps Pep has begun the start of a promising partnership…


After many seasons of a significant lack of game model, particularly in terms of build-up and transition, Pep Guardiola already seems to be working hard at rectifying two of the most important tactical concepts at Manchester City.

Despite the flaws with build-up, there are definite positives to take. The fact that City’s players have understood the possessional structure and can fluently move into it after such a short time is extremely promising. The technical issues shown from CB’s and particularly DM’s can and most likely will be sorted over the next months. Ikay Gundogan will offer solid qualities in terms of build-up, as well as City having a number of players returning soon, who will also aid this phase.

Although City did lose the match 1-0, Pep Guardiola, as always, will learn a lot from the match. He got glimpses of the qualities, and at times lack of quality from many of his youngsters, which will give him a a relative idea of his plans and strongest starting 11 for the minute. Most importantly for Pep though, he will likely rewatch the game a number of times, analyse tactically, and train where he sees improvements needed.

Weakened Spurs Suffer at the Hands of Vertically-Orientated Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund-Tottenham promises to be an extremely exciting affair in many different ways, one in particular which I will be analysing, is the tactical side of the meeting. Tuchel-Pochettino has potential to be one of the most exciting tactical battles of the 21st century, especially considering the youthfulness (in terms of age in management) of the two coaches. 

Tuchel’s Dortmund side have hugely impressed in Bundesliga this season, and lie just five points off league leaders Bayern Munich, which would be by no means an embarrassing deficit for BVB. Dortmund go into the first leg with a fully fit first-team squad bar Sokratis Papastatopoulos on the back of an impressive 0-0 draw against Bayern which could have went either way. With Spurs key defensive midfielder Eric Dier likely to be absent, one area Dortmund may find some joy in could be Zone 14 where Kagawa and drifting movements from Mkhitaryan and Gundogan may find space.

Tottenham don’t have the same availability of squad players as BVB do for the first leg. Key players Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen will definitely miss out through injury and suspension while back-up striker Clinton N’Jie will also not be available. Other queries include Danny Rose and Eric Dier, who are both struggling for fitness following the weekend’s North London Derby clash with Arsenal. Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino has conceded that his players are going through a fatiguing period, especially considering the club are currently challenging for both the Europa League and Premier League titles. Nonetheless, Spurs have depth in their squad to fill gaps, although the lack of a pivot with same intelligence as Dier may be harmful to them in the first leg.


Borussia Dortmund’s shape altered between 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and even other ‘telephone numbers’ throughout the different phases which I will look at later in the analysis. Europa League goalkeeper Roman Weindefeller took his place in goals. The defence was made up of Piszczek, Bender, Hummels and Schmelzer, who played as a wing-back. Weigl played as pivot, while Mkhitaryan and Castro played as 8’s ahead of him. On the right flank was Erik Durm. Up front was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, Reus making drifting movements towards the left wing.

With injuries/suspensions expected to force Tottenham into starting with a slightly weakened side, this was certainly the case, but even more so than expected. Pochettino rested key players such as Dembele, Lamela and Kane who dropped to the bench, while neither of Dier and Rose made the squad due to fitness issues. Lloris was in goals. Trippier, Alderweireld, Wimmer and Davies made a relatively strong back-four. In midfield and attack was where Spurs looked weaker. Mason and Carroll made up a double-pivot. On the right of the attacking midfield trio was 18 year-old Josh Onomah, as 10 was Eriksen and on the left Heung-Min Son. As already mentioned, Harry Kane was given a rest which meant Nacer Chadli started as striker.


Change Defensive Structure Has it’s Flaws

So far this season, Pochettino’s Tottenham have mostly pressed high up the pitch in a 4-2-3-1 shape but tonight, probably due to changes in personnel, Spurs pressed in a 4-3-3 formation.

This change in shape was probably designed by coach Pochettino in a bid to prevent Dortmund having an overload when in deep build-up. On paper it seemed a viable approach as it would allow Son, Eriksen and Chadli to press high, as well as giving them the option of forcing them to build-up close to the touchline with Eriksen marking Weigl and Son and Chadli using body shape to force Piszczek and Hummels towards the touchline. 

In Dortmund’s build-up, Spurs adopted a man-orientated defensive approach which seemed logical considering the shapes matched up well. From the front, Son pressed Piszczek and Chadli pressed Hummels, while Eriksen dictated the angle of the press by choosing to either mark Weigl or to press Bender. This left Josh Onomah free to drop in line with Mason and Carroll. While Mason and Carroll marked Castro and Mkhitaryan, Onomah was left free to rush out the midfield three to press Schmelzer if Schmelzer received the ball behind Spurs initial press. 

Despite Tottenham’s man-orientated approach during BVB’s build-up seeming an intelligent move, as it would perhaps nullify the impact of Dortmund’s pressing-resistant deep players in build-up, this wasn’t so much the case. The resistance of Hummels, Bender and Weigl allowed Borussia to escape Spurs initial press by Son, Eriksen and Chadli, who are all good pressers, and find space in behind the front three. After Spurs initial press was beaten, Onomah and Davies were then usually the next layer of pressing, as Dortmund normally moved the ball towards Durm or Schmelzer in the next stage of their build-up. This was where problems began to arise for Spurs. Due to Piszczek playing as hybrid between a RCB and a RB, he frequently made forward movements as the ball moved towards his wing, as the Polish full-back moved forward, this pushed Durm even high up the pitch. This often meant Dortmund had an overload on the right as Son would be caught high up the pitch after pressing and unable to support Davies defensively for quite a few moments. 

At half-time Mauricio Pochettino altered Spurs defensive system, rather than pressing high up the field with a front three, Tottenham moved into a flat midfield five. This meant a couple of changes. Chadli swapped positions with Son, while Eriksen dropped to either the right or left of the central midfielder, depending on positioning of himself, Mason and Carroll. This formation provided far better support defensively for Trippier and Davies, as well as providing Spurs with an easier transition as Eriksen was the only player who really had to cover too much ground to get into his defensive position. 

Spurs 4-5-1 after half-time

In the 58th minute, Pochettino made further alterations to his side’s defensive system. The introduction of Moussa Dembele for Chadli meant Eriksen moving out to the left, with Dembele taking the position of Eriksen but with a slight change of role. Due to BVB’s 6 Weigl dominating possession with excellent circulation, Dembele was instructed to break the midfield chain of three by rushing out of position to press the the pivot.

Vertical Movement Causes Chaos

One element of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund which has been analysed and improved upon by Thomas Tuchel is the running done by BVB’s players. Klopp’s Dortmund were known for pressing extremely intensely with lots of running covering tons of kilometres. This running has been built upon by new manager Tuchel, who has adopted a more mental-orientated approach with more intelligent transitions and defensive systems focusing on astute positioning while making the most of players such as Aubameyang, Castro and Reus’ powerful and quick running but circulating the ball in a more controlling approach to combine the strengths of both himself and his players.

A very impressive example of Tuchel combining intelligence with physical qualities on a football pitch is the use of, and goalscoring exploits of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this season. Last season under Klopp, Aubameyang managed an impressive 25 goals in 46 games for Dortmund. Under Klopp, Dortmund made full use of Aubameyang’s speed by playing lots of balls in behind the opposition defence. The Gabonese forward was even used as a right-winger as to make full use of his pace. This season though, Aubameyang has been even more brilliant, in both general play as well as his goalscoring form. Tuchel has helped Auba evolve his game and become a more intelligent striker who made intelligent runs, rather than always relying on pace to get into a goalscoring position. With this evolution, Aubameyang has managed a wonderful 32 goals in 35 games this season. 

In this particular game, Aubameyang and his strike partner Reus, showed great intelligence to exploit the spaces in between Tottenham’s full-back and centre-back on both side. With players such as Hummels, Mkhitaryan and Weigl on their side, all players who can break lines well, these are perfect runs to make. Below is an example of Marco Reus running onto one of these passes by Mats Hummels.

 Another player for BVB who combined physical attributes with intelligent running was Gonzalo Castro. Due to lacking the skillset to play as a deep midfielder with a key role in the build-up phase, Castro often shuttled out of the build-up from his 8 position in between Spurs lines. Although he was unlikely to receive the ball here, it did have a positive impact on BVB’s build-up. The first thing Castro’s movement did was create more space for pivot Julian Weigl. Although Weigl is excellent under pressure, as any player is, he is more effective when he has time and space to play in. Another impact Castro’s movement had was the disruption it had on Spurs shaped. Due to Reus and Aubameyang always occupying Alderweireld and Wimmer during BVB’s build-up, this meant if anyone was to move into the 10 space neither of the two would be able to step forward to mark, meaning Carroll or Mason would have to track them, meaning they were often leaving the midfield three with a gap. 

Spurs Struggle in Unsung Hero’s Absence

As already mentioned, Mauricio Pochettino started the game with a pretty weak side in comparison the Borussia Dortmund team Thomas Tuchel lined-up with. Most probably down to a fitness issue, pivot Eric Dier was left at home. So far this season Dier has been a key figure for Spurs and has established himself as one of the best number 6’s in the Premier League. His conversion from centre-half to pivot has been an impressive one, and in the few games Dier has missed, Tottenham have looked considerably weaker, particularly without the ball. 

One issue which I have already touched upon, is the poor positional intelligence in defence which Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason have, compared to Dier at least. Gonzalo Castro’s movements towards the 10 space seriously disrupted Tottenham’s defensive shape as Carroll/Mason often followed the German midfielder into areas they didn’t need to track him into. Often they would find themselves marking Castro in a space between their own full-back and centre-back, which really wasn’t ideal as it left a large gap in their shape, which is extremely dangerous as Dortmund have players such as Hummels, Weig and Mkhitaryan who can break lines very well, even without a large gap to do it through!

A second problem which Tottenham encountered directly through the absence of Eric Dier was unsmooth circulation. So far this season Spurs have arguably been the best team to watch in the Premier League. This has largely been down to their effectiveness in possession. Against Dortmund however, this was not the case as their trusted pivot Dier wasn’t in place to aid with rapid circulation. Ryan Mason often found himself in Dier’s usual role in possession and although he attempted to provide stability as well as a passing option in circulation, his positional play was really poor at times and forced Spurs into playing pointless horizontal passes from halfspace to wing due to not having an outlet in the 6 position.

Situation at 52:00

Where Mason should have been positioned to allow quick circulation


A rather strange team selection by Mauricio Pochettino saw Borussia Dortmund dominate the match for the full 90 minutes with some effective vertical passing from deep.

Pochettino’s selection seemed strange considering Spurs are playing bottom-placed Aston Villa at the weekend, meaning rest was overly necessary for players such as Kane, Dembele and Lamela. A possible explanation for the starting 11 would be that now that Pochettino has guaranteed Champions League qualification for Spurs next season, he isn’t focusing on winning the Europa League to get into the main European competition next season but instead, solely focusing on winning the Premier League title now.

Tuchel Changes Shape as Dortmund Dominate

One team which haven’t managed to match their terrific league form in Europe are Borussia Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel’s side have been in wonderful form in the Bundesliga this season, not suffering any major blips apart from the 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the opening weeks of the campaign. This form hasn’t been mirrored in the Europa League however, with the German’s struggling in both the group matches against Krasnodar and PAOK, luckily qualifying by three points due to PAOK’s inability to beat minnows Gabala in either match. Despite the blunt Europa League performances, it will be a huge positive for Dortmund to see their progression from the massively disappointing 2014/15 season.

Porto on the other hand, don’t seem to have made massive progression this season, even going through a change of managers recently, seeing Julian Lopetegui replaced by Jose Peseiro, who Porto hope will solidify them defensively, an area Lopetegui struggled to take care of when in charge. Defending may be one thing that Porto will have to do in this first leg, to keep themselves in the tie ahead of the home leg.

Due to Weindefeller being out with the flu, he missed out on his turn in goal as ‘cup goalie’. This meant Roman Burki retained his place. At right-back was Piszcek. Sokratis and Hummels were the centre-backs, although Hummels ventured into left-back positions when BVB were in possession. Schmelzer played a left wing-back. In midfield was a double-pivot of Weigl and Sahin. On the right-wing was Mkhitaryan, although he often swapped positions with 10 Shinji Kagawa. On the left Marco Reus and as striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Porto lined-up as follows; Casillas in goals, in front of him a makeshift back-four of Silvestre Varela, Martins Indi, Layun and Jose Angel. The double-pivot was Ruben Neves and Oliveira. The three attacking-midfielders was Marega, Hector Herrera and Brahimi. Up top Aboubakar. 
Innovative Shape in Build-Up Phase

One area of Dortmund’s play which has improved massively since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel’s is their positional structure in possession. Tuchel has experimented with a number of shapes during the build-up phase, most notably a 3-4-3 similar to Pep Guardiola’s Barca shape, tonight we saw Dortmund use an even more interesting shape in the build-up phase, a 3-2-5. 

It is evident that Sahin and Weigl are key in the formation during the build-up phase for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, they must fulfill the standard duties of central-midfielders, to support the building of attacks from the centre of the pitch and deep in the halfspaces. In order to create, Sahin made dropping movements into the left halfspaces, moving away from midfield partner Julian Weigl, while doing this however, the Turk was careful not to block the lane from the defence to Weigl, as he is a key component in the build-up phase. Sahin also had to open lanes from the defence to Mkhitaryan/Kagawa(whoever was playing as 10 at the time) as if Porto’s lines were broken a 1v1 situation against either of the defensively uncertain Martins Indi or Layun would be a dangerous situation , this being another reason for the dropping movements into the left halfspace. In order to open the lanes, Sahin often had to play short and simple combination passes with the centre-backs to drag Herrera and Aboubakar out of position as these two would often attempt to prevent Porto access to Zone 14.

 As well as supporting the team in moving the ball forward, Sahin and Weigl also had to provide balance for teammates moving into advanced areas. Another purpose of Sahin’s dropping movements deep into the left halfspace was to cover for Hummels and Schmelzer, who would move into positions where they were able to support play in the final third. 

We can see here that Sahin has dropped into the left halfspace to provide cover for Hummels

Weigl also had to remain in a balanced position as if Piszcek ventured down the wing slightly, to support Mkhitaryan/Kagawa, Weigl would have to move over to nullify the threat of a Porto counter-attack down Dortmund’s right.

One positive of the 3-2-5 was the huge number of overloads it created in different areas of the field. Perhaps the key overload was in the first line where Sokratis, Piszcek/Hummels and the ball-near midfielder of Sahin/Weigl had an overload over Porto’s two pressers Herrera and Aboubakar. This allowed Dortmund to dominate the ball in their own half as they always had at least a 3v2, meaning they always looked stable in possession in their own half. Other overloads were the left wing/halfspace where Reus and Schmelzer had qualitative superiority over Varela and Marega and sometimes even a numerical advantage when Marega was out of position, also the right halfspace where Kagawa and Mkhitaryan often had a 2v1 over a lone defensive midfielder while Aubameyang occupied the nearest centre-back to prevent him from supporting the defensive midfielder. Lastly the big one, five attackers versus Porto’s four defenders. This was an important overload as with Porto’s defensively poor backline, Dortmund were able to create lots of chance from all across the final third.

Accessing Zone 14

(Note: If you are unsure of the definition of Zone 14 give this a quick read before reading this subheading, as it may be a little confusing:  http://leochanperformanceanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/what-is-zone-14-in-football.html  it’s a pretty simple tactical theory, just a necessary one to understand in my opinion)

As we have already spoken about in the previous subheading, Dortmund had a numerical superiority in their five attackers over Porto’s four defenders. Porto obviously couldn’t just ignore the problem, meaning Marega and Brahimi had to put in a shift defensively to support their respective full-backs. This in itself caused Porto some problems though, as it meant Marega and Brahimi were often defending near the touchline, therefore leaving space in the centre and halfspaces as well as improving Dortmund’s access to Zone 14 due to opening up passing lanes for Kagawa/Mkhitaryan.

With Porto’s wingers being forced to defend mostly on the wings rather than the halfspaces, this obviously had a negative impact on their horizontal compactness, this leaving the double-pivot of Neves and Oliveira exposed. Despite not enjoying an exceptional period in his second spell at Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa has demonstrated his intelligence on a football pitch under a manager who appreciates this attribute greatly. Tonight his movement was excellent and caused Neves and Oliveira big problems. Due to Sahin and Weigl intelligent movement’s to open up passing lanes from defence to Zone 14, this allowed Kagawa to get on the ball a lot. In order to stretch Porto’s midfield further than they’d like, Kagawa often moved into the halfspaces to force the double-pivot to cover a lot of ground, dragging them out of position. This movement was improved further by the intelligence of Mkhitaryan’s positioning. The Armenian often moved into Zone 14 to force not just one pivot to defend Kagawa but both were required to defend Kagawa and Mkhitaryan, who had moved alongside the Japanese playmaker. 

Lack of Threat on the Counter

When a team is dominated into he way Porto were against Dortmund, it is important to have a clear game plan to either shut up shop by ‘parking the bus’ and simply defending what you have with no intention of attacking, or defending in a deep, compact block and attempt to hit your opposition on the counter-attack as often as possible. It seemed as if Porto were caught in two minds with this one, as manager Jose Peseiro seemed to want his side to be a bit more positive and counter-attack Dortmund more, by leaving Brahimi in a slightly more advanced position to prepare for a counter, while his side seemed to have no choice but to defend very deep, as they simply had no way of escaping Dortmund’s constant waves of attack.

One player who caused his side problems was Vincent Aboubakar. A player who seems to work in patches of form has been branded one of the most inconsistent strikers around. Aboubakar showed so much promise in his first season or two in professional European football but recently his potential seems to have wavered and the big Cameroonian hasn’t been a massive positive recently for Porto. Tonight was no different as his work rate was poor, particularly at key moments. When you have pace, strength and good finishing, three key weapons on the counter-attack, it is important to make use of these when an opportunity for a counter comes by putting yourself in a good position to receive the ball. Aboubakar didn’t fulfil this and often stood lazily next to Sokratis(the most uninvolved outfield player for BVB)when his team defended in the last third, rather than moving closer to the defence or moving slightly wider to prepare for a lucky clearance which may reach him. 


A totally dominant performance from Borussia Dortmund ended in a scoreline which may actually flatter opponents FC Porto. If Dortmund had managed to find Aubameyang in the box more, rather than less clinical finishers such as Kagawa, the deficit may have been far high than just two. A 2-0 lead certainly puts BVB a in pole position to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League but if Porto are to hit the ground running in the second leg, they may find themselves back in the tie. 

Analysing Pep’s Innovative Backline 

Throughout Pep Guardiola’s career, he has been known as an innovator, a trend-setter, a man who does things the way he sees it and whose head won’t be turned by any suggestion that his ideas are ‘crazy’ or ‘ridiculous.’ Guardiola has lined his team’s up in formations such as 4-3-3 varying to a far more complex 3-4-2-1 with inverted wing-backs,raumdeuters and many other ‘modern’ roles.Talking of player roles he has used roles unheard of before, such as a ‘box-to-box centre back’, a role played superbly by David Alaba(read https://runningtheshowblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/david-alaba-the-most-modern-player-in-the-world/ for a closer look into this). The fluidity in Pep’s teams is something that football has possibly never experienced before and possibly, will never experience again. Pep giving his players freedom to move around the pitch fluidly has seen not just him, but the players themselves, reach successes no-one believed they could reach. Before a little Argentinian known as Lionel Messi,moved from the right-wing to a central ‘false 9’ role,he never looked capable of reaching the heights he did, don’t get me wrong Messi still looked a fantastic player but following the move, Messi turned into the greatest player in the world. Basically, my point is that Pep Guardiola and fluidity go hand-in-hand.

Prior to Bayern’s match against Leverkusen, Guardiola’s best example of fluidity was perhaps his Barcelona side’s 4-0 win over Santos in the 2011 Club World Cup final. Barça lined-up in what looked like a 3-6-1 formation and yes, Barça maybe did ‘line-up’ in a 3-6-1 but throughout the match they switched between various shapes such as 4-6-0,3-3-4, in fact there was too many to describe,Barca’s fluidity was out of this world.

Around three and a half years later, Pep again lined-his side up in a crazy tactic. With Boateng,Benatia,Dante and Rafinha all unavailable Pep probably had no choice but to be brave in the way he set-up his backline,in this article I will look closely into Bayern’s backline in the match.


  I will list Bayern’s team sheet from front to back. Up front was Lewandowski. Behind him making movements towards the right flank as well as being a presence in Leverkusen’s box was Muller. He was flanked by Robben and Douglas Costa. In the centre of the field was Vidal and Thiago. Now to the interesting part. Operating as a half-back was Xabi Alonso, Alonso made movements in between the centre-backs, to form a sort of back-four. As Bayern’s centre-backs was Phillip Lahm and David Alaba. Juan Bernat played as a left full-back, making an asymmetrical back-three/four(situationally).


Defensive Structure

When defending,Bayern had two shapes,whichever was used at different times was dependent on players positioning situationally. If Alonso was in a position near Alaba when Leverkusen were in possession, he would slot in alongside Alaba to form a back-four,Lahm and Bernat as full-backs. This offered Bayern more stability as it allowed Lahm and Bernat to pres the wings without leaving big gaps. Bayern’s second defensive shape was narrow and very compact horizontally, they operated far more like a standard back-three. When the ball was on the right, Bernat would tuck in alongside Alaba while Lahm pressed, this preveneted Leverkusen creating a  2v1 with Kiessling and Mehmedi against Alaba. With Calhanoglu on the left for Leverkusen, there was always a danger that he would cut in onto his stronger right foot and switch the ball over Bernat to Bayern’s underloaded left wing, where Bellarabi could use his pace to exploit the space.

Although Pep’s defensive system appeared to be working fine, at times there were problems. On the right, Lahm often wasn’t given the necessary support defensively by Robben. This often allowed Wendell and Calhanoglu to overload the wing. Another problem related to Lahm and Robben was again down to Robben not offering as much support as Lahm needed. Wendell would often advance down the line towards Lahm with the ball,Robben 10 or so metres behind putting little effort into the recovery run. This forced Lahm into pressing Wendell, as if he didn’t, Wendell would simply carry the ball further and further forwards. When Lahm pressed and Alonso remained in midfield rather than covering,Lahm would leave a huge gap when pressing.

Build-Up in Possession

Pep has often spoken about how building from he back with a back-three is often far easier than with a back four, for various reasons. Today however, this wasn’t a standard back-three, far from it infact. With Bernat on the left touchline and Alaba and Lahm the only other defenders,Bayern would need to change something to build from the back effectively. The difference would be Xabi Alonso’s positioning. 

 In order to gain numerical superiority over Leverkusen, Alonso dropped between Alaba and Lahm, into positions usually taken up by a centre-back. As Alonso moved into this position, Lahm moved closer to the right touchline. This formed a 4-3-3 formation. 

With Alonso dropping to create a 4v3 in Bayern’s favour(Neuer,Alaba,Alonso and Lahm/Bernat,depending on the side of play), this allowed Bayern to escape Leverkusen’s high press with combination passes. Lahm’s positioning in the build-up was in line with Alaba and Alonso vertically but as previously mentioned, closer to the right touchline, he operated similarity to a right centre-back in a back-three, as a wide build-up player. 


Turning Possession into Attack

By creating a 4v3 in deep possession,Bayern forced Leverkusen to press in a front three(frequently Bellarabi,Kiessling and Mehmedi)in order to cause instability in Leverkusen’s midfield. This gave Bayern the choice to move the ball into Thiago or Vidal, who often had space in No.6 and 8 positions due to Leverkusen vacating the midfield to press Bayern’s backline. If Leverkusen effectively blocked passing lanes to Thiago and Vidal, Bayern would attempt to use combinations to find Alonso. 

  Alonso would then attempt to find Douglas Costa with a high,diagonal pass,Costa would hug the underloaded left touchline where he clearly had qualitative superiority over Hilbert. 



Once again, Pep’s bravery paid off. Bayern were very efficient in possession and Xabi Alonso,in particular, dictated the play. Alonso even showed glimpses of form we haven’t saw for a number of years from him. Leverkusen and Hilbert in particular, couldn’t cope with Alonso’s high,diagonals and were made to pay,suffering a 3-0 defeat. Guardiola himself won a personal battle, achieving his first big victory over Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt.

Pep pipped to German Super Cup once again

The DfB Supercup is a hugely anticipated fixture not just in Germany but throughout the whole world. Screened in over 200 countries throughout the world,the German Super Cup is normally contested by the two German Giants,Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund but this year it’s different,although Bayern remain one of the challengers for the title,Wolfsburg are a new rival to the Bavarians. Following their success in last season’s DfB Pokal over Dortmund,Dieter Hecking’s men have further improved their side,not with big name signings but with players in areas only which they needed to improve,and the signings were finically safe,no signing was over €10m. However,Bayern have had a different approach in the market. They have spent big on talents such as Douglas Costa and most recently,Arturo Vidal. The energetic midfielder’s transfer fee of around €26m was over double all of Wolfsburg’s combined fees for players this summer.

The last meeting between the sides resulted in a 4-1 win for the Wolves’. Pep Guardiola’s men were outdone by Wolfsburg’s deadly counter-attacks,Dante in particular struggled with Kevin De Bruyne’s skill while Bas Dost’s power and accurate finishing seemed too much for Jerome Boateng. Tonight however,Guardiola’s men will be hoping to come out on top in the tactical battle.

Bayern Line-Up

Bayern’s basic shape was a 4-1-4-1,however this was only evident for small periods of time and Bayern changed fluidly between many formations,this I will speak about later. In net was Manuel Neuer. He was protected by a defence of Phillip Lahm,Jerome Boateng,Mehdi Benatia and David Alaba. In front of him operating as a deep-lying playmaker was Xabi Alonso. Bayern’s attacking midfielders were Robben,Muller-who played in a roaming role,this will be touched upon later,Thiago Alcantara and Douglas Costa. Attacks would be spearheaded by Lewandowski.

Wolfsburg Line-Up

Wolves’ stuck with their usual 4-4-1-1 formation. In front of goalkeeper Casteels was Vierinha,Naldo,Klose and Ricardo Rodriguez. A double pivote of Joshua Guilanvogui and Maximillian Arnold was flanked by Perisic and Schurrle. Playing as a 10 was the in demand Kevin De Bruyne. Up front was traditonal centre-forward Bas Dost.

Bayern Build-Up

In the match,Bayern used a build-up method that Pep hasn’t deployed since the beginning of the 2014/15. Bayern pushed all their attacking midfielders into the opposition final third with a player on either touchline,in this instance,Douglas Costa was the player stuck to the left touchline with Muller or Robben on the right. The build-up began with Benatia receiving the ball,Boateng would then split from Benatia to the edge of the box. Alaba would drop deep in line with Benatia to offer a nearby wide passing option,the only other nearby player would be Alonso,the key player in re build-up. As Alonso received the ball,the attacking midfielders would push forward into advanced positions. Alonso’s next move is either to play a simple pass to either centre-back or to play a long,high pass to Douglas Costa. The image below shows Bayern players in positions which looked to be Juego de Posicion inspired.


Positional Play Has Arrived in Bavaria

During Josep Guardiola’s time at Barcelona,he won 14 trophies in four seasons,this making him Barcelona’s most successful manager of all time. When he was at the club,Guardiola instilled a particular type of football. No,not tiquitaca,according to the man himself,tiquitaca is shit,it’s rubbish and complete pointless. The type of football Pep really instilled was positional play,known in Spain as Juego de Posicion. Juego de Posicion is centred around the team’s offense being given a set of guidelines to follow. Different managers use positional play with more rigidness than others,for example Louis van Gaal’s Juego de Poscion is very dogmatic while Pep’s is one of the most flexible around. Since arriving at Bayern,one of Pep’s biggest challenges was for his side to execute his beloved Juego de Posicion as perfectly as his Barcelona side did.   


 Below we can see that Bayern have a training pitch specially devoted to improving the team’s understanding of positional play. 


Movement of Lahm and Muller(Juego de Posicion related)

Bayern’s two best tactical players were tasked with the job of dictating the team’s positional play. If Lahm were to come inside and Muller move onto the right touchline,this meant Robben was to move into the halfspace where Boateng had a clear passing lane to him. Muller’s horizontally orientated movements were key to Bayern’s attack. Again,if Muller were to drift wide,this was a cue for Lewandowski to move into the unoccupied space in between Wolfsburg’s defence and midfield,although Lewandowski found little success here due to Wolfsburg’s compact lines. In the image below,we can see how Lahm and Muller’s in horizontal movements impact on the space centrally for other Bayern players.  


Wolfsburg Defensive Structure

As previously mentioned,Eolfsburg defended in a narrow 4-4-2 formation,Kevin de Bruyne moving alongside to Dost to form a front two. Converting into a 4-4-2 usually means pressing the oppositions centre-backs but on this occasion,De Bruyne moved alongside Dost purely to increase the vertical compactness of the formation. The formation wasn’t only vertically compacted it was horizontally compact too. Again I will use this image but this to highlight Wolfsburg’s defensive shape,not Bayern’s possessional shape.

 We can see here that Wolfsburg are very compact horizontally,not so much vertically but this isn’t a problem as Bayern have no one in between Wolfsburg’s lines. The only problem Wolfsburg’s horizontal compactness resulted in for themselves was the isolation of Douglas Costa against right-back Vierinha. 
Due to Alaba often dropping deep on the left flank to act as a deep,wide creator for Bayern,Wolfsburg were forced to put light pressure on him in areas they wouldn’t normally press to prevent him from advancing into Wolfsburg’s half without any pressure on him.
Wolfsburg used a pressing trap throughout the game to really suffocate Bayern in central areas. When the ball came to Bayern’s central midfielders,Wolfsburg’s three nearest players would intensely press the player as quickly as possible. This left Lahm and Thiago stranded in the centre of the pitch with no options a few times.

Kevin De Bruyne-False Number 10

Pep’s Guardiola’s team’s play in a 4-3-3 formation the majority of the time,a key player in this formation is the deepest of the three midfielders,he must operate in a covering system with the central defenders. If the midfielder presses the two central defenders obviously remain in position,if one of the central defenders press,the midfielders slots into the gap left by them. Boateng,Benatia and Alonso effectively carried out this system against Wolfsburg. This limited space significantly for Wolves key player Kevin de Bruyne in the number 10 area,the space he operates best in. This meant De Bruyne had to operate differently,he decided to play as a mix between a false 9 and false 10,known by some as a shadow striker,De Bruyne constantly made runs beyond Bayern’s defence looking to take advantage of their high line.

In the end Wolfsburg ran out winners,on penalties. Pep has been pipped to the Super Cup for the third year running,this time by a different opponent. Tactically,his side weren’t terrific,the positional play pushing all attacking midfielders into the final third and sometimes vacating the central area really hindered Bayern’s ability to properly control the game and dominate. Dieter Hecking’s side were solid defensively,very difficult to break down and not too bad on the counter attack.