Tactical Twins: Arrigo Sacchi's Milan and Jupp Heynckes' Bayern Munich

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Tactical Twins: Arrigo Sacchi's Milan and Jupp Heynckes' Bayern Munich
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Our latest look at tactical twins is inspired by some comments made by the famous Arrigo Sacchi on Bayern Munich's UEFA Champions League exploits.

Sacchi, you will remember, was the pioneer of the high-pressing 4-4-2 that saw AC Milan achieve considerable success circa 1980.

His system involved a high defensive line, a compact midfield and forwards who dropped deep and squished the play. Ideally for him, the distance between his centre-back and his striker was never more than 25 metres.

Inside this close-knit space, Sacchi's side would exhibit different strands of pressing to win the ball back while still in an organised shape:

There was partial pressing, where it was more about jockeying; there was total pressing which was more about winning the ball; there was fake pressing, when we pretended to press, but, in fact, used the time to recuperate

(Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson)

But as world football moved away from the 4-4-2 and more or less abandoned the two-man striking partnership, Sacchi's tactics fell into the vault of history.

Despite its obvious effectiveness and major contribution toward the one-Scudetto and two-European Cup haul during his time as manager, only very recently has it been dug out.

Pep Guardiola made a name for himself by turning the pages of history and resurrecting old tactics, and Jupp Heynckes has now done the same at Bayern.

Sacchi felt it necessary to speak of Die Bayern's dismantling of Juventus in the quarterfinals, and many of his points hold immense truth.

When Sacchi took charge of Milan, he remarked scathingly of the current tactical trends:

When I started, most of the attention was on the defensive phase.

We had a sweeper and man-markers. The attacking phase came down to intelligence and common sense of the individual and the creativity of the No. 10.

(Inverting the Pyramid)

Three-man defences were common then, and in today's Serie A it's the dominant gene once more: Juve's Antonio Conte has settled on the 3-5-2, while Napoli, Fiorentina, Roma, Inter and Parma et al have all used variants of it.

Juve wrapped up the Scudetto with ease this season as the dominant force in Italy, but were positively dismantled 4-0 on aggregate versus Bayern, as Conte got out-coached.

Juventus 0-2 Bayern

Heynckes fielded a fluid 4-2-3-1 as a base formation, but manipulated it heavily throughout the match to respond to the opposing team's movements.

What held the team together was a strong collective ethic, and Sacchi was full of praise for it (via soccertranslator.com):

The difference between the Bavarians and Juventus was the conscious of the collective—a difficult value in a country such as ours that is primarily individualistic.

[Bayern have] players who are characterized as team players, know how to manage [both] an offensive and defensive phase.

Mandzukic cost 10 to 12 million euro and wasn't a specialist, but in Italy they look for players who make magical plays. Not those who interpret the play.

Bayern moved onto the semifinals to face Barcelona and won 7-0 on aggregate, turning in a performance even more impressive than before.

Barcelona 0-3 Bayern Munich

Heyncke instructed his defence to hold a high line, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery dropped in line with the central midfielders and Thomas Mueller and Mario Mandzukic pressured the deep-lying playmakers.

It started as a 4-2-3-1, but essentially played out as a 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-4-2.

Squeezing the pitch and controlling space, pressing playmakers but holding the point of interception—this is Arrigo Sacchi all over, and boy did it work.

The maestro continued:

The attackers of Bayern, when they didn't have the ball, were their first defenders. Can you say the same of the Juventus players? Think how much that limited the play of Juventus and exalted their opponents.

The difference is that in total football, you defend by running ahead, applying your own rhythms and personality. While in Italian football, you run behind creating a defensive density and leave the initiative and play to others.

Pressing and collaboration have made the difference.

Heynckes' Bayern is one of the most fluid you'll see, and they're so in-tune with each other as colleagues that the system they use happens naturally on the pitch.

Marshalling the space, organised movement and a collective effort beat Juventus and Barcelona by an aggregate of 11-0.

The timing of Sacchi's comments is perhaps the most intriguing part: Yes, he's trying to remind everyone that Bayern have succeeded using the model he pioneered. But he's also urging Italian football to change its ways and become the animal that consumed it with ease.

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