The 2016-17 Bundesliga campaign kicks off on Friday, with Bayern Munich hosting Werder Bremen. It's a big game for the Bavarian giants, as they play in the league for the first time under Carlo Ancelotti, who took over as head coach this summer after the departure of Pep Guardiola.
The Bavarians have started the Ancelotti era on a positive note, beating rivals Borussia Dortmund in the DFL-Supercup and advancing to the second round of the DFB-Pokal after a win against Carl Zeiss Jena.
We've seen glimpses of Ancelotti's ideas in the first two games of the campaign, but those should be taken with a grain of salt; in both instances the coach had quite strict constraints on his options given injuries and a lack of fitness among several members of his squad who took part in international summer tournaments.
The Bremen game will see the former Real Madrid boss with a much fitter and more complete squad, as the likes of Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben and more return to fitness.
Ahead of Friday's match, B/R analyzed the situation the Italian coach faces and picked out the key areas where he'll need to make tactical decisions.
2 Centre-Backs or 3?
Ancelotti told Sky News (h/t ESPN FC's Stephan Uersfeld) in May he had no intention of making "too many changes" to what he labeled a "fantastic" squad, but it isn't exactly clear what that means given Guardiola played with widely differing tactics throughout his time at Bayern. Last season, the former Barcelona trainer sent out his team with three central defenders in some cases and two in others.
Bayern have some excellent options at the back, including Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Javi Martinez. All three could, theoretically, play together, with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm flanking them. In that case, Martinez could even act as something of a sweeper who pushes into the midfield; the best campaign of his career was when he sat in front of the back four in 2012-13, his first season in Munich and the only one in Bayern history in which the club managed to win the treble.
It's hard to see opponents getting past Bayern's potential back five, which could be one of the greatest defences in the history of the game. Yet it's entirely possible Ancelotti will start with a four-man defence, relegating Martinez—or perhaps Hummels—to the bench. A back four means another man in midfield or attack, and perhaps that is more suited to the trainer's interests against weaker domestic opponents.
4 Attackers or 5?
Similar to the issue in defence, Ancelotti has a choice to make as to the balance he looks to strike further up the pitch.
Guardiola last season often played with a front five, with two attacking midfielders and two wingers supporting lone striker Robert Lewandowski. It was an extremely aggressive approach, but it worked against Bayern's stubborn domestic opponents, many of whom used five defenders and rarely ventured forward.
Ancelotti has historically been more a fan of creating a complete midfield with players of complementary attributes, requiring three members. But Bayern have plenty of great forwards and will be facing a defensive Bremen side, so perhaps he will follow Guardiola's precedent and take a more deliberately forward-minded approach.
1, 2 or 3 Playmakers?
Bayern have plenty of attacking options, and Ancelotti will have to choose exactly which combination of skills he wants up top.
Franck Ribery has been Bayern's main creative outlet for years, and he's shown in recent months he still can be a key player on the wing. But last fall, Costa also emerged as a reliable creator. He could take up a role on the right wing with the Frenchman on the left. Or Ancelotti could play a scorer such as Robben or Thomas Muller on the right opposite either Ribery or Costa.
Adding a third layer of complexity, Ancelotti will have to decide on whether to play Thiago Alcantara, a third playmaking option. A central player who relies more on creative passing than pace, the Spaniard is different from the wide-playing, fleet-footed Ribery and Costa. Thus, Ancelotti could start with as many as three or as few as one playmaker in his lineup.
Ancelotti does not have a complete squad of fit players—and won't have before the Bremen match. Accordingly, some questions will remain as to what his preferences are, even after Friday.
But his first Bundesliga match should give some insight as to how he intends to use the resources available to him and the kind of football Bayern will play with him at the helm—certainly more than could have been garnered from the Jena and Dortmund games.