Three observations from Bayern Munich’s 4-0 stomping of Wolfsburg

The hind three: why does it exist?

Before you move on to the comments, hear me out for a moment. This is not “nooooo why Bayern Munich plays in the third position we always have to play the four-defense and never switch!!!” An opinion (although that is the crux of how I feel). No, this is about Julian Nagelsmann, and how the Vision team seems to want the three defenders to play for Bayern Munich.

Since the last international break, Bayern Munich has been playing mostly on a three-man defensive line consisting of (from left to right) Lucas Hernandez, Dayot Uppicano (or Niklas Sule), and Benjamin Pavard. This style of play has the following main features:

  • Alphonso Davies pushes up high on the field, more like a winger than a full-back.
  • The right winger moves to the right back position.
  • The left and right back moves wide to cover more space behind the wings.
  • Thomas Muller moves wide to occupy the right wing position.
  • Leroy Sane occupies the space of the left half.
  • The center back becomes the primary advance of the ball in the attacking phase, while the DM (Kimmich, usually) moves up the field like a number 8.

This differs from Hansi Flick’s tried and tested rear quad setup in the following ways:

  • Benjamin Pavard pushes up into aggressive RWB mode.
  • Reflected by Alphonso Davies on the left, he ironically becomes more defensive due to his natural offensive inclinations.
  • The DM falls between the central defense to receive the ball and advance it over the field.
  • Leroy Sane plays like a traditional winger on the left (or on the right, as was the case under Flick).

In general, all three back-to-death drawbacks are discussed, in our podcast, in articles, and in the comments section. If you’d like to hear our arguments, check out EP18 from our flagship site below (or at this link):

So why does Nagelsmann continue to do so? Well, we might have an idea about it today. Against Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich did not start with a back three. But they also didn’t finish with a quartet of defense. It was a true hybrid – switching from a defense quad to a three and back again and again in stages during a match.

Is this the end of Nagelsmann’s game? Kind of a true hybrid conversion? Or is the switch just a half-measurement, and something more robust is in the works? Did he return to the quarter-final against Stuttgart because he had to, or simply because he thought it would be a good experience before Wolfsburg?

Whatever it is, it’s not good enough yet – probably because it’s incomplete. Wolfsburg was not the best opponent, and even then the system showed its flaws. Where do I go next? Well, Coach has a short winter break to think about it. We’ll see what it brings.

Roccaccella’s midfield shine (is that a thing?)

These two look great together
Photo by Christoph Stach/AFP via Getty Images

In their last two Bundesliga matches, Marc Rocca and Jamal Musiala have shown that they can be real alternatives to Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka while the two are not available. While neither player possesses the attributes of Bayern Munich’s core duo, together they form a partnership that seems better than the sum of its parts.

Musiala is the maverick – he presses hard, wins possession, dribbles off the pitch, tries dangerous passes, and does all the outstanding things. Meanwhile, Roca is tackling the conservative side of the midfield. Defensive positioning, possession recycling and simply standing in the opponent’s passing channels seem to be the roles Nagelsmann gave to Roca.

it’s working. True, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart weren’t the best rivals, but it’s not like Bayern’s other midfield solutions (Sabitzer and Tolisso) who performed well against the weak opposition as well. Musiala and Roca seem to work together because they are so different. While the Kimmich-Goretzka hub can do it all, the Musiala-Roca can do half of it all, each. It’s really good to see, and it gives Bayern Munich more options going forward.

Highly Dangerous Defense of Dayot Upamecano

Julian Nagelsmann takes a risk with Dayot Upamecano, and frankly it’s a good thing. The Frenchman didn’t play like the standard playmaker against Wolves – he pushed nicely off his position, rushing to the attackers and blocking passing lanes to seal off the counters. He did his job admirably, achieving a 100% success rate with 5 tackles, not dripping in goal even once. His interventions often lead to an immediate confrontation with Bayern, maintaining the team’s attacking momentum.

Of course, this method of defense may get the team in trouble. What happens when Upamecano misjudges a pass, or mistimes an interception? counter of course. Nagelsmann seems to be betting that whatever counters Upa causes him to be out of position will be dealt with by Lucas or Neuer enough times that it isn’t a problem. His account paid off today, but will he always do it? Maybe not.

It’s a big gamble by the coach, but a brave gamble. This is what a Bayern Munich coach should be. You cannot enjoy entertainment without risk. If Upa makes mistakes, that’s too bad. It should be better next time. But this kind of challenge tends to improve the player, and the Frenchman has a lot of talent. Of course, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always Niklas Sule on the bench.

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