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3-5-2 or 4-1-4-1: What approach best suits Pep Guardiola’s Bayern?


Predicting Guardiola’s approach may be one of the hardest duty a football enthusiast could undertake. But despite the alterations and flexibility, Alankrith Shankar has narrowed down the options to two wide-scoped approaches that the Bayern Munich could implement.

New Year, new squad, same manager. Pep Guardiola is into the last year of his current contract at Bayern Munich and early signs show that there may not be an extension offered to the Spaniard unless he pulls off a treble that the fans and board have been wanting ever since he set foot at the club’s training grounds.

The Bundesliga season for Bayern Munich started against Hamburg at the Allianz Arena, finishing in a 5-0 victory for the dominating champions. The squad went through some major changes in the summer, the most noticeable being the sale of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the addition of Chilean, Arturo Vidal from Juventus. The board also learnt from last season’s struggle with injuries and have invested in well in bringing in quality, yet young members for squad depth as Douglas Costa, Joshua Kimmich and Sven Ulreich arrived to the Bavarian club. In addition to Kimmich, Danish starlet, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was recalled from his loan spell at FC Augsburg after impressive performances in the second half of last season. The Dane will be pushing Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso and Philip Lahm for a spot in the Central Midfield region for sure.

With the talent at disposal for Pep, one would wonder as to the first choice of 11 players that will be fielded on a regular basis. Pre-season did show us that Pep wanted to try a 3 man backline with Boateng, Benatia and Alaba but there were also instances when Rafinha was included in the line up to make it a classic back 4 formation.

Guardiola Vidal 2015

Taking the majority of pre-season into account, it would be a safe assumption that Pep has tactically shifted to a 3 man backline, with a high pressing passing game, with Benatia usually playing as the last man before the keeper and the pace of Boateng and Alaba along with their dribbling skills, join the attack as they build from the back (note that this wasn’t the approach from Pep in the opening fixture). The most probable starting 11 in a 3 man back line system would feature a 3-5-2 formation, with Robben and Douglas Costa playing in the wide positions and Vidal, Lahm, Thiago controlling the central mid-field with competition for places from Kimmich, Hojbjerg, Gotze, Alonso and Javi Martinez. The attack will be spearheaded by the obvious choice – Robert Lewandowski. The pole has incredible chemistry with Thomas Muller and the partnership has only grown stronger as we could see from pre-season performances.

With more number of players joining in to attack, given the passing philosophy of Pep and the chemistry of the players at disposal and the pace of the wingers, this system is guaranteed to have a high tempo. Teams would mostly get tired very quickly due to defending attack after attack at high intensity.

With the wide centre-backs joining in the attack, they will be involved in almost every attack the team makes at the opposition goal. More players in attack with Pep’s passing philosophy means it will be harder to defend as there will be more bodies to pass the ball to. Playing keep ball will be a regular sight in Bayern games.

Lewandowski and Muller, the 2 attackers are wonderful in the air. This system depends heavily on the crossing and service from the wingers and wing backs. Alaba and Costa are very good in whipping the ball across the face of the goal inside the penalty box, in dangerous areas. These are areas that we usually see a tall striker like Lewandowski prying in, while Muller can finish tap-ins while being half asleep. Don’t be surprised if Bayern score a lot of headers and tap-ins this season.

Having only one of the back 3 helping Neuer out, defending counter attacks (which Bayern already faced as a major problem last season) will be harder. Wing backs, will have to be on their toes throughout. Help from the midfield will be much appreciated, this is where the pace of Lahm comes in to play and also the tackling and ball winning skills of Vidal. If Alonso plays, he will need to play in the same defensive mid-field shield cum deep lying play maker role that he played with class for the majority of last season.

Mario Gotze is probably unlucky to not feature in the starting line up if Pep goes with this system. Gotze is coming off a brilliant pre-season after a horrific second half in the Bundesliga last year, his form is one of the main reasons for Pep to rethink before choosing to play this system and bench Mario.

There are two alternatives that Pep may try out, given the form of Gotze currently. Playing a classical back 4 with only 1 striker, as he did against Hamburg. 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 may well be on the cards. The back four containing Rafinha as right-back and Lahm could play back in his favourite position once again. Either way, the mid-field double pivot will be formed by Lahm-Vidal or just Vidal in the case of a 4-1-4-1 (this is when Lahm plays at Right Back). Gotze plays along with Thiago in the mid-field and Muller, Robben and Costa rotate for the flanks position. Muller could also play as false 9 in case Lewandowski is given a rest or worst case scenario – injured.

This 4 man backline may be a very rarely deployed system by the Spaniard but is very well in the race to be used. The advantages of this system is that it takes care of the disadvantages of the previous system, but given Bayern’s skill at defending counter attacks, you can never be sure. Gervinho taxied them pretty well last season both at the Olympico and at Allianz Arena and let’s not forget the loss to Real Madrid a couple of years ago. But this system does give an edge over a 3 man backline in defending counters. But it lacks in intensity. That was the problem in Pep’s first season. The build-up play was very sluggish and the attacks were uni-dimensional. Pep risks making the same mistake again but with the pace and dribbling of Douglas Costa and the imposing presence of Arturo Vidal will probably make a big difference this time around.

The back 4 formation has worked decently if not brilliantly for Pep at Bayern. He has won 3 major trophies but maybe something new is what he requires to win the treble. Maybe the 3 man backline is the key to treble success for the Spaniard and the club, once again. Both systems have their ups and downs but it is better to experiment earlier in the season and revert than try things out towards the end. If I were Pep, I’d go with the 3 man backline and take it from there depending on how things work out. Like I’ve said before, interesting and complex times ahead for Bayern this season and hopefully there is a Champions League sized reward at the end of this season.


Written by Alankrith Shankar

Alankrith Shankar

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