More Direct and Orthodox: Analyzing Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich

In the summer of 2016,  Pep Guardiola, who is one of the most famous football philosophers, left Bayern Munich. He is succeeded by Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian men who has won three Champions League title as a coach, and also English, French and Italian national titles, so he is one of the most successful coaches ever in the history modern football.

New-wave vs. Classic

What is the main difference between Guardiola and Acelotti’s Bayern? Well, the new Bayern of Ancelotti retain the dominant, attaking style we’ve seen under Guardiola, but the way how they play the ball is more direct and Ancelotti’s philosophy is more classic and orthodox on several counts.

What do I mean by orthodox? I mean line-up and formation too.

Guardiola rotated the team’s lineup for always every match just like his formation.. The list of players named in starting eleven and the formation they were playing in always depended on the opponent’s characteristics. In his first season, he preferred his 4-3-3 he has used in Barcelona, later he fell in love with three-men-defence, whilst in the last season, he always used false-full backs which is one of the newest tactical trends in today’s football.

Ancelotti does it in a more conservative way. In the last three matches, he used almost the same starting 11. Even if there’s still some injuries(Robbben,Costa etc.) it shows greatly his more orthodox team-building philosophy. Concerning his formation, he mostly used a classic 4-3-3 during the pre-season and he retained it for their first competitive matches too.

Attacking play

Now let’s see the players’ attacking roles and the commonly used patterns! As I’ve already written, Ancelotti’s Bayern plays a more direct football than Guardiola’s one. There’s no patient build-up with the 15 pass rule;they are still using flat passes but they try to play from the back as quickly as possible. Their 4-3-3 contains more classical player roles.

Bayern starts the build-up with two fullbacks stepping up into the midfield line. Practicely they use a double pivot composed from DM and a CM. One of them often drops deeper between the CBs. Vidal has the most flexible role as he acts both as the third, most advanced midfielder(see below) and pivot dropping deep. In this case, he exploits the space FB has opened. Alonso does this rarely, but a few times when he drops, he becomes salida lavolpiana.

So how do they build-up the attack? The main goal is to push the ball the into the flanks or behind the defence as soon as possible, prepared with two or three simple vertical or horizontal passes There’s no 15 passes rule anymore, they do ball circulation only if it’s needed and there’s no chance to direct play. In this point, they can take advantage from their CBs great ability playing the ball under pressure, especially as Mats Hummels was signed in this summer.


Combination against Werder. LW gets a vertical pass, he plays a square combination with DM. DM pushes the ball wide to RB who is looking for RW with the cross. 3 attackers and LB gets into the box.


First goal against CZ Jena. LCM is searching for LW in the flank immediately after getting the vertical pass. LW dribbles inside, crosses to CF. He plays a one-two with RW then scores.


Different style means definitely a different kind of roles and duties during this phase of the game. The most notable difference is Bayern’s wing play which is organized in a similar way than Heynckes did. Fullbacks have a classic, overlapping role, helping the winger to stretch the defence, whilst wingers are always looking for free spaces to run into. Whilst Ribéry isn’t afraid to dribble inside, Müller is mostly looking for crosses, but it’s not really surprising.

Behind them, Vidal acts as attacking midfielder but he is not the only one making connections with the forwards as one of them always drops back,  if they cannot get a direct ball behind the defence. If a wingers is dropped deeper, than Vidal runs into the box Double pivot stays deeper, they are always prepared if possession is lost.

It’s difficult to tell who will play in the right side when Robben has returned. If he will play in the starting 11, it might be Thiago who will be sitting on the bench, and Bayern should play a 4-2-3-1 in my opinion. Müller would play as a CAM whilst Alonso and vidal could be DMs. In this way the Chilean could take advantage from his flexible role.

During the attacking phase, they have definitely a ‘longer’ team than under Guardiola, but they doesn’t  have serious compactness problems as direct style doesn’t mean English ‘kick and rush’, they always prepare direct passes, waiting for the right moment.

Defending problems

As we’ve seen against Dortmund against certain teams Bayern probably won’t apply a very high pressure. Their first defensive line sat on the halfway line. In certain periods they pressed higher up but they have still some serious problems when defending in the opponent’s half.

It seems me that their pressing mechanism is too ball-oriented, paying no attention to cover shadows and compactness. As they press the ball-carrier , they often manage to force a long ball, but it harms vertical compactness, the last defensive line pulled on 30 metres is often unable to follow the quick movements of their teammates. This approach might be easily exploited with ball-playing defenders or effective second balls.


Even if they manage to force the opponent next to touchlines, weak-sided players often get isolated which harms compactness too.



Ancelotti’s Bayern plays a really entertaining and exciting football,their defending is characterized by speed just like their attacks. However it’s a disadvantage, not a benefit. I think Bayern will be one of the most entertaining teams of the season but they should choose a more effective pressing trap, I don’t think so that it would be so effective against stronger teams.




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