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Time for a tactical revolution

Yesterday, on Saturday 18th of February, Bayern only tied against Freiburg in an awful and disgraceful way. The 0-0 meant that Bayern is two more points behind the leader, Borussia Dortmund. 4 points are actually quite a lot but there are still 12 match days left so nobody should give up hope on the title.

But that’s not what I want to talk about in this article. One of the reasons why Bayern dropped those two precious points is that they weren’t able to find a solution against Freiburg’s defense who kept it really tight. They completely killed Kroos’ abilities, Gomez didn’t get much passes and Robbery was pretty helpless as well. Kroos and Luiz Gustavo didn’t even try anymore to break through the two back fours of the bottom club so that the full-backs had to bring the ball to the forward line what actually didn’t work at all. Freiburg was attacking the ball carrier with two or three men.

The main problem is the defensive midfield. Of course you all know what I am talking about: Bastian Schweinsteiger, the heart of the team is missing and no-one has been able to replace him yet. Toni Kroos and David Alaba have tried it many times but no-one of them could convince the staff and the fans. They aren’t by far as creative as Schweinsteiger and don’t harmonize as well with Luiz Gustavo or Anatolyi Tymoshchuk as the vice-captain does. Unlike Schweinsteiger, Alaba or Kroos aren’t marked closely because the opponents do know that they are too weak. Both of them weren’t able to profit of that either. That’s not only their fault though. Jupp Heynckes must have noticed that earlier and found another solution. I have actually found a solution which I’ll present you later in this article…

The second big problem Bayern has to face during every match without Schweinsteiger is their lack of creativity to break through the opponents’ defense. Every team Bayern has been playing so far in 2012 could parry Bayern’s attack off in a simple 4-4-2 formation. Two back fours are effective enough to trouble Bayern’s build-up play that depends on combinations and many passes. Those couldn’t happen because every team’s back fours didn’t give the Bavarians lots of space between each other so that the German record champion was helpless. I have found a solution for this problem as well…

Obviously, kind of a tactical revolution is needed. The 4-2-3-1 that Bayern has been using since Louis van Gaal took them over has become too common, too predictable. Great manager aren’t only characterized by improving tactics but also by founding “new” tactics. Pep Guardiola is doing that in Barcelona at the moment, his team is slowly but surely changing from a 4-3-3 into a 3-4-3. Of course he wasn’t the first one to do that, some Italian teams such as Udinese Calcio are playing with those tactics since some seasons but Barca’s manager is perfecting that system. Jupp Heynckes could (should?) help Joachim Löw, the manager of the German national team, to start a new trend: a 4-2-4.

From a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4:

The basic formation is quite simple but already pretty difficult to a 4-2-3-1. On the drawing I’ve added you can see a 4-2-4 that Bayern would be supposed to play and a 4-2-3-1 such as Dortmund, Bayern’s major opponent is using it. Since Bayern is playing in a 4-2-4, there is no place for Mario Gomez anymore. He is their most prolific scorer but even though he has actually improved his playing abilities, he isn’t good enough to be part of a forward line composed of 4 players who are constantly rotating and who must be able to play on any position. In the drawing I’ve placed Thomas Müller as a “false nine” to show you that he’d be the one to replace Mario Gomez and who’s supposed to score most of the goals. Of course Müller, Kroos, Ribery and Robben would be rotating and changing positions all the time what’d confuse the opponent’s defense a lot and create lots of space.

In my opinion Anatolyi Tymoshchuk is the most accurate replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger because he is a very smart player and offensively as strong as defensively. He would be the organizer of Bayern’s play and perfectly replace Bastian Schweinsteiger who would have no problem to play that role again after his comeback.

David Alaba would be acting more defensively but not as a total defensively-minded midfielder. He would be backing Tymoshchuk in the build-up play and profit of the spaces created by the all-time-rotating forward line by pushing forward fast and become another disturbing factor for an already completely disorganized opponent. Furthermore the full-backs would push forward as well to support the wingers.

Actually David Alaba could be replaced by Emre Can, a 17-years-young rather defensive midfielder who is very dynamic and perhaps more able to play on the position I have placed Alaba on… Emre Can, a Turkish-German, is said to be the best player that has ever gone through Bayern’s youth academy and I’m sure that he’s ready to play in the Bundesliga since he’s already training regularly with the seniors. I can’t wait for his debut!

The offensive 4-2-4; a 2-1-3-4:

After Bayern is in possession of the ball and has conquered the opponent’s half, the formation as changed into a 2-1-3-4. The two central backs are standing pretty high, on the halfway line to act as last resort in case of a counter attack that is quite unlikely because of the rotation and fast passes of the forward line(s). David Alaba (or Emre Can) would step back, after having disturbed the opponent’s defense and creating enough space to keep the ball, and mainly back Tymoshchuk up. But he could still push forward sometimes in case there is lots of space or the adverse defense needs some trouble again.

The first “forward line” would be composed of three players: the two full-backs and Anatolyi Tymoshchuk (or Bastian Schweinsteiger) who are mainly responsible to organize the game and support the actual forward line. Especially “Tymo” would be acting horizontally and be the dynamo of the close-nit Bayern game. The full-backs would help him and sometimes overrun the wingers to confuse the defense and support them as they are already doing it in the current 4-2-3-1. I do think Philipp Lahm would perfectly fit into that system, I still have some doubts about Rafinha though…

I can’t tell much new about the role I would like to see the actual forward line in: they are rotating constantly and disturbing the defense. To be totally successful in that, they should cross each other over. That would always work for sure. I haven’t sketched in horizontal arrows because it’s naturally and there wasn’t much space left. Robben and Ribéry could also dribble down to the baseline and cross. Thomas Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger could convert those crosses.

The defensive 4-2-4; kind of a 4-5-1:

The defense 4-2-4 manifests another advantage of that system, especially for Bayern. Since Gomez, a pure striker who can’t and doesn’t like defending that much, isn’t playing Thomas Müller, used to defend, can defend instead of Robben or Ribery who can “rest” on the halfway line and wait for opportunities for counter-attacks. The remaining players of the forward line and the two-part midfield are defending tightly and allowing as little space as possible by keeping it tight with the back four. The back four is defending on a line what is the best way to avoid goals against in my opinion.
Alaba (or Emre Can) isn’t defending as deeply as Tymoshchuk (or Schweinsteiger) because they are faster in case of a counter-attack what means that they can create more danger over a short period.

Two potential losers (Gomez & Alaba) and winners (Alaba & Can) of the 4-2-4

As everything that has advantages – this 4-2-4 system has many! -, there are also some disadvantages. One of them is the intense way of playing. Especially the forward line has to run a lot and it can’t be practiced every 3 days during the “English weeks”. But that isn’t even necessary. In the Champions League most teams aren’t defending such as the ones in the Bundesliga so Heynckes could play in a 4-2-3-1. He could also do easily that in the Bundesliga to rest his team after they are leading. Another disadvantage is the defense… In possession, tops 3 players can actively defend counter attacks which might not be enough… But I do think that this system might work pretty well after having practiced it a bit because it’s a lot about joy of playing what should please every player.

Thank you a lot for reading this article! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed and will rate it! 😉


9 comments on “Time for a tactical revolution

  1. aly
    February 19, 2012

    great article 🙂 awesome tactical formations

    • Sébastien
      February 19, 2012

      Yay, thank you so much for the comment! 😀

  2. Philipp
    February 20, 2012


    Seen any BVB matches this year, excluding the most recent one? This is exactly how they play – there is no true 9 in Dortmund’s team though Lewandowski actually has it printed on his shirt 😉 Actually you describe how a modern 4-2-3-1 should be interpreted, alas – the FCB does not do this – but I don’t think they lack tactics but fighting spirit.

    • Philipp
      February 20, 2012

      Oh, sorry, I think I left out some “in my opinion”s in the above post.

    • Sébastien
      February 20, 2012

      Hi Philipp, thank you a lot for your comment! 🙂

      Actually I only saw few matches of them in this season. The one against Bayern, one in the CL and some in the Bundesliga when they played on Fridays but it was pretty easy to see their tactical formation, I think.

      And you might be right when you say a 4-2-3-1 should be interpreted like that but I think one of the differences between the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-2-4 in this article are the two forward line, the highly standing full-backs and the few players behind the ball (only 3).

      Have a nice day 🙂

  3. thesprucegooseShekhar
    February 20, 2012

    Hey Sébastien,
    I think Bayern should play a 3 – 5 – 2.
    Which will squeeze to 5 – 4 – 1 while defending and extend to a 3 – 3 – 4 while attacking…

    while incorporating Gomez as the Target man who will attack the near post/lay off the ball for one of our attackers to shoot.

    The only problem is either Kroos or Lahm will be left out…. 😦

    • Sébastien
      February 20, 2012

      Hi 🙂
      First of all: thank you a lot for your really interesting comment! 🙂

      Well, actually the idea of a 3-5-2 sounds amazing! I actually love the formation of a 3-2-3-2, Uruguay used that one 2 years ago in South Africa and it worked amazingly.

      The problem is though, that it’d too long to change into a 5-4-1. It could easily change into a 4-4-2 though! What is a great formation to defend, ManUtd is using it since many years and in a very effective way.

      Well, I think it’ll be rather Kroos who’d be left out because Lahm is a much more intelligent player and can play on the six as well. It isn’t such a long way from the 6 to the left-full back position.

      Another problem of the 3-5-2 is, that it can’t be used for sure in the current season in my opinion. We need an experienced central back who’d guide Boateng and Badstuber, and, to be honest, Daniel van Buyten just can’t do this. Neither can Luiz Gustavo or Anatolyi Tymoshchuk… As Dante is almost a Bayern player he could organize the defense together with Badstuber and Boateng who can both play on the wing as well which is really great. Benedikt Höwedes or even Mamadou Sakho would be way better though!

      Well, thank you a lot for your comment, I really like that idea, will think more about it for sure! 🙂

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  5. ML
    April 5, 2012

    Nice work mate. It could work, but I think the biggest problem would be transition. Some players have too much to work at the organization from attack to defending, especially Muller. This need to be improved.
    Love your thoughts on Bayern’s performance vs Freiburg. I think that was the biggest problem in Bayern before Schweinsteiger become a central midfielder – there was plenty of games, where Lahm had most contacts with the ball in whole team. Now, when he is missing, the problem returns. Personally, I don’t rate Tymo as a valuable player. FCB need to sign a new player who can do the Schweini job.

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