Welcome to the second weekly installment of Tighe's Tactics Board, where we'll dig into Bayern Munich's demolition of Manchester City, the rise of the 4-4-2 formation and PSV Eindhoven's youth revolution.
If you missed last week's edition, involving Liverpool's 3-5-2, City's balanced outlook and more, click here. Otherwise, let's get straight to it.
Bayern Munich's Switch-tastic Victory
There were a lot of things to admire about Bayern Munich's dismantling of Manchester City on Wednedsay night, and the Germans were superior in almost every single aspect.
Many are quick to claim City were unwise to play a 4-4-2(ish) in Europe, and while that thought process is not incorrect, it wasn't the main source of their downfall.
Bayern didn't use the middle a whole lot. Yes, Toni Kroos dominated the centre of the park with his technical finesse and physical presence, but it was on the wings that Manuel Pellegrini's charges were beaten.
Instead, Pep Guardiola instructed his men to build up play on the left through David Alaba and Franck Ribery, then switch it quickly to the other side of the pitch. The speedy Rafinha would surge from deep, running onto the ball and causing panic in City's quickly tilting formation.
Check this pass chart for an idea of the manner in which Rafinha was collecting the ball—it's reminiscent of what Internazionale would do on occasion while Maicon was on the books.
Add Arjen Robben to the mix on that side, and it's easy to see why die Bayern were so productive from the wings.
Alaba was a key player in this respect, and he essentially owned the entire left flank with Ribery cutting inside. Guardiola has tried giving Alaba the entire sideline before, and it didn't work, but with Micah Richards coming in for his first notable start of the season, the Spaniard's eyes will have lit up.
The Citizens' 4-4-2 was lopsided, with Samir Nasri (No. 8) playing on the left but dropping into a central position off the ball to help solidify the middle.
Pellegrini thought he'd need three in the middle to to deal with Philipp Lahm, Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but it was Nasri's vacating of the flank that allowed Rafinha a free run at Gael Clichy.
In the image above, Alaba is switching the ball from one flank to another. The space Rafinha has is astonishing, and that's opened because of Nasri's narrow mentality.
Dominating possession (34 percent to 66 percent) and switching play relentlessly tired City out, allowing Bayern to complete a total of 719 passes and close out the game.
There was a late flurry from City, but this game, from a tactical perspective, was done and dusted inside 15 minutes.
The 4-4-2 is Back
In November 2012, we asked the question: would the 4-4-2 return anytime soon? turns out the answer is yes, and it's occurred far earlier than we'd anticipated.
Cast your eyes across top-tier action in European football this weekend and you'll see a sprinkling of teams using it. Atletico Madrid, Man City, Real Madrid, Aston Villa, Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Monchengladbach have all tried it this year, if not on a full-time basis, then sporadically for certain situations.
City's crushing at the hands of Bayern Munich—who played a 4-1-4-1 formation—is proof that the formation still doesn't work on the European stage against the finest in the lands, but it can be an extremely useful system if you're a flexible enough team.
Case in point is Atletico Madrid.
Saturday saw the first Madrid derby in a long, long time that staged a battle between two teams playing with two outright strikers and two banks of four behind.
Atleti's is the best in Europe right now, and Diego Simeone has combined a number of elements to ensure his system is never overwhelmed. In fact, he's single-handedly proving that the 4-4-2 can be one of the most versatile, dynamic systems around.
Managers sometimes make the mistake of plugging a new player into the same system after the loss of key personnel, expecting it to work in the same fashion with very few hiccups and road bumps.
Simeone was astute enough to realise that, while Radamel Falcao is a wonderful finisher, he doesn't offer too much else in overall play. The Argentine told ABC Punto Radio, via Goal.com, that Falcao is "the world's best No. 9" in November 2012—both a compliment and a criticism, depending on which way you look at it.
Falcao's departure is the reason behind Atleti's rise; Simeone actively game-planned to ensure the Colombian touched the ball as little as possible—except in the final third—and it placed undue stress on his midfielders, as if they were playing with 10 men more often than not.
With Diego Costa in as a complete forward and David Villa, schooled in possession and movement thanks to three glorious years at Camp Nou, Atleti can run a diverse 4-4-2 that most wouldn't dare.
Simeone tends to play three central midfielders and a winger across the middle four, inevitably landing the centralised Koke in the wider areas. With Costa and Villa happy to spread wide, run with the ball and stretch the formation, Simeone can retain a solid base through Tiago, Mario Suarez and Koke.
It's a free-flowing 4-4-2 and it's working like a charm: The players are talented enough to dominate lesser opposition, yet disciplined enough to dig in and hold off stronger foes. Costa is capable of anything—literally anything—and Simeone is happy to place expectation on the Brazilian's shoulders.
Many felt losing Falcao would doom los Colcherones, but it's actually allowed Simeone to reverse his philosophy: Instead of actively avoiding giving his striker touches, he now relies upon his two front men to drop in, defend, assist and dribble. Ironic?
Simeone's demonstrations of how versatile this system can be will lead to many following suit.
PSV's Risky Method
PSV Eindhoven are ripping up the rule book in the Netherlands, as Phillip Cocu takes Paul Lambert's approach at Aston Villa and applies it to a team that's expected to challenge for the Eredivisie title.
The former Barcelona star is instigating a youth revolution at the Philips Stadion, and we spoke to Dutch football expert Nikos Overheul in private to grab a little background information on the situation:
After serving as PSV Eindhoven's interim-manager in 2012 and winning the Dutch Cup in the process, Phillip Cocu was appointed on a permanent basis this summer.
Since then the Eindhoven team has undergone a radical transformation: Last season's PSV—managed by Dick Advocaat—was notable for having the most physical midfield the Eredivisie had seen in a while, regularly fielding Ola Toivonen, Kevin Strootman and Mark van Bommel together. The latter two left over the summer, while Toivonen was marginalized in the early stages of the current season.
Cocu has looked to switch to a more technical and creative style of play.
Stijn Schaars arrived from Sporting and has made an immediate impact. The defensive midfielder has turned into a creative force, creating a lot of chances from deep. In front of him are Adam Maher and Georginio Wijnaldum, but Maher—recently acquired from AZ Alkmaar with a lot of hype and originally intended as the chief playmaker—has so far failed to impress.
Wijnaldum, aged 22, has been made captain and his runs into the box have been a feature of PSV's attacks this season.
Cocu explained to UEFA.com ahead of the Europa League kick off that, with all the talent the side's academy produces, you'd be silly not to take advantage of it. It meant saying goodbye to some older heads, and PSV's defensive line is now marshalled by 21-year-old Jeffrey Bruma.
The "technical and creative style of play" Overheul alludes to is based on a 4-3-3 formation, with Schaars the chief creator from deep. Wijnaldum's surging runs are key, and when Maher finds the level of performance he set last year at AZ, the midfield will be the one to beat.
Memphis Depay, a raw, 19-year-old left-winger, is shot-happy and perhaps epitomises the youthful, optimistic, exuberant energy Cocu has fostered in Eindhoven.
They started unbeaten but have faltered recently with two losses. It's a story well worth following this season, because, if Cocu is successful, it might finally put to bed the argument that "experience" is required for success.