Hansi Flick’s time in charge of Bayern Munich may have been short-lived, but the former and future national team coach will go down as one of the team’s all-time greatest managers. Hansi Flick eased to a second Bundesliga title in charge of Bayern Munich on Saturday, after a smashing 6-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. For all of their fantastic exploits this season, we analyze how Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga title.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1
Hansi Flick’s consistent success at Bayern Munich is backed up by a very consistent 4-2-3-1 formation, and a relatively stable cast and crew. Manuel Neuer’s rediscovered life again under Flick, firmly establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world under the German manager’s influence. Benjamin Pavard’s continued to be a great addition to the team at right-back, filling their Philipp Lahm void, while Alphonso Davies has been one of the stars of the team during Flick’s two season spell. In Pavard and Davies, Flick has achieved excellent balance in his team. While the World Cup winner can also be quite progressive and look to get forward, he is much more likely to hold a defensive position and form a back-three structure with the centre-backs. This then allows Alphonso Davies to gallop forward and do his best damage in attack, with the side continuing to keep their balance.
David Alaba is the man most often able to help Davies continue his offensive role, and has transformed into one of the best defenders in the world under Flick’s influence. Jerome Boateng and Niklas Sule typically battle it out for a place as the right-centre-back in the team, but Lucas Hernandez has also recently entered the fold to push David Alaba into midfield.
In Joshua Kimmich, Bayern have the best number six in the world. Not only is the 26-year-old German an excellent defensive presence and ball progressor, he’s also one of the best chance creators in the league. Kimmich has 10 assists to his name this season, the most of any number six in Europe’s top five leagues, and more than Lionel Messi. Alongside him, Bayern have a roadrunner of a box-to-box player in Leon Goretzka, who’s bagged 5 goals with 5 assists this season. Further forward, arguably no player in the world plays a more important role in a team than Thomas Muller’s Raumdeuter like behaviours. The German legend has scored 11 goals with 17 assists this season, the most in Europe’s top five leagues by quite some margin.
To his right and left, Flick has four stellar options. Serge Gnabry’s established himself as the number one pick over the past few years, but this season hasn’t been at his absolute best. He’s still scored 9 goals and continued to be important to their press, but Kingsley Coman and Jamal Musiala are also beginning to emerge. Musiala’s six-goal tally is already better than Coman’s four goals this season, but Coman’s nine assists to his name makes up for that. Leroy Sane has also competed for a place in the team in his first season at the club, contributing 14 goals and the same amount of assists as Coman.
Completing the team is none other than the best player in the world – Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker looks set to break the Bundesliga goal-scoring record this season, currently sitting on 39 with two games to go. Although Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting performed well in his stead, there’s no one else quite like Lewandowski. So those are the players, but let’s get more into how Flick uses his players to such great success.
POSSESSION WITH A PURPOSE
Bayern Munich are very purposeful with their possession. Keeping 57.9% of possession across their matches this season is not easy by any means, no matter how easy they make it look. But the Bundesliga giants are very purposeful in turning their possession into scoring opportunities. They do this in many meticulous ways. The first of which is simply in the fact that teams are naturally reluctant to throw many numbers forward against them. As teams sit back and defend, Bayern’s players will often drift toward the ball together. Lewandowski, Muller and Goretzka may operate in many of the same or similar areas, as someone like Kimmich or Alaba drives the ball forward and looks for vertical passes into central channels. This naturally allows Bayern to dominate games, and remain however patient they want in breaking the opposition down. They can look for the right moments to progress the ball into wide areas to deliver crosses, where Lewandowski and Muller are clinical in the box.
The ease at which Bayern break teams down is also particularly seamless due to the fact that teams are so incredibly occupied with Lewandowski and Muller that they forget about the other nine incredible players. As teams condense the field and track Lewandowski/Muller, more space opens up in the wide areas to spread diagonal passes. Then with their impeccable movement, the original point of keeping a watchful eye on the two goal-scorers loses water, as the focus turns to the wingers in an attempt to stop a cross coming in the box. Lewandowski and Muller are adept at finding space in these situations, and opposition teams simply can’t cope. This was seen over and over again against Monchengladbach, a hallmark of the approach they’ve taken to matches all season long.
A final note on Bayern’s progressive possession is the utter class in which they complete long passes into dangerous areas. It’s far from tiki taka, and much more heavy metal. Bayern complete 58 long passes per game, most of which come from their central midfielders and centre-backs. Joshua Kimmich in particular must have been an archer in his former life. The German international has completed 6.2 long passes per game this season, the third highest of outfield players with 10+ appearances in the league. Boateng, Alaba and Tolisso also rank highly for their numbers, and allow Bayern to hit their opposition from a variety of different directions. These long-passes can sometimes be balls over the top for the likes of Lewandowski and Muller to knock down or chase. But more commonly, the Bavarians frequently hit diagonals into wide areas, where they’ve completed the most crosses per game in the league (24).
Bayern Munich have every ability to attack through central areas and play a vertical, counter attacking style of football. But they favour the wide areas instead, allowing their wingers to gain a lot of the glory in both goal-scoring and chance-creating. Diagonal long-passes will often be hit into the wide areas, and even when the team first go to Lewandowski or Muller they will often go backwards and then wide. One of the many reasons for this emphasis on width comes from the incredible 1v1 ability of their wide players. Alphonso Davies loves a 1v1, and has completed 2.8 dribbles per game (3.3 per 90), the fourth highest in the league. Jamal Musiala meanwhile has completed 4.7 dribbles per 90 minutes, with Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane both at 2.9 per 90. This is an incredible threat for a team to have as it means if the Bavarians are ever struggling to break their opposition down, several players can produce magic and quality all on their own.
The emphasis on crossing and cut-backs from wide areas also makes Bayern a particularly dangerous team. You may be surprised to hear that Joshua Kimmich is the man atop the crossing charts, completing the third most in the league (2.1 per game). Many of these are set-pieces and corners, but the team also frequently look for cut-backs to the German to deliver from outside the eighteen. Not a single other player stands out when it comes to crossing, making it all the more intriguing how they sit so far atop the crossing tables in the league. Kingsley Coman is the only other man to complete more than 1 per game (1.0), with Thomas Muller and Lucas Hernandez some of the other reliables. Essentially, despite the 1v1 dominance of specific individuals, the emphasis on crossing and wing-play is entirely a team effort, and a recognition of how to break opposition teams down as a collective.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that Bayern Munich press from the very front of their attack. What has improved under Hansi Flick is the intentionality of their press, and the organization. Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller are the two work-horses right from the very front, and two of the team’s top tacklers. This has been a major reason for re-integrating Muller into the team, and for Gnabry’s continuation this season despite not being at his very best in attack. Between the two of them, they make 3.8 tackles per 90 minutes, which is quite significant of a team with nearly 58% possession, not to mention significant of two men who play an attacking role. Every single player in the team has a defensive role, including Lewandowski, who never stops running and pressuring. Coman and Sane are also electric enough to maintain the team’s high press, and with Davies and Pavard pushing high up the field to condense the wide areas even more, opposition teams can’t find a way out in the wide areas.
This high-pressing approach either forces opposition teams to go long, or to make dangerous passes into central areas where Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are ready to crunch the opposition into bits. Either way, it means Bayern’s opposition can’t hold onto the ball, and Flick’s men are able to restart their attack. If teams are able to get past Bayern’s high press, the likes of David Alaba are always ready to clean up the mess, not to mention their high-flying sweeper keeper Manuel Neuer and speedy Alphonso Davies recovering in behind.
Although Hansi Flick is ready to head for the exit door, the German coach has established a great legacy at Bayern Munich, winning back to back titles. The Bavarians have improved their pressing and their purposefulness in possession under Flick, en route to a Champions League title and successive league wins. Hansi Flick will leave behind a legacy at Bayern Munich, and it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here.
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