What the Rest of Europe Can Learn from Bayern Munich's Tactical Mastery

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What the Rest of Europe Can Learn from Bayern Munich's Tactical Mastery
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Bayern Munich wiped the floor with world football this year, finishing off a record-breaking Bundesliga season by securing the UEFA Champions League trophy at Wembley.

They have the chance to secure a historic treble if they beat Stuttgart in the DFB Pokal final, which would give Jupp Heynckes the perfect lasting image on the game as he retires from his post.

Once the German tactician has hung up his spectacles, the traditional race to replicate what he's done will ensue, as managers everywhere scratch their heads and study the tape.

Barcelona's Pep Guardiola-inspired dominance had analysts scrabbling to replicate the winning formula and copy the best parts of the system. Brendan Rodgers considers himself a student of the passing game and has sought to revolutionise Liverpool, while fans wanted their side to adopt a possession-based mantra.

Heynckes' legacy will be no different, so let's take a look at what other teams can learn from how Bayern set themselves apart this season.


Controlling Space

Barcelona's dominance was predicated on controlling the ball.

Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Co. would monopolise the football and clock up possession figures approaching a whopping 70 percent. In Celtic's 2-1 Champions League loss this season, it even got to 82 percent.

Bayern are known as a counterattacking side, and although that's not strictly true, the way they play makes them appear so.

The German giants aren't particularly fussed about possession—they would probably forfeit 99 percent of it happily in exchange for three points.

Bayern control the space on the pitch rather than control the ball, using a compact formation and physically excellent players to bully the opposition. Several ingredients create this cocktail for success, and it starts right at the back.

Barca 0-3 Bayern: 4-4-2-esque, not fussed about possession


High Defensive Line

Dante has been installed as the leader of the defensive line. Holger Badstuber's injury played a part in his rise to prominence, but he's a hulking, commanding figure nonetheless.

He steps up and leads a very high line, squishing the play in the midfield and giving his holding players a relatively small area to work in.

He's also adept at reading the game and intercepting, cutting out many attacks before they start.

Despite the high line, it's difficult to play in behind Bayern Munich due to the combative and dogged nature of the side. They stamp out anything near the goal and hold their line of engagement well.


Defensive Forwards

Bayern set out in a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but on the pitch, it shifts to 4-4-1-1 or even 4-4-2 at times.

Tireless centre-forward Mario Mandzukic is a key part of Bayern's controlling of space. His industrious running and impressive effort in the deeper areas of the pitch, combined with the hardworking No. 10 Heynckes employs, stop opposing teams from building from the back in a comfortable fashion.

In 2013, the global onus is on possession football and playing out from the defensive line. Deep-lying playmakers are on the rise, hence the subsequent use of suffocos in larger Champions League games.

Unfortunately, Bayern look their strongest against teams that employ this technique.

In Turin, Mandzukic, Toni Kroos and later Thomas Mueller combined to harass Andrea Pirlo and force mistakes and early passes.

They stopped his lateral deliveries to Stephan Lichtsteiner and forced him to look long. In this instance, the absence of Mirko Vucinic hurt Juventus, as Antonio Conte had no player available who could drop in and control the high balls that Pirlo was forced to play.

Leonardo Bonucci tried to play the wing-backs in to dribble forward, but Federico Peluso (left) is ineffective in attack and Lichtsteiner (right) was bottled up.

Bayern's wingers in the 4-2-3-1, Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller, drop in to create a flat line of four and assist their full-backs against wingers.

This was Ribery's best season in football, and that's largely down to Heynckes convincing him to track back for the team. Even Arjen Robben, who is notoriously lazy in a defensive manner, played his heart out for the coach and reaped the rewards.


Midfield Terriers

The backtracking from the four attackers and the stepping up of the defensive line squeeze the play, meaning midfielders Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger have a smaller space to work in.

This Bayern team on the whole is bigger, meaner, more physical and more determined than any other, and this aggression creates a lot of duels and tussles.

The amount of second balls that are available to be won in Bayern games is remarkable, and the fact that Martinez and "Schweini" win most is key to how they launch their attacks.

It's also the reason they appear to be a counterattacking side, but in fact they force their opponents to attack in a certain way and then just beat them to the ball when they try.

Neither Schweini or Javi attempt the Hollywood pass very often; instead. they look for the short release or longer punt into the target man.

Ribery is the favoured outlet, and he has freedom to rinse the touch line and make progress—be it by beating his man or winning an abnormal amount of throw-ins.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


Inverted Full-backs

Philipp Lahm is dual footed and has sampled both full-back spots, but he now plays permanently on the right side thanks to the relocation of David Alaba at left-back.

The fact that Lahm is dual footed means he can come inside or go outside, shoot, cross, pass or dribble. He's almost never tackled, and that's because he's so unpredictable. Defenders back off because they feel they can't commit.

Alaba, formerly a central midfielder until the 2011-12 season, is comfortable on the ball. He was once set for a career as a world-class central playmaker, and as such, he feels happy in the offensive third.

With two full-backs that can do almost anything, the team remains difficult to guess. Focusing on what Alaba might do frees Ribery into space; tracking Ribery gives Alaba space to shoot.

It's a nightmare for opponents.



Guardiola was heralded as an innovative tactical maestro, and although we should not diminish his achievements, he pulled most of his ideas out of the footballing history books.

Heynckes is the same, and there are striking similarities between what he has done with Bayern and what Arrigo Sacchi did with AC Milan in 1990.

Controlling the space, squeezing the play, pressing and holding the line of engagement were all traits that the Italian used to win the European cup at the San Siro.

Sacchi was so impressed with Bayern's win over Juventus that he spoke out in praise of the German sides' work ethic and organisation.

Soccertranslator.com gifted us Sacchi's words, originally spoken in Italian:

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.

In Italy they look for players who make magical plays, not those who interpret the play. 

Bayern playing compact, like Sacchi instructed Milan to


What Can We Learn?

Guardiola was not a one off, and every manager in world football can achieve tactical superiority by checking the history books and bringing systems back to life.

Football is cyclical, and as we move toward an era when players must be multi-talented and complete, don't think it's new ground for the sport.

Every player must play as part of a team, and Heynckes' man-management skills are some of the best that football has ever hosted.

Getting Ribery and Robben to track back and putting faith in hardworking Mandzukic allowed him to play a high defensive line. This set the scene for Martinez to stroll in and dominate sides with his hustle-and-bustle nature.

A high defensive line is criticised, but it works as long as every other player pressures the opposition whilst on the ball. It sounds tiring, but that's the reason you make the pitch shorter by pushing up.

Finally, Bayern have shown us that two-footed or diverse full-backs can be the start of a chain of attacks that flummox opponents.

The full-back is unsung, but he is a gamechanger. Expect the way Lahm and Alaba go about their business to be copied worldwide.

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