MAXIMUS TACTICUS: Bayern Munich
Change is in the air. With the onset of a new season, comes a fresh new series of Maximus Tacticus. Having covered the EPL clubs exclusively in the first season, we now look beyond and our first destination is the reigning European champions Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola returns to the limelight after a year’s sabbatical and he would look forward to emulate his unprecedented success at the Camp Nou.
It cannot get more intriguing than this. Bayern Munich on the back of their treble-winning season is set to further establish their claim as the strongest team in European club football. Taking charge is the man who has masterminded the rise (and rise) of Barcelona, one of the best teams ever to play the beautiful game, according to many. Debojyoti Chakraborty analyses how Pep Guardiola shapes up the German superpowers
One thing that Pep’s Barcelona lacked heavily was a strong defence. It is a testimony to their overwhelming attacking and possessional display that very few teams were able to exploit that weakness. At Bayern, Pep is presented with a strong defence marshalled by Dante and Jérôme Boateng. Behind them, German shot-stopper Manuel Neuer forms a solid foundation at the back. Pep likes to have attacking fullbacks; don’t be surprised if Philipp Lahm and David Alaba are deployed more as wingbacks this season. Their attacking forte is already on the show as the duo have provided with five assists, and the latter scoring twice already in the season.
Unfortunately, Javi Martínez is out injured currently. I have a feeling he might be deployed in the heart of the defence as a ball-playing centre-half (remember Javier Mascherano?). Pep loves to build up attack from the back and Javi will give him that option. Another aspect of Barcelona under Guardiola has been their pressing football higher up the pitch. The centre-backs often played close to the centre circle in an attempt to narrow down the playing area and intercept any through ball from the opponent. But at Bayern, he is urging his defenders to stay a bit behind while not in possession. This enables them to spread the ball wide and launch a counter-attack through fast-paced wingers.
Over the last couple of seasons, Bayern’s success has been built around its dynamic wing play which as a matter of fact is in direct contrast to how Barcelona evolved under Guardiola. But it seems Guardiola is adapting to the Bayern way than the other way around. Quite sensible I’d say, with Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben on the wings, not to mention some of the other aces up his sleeves.
Guardiola loves to have a jam-packed midfield even at the cost of out-and-out strikers. It is no surprise that he has not had the best of relations with his main striker during his managerial career. This time too he has shown his cards with the sale of main striker Mario Gomez and being happy with only one clinical finisher, Mario Mandžukić. The signs are clear that Bayern will play with one man upfront, or some time with the False 9 formation.
Precisely the reason why even after having a plethora of options in the centre of the park – Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller – Guardiola has added Mario Götze and Thiago Alcântara to his squad. Schweinsteiger will continue to link up defence with attack in his usual midfield anchor-man position while Kroos will complement him in a box-to-box midfield role. Muller completes the three-man midfield where he would be the furthest man forward. This is the favourite formation of Guardiola where his asymmetrical three-man midfield dictates the play which is in direct contrast to their traditional 4-2-3-1 system. It is most demanding for Schweini as he is accustomed to play alongside another holding midfielder in a double pivot system but so far he is doing pretty well.
Guardiola can best be described as a football romantic and his thinking out-of-the-box presented us with the tiki-taka style of play. He loves to experiment and is eyeing an evolution, rather than revolution at the Allianz Arena. His much favoured 4-3-3 requires fast-tracking wingers and although world class, Robben and Ribéry are not really known for their defensive work rate. So Pep has his eye on a 4-1-4-1 formation where Lahm is positioned as a defensive screen. Lahm, or for that matter Javi Martínez, having very good control over the ball, are ideal for this linkman role which allows the game to spread more and gives more options to his wily wingers. It opens up the avenue for his central midfield pairing. Schweinsteiger can be partnered higher up front with either Kroos or Thiago. The wingers are encouraged to be involved in tika-taka, a short passing style of play, and their proximity to the respective fullbacks help them retreat easily while trying to defend. This pairing of wide players gives the team an added advantage in attack while Robben or Ribéry can cut inside to exploit the space vacated by the opponent fullbacks. The advantage of this system is that a single substitution, or even mere change of role of the on-field players, can alter the formation to a more robust 4-2-3-1 or a more attacking full throttle 4-3-3.
Bundesliga is much more defensively organized and far more physical than La Liga. It would certainly be hard for Pep to implement his favourite False 9 with 4-3-3 formation at Bayern. But one feels he would surely try it out at some point of time – maybe against a less fancied opponent in the league or in a dead rubber in the Champions League. He loves to have a pack of midfielders passing the ball around while interchanging their positions with maximum flexibility. And who says we do not have a Messi in Germany? Götze, the German Messi is raring to go!
Note: Read *Boateng* for *Boetang* in the three images