FOUNDATION COACH EDUCATION


BAYERN MUNICH - HIGH PRESSURE ANALYSIS

Introduction

Bayern Munich dazzled all football fans in the confrontation against Chelsea in February. But those interested in the Bundesliga and more particularly the Bavarian club know that the remarkable transformation of Bayern Munich coincides with the arrival of Hans-Dieter Flick, last November.

First caretaker coach until the end of December, he has seen his contract extended for 3 more years thanks to his positive results and shifted principle of play:

4231 system, reshaping the positional play and attacking patterns, setting up high up the pitch pressing mechanism and a rough counterpressing.

But what has been impressive is their ability to deliver pressure very high up the pitch, with an optimal structure.

Bayern Munich PPDA evolution until the 29th round of the season

Having a look at Bayern’s PPDA through the current season (from the 1st to the 29th round only), it seems obvious it has lastingly decreased since Hansi was appointed as Bayern Munich’s head coach. The average of Bayern’s PPDA during Niko Kovac’s mandate was 9,08 against 6,81 for Flick.

What is quite impressive is Flick’s immediate change of pressing philosophy. From his second game in charge, Bayern Munich started applying his high pressing idea, dropping the PPDA rate hugely, and breaking Niko Kovac’s previous record in this area in Flick’s second game in charge.


Visualizing which team in Europe presses the bestdelivers the most accurate and highest pressure

Comparing Top 5 leagues teams’ % of pressing high up the pitch, in the attacking 3rd, and their accuracy in recovering the ball shows Bayern Munich is kind of a steam-rolling machine when it comes to deliver an accurate pressure very high up the pitch.

What is very remarkable with “Hansi” Flick’s Bayern, is their pressure accuracy as this chart shows the Bavarian gain possession 35% of the time within five seconds of applying pressure outperforming teams as Manchester City or Liverpool, famous for their high pressing intensity and precision.

More broadly, Bundesliga teams (Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund) are extremely accurate in making their pressing successful.

Bayern Munich pressing principles

System

The first Bayern Munich’ pressing principle is to be extremely fluid in order to adjust perfectly their system to their opponents. They can use 4231, 442, 4141 or even, more rarely, a 433 system to hinder their opponent’s build-up high up the pitch.

As shown below, Bayern Munich’s pressing system can vary throughout a game, constantly adapting to the opponent’s shape. 

Bayern’s 4141 system vs 424

Bayern's 442 system vs 424/433 (see shot below)

Bayern's 442 system vs 433

Bayern's 4231 system. Vs 523.
NB: Bayern’s RCM (Kimmich) and LCM (Thiago) are their original positions

Key adjustments

As their idea is to be very flexible, they use mainly two players to regulate their systems.

Thomas Müller (CAM), by going in the second line or running high to position himself alongside the CF (Lewandowski) but also Kimmich (RCM) who drops behind the second line of pressure and creates 4141, 4231 system, or moves high to get into this line to make a 442.

The whole defensive structure relies on Kimmich (RCM) and his science of reading the play as he truly regulates the Bayern’s shape adapting his position to the opponent’s shape and movements.

There is a strong interdependence between those two as they rotate and compensate each other moves. For instance, as we can see in the Figure 4, as soon as Müller (CAM) pushes higher to press, Kimmich (RCM) imitates him and takes his position in the midfielder line. In this shot below, we can see Kimmich moving very high up to hinder the central Frankfurt’s build-up and man-marked the opposite LCM (Rode) and Müller staying deeper to compensate for Kimmich’s forward movement.

Kimmich’s following Rode and Müller’s staying deep

High up the pitch man marking philosophy

Man-marking and staying narrow from all opponents’s solution high-up the pitch is the pressing trademark of Flick’s Bayern’s, preventing the opposition from building-up from the back. Even if it stretches Bayern Munich’s defensive shape and puts players out of position, here, the risk is taken by the Bavarian in order to force the keeper to throw a long pass.

High man-marking system (Bayern players in white here)

This shot below shows there is no problem moving high for any players to create 1 vs. 1 in the opposite half. As for Thiago, who follows the opposite RCM very high, taking risks to create amount of space between him and his defense.

Constantly adapting their number to the opposition’s in their own half allow the Bavarian to be present in number and create dangerous situations in case the ball is quickly recovered from the goal kick. 

High man-marking system

Here is another example of man marking high up the pitch high up the pitch man marking example against Dortmund deep build-up. Bayern is perfectly matching and fitting the opposition’s shape to hinder them in the possession stage and recover the ball. Except for the opposite ball side FB left free.

Leaving a weak side FB (5/Hakimi in the shot below) free forces opposite team to switch the play through complicated and risky diagonal if they want to reach a free space. Furthermore, Bayern Munich prefers leaving over spaces on the sides, down the touchline, which is easier to defend. 


Bayern Munich's high up the pitch pressing vs. Dortmund on 26 May 2020 win (1-0) and Hakimi space wide

Bayern Munich’s pressing pattern

Depending on the opposition’s system, each players man-marks a specific opponent:

  • -          CF (Lewandowski) usually stays very close from the opposite DM, following him and positioning himself sometimes deeper than both wingers.
  • -          Both wingers stay close from their side opposite CB and deliver pressure as soon as they get the ball, or a pass is sent to them.
  • -          CAM can be a free-man, applying zonal marking just behind the first line of pressure, but also man-marked a deep positioned opposite CM. Often exchange position with CMs.
  • -          CMs to mark ball side opposite CM even if they move deep, and wingers positioned in the half-spaces for ball far CM.
  • -          Specificity of this mechanism: LB and RB to run upfield as soon as the opposite FB (or players down the touchline) receives the ball on his side.

Further illustration of the Bayern Munich’s pressing pattern. Nothing innovative but the press is extremely adaptive, fluid, and always carried out with a high level of intensity by Hansi Flick’s team.

We can see here, the first high line of pressure, with CAM (Goretzka) just behind, man-marking opposite CM. RB (Pavard) ready to run forward to press opposite LB.


Once the first line of pressure is broken, LCM (Thiago) moves very high pushing opposite LCM to play on the sides, RB (Pavard) to deliver pressure on the opposite LB as soon as the pass is triggered.

Here, LCM (Thiago) has rotate with CAM (Goretzka)

Another similar situation here, as the first line of pressing is broken again, ball sided LB (Davies) runs forward to press opposite RB. CAM (Goretzka) moves just behind the first line to control the space and to being ready to receive in case the ball is recovered.

Here is the main pressing mechanism, first line of pressure very high, man-marking both opposite CBs and DM, Bavarian’s midfielders do not hesitate to moving high to follow opponents and high FB pressure on opponents as soon as a pass is triggered to reach the flanks.

Pressing trap

The main principle and goal of the Bayern’s Munich pressing system is to keep the ball away from central areas and half spaces, even very high up the pitch, by overloading those spaces, limiting the possibility for the opposition to make vertical passes.

To control their central space and attract their opponent on the side, they set up a man-marked system completely adapted to their opponent’s system or shape (see above). The idea of their pressing traps is to ensure there is only one way of getting out for their opponent: the sides. If the pressing system is perfectly set up by the Bavarian, the sides are a favored solution for their opponent as the FB do not stay narrow from the opposite side players (usually the opposite FB).

Bayern’s players encourage and constantly invite opponents to access the sides. As seen below, they put high density in central areas and are all towards the touchline body oriented, leaving an outward passing lane open as the CAM covers inward passing lanes. 


All ball-side players are body oriented towards the touchline

As soon as the pass is triggered, four players run forward and downfield to quickly encircle the ball carrier. Ball side FB, CM and wingers plus the CAM come around to create a box shape around the player, being as close as possible from the ball and cutting most of potential passing lanes.


Once they’ve contained the opponent, they quickly move to cut all the solutions and passing lane, creating an important overload (4 vs. 2) in their attacking third. Being more and more aggressive (Kimmich on the shot below), they have then no difficulties into recovering the ball extremely high.


Overloading (4 vs.2) and creating small areas


Settling a pressing trap against Chelsea (0 - 3)

Other example of how Bayern manipulate the spaces and their opponents to recover the ball by creating overload (5 vs. 4 this time) down the touchline. Bringing whole ball side players (LB + LCM + LW) plus CAM and CF. Besides, the touchline is extremely helpful to contain and defend.

Impressing 5 vs 4 overload created in the opposite defensive third

Counterpressing

Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich’s counter-pressing is quite different from Klopp’s or Guardiola’s as they try to get the ball back instantly after losing it but keep their counter-pressing going longer. If the ball is not recovered at the first attempt, they try a second time, etc.

Their idea is to create a narrow triangle around the ball carrier as soon as the ball is lost. In this phase of the game phases, CF (Lewandowski) and CAM (Müller or Goretzka) are keys to trigger and shape the counter-pressing triangle as a result of their central position.


The idea is to isolate the ball carrier by quickly encircling him and attempting to intervene. To trigger very high counter-pressing, Bayern Munich rely on both CF (Lewandowski) and CAM (Müller) who are keys to build this triangle followed by the ball side wingers. CF (Lewandowski) often being the high point of the triangle. 

CMs are always positioned around the triangle to provide support, win the second balls and counterattack or regain the possession in case the ball is recovered.


Immediate creation of a triangle: CF+CAM+ball near wingers and CMs around the counter-pressing area to support

Further example here against Leverkusen, CAM to come inside press the ball carrier as the LW, CF to contain and control the triangle shape.

The Bavarian side mostly deliver its counter-pressing in the half spaces as they systematically attempt to attract their opponents in this area due to a high density of players. Besides, as the team’s system when the ball is lost is not organized as the team is in a pressing phase, they try to cut outwards passing lanes to avoid their first and second line (CMs) line of pressure to be broken.


Triangle of pressure around the ball carrier, with LCM (Goretzka) in support and creating density in the halfspace

Here is the main counter-pressing mechanism, creation of triangle of pressure in the half spaces with the CF, CAM and ball-side wingers, CMs in support.

How to break the high Bavarian pressing?

Create triangles of play

Most examples of successful high pressing breaking from Bayern Munich's opponents come from the use of a third man. Create triangles of passes in their own half may sometimes be quite dangerous but is the solution to get out of the impressive Hansi Flick's side's pressure.

One of the best ideas to break through Bayern's high press is to use a midfielder to drop and attract CAM, as Bayern's strategy is to man-marked in those phases.

Once, the CM has drop and is positioned in the correct passing lane, the pass can be triggered and the ball laid off to the RB. The RB receives facing the play which is very important as the Bavarian LB usually runs forward to press very high. Besides this, thee RB must not hug the touchline as the CAM has been lured and the half space is not as overloaded as usual.

First means to break Bayern's first line of pressure pressing

Use of the Keeper

The use of both DM and CM can be a way to get through Flick’s side. To get out of pressure correctly, the ball carrier must face the play and have some space to make decision and launch action.

As we’ve seen above, the Bavarian pressing traps are mostly set up on the sides. Bayern’s idea is to manipulate spaces to encourage opponents to play quickly on the sides, without even breaking pressing in central areas. This allows Flick’s team to quickly gather and trap their opponents against the touchline, creating a box shape and stepping forward aggressively. 

The will of getting out of their own half through central areas use may be considered risky since they put high density in the central areas but is a way to avoid not to drive into their pressing traps on the sides.

We can see below the LCM dropping to lay the ball off to a player facing the play. Both options are quite good as explained above, this LCM’s running high to deep movement attract opposition players and helps to find a third man, but it seems adequate to play on the DM, who has space to play and has probably scanned the play several times before receiving.

Besides, it is not that easy to overrun and break the first line of Bayern’s pressing in central areas as they are very often succeed here. The goalkeeper can be a great asset when it comes to break their first line of pressure. Below, Hoffenheim’s keeper’s high position has created an overload in the build-up, giving time and space to the CB to access central areas.


Create triangles of play by dropping a CM + overloading the first line of pressure using the keeper high

Attracting the Bavarian very high

As we have seen above, Bayern Munich do not hesitate to set up a man-marking system in the opposition half, even if it is very high up the pitch. They can maximize their occupation of space, but they can’t occupy the whole pitch, thus leaving gaps in other areas.leaving areas over.

The idea is to attract them extremely high by dropping both CMs in order to lure the Bavarian LCM (Thiago) and CAM (Goretzka). Playing the same patterns as explained above (triangle of play or even “give and go”es here) to break the first line of pressure.

The difficulty with the Bayern Munich’s pressure is their ability to quickly engage a second line of pressure, often leading to pressing traps on the sides.

By pinning this line of pressure higher and progressing with the ball on the sides, they may be completely disorganized, and their shape may be stretched, leaving space between the second line and the defensive line.

Leverkusen’s “give and go”'s disrupting the second line of pressure

Once the ball has been released from Bayern’s pressing area, the distance between the second line and the LCM (Kimmich) who has stayed deep + the defensive line is extremely dangerous. There is almost no Bayern players in the middle third.

Besides, creating a solid fixation point on the side has created a huge amount of wide space wide and the ball carrier then has two horizontals lines, both very dangerous, solutions but an opportunity to launch a fast attacking move.


Leverkusen 4231 build-up shape and their ability to create space wide and extend the Bavarians’ block.
Two firsts line of pressure completely broken

This creates a problem tricky situation for Hansi Flick’s side as to whether the LCM (Goretzka) drops deeper to man-mark the opposite LW, which would allow Leverkusen to overload their defensive third in the build-up. They would then get the ball out easily, constantly playing on the free CM as Bayern would not be able to perfectly match Leverkusen’s shape. 

Conclusion

The Hansi Flick’s arrival on Bayern Munich’s bench has reshaped their high pressing philosophy and efficiency, turning it into one of the best teams in Europe. Their ability to drive opponents in their pressing trap and their powerful counter-pressing among other facets of their play make them a formidable candidate to conquer their 8th consecutive title and possible Champions League final victory.

However, a few talented European teams could pose significant problem to Bayern, as they would have no difficulties to get the ball properly out of their defensive third and exploiting Bavarian high up the pitch pressing strategy. Every football fan is now curious to watch Bayern play against a European Top 5 teams and to see how they would solve the high pressing problem they would face.



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