Hansi Flick (r.) set the benchmark and now Julian Nagelsmann (l.) is attempting to surpass it at Bayern Munich. - © CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
Hansi Flick (r.) set the benchmark and now Julian Nagelsmann (l.) is attempting to surpass it at Bayern Munich. - © CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
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How do Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich teams compare?

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Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich set a new benchmark for what it means to win at Germany’s already most successful club, claiming seven trophies in just over 18 months. That winning feeling has very much continued under successor Julian Nagelsmann, but how do the two teams compare after six months under the young tactician?

bundesliga.com takes an in-depth look at what two of Germany’s top coaches have done at the record champions…

State of play

Bayern were fourth when Flick took charge in November 2019 and – despite starting with a 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund – would drop to as low as seventh in December. But they would then go on to win 19 of the final 20 league games (plus one draw) as they marched to the Meisterschale. The Bavarians also won every match in their UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup campaigns to claim the second treble in their history.

Flick’s only full season in charge saw him win the Bundesliga again, with three games to spare. The defending champions were also top at the midway point of the 2020/21 campaign and comfortably through to the Champions League knockout stage. However, their DFB Cup defence was ended in surprising circumstances, with a shootout elimination to Holstein Kiel in the second round.

Watch: Sextuple-winning Flick

The situation has been very similar in Nagelsmann’s first six months at the helm. The former RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim coach has guided Bayern to the top of the Bundesliga standings, comprehensively through the Champions League group stage with a perfect record of six wins – the second flawless group in the club’s history, after the Flick/Niko Kovac campaign of 2019/20 – but also suffered a shock (in terms of the 5-0 scoreline) exit from the cup at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Although Nagelsmann wasn’t on the touchline for four games – including the elimination in Gladbach – due to having to self-isolate, he’s still overseen 26 matches as head coach. His record across competitions in that time is 22 wins, one draw and three defeats, working out at 2.58 points per game. He has won the only trophy available so far with the DFL Supercup.

Flick’s first 26 fixtures in charge produced almost identical results, with 23 victories, one draw and only two losses. That equates to 2.69 points per game – marginally ahead of Nagelsmann. The now Germany head coach oversaw a total of 86 matches in Munich, of which he won 70, drew eight and lost eight, and lifted seven pieces of silverware (2x Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, DFL Supercup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup). His overall average was therefore 2.53 points per game, claiming a trophy on average every 12 matches.

Watch: How Bayern are top at Christmas again

“We brought in a young coach and we were fully behind him. His idea of football convinced us, the way he worked at Leipzig was impressive. He has now followed that up seamlessly with us,” said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic in assessment of Nagelsmann’s first six months in charge.

He was then asked on differences between the two coaches: “With football in mind, Hansi felt the atmosphere within the team. Julian can do that too, but he also has a bit more to offer in terms of attacking and defensive work.”

Half-season comparison

To give a more uniform look at the two teams, we can just focus on the one Hinrunde both coaches have had in charge. That’s 17 Bundesliga matches, plus six Champions League group games, two DFB Cup ties and the domestic Supercup.

Focussing first on just the Bundesliga, Nagelsmann’s team has reached the halfway point of 2021/22 on 43 points. That is four more than Flick had in the previous season, and also Bayern’s best return at this stage since 2015/16, when it was 46 under Pep Guardiola. Nagelsmann is therefore averaging 2.53 points per game in charge of the Bavarians in the league, which is a club record – marginally ahead of Guardiola (2.52), who of course oversaw many more matches. Third in that standing is Flick with 2.45.

Nagelsmann’s win rate of 82 per cent in the Bundesliga is also the best by any Bayern coach – although from quite a small sample size. It’s also worth noting that Flick had exactly the same record from his first 17 league matches in charge (W14, D1, L2).

Going to all competitions, Nagelsmann has won 22 of his first 26 games as boss (D1, L3), while Flick got 19 victories (D4, L3) from the same number of matches in the first half of 2020/21. Put as points per game, that’s 2.58 to 2.34.

Attack

It’s Bayern’s relentless attack that has seen them sweep aside teams with such aplomb over the last two-and-a-bit seasons, led of course by Robert Lewandowski demonstrating one of the greatest periods of goalscoring prowess in German (and also European) football history.

He netted a phenomenal 83 times in 71 appearances under Flick, whose side scored 260 goals in his 86 matches. That works out at 3.02 per game, while the team scored four or more goals in 31 fixtures (once every 2.7 games) and five or more 14 times (once every six games). There was just one single game where Bayern failed to score under Flick, and that was coincidentally against Nagelsmann’s Leipzig in February 2020, a 0-0 draw.

Watch: Bayern’s record-setting 102 Bundesliga goals in 2021

Phenomenal numbers for any team but not the class of 2021/22. They have so far made mincemeat of those records in half a season under Nagelsmann. A total of 93 goals in 26 games equates to 3.58 every time they take to the pitch. It’s been four or more goals in almost half of all matches (12) and five or more on eight occasions (every 3.25 games). They too have drawn a blank just once, in the 5-0 loss at Gladbach in the cup – admittedly, one of the games where Nagelsmann was not on the touchline.

When looking at just the 17 Hinrunde matches in 2020/21 and 2021/22, there are both subtle and some substantial differences in numbers.

Flick’s Bayern scored 49 goals in the first half of last year’s league campaign, but Nagelsmann’s team have now struck 56 times – a new Bundesliga record for a Hinrunde. His average of 3.3 goals per game in charge of Bayern in the Bundesliga is also a club record. Second in that regard is Flick with 3.0.

However, there is a marked difference when it comes to attempts on goal. The current crop has mustered up 340 shots so far this season, which works out at six per goal. Last year’s team had just 271 at this same point, but that is a slightly better return of a goal every 5.5 attempts.

Clear-cut chances have also increased a good deal this year (51) compared to last (35), as have goals from counter-attacks (10 vs. seven). But one perhaps surprising change is that the number of headed goals (three) and attempts (37) has decreased from Flick’s time (seven and 45 respectively). We’ll touch on potential reasons for that a bit more later.

Robert Lewandowski has been the focal point for both coaches, although with differing service. - Frank Hoermann / SVEN SIMON via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sven Simon

Defence

One of the (admittedly very few) criticisms thrown at Flick’s Bayern was the fact that they seemed to offer opponents a lot of chances in games – while then being utterly clinical themselves at the other end to punish them. That may have papered over some cracks a bit.

Flick’s team conceded an average of 1.06 goals per game during his spell in charge. By means of comparison, Guardiola’s Bayern saw an average of 0.8, while Carlo Ancelotti’s team came in at 0.9.

It was one of the things Nagelsmann set out to rectify and has spoken at length about in pre- and post-match interviews, explaining how and why Bayern were conceding goals – from often very similar scenarios of losing possession and being hit in transition. Those numbers have indeed come down a touch, and the team is now averaging 0.96 goals against per game. In terms of clean sheets, however, things still aren’t as he would like. They are only managing shutouts once every 2.4 matches, fractionally better than it was under Flick (every 2.5).

Watch: A tactical look at how to beat Bayern

Looking again at just the Hinrunde that both had at the reins, you can see a much greater season-on-season improvement. Bayern have conceded just 16 times in the league in 2021/22, keeping six clean sheets. That’s compared to 25 conceded and only three clean sheets at this stage last term.

The number of chances opposition teams have had is also down from 181 in 2020/21 to 153 this year. Clear-cut chances have gone from 21 (over one per game) down to 12. Nagelsmann’s team have also been beaten once on the counter-attack, compared to four in Flick’s Hinrunde – a point that Nagelsmann has specifically raised after games.

“We did not concede that many counter-attacks,” he said after the 1-0 win against Arminia Bielefeld. “I think in the second half we applied a lot of pressure, a lot of ball possession in the final third – only conceded one counter-attack. But today I’m happier that we did not concede a goal. I think that’s important for us.”

That comes a week after the defeat to Augsburg where he set out a demand: “We have to improve because it’s too easy to score goals against us. We want to be one of the best teams in Europe, so we have to defend better.”

Formation and tactics

This is where it gets down to the nitty gritty. Flick was very much a disciple of the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been in vogue in Germany for so long. It was what the national team played while he was assistant under Joachim Löw; it’s what Bayern have mostly done for the last decade. Just two of his 86 games as Bayern boss saw the team start with a back three – and one of those was a Champions League dead rubber at Atletico Madrid where he rotated heavily.

Flick used a 4-2-3-1 formation in the overwhelming majority of his matches, while he also had Leroy Sane on the right wing. - DFL

Flick was very much about control, with Bayern seeing 60.2 per cent possession in the 2020/21 Hinrunde. They averaged 570 passes per game in that period, of which 42 were classified as long passes. They also delivered almost 15 crosses from open play each game. So, it was control but also a case of getting the ball forwards and into the box as quickly as possible for maximum danger.

That desire to cross from either the wingers or the overlapping full-backs or even from someone like Joshua Kimmich from inside channels led to the vast number of aerial chances Bayern had – for example, Lewandowski alone scored five headed goals in the league last season. Flick’s Bayern also contested far more aerial duels in the league, some 34 per game.

The team was frequently praised for its intensity, averaging 71.2 miles (114.6 km), 248 sprints and 728 intensive runs per game last year. Yet those numbers have been improved upon under Nagelsmann so far this season.

They are covering more ground (72.0 miles/115.9 km), averaging more sprints (251) and intensive runs (735). The current Bayern side is also playing substantially more passes per game (615 vs. 570), although possession is very marginally down (60.1 per cent to 60.2).

Bayern have increased their work rate even more under Nagelsmann. - THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP via Getty Images

More passes with almost the same proportion of possession says a lot about Nagelsmann’s style, ensuring high intensity and quick play from back to front. Flick’s team would play far more long balls (42 per game to 30), utilising the passing range of centre-backs David Alaba and Jerome Boateng – both of whom are no longer at the club.

Crosses from open play are also well down (10 per game compared to 15) as Nagelsmann instructs his players to play their way through opponents, while also trying to take Flick’s Gegenpressing to another level.

The 34-year-old has also introduced tactical flexibility, like he previously did at Leipzig and Hoffenheim, and insisted he would look to instill in his new team as the season went on.

Bayern have lined up with a genuine back three in eight out of 26 matches this term, using three of four from Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernandez, Niklas Süle and Benjamin Pavard.

What doesn’t really show in tactical line-ups is how the team has shifted systems within matches. A lot of that has come down to how Nagelsmann has deployed Alphonso Davies. A back four of Pavard/Süle, Upamecano, Hernandez and Davies has so often shifted mid-game to a three as Davies pushed on into a wing-back role.

Watch: Alphonso Davies – Canadian superstar

That has then seen Leroy Sane – now deployed and reinvigorated on the left by Nagelsmann – move centrally and form a second No.10 alongside Thomas Müller, overloading the centre yet further and allowing Davies the freedom of the left wing. His blistering pace and incredible fitness levels then mean he is rarely out of position when needed to track back, reforming the four-man defence when called upon.

That innovative approach not only keeps things stable at the back with at least three defenders always covering, but also gives the team an extra man in attack that adds confusion to opponents trying to remain organised.

Nagelsmann will be the first to admit that he is far from done moulding this Bayern team. He knows the job of succeeding, building on and potentially surpassing what Flick did is one of the biggest challenges in coaching. The performances and numbers are certainly impressive at this stage. Only silverware will determine exactly where the team is at compared to Flick’s all-conquering side.

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