When Atlético Madrid were drawn to play FC Bayern München in the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, it was just the second time in history that the two teams had met.
However, a new European battle between the two clubs this Wednesday may bring new dynamics into play because of how much the Bavarians have changed in just a few months.
Michel Munger, Editor-in-chief at Bayern Central, brings you up to speed.
When Carlo Ancelotti took over as head coach, he promised stability. He also said he would take his philosophy and adapt it to the team. His school of thinking is molding the game plan according to the strengths of his players. He makes relationships as important as the tactics.
The result is a different vibe. While FC Bayern retain the ball most of the time, their possession is more decisive and vertical, less focused on control as a defensive tactic.
A deeper back line
Don’t expect Carlo to bring all his players up in Atlético’s half – or final third! – and build from the back. The defence plays deeper than before. It has a tendency to get the ball out quickly and let midfielders build up plays.
When the opposition regains the ball, FCB’s midfield presses while defenders track back. The team therefore is better at stopping counterattacks.
The only defensive struggle is however a real one. The way the team defends now leaves a hole between the back line and central midfield. Opponents that have made runs and passes to invade that gap have created chances.
Finish your chances, though. Die Bayern have conceded only twice in eight games in all competitions.
Are you going to see a “liquid”, formation-less lineup as you did before? No. Carlo Ancelotti will either field a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.
The most common lineup so far this season is 4-3-3. The central midfield comprises a deep-lying midfielder (often Xabi Alonso or Thiago Alcântara) who helps out the defence and sends sharp long balls forward. The other two midfielders roam and get involved in every phase of the play, from box to box. Especially Arturo Vidal.
Going forward, Thomas Müller plays a new role on the right wing. He spends more time on the right flank, pairing with either Philipp Lahm or Rafinha to stretch the pitch. He has scored only one goal so far this season, but he contributes to buildups instead of acting as a virtual second striker near Robert Lewandowski. His three assists demonstrate just that.
Beware of Ribéry’s transitions
Franck Ribéry is 33 years old. You may think he is washed up. Bzzzt, wrong answer. He has racked up five assists in the Bundesliga and one in the Champions League. Now, he often is the middleman in fast transitions, making the decisive pass that leads to a goal. Deadly on the counterattack.
You may say “ok, they will play a 4-3-3 and have 70% possession and we’ll resist”.
Ancelotti may actually throw his 4-4-2 at you, focusing on defending and countering instead of pressing to regain the ball quickly.
Ask the guys at Borussia Dortmund, who lost 0:2 against Bayern in the German Super Cup in August. FCB’s defensive 4-4-2 struggled to resist BVB’s excellent assault, perhaps due to having lost the habit of play that way.
However, they retreated, hit back with fast vertical passes in the second half and won. It was the first time they conceded possession to another team. The last time they had done that, they bombed FC Barcelona 7:0 over two legs.
Will Carlo play mind games and leave the ball to you?
More depth, more rotation, less injuries
While the squad is similar to last season’s, a couple of additions and a cleaner bill of health have given the Bavarians increased depth. Ancelotti has to deal with less injuries in central defence. He also has newbies Renato Sanches in central midfield and Mats Hummels at centre-back.
In recent weeks, he had the luxury of benching titans such as Jérôme Boateng, Hummels, Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribéry and Arturo Vidal to manage their energy levels.
In fact, we can say that Ancelotti has not yet played his “best XI” with a straight face. Will he play it on Wednesday?
I think so, and it would look a bit like this:
The new-look Bayern is interesting to watch. Its newfound depth is relief. Ancelotti’s tactics are decisive and a breath of fresh air for the fans. This team could prove tougher to beat.
Have you watched much of Bayern this season? Who are their main threats?